With a new Palestinian treaty in place, can the peace last?

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

EAST JERUSALEM, Palestine – On October 12, the rival political parties of Hamas and Fatah signed a treaty which allows the Fatah controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) to control the Gaza region. The deal will be in full effect by December 1. This comes after ten years of conflict beginning in 2007 when Hamas ousted Fatah and the Palestinian Authority from Gaza after a series of violent encounters.

Palestinians in Gaza celebrated following the deal between Hamas and Fatah. Photo courtesy of Suhaib Salem.

The two million citizens of Gaza struggled under Hamas rule as President Mahmoud Abbas applied financial sanctions to the region. The heavy taxes imposed by the PA on the region reduced the electricity brought from Israel to Gaza. As a result, electricity only operated for several hours per day in the city. In addition, desalination and sewage treatment plants were unable to properly function. Medical supplies were also cut off from the region. Now, it is expected that these sanctions will be lifted and the city can begin resuming normal operations. In addition, PA troops will return to the border and thus allow citizens to travel to and from Gaza as well as bring goods across the boundary line.

The deal, which was signed in Cairo under Egyptian Intelligence, brings hope to the people of Gaza, despite the knowledge that multiple treaty attempts have failed in the past.

“Hamas are showing some flexibility which is unprecedented. It gives us hope that people are being pragmatic, seeing themselves as Palestinians, rather than as part of a global, Islamic group,” said Naim al-Khatib, a father of six in the region. He added, “[t]here are lots of difficult issues still to tackle – but the opposite of reconciliation is a very gloomy situation which I would hate us to step into.”

Mustafa Barghouti, general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, stressed the importance of the next few weeks because, “what’s been agreed must be implemented. All the Palestinian factions, not just Hamas and Fatah, must then decide on a unified government and a date for elections.” The next round of negotiations will be held in Cairo on November 22.

While many in Gaza are celebrating, not all nations share their enthusiasm. Israel said that it would not negotiate with the Palestinian Unity Government if Hamas was involved. Israel created a list of conditions that needed to be met in order for it to negotiate with Palestine. One of the primary conditions and also the one most difficult to resolve is the disarmament of Hamas. Hamas is recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel, and the European Union.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Unity Deal Offers Hope for Palestinians and a Reprieve for Gaza – 12, Oct. 2017

BBC – Palestinian unity deal: Gazans hope for end to feud – 13, Oct. 2017

The Guardian – Israel will not negotiate with Palestinian unity government if Hamas is involved – 17, Oct. 2017

Week 4 of Palestinian Prisoners’ Hunger Strike

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.

About 1,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons are on their 4th week of a hunger strike. Photo Courtesy of Reuters.

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.

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera – A Timeline of Palestinian Mass Hunger Strikes in Israel – 12 May 2017

Aljazeera – Palestinian Shot Dead by Israeli Forces in Nabi Saleh – 12 May 2017

Aljazeera – Palestinian Hunger Strike Highlights Medical Neglect – 12 May 2017

Daily Times – Palestinian Hunger Strikes- 13 May 2017

Ma’an News Agency – Palestinian Prisoners Enter 27th Day of Mass Hunger Strike – 13 May 2017

Ma’an News Agency – Funeral Held for Palestinian Killed by Israeli Forces During Solidarity March- 12 May 2017

Palestine News Network- Israeli Doctors Reject Force-Feeding Prisoners on Hunger Strike – 10 May 2017

Israeli Soldier Who Fatally Shot Injured Palestinian Convicted of Manslaughter

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.

Sgt. Elor Azaria was convicted of manslaughter after fatally shooting an immobilized Palestinian soldier in the head (Photo courtesy of BBC News)
Sgt. Elor Azaria was convicted of manslaughter after fatally shooting an immobilized Palestinian soldier in the head (Photo courtesy of BBC News)

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.

For more information, please see:

USA Today—Court convicts Israeli soldier who killed wounded Palestinian attacker—4 January 2017

The Wall Street Journal—Israeli Soldier Convicted in Death of Palestinian Attacker—4 January 2017

BBC News—Israeli soldier Elor Azaria convicted over Hebron death—4 January 2017

Huffington Post—Israeli Soldier Convicted Of Manslaughter In Killing Of Immobile Palestinian Assailant—4 January 2017

Appeal Against Israeli Force-Feeding Law Rejected

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.

Photo of Palestinian prisoners (Photo courtesy of Middle East Monitor)

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.

For more information, please see:

Middle East Eye — Israel court rejects appeal on force-feeding hunger strikers — 12 September 2016

AlJazeera — Israel rejects appeal against force-feeding prisoners — 11 September 2016

Palestine News Network — Israeli force-feeding law incitement to murder — 14 September 2016

Middle East Monitor — Israeli doctors urged to refuse force-feeding of hunger-strikers — 14 September 2016

The New York Times — Israel Allows Hunger-Striking Prisoners to Be Force-Fed — 30 July 2015

Israeli Government Approves More Settlements

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.

Clashes at the Qalandia Checkpoint Following Announcement to Expand Settlements (Photo Courtesy of Al-Jazeera)

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.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Israel vows more settlements amid West Bank violence — 2 July 2016

BBC — US criticises Israel over plans for new settlement homes — 6 July 2016

CNN — Israeli government approves new settlement housing — 6 July 2016

International Business Times — Israel’s West Bank, East Jerusalem Settlement Expansion Plans Roundly Condemned — 6 July 2016