Posts Tagged ‘B’Tselem’

Nobel Laureate Accuses Israel of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’

April 22, 2009

Khaleej Times Online, April 23, 2009


JERUSALEM – Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire on Tuesday accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” policies in annexed east Jerusalem, where the municipality plans to tear down almost 90 Arab homes.

“I believe the Israeli government is carrying out a policy of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians here in east Jerusalem,” said Maguire, who won the 1976 Nobel prize for her efforts at reaching a peaceful solution to the violence in Northern Ireland.

“I believe the Israeli government policies are against international law, against human rights, against the dignity of the Palestinian people,” she said at a news conference.

It was held in a protest tent erected by residents of east Jerusalem’s Silwan neighbourhood where 88 Arab homes are under demolition orders.

The Israeli authorities say the houses were built or extended without the necessary construction permits. Palestinians say the planned demolitions aim at forcing them out of east Jerusalem.

If the demolition orders are carried out 1,500 people would be left homeless in one of the largest forced evictions since Israel occupied mostly Arab east Jerusalem in the 1967 war and later annexed it.

Israel considers Jerusalem to be its eternal and undivided capital, while Palestinians want to make east Jerusalem the capital of their future state.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem says that since 2004 the Israeli authorities have torn down more than 400 homes in east Jerusalem.

MIDEAST: Israelis Using ‘Excessive’ Force Against Protesters

March 20, 2009

By Mel Frykberg | Inter Press Service

RAMALLAH, Mar 19 (IPS) – The critical wounding of a U.S. activist has highlighted the excessive use of force by Israeli forces.

The activist, Tristan Anderson, 38, was shot in the head by Israeli soldiers during a protest against Israel’s separation barrier in the Palestinian West Bank last week. He remains in intensive care in Tel Hashomer Hospital in Tel Aviv.

Anderson was one of approximately 400 international, Palestinian and Israeli protestors taking part in a demonstration in the village of Ni’ilin, near the central West Bank city Ramallah, when he was hit by a teargas canister.

Since Israel’s devastating three-week war on Gaza, human rights organisations and activists have accused the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) of using indiscriminate violence and testing new weapons on unarmed protestors.

The teargas canister which hit Anderson is a new variety being used by the IDF, and is particularly lethal if fired directly at protestors.

The gas canister can travel over 400 metres. It does not make a noise when fired, or emit a smoke tail, and has a propeller for mid-air acceleration. A combination of velocity and silence increases the danger it poses.

Witnesses gave testimonies to the media and to human rights organisations that they saw Israeli soldiers aiming at Anderson before they shot the canister from a distance of about 60 metres. It hit him directly on the forehead. The impact of the canister caused severe damage to the right eye, and Anderson has had to undergo critical brain surgery.

Israeli soldiers continued to fire teargas canisters towards the wounded man and the people surrounding him as he lay critically injured on the ground and Palestinian medics tried to give him first aid.

Later, a Palestinian ambulance trying to rush Anderson to hospital was blocked at least five minutes by Israeli soldiers. Only after other foreigners engaged the soldiers in heated debate did they allow the ambulance to pass.

Anderson was then delayed another 15 minutes while an Israel ambulance was called, because Palestinian ambulances are not allowed to cross into Israeli territory without special permit.

Jonathan Pollack, an Israeli activist who witnessed the event said that the soldiers had fired unnecessarily. “There was no way that their lives were even remotely in danger or that they might have been injured,” Pollack told IPS.

“Even if the IDF (Israeli defence forces) argument was true that they had been the targets of stones before they shot him, no stone could travel uphill for 60 metres and threaten them, and Anderson had definitely not been involved in any violent activity.”

Pollack said the demonstration had finished and most of the demonstrators had left when the teargas was fired. “At the time of the shooting there were no confrontations, and Anderson was standing amongst about 10 remaining protestors just milling about.”

Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman for the Israeli rights group B’Tselem says that the IDF has at times used crowd control measures indiscriminately. “The teargas canister is not meant to be used as a weapon or fired directly at protestors but in an arc or at an angle,” she told IPS.

“We have many credible witnesses, and I myself have seen soldiers fire at people who are nowhere near and have nothing to do with any stone- throwing. And even when the soldiers have the right to shoot on grounds of self-defence, they are obliged to use the minimum of force and in a strictly proportionate way.”

B’Tselem is concerned about the even more severe crowd control methods being employed by the IDF.

An Israeli journalist was recently shot in the chest with a rubber-coated steel bullet (marble-sized metal ball covered in 0.5mm of rubber) when the soldiers knew full well the target was a journalist. Towards the end of last year the IDF began once again to use Ruger rifles, which use .22 calibre ammunition, against unarmed protestors.

“We have written a letter to the judge advocate general (JAG) protesting and questioning the use of Ruger rifles,” said Michaeli.

According to B’Tselem, back in 2001 then JAG Major-General Menachem Finkelstein had ordered that use of the Ruger rifle be stopped. The decision followed the killing of several children in the Gaza Strip by Ruger rifle fire, and an order by the Central Command to cease using the rifle. The order came after it was found that soldiers often used the rifle against demonstrators without justification.

Furthermore, Israeli soldiers are using live ammunition against protestors, contrary to IDF laws of engagement.

Although Anderson’s case made international headlines because of his status as a foreigner, four Palestinians were killed by the IDF in the village of Ni’ilin last year.

Ahmed Mousa, 10, was shot dead with live ammunition in July last year. The following day Yousef Amira, 17, was left brain-dead, and died a week later after he too had been shot in the head with rubber-coated steel bullets.

Arafat Rateb Khawaje, 22, was shot in the back with live ammunition in December. The same day Mohammed Khawaje, 20, was also shot in the head with live ammunition. He died three days later.

The villagers of Ni’ilin and their supporters have been protesting weekly against the confiscation of their land by Israeli authorities for expansion of nearby Israeli settlements, and against the separation barrier.

The separation barrier, which slices through the village, divides Palestinian farmers from their land. It was deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004. (END/2009)

Obama urged to halt Israel demolitions

February 25, 2009

From correspondents in Ramallah

Herald Sun, February 24, 2009 04:42am

THE Palestinian Authority has urged the US president to press Israel to scrap a plan to raze almost 90 homes in annexed Arab east Jerusalem.

“We call on President Barack Obama to intervene personally to have this project stopped,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, one of the main aides of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, said overnight.

The Palestinian owners of 88 houses in the Silwan neighbourhood have received eviction notices saying the structures will be destroyed because they were built or expanded without the necessary permits. The move would affect about 1500 people.

“It is a massacre that Israel will commit in this Holy City,” Abed Rabbo said, calling for “urgent Arab and international action to halt this dangerous project”.

He said some of the houses affected by the orders had been built before Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War.

He called for a day-long strike in east Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank to protest against the plan.

The Gulf Cooperation Council, which groups the six Gulf Arab states, backed the call for US intervention to stop what it called these “racist acts that defy human rights and international law”.

“This is a dangerous step taken within the Zionist entity’s strategy to change the demographic reality in Jerusalem, signalling the occupier’s attempts to turn the city Jewish,” the grouping’s secretary-general Abdulrahman al-Attiya said according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

Silwan, which abuts the Old City of Jerusalem, is home to 10,000 Palestinians.

Sixty Jewish families also live in the neighbourhood around the City of David archaeological park which Israeli authorities say was the capital of the ancient Israelite kingdom.

Israel, which considers the whole of Jerusalem its “eternal, undivided” capital, rarely grants building permits to Arab residents of east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want to make the capital of their promised state.

According to the Israeli B’Tselem human rights organisation, Israeli authorities have demolished about 350 houses in east Jerusalem since 2004, saying they were built without permits.

Israel: End Ban on Human Rights Monitors

February 23, 2009

IDF Denies Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem Access to Gaza

Human Rights Watch, February 22, 2009

Israel’s refusal to allow human rights groups access to Gaza raises a strong suspicion that there are things it doesn’t want us to see or the world to know about its military operation there. If Israel has nothing to hide, why is it refusing to allow us in?

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch

(Jerusalem) – Israel continues to obstruct independent investigations into allegations of laws of war violations by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Hamas military forces in Gaza by preventing independent human rights monitors from entering Gaza, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem said today. After submitting applications for permission to enter via the Erez crossing in January 2009, the groups faced continued delays from the IDF unit reviewing the applications. In February, the IDF told Human Rights Watch that it had rejected its application. The Israeli military denied B’Tselem’s first request to enter Gaza and has failed to respond to a second.

“Israel’s refusal to allow human rights groups access to Gaza raises a strong suspicion that there are things it doesn’t want us to see or the world to know about its military operation there,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If Israel has nothing to hide, why is it refusing to allow us in?”

Human Rights Watch requested permission to enter Gaza on January 5. After weeks of delay, the IDF rejected the application on February 9, on the grounds that Human Rights Watch “was not registered with the [Israeli] Ministry of Social Affairs.” On all previous occasions, including several times in 2008, Israeli authorities permitted Human Rights Watch staff to enter and leave Gaza via the Erez crossing. The IDF never previously suggested such a requirement for access to Gaza, and Human Rights Watch is not aware of any such Israeli law or regulation. The IDF has not responded to Human Rights Watch’s requests for clarification.

Israel does not allow Jewish citizens of Israel, other than security forces, to enter Gaza on the grounds that their security would be at risk. B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, on January 20 requested permission from the IDF to allow the organization’s fieldwork director (a Palestinian citizen of Israel) to enter Gaza. The IDF refused the request nine days later. B’Tselem submitted an additional request on January 29 for entry for three staff members and an international consultant. The Israeli military has not responded to this request.

Human Rights Watch and other international human rights groups were able to enter Gaza via Egypt in late January to carry out initial investigations. The international researchers left Gaza just before February 5, when Egypt had announced it would close the Rafah crossing. The IDF had told Human Rights Watch that because its researchers had entered Gaza through Rafah, they would not permit the researchers to exit through Erez.

B’Tselem has not managed to gain access for its Israeli or West Bank staff, or for international consultants. Only the organization’s two field researchers, who are residents of the Gaza Strip, have been able to conduct research on the ground.

“Israel puts itself in the same league as Burma, North Korea, and Syria in keeping out independent human rights monitors,” said Jessica Montell, executive director of B’Tselem. “The people of Israel deserve to know the truth about the conduct of our forces in Gaza. It is also in Israel’s best interest that the full picture comes out.”

The IDF prevented journalists from entering Gaza during the 22-day military operation, called “Operation Cast Lead,” even after an Israeli Supreme Court ruling on January 2 ordered the state to allow entry to members of the Foreign Press Association.

Since the escalation of fighting in Gaza on December 27, 2008, both Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem have documented serious violations of international humanitarian law by Israel and Hamas. On January 10, Human Rights Watch exposed Israel’s unlawful use of white phosphorus in civilian areas, an allegation the IDF initially denied but now claims to be investigating. B’Tselem has expressed grave concern over violations of the principles of proportionality and distinction, including the deliberate targeting of civilian installations, such as government ministries and the Palestinian Legislative Council. Both organizations have, for over two decades, documented violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Article 6 of the Human Rights Defenders Declaration ensures that everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, “To know, seek, obtain, receive, and hold information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

In addition, the apparent blanket denial of access to Gaza by human rights groups violates the right to freedom of movement. Although human rights law permits restrictions on freedom of movement for security reasons, the restrictions must have a clear legal basis, be limited to what is necessary, and be proportionate to the threat.

Israel accused of war crimes over 12-hour assault on Gaza village

January 18, 2009

White flags ignored and houses bulldozed with families inside, claim residents

Israel stands accused of perpetrating a series of war crimes during a sustained 12-hour assault on a village in southern Gaza last week in which 14 people died.

In testimony collected from residents of the village of Khuza’a by the Observer, it is claimed that Israeli soldiers entering the village:

• attempted to bulldoze houses with civilians inside;

• killed civilians trying to escape under the protection of white flags;

• opened fire on an ambulance attempting to reach the wounded;

• used indiscriminate force in a civilian area and fired white phosphorus shells.

If the allegations are upheld, all the incidents would constitute breaches of the Geneva conventions.

The denunciations over what happened in Khuza’a follow repeated claims of possible human rights violations from the Red Cross, the UN and human rights organisations.

The Israeli army announced yesterday that it was investigating “at the highest level” five other attacks against civilians in Gaza, involving two UN facilities and a hospital. It added that in all cases initial investigations suggested soldiers were responding to fire. “These claims of war crimes are not supported by the slightest piece of evidence,” said Yigal Palmor, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman.

Concern over what occurred in the village of Khuza’a in the early hours of Tuesday was first raised by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. Although an Israeli military spokesman said he had “no information that this alleged incident took place”, witness statements collected by the Observer are consistent and match testimony gathered by B’Tselem.

There is also strong visible evidence that Khuza’a came under a sustained attack from tanks and bulldozers that smashed some buildings to pieces.

Pictures taken by photographer Bruno Stevens in the aftermath show heavy damage – and still burning phosphorus. “What I can tell you is that many, many houses were shelled and that they used white phosphorus,” said Stevens yesterday, one of the first western journalists to get into Gaza. “It appears to have been indiscriminate.” Stevens added that homes near the village that had not been hit by shell fire had been set on fire.

The village of Khuza’a is around 500 metres from the border with Israel. According to B’Tselem, its field researcher in Gaza was contacted last Tuesday by resident Munir Shafik al-Najar, who said that Israeli bulldozers had begun destroying homes at 2.30am.

When Rawhiya al-Najar, aged 50, stepped out of her house waving a white flag, so that the rest of the family could leave the house, she was allegedly shot by Israeli soldiers nearby.

The second alleged incident was on Tuesday afternoon, when Israeli troops ordered 30 residents to leave their homes and walk to a school in the village centre. After travelling 20 metres, troops fired on the group, allegedly killing three.

Further detailed accounts of what occurred were supplied in interviews given to a Palestinian researcher who has been working for the Observer, following the decision by Israel to ban foreign media from the Gaza Strip. Iman al-Najar, 29, said she watched as bulldozers started to destroy neighbours’ homes and saw terrified villagers flee from their houses as masonry collapsed.

“By 6am the tanks and bulldozers had reached our house,” Iman recalled. “We went on the roofs and tried to show we were civilians with white flags. Everyone was carrying a white flag. We told them we are civilians. We don’t have any weapons. The soldiers started to destroy the houses even if the people were in them.” Describing the death of Rawhiya, Iman says they were ordered by Israeli soldiers to move to the centre of the town. As they did, Israeli troops opened fire. Rawhiya was at the front of the group, says Iman.

Marwan Abu Raeda, 40, a paramedic working for the Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, said: “At 8am we received a phone call from Khuza’a. They told us about the injured woman. I went immediately. I was 60 or 70 metres away from the injured woman when the Israeli forces started to shoot at me.” As he drove into another street, he came under fire again. Twelve hours later, when Rawhiya was finally reached, she was dead.

Iman said she ended up in an area of rubble where a large group of people had sought cover in a deep hole among the debris of demolished houses. It is then, she says, that bulldozers began to push the rubble from each side. “They wanted to bury us alive,” she said.

Israel Is Committing War Crimes

January 13, 2009

Hamas’s violations are no justification for Israel’s actions.

By GEORGE E. BISHARAT | The Wall Street Journal, January 10, 2009

Israel’s current assault on the Gaza Strip cannot be justified by self-defense. Rather, it involves serious violations of international law, including war crimes. Senior Israeli political and military leaders may bear personal liability for their offenses, and they could be prosecuted by an international tribunal, or by nations practicing universal jurisdiction over grave international crimes. Hamas fighters have also violated the laws of warfare, but their misdeeds do not justify Israel’s acts.

The United Nations charter preserved the customary right of a state to retaliate against an “armed attack” from another state. The right has evolved to cover nonstate actors operating beyond the borders of the state claiming self-defense, and arguably would apply to Hamas. However, an armed attack involves serious violations of the peace. Minor border skirmishes are common, and if all were considered armed attacks, states could easily exploit them — as surrounding facts are often murky and unverifiable — to launch wars of aggression. That is exactly what Israel seems to be currently attempting.

Israel had not suffered an “armed attack” immediately prior to its bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Since firing the first Kassam rocket into Israel in 2002, Hamas and other Palestinian groups have loosed thousands of rockets and mortar shells into Israel, causing about two dozen Israeli deaths and widespread fear. As indiscriminate attacks on civilians, these were war crimes. During roughly the same period, Israeli forces killed about 2,700 Palestinians in Gaza by targeted killings, aerial bombings, in raids, etc., according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

But on June 19, 2008, Hamas and Israel commenced a six-month truce. Neither side complied perfectly. Israel refused to substantially ease the suffocating siege of Gaza imposed in June 2007. Hamas permitted sporadic rocket fire — typically after Israel killed or seized Hamas members in the West Bank, where the truce did not apply. Either one or no Israelis were killed (reports differ) by rockets in the half year leading up to the current attack.

Israel then broke the truce on Nov. 4, raiding the Gaza Strip and killing a Palestinian. Hamas retaliated with rocket fire; Israel then killed five more Palestinians. In the following days, Hamas continued rocket fire — yet still no Israelis died. Israel cannot claim self-defense against this escalation, because it was provoked by Israel’s own violation.

An armed attack that is not justified by self-defense is a war of aggression. Under the Nuremberg Principles affirmed by U.N. Resolution 95, aggression is a crime against peace.

Israel has also failed to adequately discriminate between military and nonmilitary targets. Israel’s American-made F-16s and Apache helicopters have destroyed mosques, the education and justice ministries, a university, prisons, courts and police stations. These institutions were part of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. And when nonmilitary institutions are targeted, civilians die. Many killed in the last week were young police recruits with no military roles. Civilian employees in the Hamas-led government deserve the protections of international law like all others. Hamas’s ideology — which employees may or may not share — is abhorrent, but civilized nations do not kill people merely for what they think.

Deliberate attacks on civilians that lack strict military necessity are war crimes. Israel’s current violations of international law extend a long pattern of abuse of the rights of Gaza Palestinians. Eighty percent of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents are Palestinian refugees who were forced from their homes or fled in fear of Jewish terrorist attacks in 1948. For 60 years, Israel has denied the internationally recognized rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes — because they are not Jews.

Although Israel withdrew its settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005, it continues to tightly regulate Gaza’s coast, airspace and borders. Thus, Israel remains an occupying power with a legal duty to protect Gaza’s civilian population. But Israel’s 18-month siege of the Gaza Strip preceding the current crisis violated this obligation egregiously. It brought economic activity to a near standstill, left children hungry and malnourished, and denied Palestinian students opportunities to study abroad.

Israel should be held accountable for its crimes, and the U.S. should stop abetting it with unconditional military and diplomatic support.

George E. Bisharat is a professor at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

MIDEAST: Death Penalty in Palestinian Territories Alarms Rights Groups

December 23, 2008

By Mel Frykberg | Inter Press Service

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Dec 23 (IPS) – New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has sent urgent letters to Palestinian leaders in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, urging them to commute the death sentences of 11 Palestinians currently awaiting execution.

The death-row inmates, including one who was a juvenile at the time of his conviction, were sentenced this year by Palestinian military and state security courts. Two of the inmates received trials that lasted just one day.

Joe Stork, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division, appealed to Gaza’s Hamas leader, and de facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, and the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to urgently review the cases.

Under Palestinian law the penalties have to be either ratified or commuted by the PA president before they can be carried out.

“It’s deeply disturbing that Palestinian courts have resumed issuing death sentences at a time when the rest of world is moving toward abolishing capital punishment,” said Stork.

“President Abbas should make clear that he will commute all of these sentences when they arrive on his desk. Palestinian officials should announce an immediate moratorium on the death penalty and eliminate its use in Palestinian law.”

In separate letters to the Palestinian leaders, HRW also expressed concern about one of the defendants, Sa’id Jameel Zuhod, who was 17 when he together with three adults was found guilty of murdering and raping a child in Gaza in 2003.

In 2004 a Palestinian lower court sentenced Zuhod to life imprisonment on grounds of his youth. However, the Gaza Court of Appeals overturned this in 2005 and sentenced him to death. The sentence was upheld by the Gaza Court of Cassation in October this year.

HRW argued that if Zuhod’s execution goes ahead, the Palestinian territories will join the notorious club of Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan, Iran and Yemen in being the only governments to have executed juvenile offenders since 2005. Iran is the only country to have executed juveniles since 2007.

International human rights law prohibits the death penalty for all crimes committed by persons under age 18 at the time of the offence. Furthermore, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) puts stringent restrictions on when the death penalty can be used in cases involving adults.

The Palestinian Penal Code allows courts in the West Bank to impose the death penalty for 17 separate offences. In the Gaza Strip, 15 offences are subject to the death penalty.

According to the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PHRC), Palestinian law justifying the death sentence is based on the Jordanian Penal Code which applies to the West Bank and the Egyptian Penal Code which applies to Gaza. This followed the two countries’ occupation of the two respective territories following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

In addition to these two laws the application of the death penalty was reinforced by the Revolutionary Penal Law of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) of 1979.

However, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) has not ratified this law, especially as it relates to Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel.

Many Palestinians who were sentenced to death by Palestinian courts or those who were arbitrarily executed, vigilante-style, by members of the resistance organisations were accused of treason by collaborating with Israeli death squads.

Despite the harsh attitude towards those accused of treason, the Angus Reid Global Monitor carried out a survey several years ago and found two-thirds of Palestinians reject the use of capital punishment.

The last time a Palestinian court sentenced someone to death or carried out an execution was in 2005. From 1994 to 2005 the PA issued 74 death sentences, some of which were commuted.

Israeli rights group B’tselem says that Palestinian military and state security courts, which pass many of the sentences, do not meet international standards of fairness before an independent and impartial court, in addition to violating human rights.

The courts are further accused of carrying out summary trials while the accused are denied access to effective legal counsel.

The late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat issued a presidential decree which established the state security courts without determining their mandates or the nature of the cases to be considered.

In 2001, in an attempt to partially overcome fierce international criticism for the application of the death penalty under its jurisdiction, the PA passed the Penal Procedures Law of 2001.

This enabled a condemned person to appeal the death sentence within 15 days of being sentenced. If this was rejected by the appeal court, the case would be referred to the PA president.

However, this new law didn’t preclude previous state security court death sentences, without the right to appeal, being carried out.

The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) stated that Abbas followed the new law with a decree issued in 2005 requesting all death sentences before the notorious state security courts be re-tried before civilian courts. However, WCADP notes that this decree has not been followed through and that death sentences continue to be declared in “conditions that contravene both international standards and Palestinian national legislation.”

The Palestinian territories do not constitute a sovereign state and neither Palestinian leadership are signatories to international human rights treaties. However, HRW points out that both Hamas and the PA committed themselves to upholding international law in regard to human rights. (END/2008)

Israel Moves to Judaise East Jerusalem

September 10, 2008

By Mel Frykberg | Inter-Press Service, Sep 9, 2008

EAST JERUSALEM, –  The Israeli government is attempting to Judaise Palestinian East Jerusalem, and maintain a Jewish majority against the demographic threat of a higher Palestinian birth rate.

To that end, the Israeli government is enforcing a number of policies aimed at establishing facts on the ground in order to limit the number of Palestinian residents in the city.

To make any future division of Jerusalem almost impossible, the Israeli authorities are applying a combination of strategies including limiting family reunification permits, redrawing Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, enlarging Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and establishing new illegal ones.

Under international law the Green Line divides Jewish West Jerusalem from Palestinian East Jerusalem. However, Israel has illegally occupied East Jerusalem since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Last month Israel published tenders for the construction of 1,761 illegal housing units for Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem alone, according to the Israeli rights group, Peace Now.

Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem says there are nearly 192,000 Israeli settlers residing illegally in 12 settlements in East Jerusalem.

Jerusalem municipality’s redrawing of the city’s municipal boundaries has incorporated the illegal settlements, while the building of the separation barrier, which separates Israel proper from the West Bank, has increased the number of Palestinians on the ‘wrong side’ of the barrier or wall, thereby further limiting a Palestinian presence.

According to conservative UN figures, about 25 percent of the 253,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have been cut off from the city by the barrier.

“The Israelis are implementing the final plan to Judaise Jerusalem completely,” Suhail Khalilieh, head of the Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem (ARIJ) settlement unit told IPS.

“The plan began when Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967. The last stage of the plan involves the completion of the barrier with the specific aim of manipulating the demographics and limiting the balance of the Palestinian population to a mere 15-20 percent, with the remainder being Jewish,” said Khalilieh.

East Jerusalem is of particular importance to Palestinians because under international law it belongs to them and is designated the capital of a future Palestinian state. They also have significant cultural, religious, educational and business ties to the city.

Al-Aqsa Mosque, the second holiest Islamic site, as well as sites where Christ is said to have been buried and crucified are in East Jerusalem. Many Palestinians are Christian, even though they are a minority.

The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) is trying to address the future status of East Jerusalem, which it considers a red line issue, within the framework of final negotiations on a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

But the PNA faces a task of Sisyphean proportions as Israel’s encroachment of East Jerusalem has steadily increased over the decades since 1967, when a third of the area was expropriated from individual Palestinian landowners during the annexation and used exclusively to build settlements.

The expropriation, in defiance of the Fourth Geneva Convention, was justified on the basis of classifying Palestinian-owned land as vacant or unused, as many Palestinians fled the war temporarily to neighbouring countries.

“Palestinians residing outside of Jerusalem for seven or more years lose their Jerusalem residency status unless they can prove Jerusalem residency within the municipal boundaries and the importance of the city in their daily life, which is imperative in order to keep their identity cards,” says B’Tselem.

This does not apply to Israelis in West Jerusalem.

According to UN figures, in 2006 at least 1,360 Palestinians had their ID cards revoked. This was five times more than in 2005, and more than in any previous year since Israel began occupying East Jerusalem.

In 2003, the Citizenship and Entry into Israel law was enacted, which denies spouses from the occupied Palestinian territories, who are married to Israeli citizens or permanent residents (Jerusalem ID card holders), the right to acquire citizenship or residency status, and thus the opportunity to live with their partners in Israel and Jerusalem.

As a result, thousands of married couples are forced to live apart from one another.

In Israel, foreign spouses who are Jewish are automatically granted citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return.

Furthermore, since 1982 the Israeli Interior Ministry has not permitted the registration of Palestinian children as Jerusalem residents if the child’s father does not hold a Jerusalem ID card, even if the mother is a Jerusalem ID cardholder.

Jerusalem’s urban planning too, has been fine-tuned to increase the Jewish population with tax incentives and massive investment in Jewish neighbourhoods, while severely restricting construction in Palestinian neighbourhoods to seven percent of East Jerusalem.

“However, even before Palestinians are permitted to build they need to obtain the requisite building permits which are both expensive and extremely difficult to obtain,” said Khalilieh.

Even if Palestinians are fortunate enough to get the permits, they are still restricted to building on only 25 percent of their land.

Again, these restrictions do not apply to Jewish residents of West Jerusalem.

Jeff Halper from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) says there is currently a housing shortage of 25,000 units in East Jerusalem, and fewer homes means higher prices.

“Despite the housing shortage, Israel’s municipality grants Palestinians only around 150 to 350 work permits a year, yet demolishes 150 or more existing homes at the same time,” said Halper.

Houses built without permits are demolished by the municipality.

B’Tselem states that both Israelis and Palestinians build illegally, but that the response of the authorities is not equal. Palestinians account for about 20 percent of illegal construction, yet more than 75 percent of the demolitions are carried out on Palestinian homes.

“While demolitions carried out in Jewish neighbourhoods target either commercial buildings or additions to a house, in Palestinian neighbourhoods such demolitions leave entire Palestinian families homeless,” added the human rights group.

ICAHD further asserts that Palestinians face discrimination in regard to budgeting and taxation as well as essential needs like water, sewage, roads, parks, lighting, post offices, schools and other services.

The PNA continues to negotiate with the Israelis despite the continued settlement building and land expropriation.

“The Palestinians are in an extremely weak position. If they stopped negotiations on this basis, Israel would put the blame on failed talks squarely on their shoulders, with the support of the U.S., and continue with establishing facts on the ground irrespectively,” Khalilieh told IPS. (END/2008)

The Israeli army released the soldier who shot a bound Palestinian in Ni’lin two weeks ago

July 24, 2008, July 22, 2008


The Israeli National Radio reported on Monday evening that the Israeli Army District Attorney has released the Israeli soldier who shot a bound Palestinian civilian in Ni’lin village near Ramallah in the northern part of the West Bank two weeks ago.

A video showing an Israeli soldier shooting a bound Palestinian in the village of Ni’lin near Ramallah raised uproar among human rights organizations.

The tape, which was released on Sunday by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, shows an Israeli soldier shooting Ashraf Abu Rahme with a rubber coated-steel bullet at short range while his arms were bound almost two weeks ago.

B’Tselem said that other soldiers witnessed the shooting but moved no limb to stop it, and demanded an investigation to be opened into the incident. The shooting took place July 7, during an anti-wall demonstration in the village.

The video shows Abu Rahme being taken to the military jeep by one soldier, while the other points his gun form a very short range at Abu Rahme and shoots him in his left foot. The video was filmed by a Palestinian girl, 14, from a window in her home in the village. B’Tselem has distributed about 100 cameras to Palestinians throughout the West Bank over the last year, as part of their “Shooting Back” project.

B’Tselem released a video last month showing the beginning of an apparent assault by stick-wielding Israeli settlers on Palestinian farmers. The footage shows four people holding sticks approaching the farmers near the settlement of Susya outside Hebron.

Dozens of similar violations go undocumented especially in nonviolent protests in remote villages that most media outlets do not reach. The Israeli soldier told the investigators that he opened fire at the Palestinian civilian after he had received orders by his commander.

The Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, said that this incident is against the morals of the Israeli army and an investigation will be conducted. The Israeli Army District Attorney announced that the charges against the soldier will be dropped but the officer who gave the order will be questioned and may face charges.

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