By: Yamillet Brizuela Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
RAMALLAH, West Bank – May 14, 2017 marked the 28th day of the mass hunger strike by approximately 1,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons to protest their administrative detention. This hunger strike started on April 17, 2017, with hopes of drawing international attention to the plight of prisoners. They aim to put pressure on Israeli authorities to spur a change in policy.
The prisoners’ demands involve improvements to prison living condition which they believe, currently, violate basic human rights. They also denounced the torture, ill-treatment, and medical negligence of them by Israeli authorities. The Palestinian prisoners further denounced Israel’s practice of administrative detention, which allows for internment without trial or charge for six-month intervals that can be renewed indefinitely.
Other demands include: more family visits, education options, and public telephones, and are protesting unfair trials, detention of children, medical negligence, and solitary confinement.
Having lived off only salt water and now entering the 4th week of the hunger strike, a conversation of force-feeding the prisoners has arisen. Force-feeding violates international human rights standards.
Under international human rights law, prisoners must be guaranteed basic human rights, which include the right to maintain a family life and freedom from torture and other forms of CIDT, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
The United Nations Committee Against Torture has called on Israel to ensure that prisoners on hunger strikes are not subjected to force-feeding or other medical treatment against their will, as it could amount to torture.
However, without negotiations with prisoners by the Israeli authorities, it is highly likely that prisoners would suffer permanent health damage and possible death.
By Sarah Lafen Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America
WASHINGTON D.C., United States — The United States is considering leaving the United Nations Human Rights Council. A final decision to withdraw would most likely include Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, and President Trump.
According to sources connected with current U.S. officials, the council has been accused of being biased against Israel by pushing critical resolutions and issuing “scathing” statements about the country. The council drew criticism in 2012 for inviting a speaker from the Palestinian Hamas terror group to speak at a meeting.
Countries known for human rights violations, including China and Saudi Arabia, are members of the council. Russia was also a member until last year when it lost its seat after the U.N. General Assembly voted to remove it due to Moscow’s role in the Syrian conflict. A former U.S. State Department official commented that there are also questions regarding the council’s overall usefulness. Tillerson recently expressed skepticism about the council in recent meetings with State Department officials.
Last week, Haley criticized the council for failing to discuss the buildup of illegal Hezbollah weapons, strategies for defeating the Islamic State terrorist organization, and holding Bashar Assad accountable for the deaths of Syrian civilians.
The State Department has not directly commented on the rumored withdrawal, however spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that the “delegation will be fully involved in the work of the HRC session which [started] Monday.”
The website Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling a hypothetical withdrawal by the U.S. from the council “misguided and short-sighted.” U.N. Director of the website, Louis Charbonneau, predicted that the withdrawal might “significantly set back U.N. efforts to protect human rights around the world.” Charbonneau noted the U.S.’s crucial role in encouraging the council to establish commissions that helped uncover violations in North Korea and Syria and commented that withdrawal would hinder the U.S.’s influence in the international community.
Former President George W. Bush refused to join the council after it was created following the termination of the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Former President Barack Obama, however, joined the council once he was elected.
by Yesim Usluca Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
JERUSALEM, Israel — An Israeli soldier was convicted of manslaughter on January 4th after he fatally shot an unarmed, wounded Palestinian attacker laying on the ground. The trial, which lasted for several months, was one of the most divisive in Israel’s history.
The Israeli soldier, Sgt. Elor Azaria, was caught on video shooting the 21-year-old Palestinian, Mr. Abdul Fattah Shariff, as he was lying on a road. The incident occurred at a military checkpoint, where Mr. Shariff and a “companion,” Mr. Ramzi al-Qasrawi, attacked the Israeli troops with knives, injuring one Israeli soldier. The Israeli troops retaliated by shooting both individuals, upon which Mr. al-Qasrawi was killed, and Mr. Shariff was injured. In the recording, Sgt. Azaria is then seen calmly walking up to Mr. Shariff’s motionless body and shooting him in the head.
During the trial at a military court, the prosecution argued that Sgt. Azaria was in full control of his actions when he shot Mr. Shariff, and that he was acting in retaliation for the stabbed Israeli soldier. Sgt. Azaria’s lawyers, however, argued for self-defense, stating that he feared Mr. Shariff could have detonated a concealed suicide vest.
The trial for Sgt. Azaria was presided over by a three-judge panel, which delivered its verdict in two-and-a-half hours, holding that he had “needlessly” shot Mr. Shariff in the head. The panel held that Mr. Shariff had been subdued after the knife attack, and did not pose a threat at the time he was fatally shot. The court indicated that Sgt. Azaria had stated “he deserves to die” immediately after shooting Mr. Shariff. While delivering the verdict, the court stated “the fact that the man on the ground was a terrorist does not justify a disproportionate response.” It further indicated that “one cannot use this type of force, even if we’re talking about an enemy’s life.”
Sgt. Azaria’s trial has created a sharp divide within Israel. A member of the prosecution, Lt. Col. Nadav Weissman, stated that despite the favorable ruling, “there were no grounds for celebration.” He added that the “offense was severe,” and the ruling was “important, clear, [and] decisive.” On the other hand, while the verdict was being read, hundreds of Israelis protested outside the military court, demanding Sgt. Azaria to be released. Furthermore, others believe Sgt. Azaria is innocent of any crime, and sympathize with Israeli soldiers because of the mandatory military service for the Jewish majority.
While Sgt. Azaria’s family condemned the verdict, Israeli officials urged the public to remain calm following the verdict. Ms. Sharon Gal, the media adviser for Sgt. Azaria and his family, stated that the court did not “give any weight to the evidence.” She further indicated that the court ignored the “fact that this was the area of an attack,” and treated Sgt. Azaria’s act as if he had “picked up the knife from the ground and stabbed it in the back of all the soldiers.” Mr. Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Defense Minister, however, stated that everyone must “honor the court’s decision and  show restraint.”
Furthermore, Human Rights Watch had issued a report on January 2nd, in which it claimed that “some senior Israeli officials have been encouraging Israeli soldiers and police to kill Palestinians they suspect of attacking Israelis even when they are no longer a threat.”
Sentencing for Sgt. Azaria will be held at a later date. Israeli law provides for a maximum prison sentence of 20 years for individuals convicted of manslaughter. However, it is anticipated that Sgt. Azaria will be sentenced to a shorter term.
by Yesim Usluca Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
JERUSALEM, Israel — On Sunday, September 11th, the Israel Supreme Court rejected the Israeli Medical Association’s appeal on the force-feeding law that had been passed in July 2015.
Through the appeal, the Israel Supreme Court authorized force-feeding prisoners who are on a hunger strike. The court held that the law is constitutional and “legal under Israeli and international law.” The judges stated that saving lives “remain a priority” as the state is “responsible for the lives of its prisoners.”
The Assembly of Palestinian Doctors in Europe issued a statement declaring that the force-feeding law amounts to a “legitimization of murder.” The Assembly asserted that the law violates the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Malta 1991, which states “forcible feeding is never ethically acceptable.” It further stated that force-feeding violates the 1975 World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo, which provides that “force-feeding is a crime and form of torture.” The statement further drew attention to the potential risk of death involved with force-feeding, noting that several Palestinian prisoners had lost their lives as a result of this practice. The Assembly also urged international health institutions and human rights organizations, such as the United Nations, Red Cross, and Doctors Without Borders, to condemn the decision and pressure the government to repeal the law.
In recent years, numerous Palestinians initiated collective and individual hunger strikes. Some obtained an early release while others secured better incarceration conditions provided that they end their strike.
In July 2015, Israeli legislators voted to allow the force-feeding of hunger striking prisoners. The reasoning behind this legislation was to prevent Palestinian detainees from using fasting as a means of securing an early release from prison. Mr. Yoel Hadar, a legal adviser to the Ministry of Public Security, had stated that force-feeding would only be used in extreme cases and that Israeli doctors would not be compelled to comply. The law requires the prison commissioner to request the court’s permission to force-feed a prisoner “if a doctor recommends doing so,” and if there is an “imminent danger of severe deterioration in the prisoner’s health.” The law further stipulates that prison officials are allowed to use “reasonable force.”
Upon its passage, several human rights organizations had condemned the law. Palestinian prisoner rights activists declared that the law robbed detainees of their only means to protest incarceration. The Israeli Medical Association identified the move as “torture,” stating that force-feeding could not be accomplished without endangering the prisoner and causing suffering. United Nations officials also condemned the law, declaring that hunger strikes were a “non- violent form of protest used by individuals who have exhausted other forms of protest to highlight the seriousness of their situations.” The Ministry had stated that the decision was based on humanitarian concerns of preventing prisoners from harming themselves and pressuring Israeli authorities.
by Yesim Usluca Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
CAIRO, Egypt — An Egyptian court ruled on Thursday, September 8th that an Egyptian citizen who is married to an Israeli woman must be stripped of his citizenship.
Ms. Shaimaa Amin had filed a lawsuit demanding that her brother, who had been living in the United Kingdom for twelve years, be stripped of his Egyptian citizenship on the grounds that he is married to an Israeli woman. Ms. Amin claimed that her brother’s political, religious and social views do not “suit Egyptian society,” and that his marriage constitutes a “threat to Egypt’s national security.”
The Court decided that marriages between Egyptians and Israelis constitute a risk to national security. It further held that this is a serious offense which is a sufficient basis for an individual to lose citizenship. It referenced Article 62 of the Egyptian constitution, which grants personal freedoms, including marriage. The Court stated that despite this Article, citizens are not entitled to freedom from all restrictions or the responsibility to “protect society and the state.” It declared that the defendant should have “worked hard to make his wife and son give up their Israeli nationality and come to live in Egypt.” The defendant, Ms. Amin’s brother, defended his decision to marry an Israeli woman. He stated that, unlike the Arab states, Israel was a defender of human rights that was contributing to fighting terrorism.
Ms. Amin’s lawsuit and the Court’s subsequent holding was in line with, and based on, a June 2010 ruling by the Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court, which ordered the Interior Ministry to strip citizenship from Egyptians married to Israeli women. This holding stated that the Interior Ministry must present each case to the Cabinet, which will then make an individualized decision on stripping citizenship based on whether the man married an “Israeli Arab or Jew.” In 2015, the Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court issued a further ruling based on Egyptian Nationality Law, which mandated the Cabinet and Interior Ministry to strip Egyptian nationality from citizens married to Israelis. Per Article 16 of this Law, the Egyptian government can strip citizens of their nationality to protect Egypt’s national security.
by Zachary Lucas Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
JERUSALEM, Israel — The Israeli government approved the construction of hundreds of new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem areas. The settlement expansion comes days after an Israeli teenager was stabbed to death by a Palestinian teenager.
The Israeli government announced that 560 housing units will be built in Ma’ale Adumim, one of the largest settlement areas in the West Bank. Another 240 units will be built in neighborhoods in Eastern Jerusalem. Israel claims these neighborhoods are Jewish, but Palestinians claim this is the future site of the Palestinian capital. Finally, another 600 homes would be built in Beit Safafa, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
The international community condemned the expansion of settlements in the West Bank area. United States State Department spokesman John Kirby said these actions are a “systematic process of land seizure.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon stated these actions by Israel are a roadblock to peace and questioned Israel’s long term intentions. The European Union called the expansions illegal under international law. Last week, the Middle East “Quartet” comprised of the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations, published a report asking Israel to stop building settlements. Israel responded saying that the building of settlements is not a roadblock to peace.
The decision to build more settlement homes in the region comes after the death of an Israeli teenager. Last week Hallel Yafa Ariel, a 13-year old Israeli girl, was stabbed to death in her sleep when a Palestinian teenager broke into her home. The Palestinian teenager was shot to death as he tried to exit the neighborhood. Following the attack Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to expand settlements in the area.
Violence in the region has escalated since the stabbing death and Netanyahu’s announcement to expand settlements. An elderly Palestinian man died due excessive tear gas inhalation fired by Israeli troops who were clashing with Palestinian protesters at the Qalandia checkpoing. In the West Bank City of Hebron, a Palestinian woman was shot to death after an alleged stabbing incident. In Otniel, an Israeli man was killed and three of his relatives were injured following an alleged attack from a Palestinian shooter.
Israel first captured East Jerusalem and regions in the West Bank in 1967 during the Six-Day War. Since the war Israel has had direct control over the territory and built housing units for Israelis to live in. The United Nations has passed resolutions telling Israel to withdraw from the territory and end the building of settlements. Many consider the annexation and building of settlements to be in violation of international law.
By Elizabeth Conger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
JERUSALEM, Israel – An Arab man has been sentenced to jail time by a Jerusalem District Court for holding himself out to be a single Jewish bachelor to a Jewish woman he had consensual sex with.
According to the woman, thirty-year-old Sabbar Kashur introduced himself as a single Jew looking for a serious relationship. The two then had sex in a nearby building. When the woman later discovered that Kashur was not Jewish, she filed a police complaint which ultimately let to charges of rape and indecent assault.
Prosecutors acknowledged that the sex was consensual, but accused Kashur of ‘rape by deceit.’
Judge Zvi Segal said, in the verdict, that the court had the duty to protect the public from sophisticated criminals who could deceive innocent victims. “If she hadn’t thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated.”
The standard for ‘rape by deception,’ according to High Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, is whether an ordinary person would expect such a woman to have sex with a man without the false identity he created. Rubinstein stated that a conviction of rape should be imposed whenever a “person does not tell the truth regarding critical matters to a reasonable woman, and as a result of misrepresentation she has sexual relations with him.”
Abeer Baker, an attorney with Adalah, an organization that advocates for Arab rights in Israel, said of the legal standard: “In this case, the ruling seems to say that if a ‘reasonable’ Jewish woman knew a man was an Arab, then she would not make love to him.”
Baker called this a “dangerous precedent,” and said it opened the door to allowing the Israeli government to interfere in the private lives of citizens.
Kashur has been under house arrest for nearly two years since the incident occurred. He said that he first met the woman, who was in her late twenties, when he was leaving a grocery store in downtown Jerusalem and she asked him about his motorcycle. He told the woman his nickname, which was ‘Dudu,’ a common Jewish nickname for Daniel. He said:
“I said my name is Dudu because that’s how everybody knows me. My wife even calls me that.”
Kashur asserts that the verdict is racist, and his lawyers are contemplating an appeal of his sentence. He said:
“For two years I’ve been under house arrest for nothing . . . If I were Jewish they wouldn’t even have questioned me. That’s not called rape. I didn’t rape her in the forest and throw her away naked. She agreed to everything that happened.”
The High Court of Justice set a precedent for rape by deception in 2008 when they convicted Zvi Sleiman, a Jewish man who impersonated a senior official in the Housing Ministry whose wife worked in the National Insurance Institute. He told the women he deceived that he could get them a better apartment and higher insurance payments if they slept with him.
The High Court also convicted a man on three counts of fraud for telling a woman he was a neurosurgeon in order to persuade her to have sex with him.
Elkana Laist of the Public Defender’s Office said that the Jerusalem District Court’s conviction had gone too far, “opening the door to a rape conviction every time a person lies regarding the details of his identity.” She added: “Every time the court thinks a reasonable woman would not have had sex with a man based on that representation, the man will be charged with rape. That approach is not accepted around the world either.”
Laist also said that the decision is paternalistic to women and problematic in application. “It means that every time a man tells a woman he loves her, based on which she sleeps with him, he could be convicted of rape.”
Dana Pugach, head of the Noga Center for Victims of Crime, said, however, that she had no problem with the verdict.
“We all have different characteristics, and it is a person’s right to have sexual relations with a person knowing the facts about those characteristics. I see no difference between impersonating a Jew if you are an Arab and a wealthy pilot when you are penniless, if those are relevant characteristics to the decision to have sex.”
A 2007 poll conducted by Israel’s Geocartography Institute found that more than fifty percent of Israeli Jews thought marrying an Arab was “equal to national treason.”
Intermarriage between Arabs and Jews is actually forbidden in Israel, and, in the settlement of Pisgat Zeev, a vigilante group patrolled the streets for more than a decade looking for mixed couples. Another settlement, Petah Tikva, has established a team of pyschologists and counsellors to “rescue” Jewish women from relationships with Arab men.
Gideon Levy, a columnist for Haaretz, asked whether the “rape by deception” law would have been applied differently in the case of an Arab woman deceived into having sex with a Jewish man.
“Would he have been convicted of rape?” Levy asked. “The answer is: of course not.”