Tag Archives: Gilad Shalit

Samer Issawi, Hunger Strikes, and the Palestinian Struggle

28 Dec



            For the last three years Palestinian prisoners, mainly unlawfully detained in Israeli jails, have been engaged in a series of life threatening hunger strikes to protest administrative detention imprisonment (that is,without indictment, charges, and access to allegedly incriminating evidence), abusive arrest procedures (including nighttime arrests involving brutality in the presence of family members, detention for prolonged interrogations violating international standards, e.g. 22 hours at a time, sleep deprivation), and deplorable prison conditions (including unlawful transfer to Israeli prisons, denial of family visits, solitary confinement for prolonged periods).


            No recent Palestinian prisoner has received more attention among the Palestinian than Samer Issawi, released a few days ago after reaching an extraordinary bargain with prison officials last April. He agreed then to stop his hunger strike, which had lasted an incredible 266 days, either partially or completely, in exchange for an Israeli pledge to release him in eight months at the end of 2013. Notably, Issawi had rejected Israeli earlier offers to release him provided he would agree to a ten year deportation order to either Gaza or some distant country. Issawi refused this arrangement, a form of punitive release, which Israel had imposed on other hunger strikers, including Hana Shalabi. In Issawi’s words, “I do not accept to be deported out of my homeland.”


            In the background also is the apparent Israeli effort to avoid having hunger strikers die, either because of their memory of the strong impact of Bobby Sands’ death on public opinion in Northern Ireland back in 1981 or as an aspect of the Israeli brand of ‘subsistence humanitarianism’ that has been explicitly most implemented in Gaza for the past decade. It involves a grouping of policies that seeks to make life extremely difficult for Palestinians but short of the point of death or epidemic, an extreme austerity reinforced periodically by what some Israelis referred to as ‘mowing the lawn,’ that is, relying on military incursion to ensure that the average collective material circumstances of Gazans don’t rise above subsistence levels. Such an articulated cruelty, proclaimed to be the rationale for an occupation policy, is bound to sow seeds of hatred, resentment, and give rise to feelings of revenge among even the most moderate of Palestinians. I have encountered such responses to Israeli practices and policies among the gentlest of Gazans with whom I have met in recent years.


            Issawi’s case stands out for several reasons aside from taking note of the length of his hunger strike. His expressed motivation was an understandable reaction to being rearrested in July 7, 2012 after having been released the prior year as part of the arrangement in which 1,027 Palestinian prisoners were given their freedom in exchange for the return of Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier. Issawi was rearrested at the Juba checkpoint, accused of violating the terms of his release that restricted him to Jerusalem, his place of residence. He was apparently still within the municipal limits of Jerusalem, but in an area treated as the West Bank by the Occupation authorities, and even so was claiming only to be seeking a shop for the repair of his car. For this possible technical violation of the release agreement, he was sentenced to eight months in prison, but then additional to this, a special committee, acting under Military Order 1651, Article 186, used its authority to rule that someone rearrested in this way could be returned, on the basis of a secret file, to prison for the completion of his original sentence, which in Issawi’s case meant twenty years. There was no right to challenge such a seemingly outrageous ruling. Even Issawi’s lawyer was denied access to the file that contained the supposedly incriminating information. It was against this background that Issawi was unwilling to accept a reversal of his release from jail. He declared that a hunger strike was the only weapon available to him to protest such treatment, implying that he would either win his freedom in that way or die in prison.


            Issawi’s family history is emblematic of what it has meant to live for most Palestinians decade after decade under military occupation. Samer’s brother, Fadi, was killed in 1994 by Israeli security forces, and a second brother, Medhat has spent the last 19 years in prison, while his sister Shireen was detained during 2010. The family lives in the village of Issawiyeh, a suburb of Jerusalem, and a site of protest in recent years, especially in reaction to the confiscation of village land to create a ‘national park’ and to establish a waste dump. In other words, the context of occupation, annexation, expropriation of resources, and suppression are all part of the Issawi story. Indicatively, Israel banned any celebration of Issawi’s release in Issawiyeh, an order somewhat ignored by a warm welcoming crowd joyful about his release.


            Even before his rearrest for violating the terms of his release, the Palestinian NGO that monitors Israeli prisons and policies, Addameer, indicated that Issawi was subjected to constant harassment by security forces. He was questioned at length several times a week, and was denied the opportunity to live a normal life. The daily ordeal of Palestinians living under occupation is a Kafka tale of lawless law, where those in charge decide   

whatever they wish, hide behind veils of secrecy, and impose their authority by relying on excessive force and a variety of humiliating obstacles to normalcy. Issawi made clear that his struggle would not end with his release from prison: “It is our obligation as freedom fighters to free all Palestinian political prisoners.” Also, that there was a link between his kind of resistance by Palestinians and the broader international solidarity movement: “I draw my strength from all the free people in the world who want an end to the Israeli occupation.” Of course, there is mutuality present as those who support the Palestinian struggle from outside are inspired by the courage and resilience of individuals such as Samer Issawi, and should know these stories of nonviolent Palestinian defiance.


            The Issawi story is more than the struggle of an individual or the sad saga of a family active in resistance or a village confronting the daily realities of an occupation that is also a scenario of resource confiscation and oppressive living conditions. It represents a metaphoric summary of the Palestinian reality, epitomized by pervasive vulnerability, violent oppression, and the steady encroachment on the integrity of the Palestinian habitat, but also by the dynamics of resistance, struggle, and hope for a better, decent future. It is a reality we should all reflect upon at the turning of the year, wishing and acting for a better 2014 for Palestinians and for all of us.


Beyond the Politics of Invisibility: Remembering Not to Forget Palestinian Hunger Strikers

28 May


            With a certain amount of fanfare in Israel and Palestine, although still severely underreported by the world media and relatively ignored by the leading watchdog human rights NGOs, it was observed with contradictory spins that the Palestinian hunger strikes had been brought to an end by agreement between the strikers and Israel. At least, that is what most of us believed who were following this narrative from outside the region, but like so much else in the region our understanding was a half-truth, if that. Whether Israel abides by its assurances remains to be seen, and although these strikes were courageous acts of nonviolent resistance it is not clear at this point whether they will have any longer term effects on the Israel’s occupation, arrest, and prison policy, or on the wider Palestinian struggle.


            Two things are certain, however. First, a much wider awareness that Israel’s reliance on administrative detention, its abusive arrest procedures, and its prison system deserves wider scrutiny than in the past, and that this dimension of the prolonged occupation of Palestine has been responsible for inflicting great suffering on many Palestinians and their families ever since 1967. Whether such a structure of imprisonment of an occupied people should be viewed as a hitherto neglected dimension of state terrorism is an open question that should be further investigated. Secondly, that the hunger strike as a mode of resistance is now part of the Palestinian culture of resistance, and an option that engages Palestinian political consciousness in manner that did not exist prior to Khader Adnan’s 66 day hunger strike initiated on December 17, 2011.


            There were parallel and overlapping strikes: A sequence of long-term strikes, first, Adnan, followed by Hana Shalabi, then Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Diab, and maybe others, focusing on humiliating and abusive arrest procedures, as well as administration detention as a practice; and then a second wave of strikes, commencing on April 17, 2012, Palestine Prisoners Day and ending 30 days later on the eve of the 2012 Nakba observance. This latter protest involved more than 1600 Palestinian prisoners, who were initially inspired by the Adnan and Shalabi strikes, and focused their challenge on deplorable prison conditions.  


            Supposedly Israeli prison authorities agreed under the pressure of these latter strikes to reduce reliance on solitary confinement in its prisons and to allow more family visits, especially from Gaza. Gaza prisoners had been denied such visits for years as an unlawful reprisal mandated by the Knesset in angry reaction to the capture of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. What was this pressure? It was not moral suasion. It seemed to be a calculated decision by Israeli prison authorities that it would be better to make small concessions than risk angry reactions to the death of any hunger strikers. The debate in the Israeli press was entirely pragmatic: whether it was worse to have bad publicity or to show weakness by giving in. Israel only seemed to give in. It needs to be understood that Israel retains all the prerogatives to rely on administrative detention in the future and continuing to have unmonitored exclusive control over prison life.


            In the background it should be appreciated that the whole structure of this Israeli prison system violates the Fourth Geneva Convention that explicitly forbids the transfer of prisoners from an occupied territory to the territory of the occupier.


            These uncertainties about the results of these past strikes should certainly be kept in mind. What is presently of more urgent concern is the failure even to realize that long-term hunger strikes were never ended by at least two prisoners, Mahmoud Sarsak, without food for 70 days, and Akram Rikhawi on strike for 40 days. Both are, as could hardly be otherwise, are currently in danger of dying, and yet hardly anybody seems to know. Sarsak who is 25 years of age and a resident of the Rafah Refugee Camp in Gaza is hardly a nobody. When arrested in July 2009 he was a member of the Palestine National Football Team on his way to a match in the West Bank. He was arrested under the ‘Unlawful Combatants Law,’ which offers a person detained even less protection than is provided by ‘administrative detention.’ It is aimed at Palestinians living in Gaza, a part of Palestine that is treated by Israel (but not the international community) as no longer occupied since Sharon’s ‘disengagement plan’ was implemented in 2005. Iman Sarsak has bemoaned his brother’s fate, “My family never would have imagined that Mahmoud would have been imprisoned by Israel. Why, really why?”


            There is reason to believe that rather than some conjured up security concern, Sarsak was arrested as part of a broader effort to demoralize the Palestinians, especially those long entrapped in Gaza. During the savage attacks on Gaza at the end of 2008 (‘Operation Cast Lead’) the national stadium used for football and the offices of the Palestine Football Association were targeted and destroyed, and three members of the Palestine team killed. All along, the team has been handicapped by curfews, checkpoints, and harassments, as well as the blockade of Gaza, that has forced the team to forfeit many games. The goalkeeper, Omar Abu Rwayyes has said, “if you degrade the national team you degrade the idea that there could ever be a nation.” Football, what we Americans call soccer, plays a vital symbolic role in the self-esteem and national consciousness of peoples throughout the Arab world, and elsewhere in the South, to a degree unimaginable for even a sports crazy country like the United States.


            There has been some slight notice taken of the plight of the Palestinian team in the football world. A few years ago Michel Piatini, President of FIFA, warned Israel that it was risking its own membership in the world association if it continued to interfere with the Palestinian efforts to field the best possible team for international competition. But as with many international gestures of protest against Israel, there was no follow through, nullifying the original impulse. In fact, a disturbing reversal of approach took place. Not long afterwards, Piatini actually presided over a process that awarded Israel the honor of hosting the 2013 Under-21 European Championships. A British NGO, ‘Soccer Without Borders’ was not so easily seduced, issuing a declaration urging a boycott of the event in Israel, declaring that its organization “stands in solidarity with Mahmoud Sarsak and all Palestinian political prisoners.”


            As is usually the case, the Israeli response in self-justifying and cynical. A shin bet official insisted that Israel “can’t play by the rules of bridge if everyone else is playing rugby.” This kind of assertion papers over the degree to which Israeli society in recent years has enjoyed peace, prosperity, and security while Palestinians have been enduring the rigors of a cruel occupation and the severe vulnerabilities of a rightless existence. Palestinians have also been experiencing the split reality of observing a set of protective laws applied Israeli settlers (all of whom are part of an unlawful enterprise) and an unregulated military structure applied arbitrarily to the indigenous residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.


            With national athletes being such objects of interest it shows how effective is this ‘politics of invisibility’ that keeps the world from knowing the harm being done to the Palestinian people and how they are resisting, often at great risk and self-sacrifice, as epitomized by these long hunger strikes. One can be certain that if such repressive measures were taken by China or Myanmar there would be a mighty cascade of interest, coupled with high minded denunciations from the global bully pulpits of political leaders and an array of moral authority figures. But when the Palestinians experience abuse or resist by reliance on brave forms of nonviolence there is a posture of almost total disregard, and if a few voices are raised, such as that of Archbishop Tutu it is either ignored because his witness is treated as partisan or according to Israel’s more zealous defenders, he is discredited by being alleged to be ‘anti-semite,’ a denunciation whose meaning has been conflated so as to apply to any critic of Israel. Even such a globally respected figure as Jimmy Carter could not escape the wrath of Israeli loyalists merely because the word ‘apartheid’ in the title of a book urging a just peace between the two peoples.


            The politics of invisibility is cruel and harmful. It is cruel because it does not acknowledge a pattern of injustice because the victims have been effectively stigmatized. It is harmful because it sends a strong signal that victimization will only be given some sort of visibility if it shocks the conscience by its violence against those who seem innocent. Such visibility has a largely negative and stereotyping impact, allowing the oppressor to escalate state violence without risking any kind of backlash or even notice, and validating the perception of the victim population as undeserving, and even as evil endorsers of an ethos of terrorism. Israeli hasbara has worked hard over many years to stereotype the Palestinians as ‘terrorists,’ and by doing so to withdraw any sympathy from their victimization, which is portrayed as somehow deserved. These hunger strikers, despite all indications to the contrary, are so described, attributing their supposed association with Islamic Jihad as synonymous with an embrace of terrorism.  A more objective look at the evidence suggests that Islamic Jihad has itself for several years abandoned tactics of violence against civilian targets, and is part of a broader shift in Palestinian tactics of resistance in the direction of nonviolence. Such shifts are either totally ignored by the politics of invisibility or there is a refusal to acknowledge the shift so as to keep the negative stereotype before the public. 


            It is one more challenge to global civil society to do what international law is currently incapable of doing: treat equals equally. If the world media renders visible the plight of Chinese human rights activists who are abused by the state, might not at least human rights NGOs note this emergency plight of Palestinian hunger strikers on the edge of death?  And if these NGOs are afraid to do so, should not those with eyes able to see such torment, start screaming at the top of our lungs?

Historic Hunger Strikes: Lightning in the Skies of Palestine

8 May


There is ongoing militant expression of Palestinian resistance to the abuses of Israel’s 45 years of occupation and de facto annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and five year blockade of Gaza taking the form of a series of hunger strikes. Recourse to this desperate tactic of courageous self-sacrifice is an extreme form of nonviolence, and should whenever and wherever it occurs be given close attention. Palestinians have protested by hunger strikes in the past but failed to inspire the imagination of the wider Palestinian community or shake the confidence of Israeli officialdom. Despite the averted gaze of the West, especially here in North America, there are some signs that this time the hunger strikes have crossed a historic threshold of no return.


These strikes started by the individual exploit of a single person, Khader Adnan, at the end of 2011. Dragged from his home in the village of Arraba near Jenin by a night raid by dozens of Israeli soldiers, humiliated and roughed up in the presence of his two and four year old daughter, carried away shackled and blindfolded, roughly interrogated, and then made subject to an administrative decree for the eighth time in his young life, Adnan’s inner conscience must have screamed ‘Enough!’ and he embarked on an open-ended hunger strike. He continued it for 66 days, and agreed to take food again only after the Israeli authorities relented somewhat, including a pledge not to subject Adnan to a further period of administrative detention unless further incriminating evidence came to the surface. Upon release, Adnan to depersonalize his ordeal insisted on visiting the families of other Palestinians currently under administrative detention before returning to his own home.

He has spoken out with firm gentleness and invited persons of conscience everywhere to join in the struggle to induce Israel to abandon administrative detention, and the accompanying violations of Palestinian human rights. Khader Adnan’s open letter to the people of the world is reproduced below to convey the tone and substance of his struggle.


Following Adnan, and inspired by him, was Hana Shalabi, a young Palestinian woman subject to a similar abusive arrest, accompanied by humiliations associated with her dress and sexual identity. Shalabi was from the villange of Burqin also near Jenin, and had been released a few months earlier in October 2011 as part of the prisoner exchange that was negotiated to obtain the release of the sole Israeli captive, Gilad Shalit. She had seldom strayed from her family home prior to the re-arrest on February 16, 2012, and her life was described as follows by her devoted sister, Zahra: “The four months between October and February were trouble-free days, bursting with dreams and ambitions. Hana loved to socialize and meet with people. She was busy with getting her papers in order to register for university, with her eyes set on enrolling at the American University in Jenin. She wanted to get her driver’s license, and later buy a car. She went on a shopping spree, buying new carpets and curtains for her bedroom…and she dreamed of getting married and of finding the perfect man to spend the rest of her life with.” It is little wonder that when arrested in the middle of the night she reacted in the manner described by Zahra: “She was panicking, and kept repeating over and over again that she was not going with the soldiers because she didn’t do anything.”


As with Adnan, Shalabi was released after she was in critical condition, but in a vindictive manner, being sent to live in Gaza for three years, thereby separated from her family and village, which were her places of refuge, love, and nurturing. She also made it clear that her experience of resistance was not meant for herself alone, but was intended to contribute to the struggle against prison abuse and the practice e of administrative detention, but even more generally as engagement in the struggle for Palestinian rights, so long denied. The example set by Adnan and Shalabi inspired others subject to similar treatment at the hands of the Israelis arrest and prison service. Several Palestinians detained by administrative detention decrees commenced hunger strikes at the end of February, and as many as 1650 others, and possibly more,  initiated a massive hunger strike on Palestinian Prisoner’s Day, April 17th that is continuing, and has been named ‘the battle of empty stomachs.’ The main battlefield is the mind of the oppressor, whether to give in and seem weak or remain firm and invite escalating censure, as well as Palestinian militancy, should any of those now in grave condition die.     


The latest news suggests that Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, continuing their hunger strike that started on February 28th of this year, are clinging to life by a thread. A few days ago they were both been finally transferred to civilian hospitals. Mr. Halahleh after the 70th day without food announced that he was  no longer willing even to drink any water or accept further medication.


As might be expected the voices of concern from the international community have been muted and belated. The International Committee of the Red Cross has finally expressed in public its concern for the lives of these strikers. The UN Envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, never someone outspoken, acknowledged a few days ago in a brief and perfunctory statement that he was ‘deeply troubled’ by the danger to these hunger strikers, as if such a sentiment was somehow sufficient to the outrages being inflicted.



More persuasively, several human rights NGOs, including Physicians for Human Rights–Israel have been reminding Israel of its obligation to allow family visits, which prison authorities have repeatedly denied, despite it being an accepted tenet of medical ethics that is affirmed in Israel’s Patient’s Rights Law.


On May 7, 2012 the Israel’s High Court of Justice denied urgent petitions for release from administrative detention filed on behalf of Mr. Diab and Mr. Halahleh. The Court in a classic example of the twisted way judges choose to serve the state rather than the cause of justice declared: “Hunger strikes cannot serve as an element in a decision on the very validity of administrative detention, since that would be confusing the issue.” Would it be so confusing to say that without some demonstration of evidence of criminality rejecting such a petition amounts to imposing a death sentence without even the pretensions of ‘a show trial’ that relies on coerced confessions? Israel’s highest judicial body leaves no doubt about their priorities by invoking anti-terrorism as a blanket justification, saying that Israel “should not have to apologize for securing its own safety.”


Other reports that the Israeli government has yet to feel pressure from European governments to act in a more humanitarian manner in response to these hunger strikes, but is worried that such pressure might come soon. After

remaining silent for a long time, Robert Serry, the UN Envoy to the Middle East, a few days ago timidly issued a public statement saying that he was ‘deeply troubled’ by the near death condition of the Mr. Diab and Mr. Halahleh.


On a wider canvas, the hunger strikes are clearly having some effect on Israeli prison policy, although it is not clearly discernible as yet. The Israeli Public Security Minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, convened a meeting in which he voiced the opinion that Israeli reliance on administrative detention was excessive, and should be reduced. There is also some discussion with officials of the Israeli Prison Service and a committee representing some of the April 17th prisoners on a series of demands relating to prison conditions.


The following demands have been articulated by the April 17th hunger strikers, under the banner of ‘The Prisoners Revolution’:


1. Ending the Israeli Administrative detention and solitary confinement, in which Palestinians were imprisoned for more than ten consecutive years, in solitary cells that lack basic human necessities of life.

2. Allowing family visits to those from the Gaza Strip due to political decisions and unjust laws, such as the so-called “law of Shalit.

3. Improving the livelihood of prisoners inside Israeli Jails and allowing basic needs such as a proper health treatment, education and TV channels and newspapers.

4. Putting an end to the humiliation policy carried by the Israeli Prison Service against Palestinian prisoners and their families, through humiliating naked inspection, group punishment, and night raids.   



Khader Adnan’s Open Letter to the Free People of the World


In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,*


 * Praise be to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of



 Dear free people of the world. Dear oppressed and disenfranchised around

 the globe. Dear friends of our people, who stood with me with a stern belief in     freedom and dignity for my people and our prisoners languishing

in the Occupation’s prisons.


 Dear free women and men, young and elderly, ordinary people as well as

 intellectual elites everywhere – I address you today with an outpouring of

 hope and pain for every Palestinian that suffers from the occupation of his

 land, for each of us that has been killed, wounded or imprisoned by the

 state of terror, that denies anything beautiful in our lives, even the

 smile of our children and families. I am addressing you in my first letter

 following my release – praying it will not be the last – after Allah

 granted me freedom, pride and dignity. I was an “administrative detainee”

 in the jail of occupation for four months, out of which I have spent 66

 days on hunger strike.



 I was driven to declare an open-ended hunger strike by the daily harassment

 and violation of my people’s rights by the Israeli Zionist occupation. The

 last straw for me were the ongoing arrests, the brutal nighttime raid on my

 house, my violent detention, during which I was taken to the “Mavo Dotan”

 settlement on our land occupied 1967, and the beatings and humiliation I

 was treated to during arrest interrogation. The way I was treated during

 the interrogation at the Jalameh detention center, using the worse and

 lowest verbal insults in the dictionary. After questioning, I was sentenced

 to imprisonment under administrative detention with no charges, which

 proves mine and others’ arrests serve only to maintain a quota of

 prisoners, to harass us, to restrict our freedom and to undermine our

 determination, pride and dignity.



 I write today to thank all those who stood tall in support of my people,

 with our prisoners, with Hana al-Shalabi and with myself. I call on you to

 stand for justice pride and dignity in the face of occupation. The assault

 on the freedom and dignity of the Palestinian people is an assault on free

 people of the world by a criminal occupation that threatens the security,

 freedom and dignity of all, no matter where.



 Please, continue in exposing this occupation, boycotting and isolating it

 internationally. Expose its true face, the one that was clearly exposed in

 the attack of an Israeli officer on our Danish cohort. Unlike that attack,

 the murder our people is a crime that goes by unspoken of and slips away

 from the lens of the camera. Our prisoners are dying in silence. Hundreds

 of defenders of freedom are on hunger strike inside the prisons, including

 the eight knights, Bilal Diab and Thaer Hlahalh, who are now on their 61st

 day of hunger strike, Hassan Safadi, Omar Abu Shalal, Mahmoud Sarsak,

 Mahmoud Sarsal, Mohammad Taj, Jaafar Azzedine (who was arrested solely           for standing in solidarity with myself) and Ahmad haj Ali. Their lives now are

 in great danger.


 We are all responsible and we will all lose if we anything happen to them.

 Let us take immediate action to pressure the Occupation into releasing them

 immediately, or their children could never forgive us.


 Let all those free and revolutionary join hands against the Occupation’s

 oppression, and take to the streets – in front of the Occupation’s prisons,

 in front of its embassies and all other institutions backing it around the



 With deep appreciation,


*Khader Adnan *




Having followed these hunger strikes for several months, I am convinced that these individuals subject to administrative detention are ordinary persons living a normal life, although chafing under the daily rigors and indignities of prolonged occupation. Israeli commentary tends to divert humanitarian concerns by branding these individuals as ‘terrorists,’ taking note of their alleged affiliation with Islamic Jihad. Adnan who is obviously preoccupied with his loving family, a baker by profession, working in his village, does not seem a particularly political person beyond the unavoidable political response to a structure of domination that is violent, cruel, and abusive. The language of his Open Letter is one that exhibits moral intensity, and seeks support for the Palestinian struggle for a sustainable peace with justice. It has none of the violent imagery or murderous declarations found in Al Qaeda’s characteristic calls for holy warfare against the infidels.


I was impressed by Hana Shalabi’s sister’s response when asked about the alleged connection with Islamic Jihad. Zahra responded to the question with a smile saying, ‘She’s not really Islamic Jihad. She doesn’t belong to any faction. When Israel imprisons you, their security forces ask which political faction you belong to. Hana chose Islamic Jihad on a whim.’ Even if it was than a whim, for a religious person to identify with Islamic Jihad it does not at all imply a commitment to or support for terrorist tactics of resistance. Zahra asks rhetorically, ‘Does she have missiles or rockets? Where is the threat to Israel? ..Why can’t we visit her? She has done nothing.’ And finally, ‘I would never place my enemy in my sister’s position…I would not wish this on anyone.’


Israel has by vague allegations of links to terrorist activities tried its best to dehumanize these hunger strikers, or to dismiss such actions as the foolish or vain bravado of persons ready to renounce their lives by their own free will. But their acts and words if heeded with empathy, their show of spiritual stamina and sense of mission, convey an altogether different message, one that exhibits the finest qualities that human beings can ever hope to achieve. Those of us who watch such heroic dramas unfold should at least do our best to honor these hunger strikers, and not avert our eyes, and do our utmost to act in solidarity with their struggles in whatever way we can.


We cannot now know whether these hunger strikes will spark Palestinian resistance in new and creative ways. What we can already say with confidence is that these hunger strikers are writing a new chapter in the story line of resistance sumud, and their steadfastness is for me a Gandhian Moment in the Palestinian struggle.  

The Massive Palestinian Hunger Strike: Traveling below the Western Radar

2 May


            Can anyone doubt that if there were more than 1300 hunger strikers in any country in the world other than Palestine, the media in the West would be obsessed with the story?  It would be featured day after day, and reported on from all angles, including the severe medical risks associated with such a lengthy refusal to take food. At this time two Palestinians who were the first to start this current wave of resistance, Thaer Halaheh and Bilal Diab, entering their 64th day without food, are reported by the prisoner protection association, Addameer, and the NGO, Physician for Human Rights-Israel, to be in critical condition with their lives hanging in the balance.  Despite this dramatic state of affairs there is scant attention in Europe, and literally none in North America. It is the case that prison protests, even large-scale ones such as occurred in California a year ago often attract little national and international notice unless deaths occur, as happened in the famous Maze Prison IRA hunger strikes back in 1981, but to ignore this expression of Palestinian resistance in the overall context of the conflict with Israel is lamentable. After all, as an occupying power of Palestinian territories Israel has a particular responsibility to the international community.


            In contrast, consider the attention that the Western media has devoted to a lone blind Chinese human rights lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, who managed to escape from house arrest in Beijing a few days ago and find a safe haven at the U.S. Embassy. This is an important international incident, to be sure, but is it truly so much more significant than the Palestinian story as to explain the total neglect of the extraordinary exploits of these thousands of Palestinians who are sacrificing their bodies, quite possibly their lives, to nonviolently protest severe mistreatment in the Israeli prison system.? Except among their countrymen, and to some extent the region, these many thousand Palestinian prisoners have been languishing within an opaque black box ever ever since 1967, are denied protection, exist without rights, and cope as best they can without even the acknowledgement of their plight.


            There is another comparison to be made. Recall the outpouring of concern and sympathy throughout the West for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was captured on the Gaza border and held captive by Palestinians for five years. A powerful global campaign for his release on humanitarian ground was organized, and received constant reinforcement in the media. World leaders pleaded for his release, and Israeli commanding officers even told IDF fighting forces during the massive attacks on Gaza at the end of 2008 that killed more than 1450 Palestinians that their real mission was to free Shalit or at least hold accountable the entire civilian population of Gaza. When Shalit finally released in a prisoner exchange a few months ago there was a brief celebration that abruptly ended when, much to the disappointment of the Israeli establishment, Shalit reported good treatment during captivity. Shalit’s father went further, saying if he was a Palestinian he would have tried to capture Israeli soldiers. Not surprisingly, Shalit, instead of being revered as an Israeli hero, has quietly disappeared from public view.           


            This current wave of hunger strikes started on April 17th, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, and was directly inspired by the recently completed long and heroic hunger strikes of Khader Adnan (66 days) and Hana Shalabi (43 days) both of whom protested against the combination of administrative detention and abusive arrest and interrogation procedures. It should be understood that administrative detention is validated by secret evidence and allows Israel to imprison Palestinians for six months at a time without bringing any criminal charges, with terms renewable as they expire. Hana Shalabi was among those released in the prisoner exchange, but then barely recovering from her prior detention period, was rearrested in a night arrest raid, and sentenced once again to a term of confinement for four months. Or consider the experience of Thaer Halahla, eight times subject to administrative detention for a total of six and a half years.  


Both Mr. Adnan and Ms. Shalabi were released by deals negotiated at a time when their physical survival seemed in doubt, making death seem imminent. Israel apparently did not want to risk a third intifada resulting as a reaction to such martyrdom. At the same time Israel, as usual, did not want to seem to be retreating, or draw into question its reliance on administrative detention and imprisonment. Israel has refused, until the present, to examine the grievances that gave rise to these hunger strikes. In Hana Shalabi’s case her release was coupled with a punitive deportation order, which cruelly confines her to Gaza for the next three years, away from her family and the familiar surroundings of her home village of Burqin near Jenin in the West Bank. There are some indications that Ms. Shalabi was not fully informed about the deportation feature of her release, and was manipulated by prison authorities and the lawyer representing her interests. The current hunger strikers have been offered similar conditional releases, but have so far steadfastly refused to resume eating if it led to deportation or exile. At this time it is unclear how Israel will respond. There is a fierce struggle of wills between the strikers and the prison authorities, between those with hard power of domination and those with the soft power of moral and spiritual courage. The torment of these striking prisoners is not only a consequence of their refusal to accept food until certain conditions are met. Israeli prison guards and authorities are intensifying the torments of hunger. There are numerous reports that the strikers are being subjected to belittling harassment and a variety of punishments, including solitary confinement, confiscation of personal belongings, denial of family visits, denial of examination by humanitarian NGOs, and a hardhearted refusals to transfer to medically threatened strikers to civilian hospitals where they could receive the kinds of medical treatment their critical conditions require.


The Israeli response to the hunger strikes is shocking, but hardly surprising, within the wider setting of the occupation. Instead of heeding the moral appeal implicit in such extreme forms of resistance, there are widespread reliable reports of punitive responses by Israeli prison authorities. Hunger strikers have been placed in solitary confinement, held in shackles despite their weakened conditions, denied family visits, had personal belongings confiscated, were subjected to harassing comments by guards intended to demoralize. Israeli media has generally taken a cynical attitude toward the strikes, suggesting that these hunger strikers are publicity seeking, aiming to receive ‘a get out of jail free’ card, and deserve no empathy even if their life is in jeopardy because they voluntarily gave up food by their own free will, and hence Israeli prison authorities have no responsibility for their fate. Some news reports in Israel have speculated about whether if one or more hunger strikers dies in prison it will spark an uprising among the Palestinians, but this is less an expression of concern or a willingness to look at the substantive issues than it is a source of worry about future stability.



            Broader issues are also at stake. When in the past Palestinians resorted to violent forms of resistance they were branded by the West as terrorists, their deeds were covered to bring out sensationalist aspects, but when Palestinians resort to nonviolent forms of resistance, whether hunger strikes or BDS or an intifada, their actions fall mainly on deaf ears and blind eyes, or worse, there is a concerted propaganda spin to depict the particular tactic of nonviolent resistance as somehow illegitimate, either as a cheap trick to gain sympathy or as a dirty trick to destroy the state of Israel. All the while, Israel’s annexationist plans move ahead, with settlements expanding, and now recently, with settler outposts, formerly illegal even under Israeli law, in the process of being retroactively legalized. Such moves signal once and for all that the Netanyahu leadership exhibits not an iota of good faith when it continues to telling the world that it is dedicated to negotiating a peace treaty with the Palestinians. It is a pity that the Palestinian Authority has not yet had the diplomatic composure to call it quits when it comes to heeding diversionary calls from the Quartet for a resumption of yet another round of meaningless direct talks. It is long past time to crumble bridge to nowhere.


            That rock star of liberal pontificators, Thomas Friedman, has for years been preaching nonviolence to the Palestinians, implying that Israel as a democratic country with a strong moral sensitivity that would yield in the face of such a principled challenge. Yet when something as remarkable as this massive expression of a Palestinian commitment to nonviolent resistance in the form of this open-ended hunger strike, dubbed ‘the war of empty stomachs’, takes place, Friedman along with his liberal brothers is stony silent, and the news sections of the newspaper of the New York Times are unable to find even an inch of space to report on these dramatic protests against Israel’s use of administrative detention and abusive treatment during arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment. Shame on you, Mr. Friedman! 

(At last, the NY Times on May 3, 2012 reports on the hunger strikers in a front page story, perhaps yielding to the growing shame of its silence up to now!)


            Robert Malley, another influential liberal voice who had been a Middle East advisor to Bill Clinton when he was president, while more constrained than Friedman, suggests that any sustained display of Palestinian nonviolence if met with Israeli violence would be an embarrassment for Washington. Malley insists that if the Palestinians were to take to the streets in the spirit of Tahrir Square, and Israelis responded violently, as the Netanyahu government certainly, it “would put the United States in an ..acute dilemma about how to react to Israel’s reaction.” The dilemma depicted by Malley derives from Obama constant encouragement of the democratic aspirations of a people who he has repeatedly said deserve their own state on the one side and the unconditional alignment with Israel on the other. Only a confirmed liberal would call this a genuine dilemma, as any informed and objective observer would know, that the U.S. Government would readily accept, as it has repeatedly done in the past, an Israeli claim that force was needed to maintain public order. In this manner, Palestinian nonviolence would be disregarded, and the super-alliance of these two partners in crime once more reaffirmed.


            Let there be no mistake about the moral and spiritual background of the challenge being mounted by these Palestinians. Undertaking an open ended hunger strike is an inherently brave act that is fraught with risks and uncertainties, and is only undertaken as an expression of extreme frustration or acute deprivation. It is not an act undertaken lightly or as a stunt. For anyone who has attempted to express protest in this manner, and I have for short periods during my decade of opposition to the Vietnam War, it is both scary and physically taxing even for a day or so, but to maintain the discipline and strength of will to sustain such a strike for weeks at a time requires a rare combination of courage and resolve. Only specially dedicated individuals adopt and maintain such a tactic. For a hunger strike to be done on such a scale of collective action underscores the horrible ordeal of the Palestinians that has been all but erased from the political consciousness of the West in the hot aftermath of the Arab Spring, and may also point to a wider willingness of Palestinians to mount their own version of Tahrir Square.



            The world has long refused to take notice of Palestinian one-sided efforts over the years to reach a peaceful outcome of their conflict with Israel. It is helpful to recall that in 1988 the PLO officially accepted Israel within its 1967 borders, a huge territorial concession, leaving the Palestinians with only 22% of historical Palestine on which to establish an independent and sovereign state. In recent years, the main tactics of Palestinian opposition to the occupation, including on the part of Hamas, has been largely to turn away from violence, adhering to a diplomacy and practice that looked toward long-term peaceful coexistence between two peoples. Israel has not taken note of either development, and has instead continuous thrown sand in Palestinian eyes. The official Israeli response to Palestinian moves toward political restraint and away from violence have been to embark upon a program of feverish  settlement expansion, extensive targeted killing, reliance on excessive retaliatory violence, as well as an intensifying oppressiveness that gave rise to these hunger strikes. One expression of this oppressiveness is the 50% increase in the number of Palestinians held under administrative detention during the last year, along with an officially mandated worsening of conditions throughout its prison system.

Hana Shalabi: A Brave Act of Palestinian Nonviolence

10 Mar

                                                                (photo by Joe Catron)

            No sooner had Khader Adnan ended his 66 day life threatening hunger strike than new urgent concerns are being voiced for Hana Shalabi, another West Bank hunger striker now without food for more than 24 days. Both strikes were directed by Palestinian activists against the abusive use of administrative detention by Israeli West Bank occupying military forces, protesting both the practice of internment without charges or trial and the degrading and physically harsh treatment administered during the arrest, interrogation, and detention process.


            The case of Hana Shalabi should move even the most hardhearted. She seems a young tender and normal woman who is a member of Islamic Jihad, and is dedicated to her family, hopes for marriage, and simple pleasures of shopping.

She had previously been held in administrative detention at the HaSharon prison in Israel for a 30 month period between 2009 and 2011, being released in the prisoner exchange of four months ago that freed 1027 Palestinians and the lone Israeli soldier captive, Gilad Shalit. Since her release she has been trying to recover from the deep sense of estrangement she experienced in prison, and rarely left her home or the company of her family. As she was returning to normalcy she was re-arrested in an abusive manner, which allegedly included a strip-search by a male soldier. On February 16, 2012, the day of this renewal of her administrative detention, Hana Shalabi indicated her resolve to start a hunger strike to protest her own treatment and to demand an end of administrative detention now relied upon by Israel to hold at least 309 Palestinian in prison. Her parents have been denied visitation rights, Hana Shalabi has been placed in solitary confinement, and her health has deteriorated to the point of concern for her life. Impressively, her parents have committed themselves to a hunger strike for as long as their daughter remains under administrative detention. Her mother, Badia Shalabi, has made a video in which she says that even to see food makes her cry considering the suffering of her daughter.


            Despite the calls to Palestinian from liberals in the West these extraordinary hunger strikes have met with silence or indifference in both Israel and the West. Israeli authorities declare that such a posture is a voluntary action for which they have no responsibility. The UN has not raised its voice, as well. I share the view of Khitam Saafin, Chairwoman of Union of Palestinian Woman’s Committee: “The UN must be responsible for the whole violation that are going on against our people. These prisoners are war prisoners, not security prisoners, not criminals. They are freedom fighters for their rights.” The plight of Hana Shalabi is also well expressed by Yael Maron, a spokesperson for the Israeli NGO, Physicians for Human Rights- Israel: “The story of Hana Shalabi, like that of Khader Adnan, before is in my opinion a remarkable example of a struggle that’s completely nonviolent towards one’s surroundings..It is the last protest a prisoner can make, and I find it brave and inspiring.”


            To engage in an open ended hunger strike, especially for a person who is not in a leadership role, requires a deep and abiding dedication to right a perceived wrong of the greatest gravity. It is physically painful and dangerous to bodily health, as well as being psychologically demanding in the extreme. It presupposes the strongest of wills, and usually arises, as in these instances, from a sense that any lesser form of resistance is futile, and has a long record of failure. In the end, it is an appeal to the conscience and humanity of the other, and a desperate call to all of us, to understand better the cartography of abuse that abusive imprisonment entails, which I would imagine is pervasively humiliating for a religiously oriented young Islamic woman. To risk life this way without harming or even threatening the oppressor is to turn terrorism against the innocent on its head. It is potentially to sacrifice one’s life to make an appeal of last resort, an appeal that transcends normal law and politics.


            We can only fervently hope and pray that Hana Shalabi’s heroic path of resistance will end with her release and the restoration of her health. For Israel’s own moral wellbeing it is time, really long past time, to renounce reliance on administrative detention and to do more than this, to end forthwith its varied crimes of occupation. At this point the only possible way to do this is to withdraw unconditionally behind the 1967 borders, and to start peace negotiations from that altered position. It is politically unimaginable that Israeli leaders will heed such a call, but it is morally unimaginable that Israel will survive its impending spiritual collapse if it does not do so.


(photo by Joe Catron)

            In the meantime, we who are beyond these zones of occupation, abuse, and imprisonment must not only stand and watch as this tragic drama plays itself out. Wherever we are, whatever we can do, we need to act, to appeal, to shout, and to denounce the inhumanity of allowing such cruelty to be enacted before our watching eyes. 

Saving Khader Adnan’s Life Saves Our Own Soul

18 Feb

             The world watches as tragedy unfolds beneath its gaze as Khader Asnan enters his 63rd day as a hunger striker in an Israeli prison being held under an administrative detention order without trial, without charges, and without any indication of the evidence against him. From the outset of his brutal arrest by scores of soldiers, featuring blindfolding, cuffing, and physical roughness in the middle of the night, a gratuitous ritual enacted the presence of his wife and young daughters Khader Adnan has been subject to the sort of inhumane and degrading treatment that is totally unlawful and inexcusable, and an assault on our moral justification. At present, approximately 300 other Palestinians are being held in administrative detention, and Mr. Adnan has indicated that his protest is also on their behalf, and indeed against the practice of administrative detention itself.


            The only plausible explanation of such Israeli behavior is to intimidate by terrifying all Palestinians who have lived for almost 45 years under the yoke of an oppressive occupation that continuously whittles away at Palestinian rights under international humanitarian law, especially their right to self-determination, which is encroached upon every time a new housing unit is added to the colonizing settlements that dot the hilltops surrounding Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank. While Palestinian prospects of a viable political future are continuously diminished by Israeli expansionism the world politely watches in stunned silence. Only resistance from within and solidarity worldwide can provide the Palestinians with hope about their future. They have been failed over and over again by the UN, by the EU, by their Arab neighbors, and above all by that global leader beholden to Israel whose capital is in Washinton, D.C.! It is only against this broader background that the importance of Khader Adnan’s resistance to the continuing struggle of Palestinians everywhere can begin to be appreciated as a political act as well as an insistence on the sacred dignity of the human person.


            The case of Khader Adnan is a revealing microcosm of the unbearable cruelty of prolonged occupation, and the contrast that is drawn in the West between the dignity of a single Israeli prisoner held in captivity and the steadfast refusal to be attentive to the abuse of thousands of Palestinians languishing in Israeli jails through court sentence or administrative order.  Mr. Adnan’s father poignantly highlighted this contrast a few days ago by reference to Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas in captivity for several years and recently released in good health: “Where are the mother and father of Gilad Shalit? Do they not feel for me in this humanitarian case? Where are they?” The comparison pointedly suggests that it is Mr. Adnan who is the more deserving of such a global outpouring of concern: “My son was arrested from his house, from among his wife and children, was taken prisoner. He was not carrying any weapon. Whereas Shalit was fighting against the people of Gaza, and destroying their homes, and firing upon, and Shalit was released.” In fact, Shalit has not been personally associated with violence against the Palestinians and their property, but he was operating as a member of the IDF that has been consistently engaged in such activity, frequently in stark violation of international humanitarian law. While Shalit was being held foreign authority figures, from the UN Secretary General on down, displayed their empathy not only for Shalit but for the intense anxiety experienced by Israelis concerned for the wellbeing of Shalit, but these same personalities are notably silent in the much more compelling ordeal taking place before our eyes in the form of Mr. Adnan’s captivity seemingly unto death. It should not be surprising that surviving family members of IRA hunger strikers should step forward to express solidarity with Mr. Adnan and the compare the Irish transforming acts of resistance in 1981 (ten hunger strikers died, and Britain shifted from counterterrorism to a politics of reconciliation) to that of the Palesinians, increasingly referring to Khader Adnan as the West Bank Bobby Sands.


            And who is Khader Adnan? We do not know very much about him except that he is a member of the Islamic Jihad Party, a 33-year old father of two young daughters, a baker by profession, and viewed with respect and affection by his neighbors. There are no accusations against him that implicate him in violence against civilians, although he has a history of imprisonment associated with his past activism. A fellow prisoner from an earlier period of confinement in Ashkelon Prison, Abu Maria, recalls Mr. Adnan’s normalcy, humanity, and academic demeanor while sharing a cell, emphasizing his passionate dedication to informing other imprisoned Palestinians about the history and nature of the conflict: “Prison was like a university in those times and he was one of the professors.” Commenting on his hunger strike that has brought him extreme pain, Abu Maria says he is convinced that Khader Asnan wants to live, but will not at the price of enduring humiliation for himself and others held in administrative detention: “He is showing his commitment and resistance in the only way he can right now, with his body.”


            Addameer, the respected Palestinian NGO concerned with prisoner issues, “holds Israel accountable for the life of Khader Adnan, whose health has entered an alarmingly critical stage that will now have irreversible consequences and could lead to his fatal collapse at any moment.” Physicians who have observed his current condition conclude that, at most, Mr. Adnan could live a few more days, saying that such a hunger strike cannot be sustained beyond 70 days in any event. Any attempt at this stage to keep Mr. Adnan alive by forced feeding would be widely viewed as a violation of his right to life and is generally regarded as a type of torture.


            Finally, the reliance by Israel on administrative detention in cases of this sort is totally unacceptable from the perspective of international law, including the Geneva Conventions, especially so with no disclosure of the exceptional circumstances or evidence that might warrant for reasons of imminent security the use of such an extra-legal form of imprisonment for a few days. Given the number of Palestinians being held in a manner similar to that of Mr. Adnan, it is no wonder that sympathy hunger strikes among many Palestinians in and out of Israeli jails are underway as expressions of solidarity. Have we not reached a stage in our appreciation of human rights that we should outlaw such barbarism by state authorities, which is cunningly shielded from critical scrutiny by the anonymity and bureaucratic neutrality of the term ‘administrative detention’? Let us hope and make sure that the awful experience of Khader Adnan does not end with his death, and let us hope and do everything in our power to encourage a worldwide protest against both administrative detention and prisoner abuse and by the government of Israel, and in due course elsewhere. The Palestinian people have suffered more than enough already, and passivity in the face of such state crimes is an appalling form of complicity. We should expect more from our governments, the UN, human rights NGOs, and ourselves!



UN Report on Human Rights Situation in Occupied Palestine, UN Doc. A/66/358

22 Oct

I am making available here my latest report to the UNGA in my role as Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestine. Because of translation requirements within the UN the early deadline for submission of the text means that recent developments are omitted, including the issuance of the Palmer Report on the flotilla incident of 31 May 2010, the statehood bid put forward by the PLO/PA in the historic speech of Mahmoud Abbas on 23 September 2011, and the very recent prisoner exchange that freed over 1000 Palestinians and the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, but has left over 5,000 Palestinians in captivity. These issues are dealt with briefly in my oral presentation to the Third Committee of the General Assembly on 20 October 2011, and I will put here an edited version of that text in a few days.


United Nations

General Assembly

Sixty-sixth session

Item 69 (c) of the provisional agenda*

Promotion and protection of human rights: human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives


Situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967

Note by the Secretary-General

The Secretary-General has the honour to transmit to the members of the General Assembly the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Richard Falk, submitted in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 5/1.

* A/66/150.

11-49552 (E) 290911


Distr.: General 13 September 2011

Original: English


Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967


The present report, submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1, gives particular attention to the right of Palestinians to self-determination, the situation of Palestinian prisoners detained by Israel, Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their properties, the especially vulnerable situation of children in the occupied Palestinian territories, and the impact of the blockade by Israel on Gaza.


I. Introduction…………………………………………………………. 3 II. Issuesofnon-implementation…………………………………………….. 3 III. Palestinianself-determination ……………………………………………. 5 IV. Protectionofthecivilianpopulationlivingunderoccupation……………………… 7 V. Detentionandimprisonment……………………………………………… 9 VI. Israelisettlements…………………………………………………….. 10 VII. Palestinian children, human rights and international humanitarian law . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 VIII. Recommendations…………………………………………………….. 19






I. Introduction

1. The Special Rapporteur has continued to be unable to obtain cooperation from Israel in the discharge of his obligations under the mandate. He continues to believe that Israel is not fulfilling its duties as a United Nations Member State in this regard. The Special Rapporteur recalls that when he made an attempt to enter Israel on 14 December 2008, in pursuance of his mandate, he was detained in a prison facility near the airport, denied entry and expelled. Because there is no regularized access to the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, except by way of Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and Israeli-controlled crossings from Jordan, there exist no means to visit these areas of the occupied Palestinian territories in the manner that was possible for his predecessors.

2. The changed circumstances in Egypt have created a prospect of access to Gaza by way of the Rafah Crossing, which Egyptian officials have indicated will be kept open for both the entry and exit of persons. In an encouraging related development, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of Occupied Territories was able to gain entry to Gaza for the first time in its 43 years of existence.

3. On this basis, a mission under the mandate of the Special Rapporteur was planned to take place between 25 April and 3 May 2011. Unfortunately, the Special Rapporteur was forced to cancel the visit to Gaza owing to a determination by the United Nations on the prevailing security situation during the period. He plans to make another attempt to visit Gaza. Despite this inability to visit the occupied Palestinian territories during the trip, the Special Rapporteur proceeded with the mission to Egypt and Jordan, where he met with Government officials, academics, representatives of civil society organizations and United Nations agencies, human rights defenders and journalists familiar with conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories. Although the visit covered the full range of human rights issues raised by the continuing occupation by Israel, the Special Rapporteur’s particular focus was on how prolonged occupation, the blockade of Gaza and long-term refugee status encroach upon the human rights of children. Those concerns will be given special emphasis in the present report. The mission did provide valuable information that informs all sections of the report, although it remains an inadequate substitute for first-hand visits to the occupied Palestinian territories.

II. Issues of non-implementation

4. As usual, there are many more serious human rights concerns associated with the occupation by Israel than can be addressed in this report, which is subject to United Nations guidelines as to a maximum number of words. In order to avoid the impression that earlier concerns no longer persist, the Special Rapporteur stresses that there are continuing violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law arising, inter alia, from the issues discussed below.

5. The recommendations of the report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict1 (the “Goldstone Report”) have not been implemented, despite


1 A/HRC/12/48.





follow-up reports by the Committee of Independent Experts.2 The reports of the Committee of Independent Experts took particular note of the failure by Israel to conduct investigations of alleged war crimes in a manner that accords with international standards.

6. The findings and recommendations of the Human Rights Council-mandated fact-finding mission on the incident of the humanitarian flotilla of 31 May 2010,3 involving naval attacks by Israel in international waters, which resulted in the death of nine peace activists on the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, have not yet led to appropriate action.4 It is observed that the failure to follow through on initiatives recommended by competent international experts under the auspices of the United Nations contributes to a lack of accountability for serious allegations of war crimes and human rights violations. The failure is particularly unfortunate given its impact on those living for many years under a regime of belligerent occupation, which has systematically deprived them of the normal rights and remedies associated with a law-abiding society. Without committed and capable international protection, those living under prolonged occupation are exposed to excesses and abuses perpetrated by the occupier, as the realities of the occupied Palestinian territories confirm in numerous ways.

7. Concern about non-implementation was underscored by the repudiation by Israel of the near-unanimous advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice in 2004 relating to the construction of the separation Wall in the occupied Palestinian territories.5 This authoritative judicial interpretation of the international obligations of Israel, which was endorsed by the General Assembly in its resolution ES-10/15, has been repudiated by Israel without generating any result-oriented international reaction. Although advisory opinions are non-binding in a formal sense, they have important legal effects because they provide an authoritative interpretation of the issues at stake, which is based on legal reasoning by the world’s highest judicial body concerned with international law.6 The advisory opinion is particularly notable in the present instance, since the vote in the Court was 14 to 1— a rare display of consensus among judges drawn from the world’s major legal systems and cultural backgrounds. It is worth noting that even the dissenting judge was in substantial agreement with much of the legal reasoning in the advisory opinion, making the conclusions virtually unanimous. While rejecting the authority of international assessments of illegality, the Government of Israel has agreed to comply with Israeli law to the extent applicable to the construction of the Wall. Yet in practice Israel has been slow to comply with relevant Israeli judicial decisions ordering the removal and relocation of segments of the Wall. In some instances these judicial directives have been ignored for several years, imposing acute suffering on Palestinian communities that are isolated or cut off


2 A/HRC/15/50 and A/HRC/16/24. 3 See A/HRC/15/21; see also A/HRC/16/73 and A/HRC/17/47. 4 It is noted that the panel appointed by the Secretary-General to investigate these same events

postponed the release of its report until late-August 2011. 5 Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,

Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 2004 (see also A/ES-10/273 and Corr.1). The International Court of Justice concluded in its advisory opinion that the Fourth Geneva Convention was applicable in the Palestinian territories, which before the 1967 conflict lay to the east of the Green Line and which, during that conflict, were occupied by Israel.

6 See Bekkar, “The United Nations General Assembly Requests a World Court Advisory Opinion on Israel’s Separation Barrier”, Insights, December 2003.



from agricultural land.7 Weekly demonstrations against the Wall have continued, especially in Palestinian villages near Nablus, most prominently in the villages of Ni’lin and Bil’in. As with other issues of violations of international law by Israel, there continues to be a lack of will within the United Nations, and especially among its Member States, to challenge the existence and continuing construction of the Wall, which intrudes so negatively on the lives of many Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank, especially East Jerusalem.

8. There are two conjoined issues present: the refusal of Israel to adhere to its obligations under international law in administering the occupied Palestinian territories, and the failure of the United Nations to take effective steps in response to such persistent, flagrant and systematic violations of the basic human rights of the Palestinians living under occupation. Yet such steps would seem to be given increased prominence in the light of the adoption of the responsibility to protect doctrine by the Security Council (resolution 1674 (2006)), and its recent application by way of Security Council resolution 1973 (2011) mandating the protection of civilians in Libya.

9. It is worth recalling the language of mutuality and rights emphasized in the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917, which underpins the founding of Israel, even now, almost a century after it was issued: “… it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. This explicit acknowledgement of support in the contested declaration for the establishment of what was then called “a national home for the Jewish people” is the foundation of the claim of right relied upon in the establishment of the State of Israel, and its recognition and admission to membership by the United Nations in 1948. Although the Balfour Declaration was a colonialist overriding of the right of self-determination that was later recognized in international law, its insistence on showing respect for the reciprocal rights of the non-Jewish communities affected, particularly the Palestinians, should continue to provide political and moral guidance in the search for a peaceful and just solution to the conflict.

III. Palestinian self-determination

10. As has been stressed in prior reports, of all the human rights at stake due to the prolonged occupation by Israel of Palestinian territory, the most fundamental is the right of self-determination. This right inheres in the Palestinian people, as much as any other people in the world. However, the fulfilment of this right has been denied by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories since 1967. Further, various developments in the course of the occupation have entailed encroachments that diminish the scope of self-determination even further than what was envisioned by the historic Palestinian acceptance of the territorial dimension of a two-State solution to the conflict, by way of the 1988 decision of the Palestine National Council, which accepted the parameters of Security Council resolutions 267 (1969) and 338 (1973). It should be appreciated that such a territorial compromise represented a major


7 In June 2011 Israel began dismantling a section of the barrier near the West Bank village of Bil’in, in compliance with a decision of the High Court of Justice of Israel four years earlier. See Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Protection of Civilians Weekly Report, 8-21 June 2011”, 24 June 2011. Available from http://unispal.un.org.





concession by the Palestinian leadership, as it reduced to 22 per cent the approximately 45 per cent of historic Palestine apportioned by the United Nations as belonging to the Palestinians in General Assembly resolution 181 (II). This partition arrangement was rejected in 1947 by leaders of both the resident Palestinian population and the neighbouring Arab Governments at the time, because they deemed it unfair and unacceptable. Palestinian self-determination continues to be widely understood in the international community to be based on the establishment of a viable and contiguous State within the totality of the 1967 borders, subject to agreed small-scale adjustments and equivalent land swaps. This position was reaffirmed by President Obama of the United States of America in May 2011.8 Innumerable efforts, by way of direct negotiations between the parties, to transform this consensus into a solution have failed, contributing to intense disillusionment among the Palestinians and their leadership. It should be further observed that delay in finding a solution has continuously diminished Palestinian prospects for a viable State, especially because of Israeli settlement expansion, the construction of the Wall and the relating network of Israeli settler-only roads.

11. It is against this backdrop that several recent developments bearing on the intergovernmental pursuit of a peaceful and negotiated solution need to be considered, as they relate to the struggle for the protection and attainment of Palestinian rights under international law. A reconciliation or unity agreement between the Palestinian Authority and the de facto authorities in Gaza, signed at the end of April 2011, pledged the establishment of an interim Government tasked with arranging general elections at some future time throughout the Palestinian territory. This intra-Palestinian agreement has been criticized by the Governments of Israel and the United States as undermining prospects for direct negotiations because of objections to including representation of those belonging to a designated “terrorist organization”. At a meeting of the Middle East Quartet held in Washington, D.C. on 11 July 2011, there was a general call for resumed direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian side, but no agreement could be reached on preconditions for such negotiations.9 On several occasions, President Mahmoud Abbas has restated his position that negotiations would not be resumed without a complete stoppage of Israeli settlement expansion, including within East Jerusalem. It appears that there is no likelihood of this condition being met by the Government of Israel. On the contrary, accelerated expansions of settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have been regularly announced during the past several months;10 and the announcement by President Abbas that the Palestinian Authority intends to approach the General Assembly with the purpose of achieving recognition of Palestinian statehood, based on the 1967 borders, and possibly also seek membership in the United Nations by way of the Security Council. Such a proposed diplomatic initiative is being presented as an alternative to direct negotiations and, for this reason, among


8 Barack Obama, President of the United States, “Remarks by the President on the Middle East and North Africa”, White House press conference, Washington, D.C., 19 May 2011. Available from http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/05/19/remarks-president-middle-east-and- north-africa.

9 See Office of the Quartet Representative, “Quartet principals meet with Tony Blair in Washington, D.C., to promote direct negotiations”, 11 July 2011. Available from http://www.tonyblairoffice.org/quartet/news-entry/quartet-meet-in-washington-dc-to-promote-direct- negotiations/.

10 See A/66/364.



others, it is being condemned as “unilateral” and vigorously opposed by the Governments of Israel and the United States.

IV. Protection of the civilian population living under occupation

12. It is unfortunately necessary to restate the basic obligations of Israel under international humanitarian law as the occupying Power of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. These obligations are mainly set forth in the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Fourth Geneva Convention), to which Israel is party. Most pertinent is section III (arts. 47-78), which addresses issues associated with occupied territories. Of greater detail and more recent origin is the protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts (Protocol I), which entered into force in 1978, particularly part IV, which establishes the legal framework applicable to the civilian population. There are 171 States parties to Protocol I. While Israel is not a party to Protocol I, it is bound by the provisions of the Protocol because they have become embedded in international customary law, which does not require the explicit consent of a State to be binding. Other highly relevant international legal instruments pertaining to circumstances in the occupied Palestinian territories are the Convention on the Rights of the Child, with 197 States parties (including Israel) and the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, with 107 States parties. It is not possible to consider in detail the applicability of these various legal instruments, so only a few salient features will be described.

13. One of the overarching objectives of international humanitarian law, whether in treaty or customary form, is to ensure that the civilian population is not made to suffer unduly from a belligerent occupation — which is assumed to be a temporary condition — and that the occupying Power does not take advantage of the occupation to secure benefits for its Government and society. The legal framework has been negotiated by States, in particular experienced diplomats and military advisers, and balances security considerations against those humanitarian objectives. With those considerations in mind, it can be observed that systematic abuse of civilians as individuals or in their community identity are particularly grave assaults on the international legal regime of occupation, which makes the Israeli settlement project in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, of continuing concern, especially when coupled with ongoing efforts by Israel and the United States to alter the 1967 borders to incorporate Israeli settlement blocs, notwithstanding their almost universally acknowledged illegality.

14. There are many other issues that illustrate the violation of the legal framework by the occupation policy of Israel. Examples include the annexation — and what even Israeli sources refer to as the “Judaization” — of East Jerusalem;11 the purported geographic expansion of the boundaries of the city of Jerusalem;12 the inability of more than 10,000 Palestinian children to be legally registered in East Jerusalem, thereby forcing Palestinian families to choose between staying together, at the risk of


11 See, for example, Nir Hasson, “The Orthodox Jews fighting the Judaization of East Jerusalem”, Haaretz (Tel Aviv), 24 June 2010. Available from http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/magazine/the- orthodox-jews-fighting-the-judaization-of-east-jerusalem-1.298113.

12 See Security Council resolutions 252 (1968), 446 (1979) and 478 (1980).





losing their Jerusalem residency permits, or accepting an enforced separation from their family members;13 the appropriation of increasingly scarce water resources from aquifers in Gaza for use in Israel and by Israeli settlers; the imposition and enforcement of a blockade on the entire population of Gaza for a period of more than four years, which dramatically curtails basic rights to education, housing and health; the maintenance of a dual system of law and administration in the West Bank, which privileges Israeli settlers and openly discriminates against Palestinians; and the systematic abuse of Palestinians arrested and detained by Israeli security forces, including children of a young age.14

15. As well as the patterns of violations of international humanitarian law highlighted in the preceding paragraph, it is important from a moral perspective to take into account the dimension of time on the underlying psychological and physical health of the occupied people. As noted, belligerent occupation is assumed to be short-lived and conducted so as to leave a light footprint, modelled in modern times by the occupations of Germany and Japan after the Second World War, with the restoration of sovereign rights at the earliest practicable time and, above all, the diligent protection of civilians for as long as the occupation lasts. Here, without providing an explanation for the prolonged nature of the occupation, which has increasingly taken on annexationist dimensions, the duration of more than 44 years is a cause for independent and urgent concern and action. This concern is aggravated by the absence of any near-term foreseeable end to the occupation.

16. Israel has contended that its “disengagement” from Gaza in 2005 ended occupation of the Gaza Strip, and thus Israeli responsibilities there as the occupying Power. Such a contention is generally rejected in international law circles, given continuing Israeli control over Gaza’s border, airspace and territorial waters which, along with the blockade (severely curtailing the Gaza fishing industry), has generated a persistent human rights crisis. Even without threats of cross-border violence from Israel, the ordeal of living under confined, crowded, impoverished and utterly disempowered conditions for a period of many years is incompatible with the fundamental purpose of international law to protect the dignity and well-being of an occupied civilian population. Living under siege has a proven deleterious effect on children and young people.15 Among other privations, students are prevented from exercising their right to education outside the confines and limited opportunities available in the Gaza Strip. As stressed in previous reports, international humanitarian law needs to be re-examined to take into account the particular hardships for the civilian population arising from prolonged occupations, which call for special arrangements to allow civilians to have a decent life based on education, travel, employment and social normalcy. For three generations, to varying degrees the Palestinian people have been denied these components of human dignity. It is time for


13 Information received from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs during mission. See also Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Special Focus: East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns, March 2011.

14 See, for example, Defence for Children International — Palestine Section, “In their own words: a report on the situation facing Palestinian children detained in the Israeli military court system”, February 2011. Available from http://www.dci-pal.org/English/Doc/Press/EASTJerusalem_ JANUARY2011.pdf.

15 See, for example, United Nations Children’s Fund, “UNICEF oPt monthly update, July-August 2011”. Available from http://www.unicef.org/oPt/UNICEF_MonthlyUpdate_July_and_ August2011.pdf.



the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and key Member States to meet this challenge.

V. Detention and imprisonment

17. An issue of grave consequence from the perspective of human rights is the failure by Israel to uphold the basic rights — enumerated under international law — of persons it detains in the occupied Palestinian territories, many of whom are subsequently imprisoned in Israel. According to reports dated March 2009, there were 8,171 Palestinians being held in detention. Of these, 1,052 were held at the Ofer military base in the West Bank, south of Ramallah. The remaining 7,119 Palestinian prisoners and detainees are being held in confinement within the territory of Israel at the present time. The numbers of prisoners vary, but although the current total is slightly reduced, there are still thousands of Palestinians being held by Israel under conditions that violate international law. According to the non-governmental organization Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, as at June 2011 Israel was holding 5,554 Palestinian political prisoners, of whom 229 were being held in administrative detention without having been convicted of any crime. Of the prisoners, 211 were children, of whom 39 were not even 16 years old.

18. The Israeli policy of transferring Palestinian prisoners to Israeli territory violates the obligations of Israel as the occupying Power. Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention is unequivocal: “Protected persons accused of offenses shall be detained in the occupied country, and if convicted they shall serve their sentences therein.” That is not only a technical requirement; it also relates to the hardship experienced by someone imprisoned for a long time. Family members have almost no visitation rights, and those who are formally available are made essentially irrelevant due to the onerous permit and permission system imposed by Israel. Young Palestinian males are almost always denied access to Israel, and thus have almost no opportunity to visit their imprisoned relatives. A Palestinian prisoner often loses all contact with family members for years as a consequence.16

19. Article 74 of Protocol I, which is devoted to the special circumstances of “dispersed families”, imposes an obligation on Israel to “facilitate in every possible way the reunion of families dispersed as a result of armed conflicts”, and urges cooperation with humanitarian organizations seeking to arrange for more family connections under the difficult conditions of the occupation. Israel continues to violate this obligation.

20. There also exists the important unexplored issue of whether Palestinians who are members of armed resistance organizations should be entitled to prisoner of war status. The Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War seems applicable only if the occupied Palestinian territories can be considered to be a State, which could be one result of the conferral of statehood upon Palestine by the General Assembly, although given the extensive diplomatic recognition accorded to the


16 For useful exposition of the separation of prisoners from their families for long periods of time, producing great suffering, see discussion by Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard, “Devil’s Island: the transfer of Palestinian detainees into prisons within Israel”, in Threat: Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel, Abeer Barker and Anat Matar, eds. (London: Pluto Press, 2011). This book contains a valuable overview of these problems, and results from a conference held in Israel, a tribute to Israeli democratic freedoms for its own citizens.





Palestine Liberation Organization it can be argued that Palestine already enjoys the status of statehood.17

21. Additionally, it has been contended that, under Protocol I, members of Palestinian armed resistance groups could, in principle, be entitled to POW status without having to prove that they belong to a State, so long as the struggle is being carried on by an organized group fighting alien occupation in the exercise of their right of self-determination.18 If prisoner of war status should be accorded to those detained for security reasons, and found to belong to armed resistance militias, a whole range of protections that Israel has denied would come into play for Palestinians engaged in resistance since the start of the occupation.

VI. Israeli settlements

22. As has been stated many times in prior reports, but must not be forgotten, all Israeli settlement activity is unlawful. This assessment is based on the accepted interpretation of article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” This obligation applies whether or not Palestine enjoys the status of a State. The language of the text here is far from perfect, as it lends itself to a claim by Israel that it is not deporting or transferring Israelis to the settlements, but at most facilitating voluntary decisions based on a range of religious and economic motivations. But the long-standing reality of subsidies from the Government of Israel that encourage settlers and settlements (for construction, water, electricity, schools and other purposes) makes clear the significance of State involvement. Israel continues to insist that the West Bank is “disputed” rather than “occupied” territory, and thus international humanitarian law is not de jure applicable, while Israel purported to annex East Jerusalem in 1967, and has since that time refused to treat it as “occupied”. The Government of Israel has recently sought a reaffirmation from President Obama of the United States of the April 2004 letter from then President George W. Bush to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon conveying the expectation of the Government of the United States that the Israeli settlement blocs (“major Israeli populations centers” to the east of 1967 borders) would be incorporated into Israel, in whatever agreement resolving the conflict was negotiated in the future.19 Without exploring these issues in detail, there exists a strong international consensus, reinforced by innumerable Security Council and General Assembly resolutions as well as the 2004 International Court of Justice advisory opinion regarding the Wall, that the West Bank and East Jerusalem are “occupied”, and that international humanitarian law applies. Further, it seems clear that the letter on settlements by President Bush may have political weight, but from the perspective of Palestinian rights under international law the letter is irrelevant. The letter also violates basic


17 John Quigley, The Statehood of Palestine: International Law in the Middle East Conflict (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

18 The legal questions are usefully explored in Smadar Ben-Natan, “Are there prisoners in this war?” in Barker and Matar, Threat.

19 Letter from President Bush to Prime Minister Sharon, dated 14 April 2004. Available from http://georgewbush-whitehousearchives.gov/news/releases/2004/04/20040414-3.html. See also Ethan Bronner, “Netanyahu responds icily to Obama remarks”, New York Times, 19 May 2011. Available from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/20/world/middleeast/20mideast.html?_r=1.



principles of equity in international customary law, which do not allow third parties to diminish the claims in law of parties without their participation and consent.20

23. In the context of the overall objectives of international humanitarian law to protect the rights of an occupied population, it is painfully evident that the establishment of more than 100 Israeli settlements with over 500,000 Israeli settlers, expropriating some of the best land and water resources, and moreover on the site of their proposed capital, flagrantly violates Palestinian rights and has a negative impact on Palestinian prospects for a viable, sovereign State. Yet political leaders from Europe and the United States consistently view settlement expansions by Israel as setbacks from the perspective of achieving a peaceful resolution to the underlying conflict. Foreign Secretary William Hague, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, issued a press release on 5 April 2011 in response to an announcement by Israel of its intention to expand a major settlement in East Jerusalem, stating: “I condemn Israel’s decision to approve more than 900 settlement units in the East Jerusalem suburb of Gilo and the retrospective approval which has been given for construction in five West Bank settlements.”21 The leadership of the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly warned that without a total settlement freeze, it will not return to direct negotiations, and has explicitly linked its decision to seek recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations to the Israeli policy on settlements.

24. It is also relevant to observe that strong demonstrations by Israeli civil society to protest skyrocketing housing costs inside Israel have produced new pressures on the Government of Israel to add to the supply of affordable housing, and one way to do this, it has been widely suggested in the Israeli media, is by expanding settlements.22 Whether this path will be taken by Israel is not yet evident, but the issue suggests that Israeli public opinion and some leaders view the settlements as a vital safety valve for explosive social and political pressures building up within Israel.

25. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has noted that zoning restrictions in occupied East Jerusalem seriously undermine Palestinian development. Thirty-five per cent of the occupied Arab part of the city has been approved by Israeli authorities for Jewish Israeli settlements, while only 13 per cent of the Arab area is even potentially available for Palestinian construction.23

26. All in all, it is widely agreed that the prospects for ending the occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are blocked by the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements. The longer this dynamic persists, the more tenuous becomes the possibility of actualizing the two-State option.


20 It is noted that even treaties, which are a stronger form of agreement than this exchange of letters by the respective leaders of Israel and the United States, cannot affect Palestinian rights under international law. Article 34 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties clearly affirms this principle: “A treaty does not create either obligations or rights for a third State without its consent.” Even should Palestine not be a State, it is certainly a party, and has been so regarded by all concerned Governments.

21 Statement available from http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/news/latest-news/?view=News&id=579904682. 22 See, for example, Martin Sherman, “Into the fray: come to the carnival, comrade!”, Jerusalem

Post, 8 May 2011. Available from http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=232543. 23 Information received from UNRWA and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

during mission. See also Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Special Focus: East Jerusalem.





A. Settler violence

27. There has been a serious increase in settler violence in 2011. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports a more than 50 per cent increase in incidents in the West Bank involving violence against Palestinians, documenting injuries to 178 Palestinians during the first half of 2011 as compared to 176 for the entire year of 2010.24 According to UNRWA, those injured in settler violence in just the first half of 2011 included 12 children. These specific injuries resulted from stone- throwing, assaults and shootings by Israeli settlers. Yet these incidents only tell part of the story. There are almost daily accounts of settler vandalism against Palestinian agricultural land and villages, with several incidents videotaped by individuals working with B’Tselem, the highly regarded Israeli human rights organization.25 There have been numerous reports of agricultural land and olive groves being burned, especially in the villages around Nablus.26 Also part of this disturbing set of developments is a pattern of passive support for settler activities exhibited by Israeli security forces and border police. It often takes the form of shooting tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinians while doing nothing to stop settler violence and vandalism, and has also been documented by B’Tselem video cameras.27 A further dimension to these activities is the frequent settler harassment of Palestinian children on their way to school — also not prevented by Israeli forces — which has reportedly discouraged many children and their families from attending school, thereby violating their right to education. In some areas, most consistently in Hebron where settler violence is frequent and severe, international civil society organizations such as Christian Peacemaker Teams and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel have attempted to step into the breach, providing direct protection of young schoolchildren when Israeli forces do not meet their obligation to prevent settler violence.28 Overall, the failure by Israel to prevent and punish settler violence remains a serious and ongoing violation of its most fundamental obligation under international humanitarian law to protect a civilian population living under occupation, and to accord particular protection to children as specified in Protocol I, article 77.

B. The future of Israeli settlements

28. There have been several explanations given for this intensifying violence and harassment of Palestinian civilians: a reaction to a bloody incident in Itamar settlement in which five Israeli settlers were killed, including three children, while asleep at night;29 an effort by the religiously motivated settlers to encourage support


24 Information received from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs during mission.

25 Available from http://www.btselem.org/video/search/22. See also Muadi Nadder, ed., An Unjust Settlement: A Tale of Illegal Settlements in the West Bank (Geneva, Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, 2010).

26 Information received from UNRWA and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs during mission.

27 See, for example, http://www.btselem.org/video-channel/east-jerusalem-six-voices. 28 See Muadi Nadder, ed., An Unjust Settlement: A Tale of Illegal Settlements in the West Bank

(Geneva, Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, 2010). 29 See “Terror attack in Itamar: 5 family members murdered”, Jerusalem Post, 12 March 2011.

Available from http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=211780.



by the Government of Israel for a policy of ethnic cleansing, especially in East Jerusalem, and their claim of biblical birthright to the entire West Bank;30 and a signal to the Government that any future anti-settler moves by Tel Aviv, such as closing settler outposts established without official permission, would be met with what settlers themselves call “price tag” reprisals against Palestinians and their properties.31 Maher Ghoneim, the Palestinian Authority Minister charged with monitoring settlement activity, declared: “This is a government of settlers and its program is one of settlement. This naturally encourages this arrogance and these attacks.”32 Israeli political leaders refer to the West Bank as “Judea and Samaria”, indirectly reinforcing the insistence by religious Israeli settlers that this territory should as a whole be incorporated into or annexed by Israel, and that it is the Palestinians who are the usurpers of the historic and religious entitlements of Jewish settlers.

29. It may be that the increased violence by Israeli settlers reflects the fact that the clash between settler and Palestinian visions of the future is reaching a climax. Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority, was quoted as saying on 8 July 2011 “that all the settlements are illegitimate and must be removed”.33 Yet in this same period, settler leaders insist that not one settler will leave the West Bank regardless of what the Government of Israel agrees to do.

30. In recent months such polarizing views of future relationships have been articulated, ranging from the extremes of unconditional settlement expulsion as a component of withdrawal by Israel and the end of occupation to the complete incorporation of the West Bank into Israel proper, as a “Greater Israel” one-State alternative to the two-State proposal. Obviously, the outcome of such a debate has a direct bearing on whether the Palestinian right of self-determination will be recognized as integral to the dynamics of conflict resolution.

VII. Palestinian children, human rights and international humanitarian law

31. During the planned mission of the Special Rapporteur to Gaza that was redirected to Cairo and Amman, in a series of meetings with representatives of the Palestinian Authority, United Nations agencies with responsibilities in the occupied Palestinian territory and a range of human rights non-governmental organizations, particular attention was paid to the impact of prolonged occupation on the rights and well-being of Palestinian children. The results of these inquiries, reinforced by a variety of secondary sources, were disturbing for three principal reasons:

(a) The very fact of prolonged occupation exerts a constraining burden on civilians. Yet this impact is heavier on children, whose development is deformed by


30 See, generally, B’Tselem, “By hook and by crook: Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank”, July 2010; and B’Tselem, “Dispossession and exploitation: Israel’s policy in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea”, May 2011. Available from http://www.btselem.org/publications.

31 See, for example, YNet, “Settlers: We’re launching ‘price tag’ policy across the West Bank”, 4 December 2008. Available from http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3633599,00.html. 32 Tom Perry, “In West Bank, settler violence seen on the rise”, Reuters, 14 July 2011. Available

from http://uk.mobile.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUKTRE76D30220110714. 33 “EU: New settlement building units are obstacle to peace”, Jerusalem Post, 19 July 2011.

Available from http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=230096.





pervasive deprivations affecting health, education and overall security. The insecurity of Palestinian children is aggravated in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, by settler violence and night-time raids by Israeli occupation forces, house demolitions, threatened expulsions and a host of other practices, and in Gaza by the blockade and by traumatizing periodic violent incursions and sonic booms resulting from airplane overflights, as well as the still unrepaired destruction of refugee camps, residential communities and public buildings by Israeli forces during Operation “Cast Lead”;

(b) The available evidence suggests a pattern of increasing abuse, not just by the continued hardships of occupation, but by specific policies that entail more serious and systematic violations of the rights of children guaranteed by the norms of international humanitarian law;

(c) The testimony of experts on child development agrees that children suffer more from violations than adults, and the protection of their rights should be of particular concern to the international community. Writing on the impact of home demolitions, an UNRWA report of 12 June 2011 notes: “The impact of home demolitions on children can be particularly devastating. Many children affected by demolitions show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.”34

32. The treatment of Palestinian children is ultimately related to the quest for a solution to the conflict that brings peace to both peoples and recognizes fundamental rights. As Gandhi famously said: “If we are to teach real peace in this world … we shall have to begin with the children.” From the evidence available and what was learned on the mission, an intention to achieve a sustainable peace in the conflict would give immediate priority to respect for the rights of Palestinian children, including enabling their normal and positive development despite the constraints of occupation.

33. To illustrate patterns of deprivation, this report discusses arrest and detention procedures relating to children in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the damaging impact on children’s health arising from unsafe water in Gaza.

A. Arrest and detention procedures for Palestinian children

34. In the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified of all international legal treaties, a detailed framework is set forth of the special protection that parties are legally obligated to provide for children. This encompasses children living under belligerent occupation. Article 3 (1) of the Convention expresses the general approach taken in the Convention, and hence is now embodied in international human rights law: “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” Article 38 (1) declares: “States Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for rules of international humanitarian law applicable to them in armed conflicts which are relevant to the child.” Article 40 specifies the obligatory steps regarding criminal charges brought against children in keeping with the mandate of article 40 (1) that the child be “treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth, which reinforces the child’s respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others and which takes into account the


34 UNRWA, “Demolition watch”, 12 June 2011. Available from http://reliefweb.int/sites/ reliefweb.int/files/resources/Full_Report_1154.pdf.



child’s age and the desirability of promoting a child’s reintegration and the child’s assuming a constructive role in society”. This approach reflects the general directive of article 77 (1) of Protocol I: “Children shall be the object of special respect.” It is against this background that the pattern of deleterious treatment of Palestinian children living under occupation, as confirmed by many testimonies received during the Special Rapporteur’s mission and published reports of respected NGOs, confirms continuing violations by Israel of international law, in particular international humanitarian law.

35. Many of the arrests of Palestinian children arise out of allegations of stone- throwing aimed at settlers or Israeli security personnel in the West Bank.35 Those accused, unlike Israeli children in the West Bank, are subject to Israeli military law, which offers far fewer protections for minors than are present in Israeli criminal law. Most relevantly, in military law there is an absence of protective provisions regarding the presence of a parent during interrogation, the hours that the interrogation must be conducted or respect for the dignity of the child during the arrest process. The arrest procedures documented by United Nations agencies and reliable human rights organizations include arrests in the middle of the night without prior notification, removal of the child from parents for questioning, abusive treatment in detention and conviction procedures that appear to preclude findings of not guilty. During our mission we were frequently told that these arrest procedures seemed systematically intended to frighten and humiliate those arrested, and to turn them towards collaborating by identifying protest leaders in demonstrations and refraining from anti-occupation activities in the future.

36. In the period between 2005 and 2010, 835 children were prosecuted for stone- throwing, of which 34 were 12 or 13 years old, 255 were 14 or 15, and 546 were 16 or 17.36 Since 2007 the number prosecuted has risen each year. The length of the sentences did take into account the age of the accused, varying from more than a year for older children to a few weeks for younger ones. Israel did establish a youth military court in 2010, and so far its sentences for children in the 12 or 13 year-old category have been lighter, with the longest sentence imposed being nine days, which is far less than in earlier years. The very existence of a military court for children is inconsistent with international humanitarian law’s fundamental commitment to uphold, pursuant to article 40 (1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, “a child’s sense of dignity and worth”. B’Tselem has expressed its main finding on this topic as follows: “The present report indicates that the rights of minors are severely violated, that the military law almost completely fails to protect their rights, and that the few rights granted by law are not implemented.”36 Among the serious results of this way of handling Palestinian youth accused of transgressions is the denial of their educational possibilities while in custody or prison, and the disallowance of their ties with families, which go against international legal standards. This abuse also inflicts fear and suffering on parents and other family members who witness the arrest procedures and are not even informed about where their child is being held in custody.


35 See, generally, B’Tselem, “No minor matter: violation of the rights of Palestinian minors arrested by Israel on suspicion of stone-throwing”, July 2011; and B’Tselem, “Caution: children ahead: the illegal behavior of the police towards minors in Silwan suspected of stone-throwing”, December 2010. Available from http://www.btselem.org/publications.

36 B’Tselem, “No minor matter: violation of the rights of Palestinian minors arrested by Israel on suspicion of stone-throwing”, July 2011.





37. There is abundant anecdotal evidence of child abuse associated with interrogations and arrests of children.37 The United Nations Children’s Fund occupied Palestinian territory child protection programme contains a summary that overlaps and confirms other reputable descriptions, saying that reports of interrogations are widespread and include fingerprinting, blood tests, humiliation, using dogs to frighten the children, forcing parents into the streets on their knees, arresting boys and girls and bringing elderly women and invalids for interrogation. The same source tells of extreme instances in the village of Awarta. One three-year-old girl was reportedly taken outside her home at 3 a.m. and threatened at gunpoint. She was told she would be shot and her family home destroyed unless she reported on the whereabouts of her brother. Now, her mother explained, she can’t sleep through the night and is bedwetting. One nine-year-old girl reportedly tried to follow her father when he was arrested and she was grabbed by the neck and is still having pain and is afraid to go outside. 38

38. A report of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel details how the Israeli Youth Law is often violated in the arrest and interrogation of Palestinian children in East Jerusalem. The report is specific in its allegations:

Children have been detained for hours on end, handcuffed, they have been threatened during interrogations, screamed at, and coerced by any means into revealing information about the incidents taking place in their neighbourhood. In this context it is important to emphasize that the younger the child is, the greater the chance that he will experience trauma and psychological damage from such treatment.39

Expansion of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem is coordinated with private security guards, who operate with even less constraint towards Palestinian children than Israeli police. This reliance on security guards is especially prevalent in the Silwan neighbourhood, where settler ambitions have collided sharply with the security of long-term Palestinian residents. According to Sahar Francis, General-Director of Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, the arrests of children are intended to intimidate and scare youth so as to discourage “political activism more generally”,40 raising questions as to a specific denial by Israel of the affirmation by the General Assembly of a right of resistance to unlawful occupation policies.

39. It is little wonder in view of such incidents that both Médecins Sans Frontières and UNICEF have recently said that the number of children suffering from stress disorder has greatly increased.41 Colonel Desmond Travers, a member of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (whose report is generally known as the “Goldstone Report”) said in a recent interview: “If the British had behaved toward children who threw stones at them in the manner that is the norm on the West Bank for Israeli security forces — whereby children are rounded up in the evening


37 See, for example, Defence for Children International — Palestine Section, “In their own words”. 38 Ibid., “Awarta update”, 18 April 2011. 39 Association for Civil Rights in Israel, “Violations of the ‘Youth Law (Adjudication, Punishment

Methods of Treatment) — 1971’ by the Israeli police in East Jerusalem”, March 2011. Available

from http://www.acri.org.il/en/?p=2428. 40 J. Kestler-D’Amours, “The tactic of arresting Palestinian children”, Al Jazeera, 8 July 2011. 41 See “Trauma of Palestinian children increasing, say health groups”, Electronic Intifada, 27 July

2011. Available from http://electronicintifada.net/content/trauma-palestinian-children-increasing- say-health-groups/10212.



and taken to places of detention, hooded, beaten, and in some cases tortured — the Northern Ireland problem would not be resolved today. It would be still a place of conflagration.”42

40. In response to this pattern of abuse the above-referenced B’Tselem report recommends the following guidelines:

1. Set the age of minority in the military legislation to conform with the age of minority in Israel and the rest of the world immediately;

2. Prohibit night arrests of minors;

3. Restrict interrogations to daytime hours, with parents present, and give minors the opportunity to consult with an attorney in an orderly manner that respects the minors’ rights;

4. Prohibit the imprisonment of minors under the age of 14;

5. Promote alternatives to detention and find solutions offering alternatives to imprisonment;

6. Establish educational programmes in all prisons and offer study opportunities in all subjects to minimize the harm to the minors’ studies while they are detained and imprisoned;

7. Facilitate the issuing of permits to visit minors who are detained and imprisoned.36

B. Gaza blockade, collective punishment and Palestinian children

41. As emphasized throughout the report, children are the most vulnerable and most acute victims of Israeli violations of the provisions of international humanitarian law that are designed to protect an occupied civilian population. With the blockade of Gaza now extended beyond 4 years, and the overall occupation more than 44 years, the impact of those violations is exponentially increased. UNRWA, which normally avoids drawing conclusions as to the character of the occupation, issued a press release on 14 July 2011 expressing its heightened concern and calling attention to the plight of Gaza’s children, stating: “Today, there is a crisis in every aspect of life in Gaza. In education we need to build 100 new schools in three years for these children.”43 UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness has noted that “the abject poor living on just over 1 dollar a day has tripled to 300,000 since the blockade was imposed and with many reconstruction projects still awaiting approval, the future looks bleak”.44 With more than half the population of Gaza under the age of 18, those facing that bleak future are overwhelmingly children. UNRWA recalls the condemnation by the International Committee of the Red Cross of the blockade as “collective punishment in clear violation of international humanitarian law” and calls on the international


42 Philip Weiss, “Col. Travers: Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children shows that it does not seek peace”, 11 July 2011. Available from http://mondoweiss.net/2011/07/col-travers-Israels-treatment- of-palestinian-children-shows-that-it-does-not-seek-peace.html.

43 UNRWA, “A goal for Gaza: at 2011 Summer Games, 2,011 children set football world record”, 14 July 2011. Available from http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/E014A7DE55B9E6B0852578 CD0065C530.

44 UNRWA, “Gaza blockade anniversary report”, 13 June 2011. Available from http://www.unrwa.org/ etemplate.php?id=1007.





community “to ensure that repeated appeals by States and international organizations to lift the closure are finally heeded”. It ends with this appeal: “We endorse these calls for accountability, because we need to lift the blockade and give the kids of Gaza a chance to fulfil their true potential.”43 As an aspect of the multidimensional crisis facing Gaza, UNRWA itself is experiencing a funding crisis that already is impinging on its capacity to continue even at present levels to provide for the 80 per cent of the Gazan population that is currently dependent on international assistance for subsistence, and lacks the resources to meet the additional needs of Gaza’s families, which of course encompasses the children.

42. What is said about Gaza is only a shade less true for the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, where the ordeal of prolonged occupation weighs heavily on the future prospects of children living in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation from birth onwards. Recent developments in Area C, which is 60 per cent of the West Bank, are in their own way as severe in their deprivation of rights as the situation in Gaza, especially in relation to the displacement and dispossession of Bedouin villages that have created a general atmosphere of fear and foreboding, especially among Bedouin children.45 According to UNRWA field staff with whom the Special Rapporteur met during the mission, the 155 herding communities left in Area C, which is fully controlled by Israel, include many Bedouin refugees now facing forcible displacement. Those communities, including many children now largely without regular access to schools, have dramatically deteriorated since 2000, with half the population having been forced out of the West Bank grazing areas, losing their herds and involuntarily ending up in small towns and villages. Part of this forced displacement and forced urbanization has been the result of an Israeli policy of systematic demolition of the traditional cistern-based water infrastructure essential for maintaining the Bedouin people’s nomadic and agricultural way of life, which the occupying Power contends is unlicensed, and thus subject to removal. Bedouin children, most of whose families have already been made refugees in the past, face the particularly difficult challenge of losing their homes and entire way of life as a result of this forced abandonment of their herding traditions, as well as being denied the protection of citizenship associated with upholding the dignity and rights of individuals.

C. Palestinian children’s health and polluted water in Gaza

43. Children are particularly vulnerable to the unsafe water conditions that exist in Gaza. It is estimated that 54 per cent of Gaza’s 1.6 million civilians are children under the age of 18, with 20 per cent of the total under 5 years of age. Within this youngest age group, nearly 300,000 children are at acute risk; this age group is most vulnerable to the effects of water-associated disease, accounting for 90 per cent of annual deaths due to diarrhoeal diseases, including cholera.46 Studies demonstrate that it is Gaza’s unsafe waters that account mainly for the differences in health and survival (child mortality) between children in Gaza and those in the West Bank. The study mentioned above clarifies this conclusion: Gaza’s sole water source is an


45 See Harriet Sherwood, “Bedouin children hope their West Bank school will be spared Israel’s bulldozers”, Guardian, 12 June 2011.

46 See UNICEF, “Protecting children from unsafe water in Gaza: strategy, action plan and project resources”, March 2011. Available from http://www.unicef.org/oPt/FINAL_Summary_Protecting_ Children_from_unsafe_Water_in_Gaza_4_March_2011.pdf.



aquifer that is chemically contaminated with dangerous levels of chlorides, nitrates and other pollutants, some in excess of World Health Organization guidelines. Water scarcity aggravates the problem. Almost two thirds of Gazans surveyed indicated that their water is of bad quality due to its high salinity and water pollution, which is especially caused by wastewater contamination. The World Bank and Coastal Municipal Water Utility in Gaza stated that “only 5 to 10% of the aquifer is suitable for human consumption and … this supply could run out over the next five to 10 years without improved controls”.46

44. What is at stake with respect to water quality in Gaza is the right of the child to life and health. Exacerbating the crisis is the continuing impact of the unlawful blockade by Israel, which prevents the importation of tools and materials necessary to repair and restore the water purification system partially destroyed during Operation “Cast Lead”.

VIII. Recommendations

45. In the light of the above, the Special Rapporteur recommends that the Government of Israel take the following measures:

(a) Immediately adopt in policy and practice the guidelines of B’Tselem for the protection of Palestinian children living under occupation who are arrested or detained as a minimum basis for compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights standards under international law;

(b) Allow on an urgent basis entry to Gaza of materials needed for repair of water and electricity infrastructure so as to avoid further deterioration in the health of the civilian population, especially children, which is currently in critical condition;

(c) Develop and implement appropriate detention and imprisonment policies and practices for Palestinians, including fully observing the prohibition on transferring prisoners from occupied Palestinian territory to Israeli territory;

(d) Immediately lift the unlawful blockade of Gaza in view of its violative impact on all aspects of civilian life, its undermining of the basic rights of an occupied population and its grave impact on children.

46. The Special Rapporteur recommends that the General Assembly request that the International Court of Justice issue an advisory opinion on the legal status of prolonged occupation, as aggravated by prohibited transfers of large numbers of persons from the occupying Power and the imposition of a dual and discriminatory administrative and legal system in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.