Posted on 03 October 2014.
Posted on 03 October 2014.
FROM OCTOBER 2000 TO OCTOBER 2014
Another year passes on the anniversary of the October 2000 events, and the murders of 13 young Palestinian citizen protestors by the Israeli police are absent from the minds of the Israeli authorities, as if it they never happened. In the past year, the police continued its repressive and brutal treatment of Arab protestors, while the Ministry of Justice’s Police Investigation Unit, “Mahash”, continued to cover up cases of police brutality committed by its officers by failing to investigate or prosecute them.
Posted on 24 September 2014.
Over the last four years, “we have turned the corner” has become the dominant narrative on mass incarceration. The basis for this optimism appeared sound. From 2009-2012, total prisoner numbers were down nationally for the first time since the late 1970s, with the figures for Blacks behind bars also declining. Moreover, people in surprising places were making conciliatory noises. Attorney General Eric Holder grabbed some new handles- champion of employment access for people with felony convictions and promoter of lighter sentences for those with drug offenses. Some New Jim Crow discourse even crept into his rhetoric. The New York Times consistently peppered their op-ed pages with condemnation of the bloated US carceral state, proclaiming in a May 10 piece that “The American experiment in mass incarceration has been a moral, legal, social and economic disaster. It cannot end soon enough.”
To top it off, the right wing joined the “softer on crime” fray. Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich sparked a conservative anti-imprisonment drift through their Right on Crime organization which decried the excessive use and cost of punishment. Then Rand Paul followed suit, standing shoulder to shoulder with Cory Booker to back a Redeem Act which would ease criminal penalties for juveniles. In the background a steady stream of popular advocacy combined with legislative and financial re-thinks appeared to be making major inroads into criminal justice orthodoxy. But last week, carceral optimism gave way to a much harsher reality. The Bureau of Justice’s annual statistical report on national prison population revealed that incarceration numbers were up for the first time since 2009. The rise was a mere 0.3% but even this slight uptick may have burst the bubble of the new paradigm.
In fact, this miniscule upswing in prison population likely highlights much deeper contradictions that were there all along. Fourteen states hit new record high prison populations in 2013, while 31 states recorded an increase in prison admissions. To make matters worse, several icons of decarceration recorded population upturns. Texas with the largest prison system in the country, has been perhaps the most widely marketed example of decarceration, dropping its prison population by 3.5% from 2011 to 2012 alone. Yet for 2013 the Lone Star State led the reverse trend, with its count rising from 157,900 to 160,295 prisoners. Similarly, California, the second biggest state system and also a leading driver of population decrease in previous years, showed a slight expansion, from 134,211 to 135,981.
For, Judy Greene, Director of the anti-mass incarceration research group Justice Strategies, the figures for Texas and California reflected that the changes in previous years had been “narrowly felt in a handful of states.” She pointed out that between 2010 and 2012, more than 90% of the prison population reductions took place in three states, California, New York and Texas. With the failure of California and Texas to continue on the path toward decarceration, the rest of the country essentially continued with carceral business as usual. Predictably, the overall racial disproportionality also remained profound, with Black males of all ages still six times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts and two and a half times more likely to be locked up than Latinos. The racial disparity in incarceration rates for Black women remained less dramatic, registering at about twice that of whites.
Some Good News
Sandwiched between the news of statistical reversal rested a few positive trends. For the first time in recent years, total population in the Federal prison system declined, falling from 217,815 to 215,866. But the Feds are a small slice of the pie, constituting about 10 % of all those behind bars in the US.
In addition, a few states with consistent records of reducing prison populations continued on track. Star decarceration performers like New York and New Jersey, which have seriously reduced admissions through changes to sentencing and drug policy as well as easing parole conditions, both posted their seventh consecutive year of prison population decline.
Perhaps the other positive was in the realm of immigration. While not covered in the Bureau of Justice report, locking up immigrants has become a key component of mass incarceration in the 2000s. In that regard, deportations did decline in 2013 after hitting a record level of over 400,000 in 2012. Moreover, felony convictions for immigration offenses also fell slightly, although average daily population in detention centers was up from 32,194 to 33,811. Still, the administration’s failure to implement comprehensive immigration reform, coupled with the 50,000 plus unaccompanied children on the border, hardly makes this issue a source of faith in the process and pace of change.
Concerns About The Change Process
Ultimately, the report along with events like those in Ferguson, Missouri, reinforced the concerns of many anti-mass incarceration campaigners that current changes were not digging deep enough to yield long lasting results. Peter Wagner, Director of the Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative, highlighted the need for states “to decide whether the people they are sending to prison really need to be there” and the corresponding issue of deciding which people “currently in prison can go home.” Instead, he lamented, states are continuing to hike “the number of people they send to prison for new offenses and violations of parole and decreasing the number of people they let out.”
Author and activist Ruthie Gilmore, who currently is associate director of the Center for Place, Culture and Politics at CUNY, argued that the BOJ statistics have exposed the shortcomings of “opportunists” who have “blown up real solidarity.” She maintains that moderate reforms have promoted “the delusion that it’s possible to cherry pick some people from the prison machine” rather than undertake a broad restructuring of the communities which have been devastated by mass incarceration. Mariame Kaba, head of Project NIA which practices transformative justice as a foil to youth incarceration in Chicago communities, concurred with Gilmore, stressing that “the rationale for and logic of punishment is unchanged. The targets of our punishment mindset also remain overwhelmingly black and poor.”
Kaba points out that the discourse has altered but policy seems to have lagged behind. “Talk and actions are not the same thing,” she said, “there is a need to move beyond awareness and take steps to address mass incarceration in real ways.”
What are the “real ways”?
The question is: what are these “real ways”? Mainstream reformers have pushed for a number of changes: laws to reform harsh sentencing policies, especially for drug offenses. Reentry has been another area of emphasis, with the Feds alone having put over $100 million into Second Chance Act initiatives to smooth the return for those coming home from prison. Relaxing drug laws, including the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, may have some impact, especially in the Federal system where more than 50% of the population has drug offenses. But in the state institutions, which hold over 85% of the nation’s prison population, only 16% are locked up for drug convictions while more than 50% have cases involving violence. To date, few reformers want to consider releasing or easing up on sentencing for those convicted of violent crimes. Even many reentry initiatives avoid people with convictions for violent crimes.
Greene argues that it still boils down to serious sentencing reform which would go beyond merely those with drug convictions. The need, she argues, is to “both to sharply reduce the number of people we send to prison and to shorten the inordinate amount of time those sent to prison have to serve before they are released.” Gilmore extends the sphere of change to focus on “the foundations on which mass incarceration has been built – structural racism and structural poverty and the capitalism that is devouring the planet.”
Convergence of Agendas?
One certain outcome of this statistical shift will be heightened debate amongst those involved in efforts to roll back the US prison system. As Gilmore put it, “the fact that prison numbers rose in 2013 is a testament to the deep fragmentation of social justice work in the USA.” While a year ago, a so-called “convergence of agendas” looked a likely prospect, the Bureau of Justice report in the wake of high profile police violence and failed immigration policies, foretell an intensified struggle between those who argue that the system is broken but can be fixed and those who like Mariame Kaba contend that “reform is not enough, that we need much more urgent and radical (as in getting to the root of the problem) solutions. This is the only way that we will successfully address mass criminalization.”
Posted on 24 September 2014.
Israeli soldiers detain Palestinian youths in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron in March 2014.
Israeli soldiers raided the family home of Ayman Nasser, legal coordinator of the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, in the middle of the night last Thursday. He is the latest human rights defender in the occupied West Bank to be targeted and detained by the Israeli army.
Nasser’s wife told Addameer that a group of soldiers came to their home in Saffa, near Ramallah, at 1:30am on 18 September. After the soldiers ransacked their home for thirty minutes, Nasser was taken away.
“Fifteen soldiers raided the house and started shouting at me and my children to get out of the rooms, so we stayed in the living room with six soldiers pointing their guns at us,” his wife said in a statement to Addameer.
Nasser, 44, is a longtime human rights activist. In addition to his work with Ramallah-based Addameer, Nasser is the co-founder of the Handala Educational Center in Saffa, which focuses on arts, athletics and education. He has worked with Addameer since 2008.
Nasser was previously arrested in October 2012 and held for 93 days before being sentenced for 13 months; he was released in October 2013. Before his sentencing, Nasser endured weeks of interrogation while blindfolded and shackled. Before that he had spent six years, from 1992 to 1997, in an Israeli prison.
Nasser appeared in an Israeli military court on Sunday, 21 September, where the judge did not bring formal charges against him. Addameer researcher Murad Jadallah told The Electronic Intifada that he expects Nasser will be placed under administrative detention — Israel’s widespread practice of holding Palestinians without charge or trial, justifying detention on the basis of secret evidence.
Under Israel’s military court regime Palestinians can be held without charge or access to a lawyer for up to ninety days, and detention can be extended for another ninety days on request without any limit on the number of times an order can be renewed. However, even when a detainee is charged, the military court process is slow and arbitrary.
Human rights activist Murad Shtaiwi was arrested on 29 April and charged under Israel’s “protest law” for organizing demonstrations in Kufr Qaddum, a village in the northern West Bank whose land has been expropriated for Israeli settlements. His trial has been repeatedly delayed. If found guilty, Shtaiwi faces a maximum sentence of ten years of imprisonment.
“The practice of arbitrarily prolonging the trial process is not atypical for Palestinians within the Israeli military court system and is incompatible with the fair trial requirement under international human rights law that a defendant should be tried without undue delay,” Addameer stated in a press release on Shtaiwi.
Ayman Nasser (Photo courtesy of Addameer)
When Ayman Nasser appeared in an Israeli military court two years ago, Nasser stated that his harsh interrogation sessions lasted up to ten hours and that he was denied the necessary medical treatment he had been receiving prior to detention. The charges brought against Nasser were primarily related to his activism — alleging that he was an activist with the leftist party the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and assisted in the 2012 prisoners’ hunger strike.
Addameer condemns the re-arrest of their colleague, placing it in Israel’s pattern of targeting Palestinian human rights organizations with an “aim to criminalize their work, silence their voices and prevent them from carrying out their work in supporting all Palestinian political prisoners and detainees.”
“Just look at the last three months to see an increase in arresting human rights defenders — whether journalists, PLC [Palestinian Legislative Council] members, writers —we are talking about Palestinian activists in Jerusalem, Hebron, Ramallah and everywhere in the West Bank getting arrested,” Jadallah told The Electronic Intifada.
Meanwhile, the number of Palestinian prisoners as a whole has swelled as well.
Before three Israeli teens went missing in the West Bank last June, giving Israel a pretext to conduct sweeping arrest raids, more than 175 Palestinians were being held under administrative detention; now it’s closer to 500, according to Jadallah. Last May,Addameer reported that more than 5,200 Palestinian poliltial prisoners were being held in Israeli jails.
Arrest and detention is not the only way that Israel violates the rights of Palestinian rights defenders.
Palestinian legislator Khalida Jarrar was issued a military order instructing her to transfer from her home in Ramallah to Jericho, where she would reside under special surveillance for six months. Such forcible transfers are illegal under international law and Jarrar, who serves on Addameer’s board and is a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is currently resisting the forcible transfer and has set up a protest camp outside the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in Ramallah.
There are currently 36 PLC members being held in Israeli prisons; 28 are being held under administrative detention.
Addameer defines Nasser, Shtaiwi and Jarrar as human rights defenders, a status enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Addameer published a report earlier this year examining Israel’s systematic arrest of Palestinians organizing against Israel’s wall in the West Bank, arguing that since 2009 there has been a clear shift in tactics by the Israeli military to target and arrest human rights activists “in the context of increasing recognition of the legitimacy of the actions by the Palestinian human rights activists.”
Another detained human rights defender who has yet to stand trial is Shireen Issawi, a lawyer from East Jerusalem who was arrested on 6 March 2014 and is being held in pre-trial detention on charges related to cooperating with parties working against the State of Israel.
Twenty-one-year-old Bushra al-Taweel, a student and journalist who has worked for multiple human rights projects, was arrested on 2 July this year and held in military detention on the basis of secret evidence. She is still awaiting a date for a court hearing.
The Palestinian Prisoners Society warned last May that Israeli authorities appear to becracking down on Palestinian lawyers and charging them with relaying information from their clients, alleged Hamas members, to people outside of the prisons. In a spate of arrests, approximately ten Palestinian lawyers, including Issawi, were detained earlier this year.
Al Jazeera English reported that Jawad Boulos of the Palestinian Prisoners Society accused the Israeli authorities of illegally taping and mistranslating conversations between lawyers and their clients in an attempt to “re-draw the map that identifies the interaction between lawyers and detainees.”
Amjad Safadi, who was detained for twenty days in April, committed suicide five days after his release. The Palestinian Prisoners Society claims the suicide was a result of being beaten throughout his detention, and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel demanded at the time that an investigation be conducted into the circumstances of Safadi’s death and interrogation.
Posted on 16 September 2014.
By Peter Foster, Washington
The CIA brought top al-Qaeda suspects close “to the point of death” by drowning them in water-filled baths during interrogation sessions in the years that followed the September 11 attacks, a security source has told The Telegraph.
The description of the torture meted out to at least two leading al-Qaeda suspects, including the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, far exceeds the conventional understanding of waterboarding, or “simulated drowning” so far admitted by the CIA.
“They weren’t just pouring water over their heads or over a cloth,” said the source who has first-hand knowledge of the period. “They were holding them under water until the point of death, with a doctor present to make sure they did not go too far. This was real torture.”
The account of extreme CIA interrogation comes as the US Senate prepares to publish a declassified version of its so-called Torture Report – a 3,600-page report document based on a review of several million classified CIA documents.
Publication of the report is currently being held up by a dispute over how much of the 480-page public summary should remain classified, but it is expected to be published within weeks.
A second source who is familiar with the Senate report told The Telegraph that it contained several unflinching accounts of some CIA interrogations which – the source predicted – would “deeply shock” the general public.
Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee that authored the report has promised that it will expose “brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation”. The Senate report is understood to accuse the CIA of lying and of grossly exaggerating the usefulness of torture.
It is being angrily opposed by many senior Republicans, former CIA operatives and Bush-era officials, including the former US vice president Dick Cheney, who argue that is it poorly researched and politically motivated.
The CIA has previously admitted that it used black sites to subject at least three high-value al-Qaeda detainees to “enhanced interrogation” – namely Mohammed, the alleged USS Cole bomber Abd al Rahim al Nashiri and alleged senior Bin Laden aide Abu Zubaydah.
An internal report in 2004 by the CIA’s own Office of Inspector General admitted that Mohammed had been “waterboarded” 183 times and Abu Zubaydah 83 times – but actual details of how the interrogations were administered have never been provided.
When the 109-page CIA report was made public in 2009 following a freedom of information lawsuit, large portions of it remained redacted – or blacked out – including all 23 pages that followed the factual admission that interrogators “applied the waterboard technique” to Mohammed.
An official CIA description of waterboarding in the 2004 report says that a cloth is used to cover a subject’s nose and mouth and is saturated with water for “no more than 20 seconds” before being removed. A stream of water is then “directed at the upper lip” in order to prolong “the sense of suffocation”.
However the report also admits that waterboarding was being carried in a “manner different” from that prescribed in the US military’s standard SERE training manual, but details were not revealed, beyond the frequency of the treatment, which was admitted to have broken guidelines.
Among the additional difficulties for investigators seeking the truth about what happened is the fact that in November 2005 the CIA destroyed some 92 video tapes of its waterboarding and interrogation of Mohammed and the others.
The officer responsible, Jose Rodriquez, was reprimanded but justified his actions by arguing that he feared the tapes would eventually leak to the media, provoking a backlash that would endanger officers’ lives.
The White House and the State Department fear that the Senate report could still cause a backlash and have made preparations for increased security at sensitive sites when it is eventually published.
Despite the destruction of video evidence, however, a third source familiar with the still-classified accounts of the most severe of the CIA interrogations, said that the practices were much more brutal than is widely understood.
“They got medieval on his ass, and far more so than people realise,” the source told The Telegraph referring to the treatment of Mohammed and Nashiri, but declined to provide further details because of the still-classified nature of the material.
Amrit Singh, a lawyer with the New York-based Open Society Justice Initiative and the author of Administration of Torture, a book detailing the Bush administration’s torture policy, said the new details of the CIA excesses should not come as a surprise.
“Given the lengths that Bush-era CIA officials went to cover up the truth, including destroying videotapes depicting waterboarding of prisoners, it comes as no surprise that the torture was more brutal than previously revealed.
“It is, however, something that the American public has a right to know about, and an obligation to reckon with, and these revelations only underscore the urgent need for release of the Senate intelligence committee report,” she said.
Posted on 16 September 2014.
The CIA brought top al-Qaeda suspects close “to the point of death” by drowning them in water-filled baths during interrogation sessions in the years that followed the September 11 attacks, a security source has told The Telegraph. The description of the torture meted out to at least two leading al-Qaeda suspects, including the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, far exceeds the conventional understanding of waterboarding, or “simulated drowning” so far admitted by the CIA. “They weren’t just pouring water over their heads or over a cloth,” said the source who has first-hand knowledge of the period. “They were holding them under water until the point of death, with a doctor present to make sure they did not go too far. This was real torture.” The account of extreme CIA interrogation comes as the US Senate prepares to publish a declassified version of its so-called Torture Report – a 3,600-page report document based on a review of several million classified CIA documents. Publication of the report is currently being held up by a dispute over how much of the 480-page public summary should remain classified, but it is expected to be published within weeks. A second source who is familiar with the Senate report told The Telegraph that it contained several unflinching accounts of some CIA interrogations which – the source predicted – would “deeply shock” the general public.
Note: For more on this, see concise summaries of deeply revealing intelligence agency operations news articles from reliable major media sources.
The CIA’s Mop-Up Man: L.A. Times Reporter Cleared Stories With Agency Before Publication
A prominent national security reporter for the Los Angeles Times routinely submitted drafts and detailed summaries of his stories to CIA press handlers prior to publication, according to documents obtained by The Intercept. Email exchanges between CIA public affairs officers and Ken Dilanian, now an Associated Press intelligence reporter who previously covered the CIA for the Times, show that Dilanian enjoyed a closely collaborative relationship with the agency, explicitly promising positive news coverage and sometimes sending the press office entire story drafts for review prior to publication. In at least one instance, the CIA’s reaction appears to have led to significant changes in the story that was eventually published in the Times. Dilanian’s emails were included in hundreds of pages of documents that the CIA turned over in response to two FOIA requests seeking records on the agency’s interactions with reporters. They include email exchanges with reporters for the Associated Press, Washington Post, New York Times,Wall Street Journal, and other outlets. In addition to Dilanian’s deferential relationship with the CIA’s press handlers, the documents show that the agency regularly invites journalists to its McLean, Va., headquarters for briefings and other events.
Note: For more on this, see concise summaries of deeply revealing major media corruption news articles from reliable major media sources.
Posted on 15 September 2014.
Posted on 08 September 2014.
Posted on 06 September 2014.
Please find attached the current OCHA Protection of Civilians weekly report on protection issues in the occupied Palestinian territory. This update covers the period from 26 August – 1 September 2014
● 38 Palestinians injured: the lowest number in eleven weeks
● 16 homes demolished in area C and East Jerusalem, displacing 76 Palestinians
● 3,799 dunums in the vicinity of Gush Etzion settlement block, declared ‘state land’
Published: 04 September 2014
Posted on 31 August 2014.
Kourosh Ziabari – Fars News Agency: Dr. Erik Fosse, a prominent Norwegian medical doctor, who has been in the Gaza Strip during the recent Israeli incursion tells Fars News Agency about his experiences with the deadly Israeli aggression and its impacts on the Palestinian civilians.
According to Dr. Erik Fosse, more than 400 children were killed during the Israeli regime’s military operation in Gaza since early July and about 30% of the injured are children 18 years old or below (the international bodies have put the number at over 475).
“I’ve worked in the Middle East and with the Palestinians for more than 30 years, and what often surprises me is not the fact that so many people get traumatized by these wars, but that all the young people that experience tragedies like this are so resilient and end up growing courageous people,” he said.
Erik Fosse is a Norwegian physician and professor of medicine at the University of Oslo. He is the director of the Intervention Centre at the National Hospital “Rikshospitalet”. Dr. Fosse is known globally for his humanitarian work in Palestine both during the 2008-2009 Gaza Massacre and also in the recent war that the Tel Aviv regime launched on Gaza in July.
Working with another Norwegian doctor Mads Gilber in the war-hit Gaza, Fosse has been at the center of Israeli and Western media’s attention in the recent weeks. They’ve been providing medical services to the severely injured Palestinians in the Al-Shifa Hospital. In 2013, the two Norwegian colleagues published a book entitled “Eyes in Gaza” which is a first-hand account of their observations during sixteen days of presence in the besieged Gaza Strip during the 2008-2009 22-day war. Last year, King Harald V of Norway appointed Fosse as Commander of the Order of St. Olav.
In an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency, Erik Fosse talks about his impressions about the children of Gaza who have been the target of Israel’s ceaseless airstrikes, the psychological difficulties the people of Gaza undergo as a result of losing the members of their family, the international community’s response to the war on Gaza and the legal aspects of Israel’s deadly offensive into the besieged enclave. What follows is the text of the interview.
Q: Would you please tell us about the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip since you have been there for the last time, the situation of the hospitals and their treatment of the injured? Please, give us a picture of the situation in the caged Gaza Strip.
A: I left the Gaza Strip three weeks ago and there are two major problems. First is the background of the humanitarian situation due to the siege that has lasted now for seven years, which caused serious problems to the Gaza’s economy, including the huge unemployment. The people of Gaza have compensated for a long time for the consequences of the siege through the tunnels to Egypt. But after the coup d’etat in Egypt last year, the tunnels were closed down and therefore the impact of the siege by Israel is now stronger and much more notable.
The main problem of the siege is its impact on economy; there’s no trade, and business is impossible. They made some money on the tunnels, which means that the money could get into the Gaza Strip, but now the tunnels are closed down. This is the main impact, because it makes Gaza a society with no normal business and no real money flow. This is very bad for the society.
Then, of course, you have the impact on the getting of fuel and technology for the generators and daily life. This impacts the people’s ability to get electricity and clean water. Then we have the direct impact on goods such as foodstuff and clothing for the people with little money. It’s also becoming extremely difficult for the hospitals to get instruments and medicine. This is taking a lot of time and also is becoming so expensive for them. Then we have the current situation with the civilian casualties that we have seen in the previous attacks like this, as of course in the present situation. I must say that today, the number of casualties, the number of injured and destroyed buildings are much higher than the attacks in 2008-2009. We have more than 9,000 injured and close to 2,000 dead and that’s more than what we saw in 2009.
For the hospitals, this means that since the war started on the sixth of July until now, they have been on constant alert, including the Al-Shifa hospital where I worked. The staff work one day on and one day off, and they’ve been doing this for more than one month. And when they are on the job, they have to work almost 24 hours continuously, because they are receiving so many injured people, and they should fight against the clock to make as many people as possible survive. The dirts, dispensables and other resources at the hospitals are reaching a maximum point, and this is an impossible situation that has lasted for one month, that is a very long time, while I will remind you that the war in 2008-2009 lasted three weeks.
Q: It was in the reports that during its month-long incursion into the Gaza Strip, Israel used banned weapons, including depleted uranium and white phosphorus against the civilian population. Is it true, and if so, then what is the impact of using such materials on the unarmed civilians?
A: Actually, I have no information about the depleted uranium or phosphorus. It’s allowed to use phosphorus weapon, but it depends on how you use it. About the depleted uranium, I don’t know. I think the most important thing about what we have seen by the use of weapons is that it’s legal to use weapons against military organizations. The problem is that we see very sophisticated and accurate weapons used against the civilian population. So, it’s not necessarily that such weapons are illegal; it’s more related to the way they are used. When it comes to depleted uranium, I think it’s also a matter of the type of weapons and explosives which contain the uranium. I personally have no experience in this war of depleted uranium or phosphorus weapons, but I have seen patients hit by very accurate weapons, bombs and rockets. Also, you can question the routine of bombing civilian houses because, even if they [the Israelis] announce the bombing 80 seconds before they bomb, this cannot be in accordance with the international law.
Q: Something which has been very much discussed in the recent weeks by the media is that as a result of the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, it was impossible for the hospitals to get medicine and medical supplies needed for the treatment of the patients and wounded, especially the children who were affected during the attacks. Do you have any specific information on that?
A: We could get some, but there were definitely things which we couldn’t find in Gaza. It was really difficult to get them through, particularly from Israel, so that is correct. It’s also the case that there were medical persons, people like me – I had to leave Gaza after one week, and then I tried to get back 10 days later, but I was not allowed in and never got any permission to enter again. And I think this was also an experience for lots of international organizations that because of the siege, weren’t allowed to send health workers in. I stayed one week in Israel trying to get a permission to enter Gaza by the end of the attack.
Q: What do you think about the international responses to the Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip and the silence of the Western governments that even refused to verbally condemn the massive civilian casualties? Why do you think they didn’t show any firm reaction and were so inattentive to the atrocities that took place in this one month of continued attacks on the besieged Gaza?
A: Well, I don’t know why, but I’m disappointed by the European Union and the United States in this [sic] and think it’s quite clear whatever they think about the Palestinians and Hamas as an organization or Israel, there’s definitely a huge asymmetry in the casualties. Hamas has fired more than 3,000 rockets against Israel, but in fact the casualties are really low. The main casualties on the Israeli side are military personnel. If you look at the Palestinian side, the story is completely different. The majority of victims are civilians, 35% are under 18 years and children and also the absolute majority of the injured are civilians.
Whatever you think of the parties, I’m really shocked that the international community didn’t react strongly to this huge asymmetry and also the deliberate targeting of the houses of the people when you know that the people actually have no income and from the outset live under very bad conditions and if you raid their homes, we will not know the long-term impacts and the number of casualties and the material damages in the months to come can be much more higher, so I’m really surprised that the international community didn’t react directly to the humanitarian disaster and the complete asymmetry of civilian casualties on the two sides.
We cannot really compare rockets fired mostly like symbols against Israel that caused very little damage and the using of most sophisticated weapons directed towards the civilian population of Palestine. And then, they of course explain that Hamas is hiding among the civilians, but I think this argument is not valid. Hamas is a political party. They [the Israelis] are targeting their political leaders and they are by international law identified as civilians. If you look at the location of IDF headquarters in Israel, it’s in the center of Tel Aviv, so they are also hiding among the civilian complexes and this is the same in all countries, so actually there’s no excuse for the enormous attack on the civilian population.
Q: Just recently, the British MP George Galloway has made the argument that if Hamas, as claimed by Israel, is hiding its weapons in the civilian areas and using the people as a human shield, then why should Israel target and attack this human shield? If it knows that the weapons are being put in places where thousands of unarmed civilians live, then why should Israel bomb such areas and regions?
A: That’s an excuse. First of all, Gaza is a densely populated area. There are very few regions where there are no people and I think this is the reason they are attacking the civilians. I think to them these civilian Palestinians are of less value, so they are expendable to get through the weapons. To me, as a medical doctor, what I see is that they attack civilians and I think there’s no valid excuse for that. Then, when it comes to Hamas and its policy, this is another issue. It is a political party and of course they have to be accountable for their actions. This is an asymmetry and a total disregard of the civilian wellbeing and the civilian lives.
We must understand that the United Nations still defines Gaza as an occupied territory and a territory occupied by Israel. That means that Israel is responsible for the civilian wellbeing and health. Therefore, they have a responsibility for these people and I don’t think the way they attack them is showing that responsibility.
Q: During the 2008-2009 Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip known as the Operation Cast Lead and also during the recent military operation against the besieged Gaza, there have been suspicions that Israel used some form of Dense Inert Metal Explosive (Dime) that you said is very much dangerous and destroys everything within a four-meter radius. Would you please explain about the characteristics and impacts of such a material against the civilian population?
A: This is not a dramatic and sinister weapon. This is because the bombs that are carried by unmanned drones have to be very light because the drones cannot carry that much weight. So actually they drop these bombs that have a very strong explosive effect, but in a very short range. On the other hand, these bombs can be navigated, they have small wings, camera, etc. and are extremely dangerous. However, if they are used against the military targets, they are perfectly legal. If they are used against the civilians, that’s of course an illegal use, and since they are very accurate weapons, we have a lot of civilians injured by it, which again, is an illegal use of the weapon.
Concerning the injuries, these weapons don’t create shrapnel in the air. The victim is hit by a liquid metal that is very hot; a lot of energy is emitted in a short distance. These weapons are shot into the ground and a lot of energy comes from down-up so very often we see the lower parts of the body are seriously injured with agitation. This weapon is commonly used in the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
I think it’s wrong to talk about illegal weapons. We should talk about the illegal use of weapons and that is why it is important for us to record what type of weapon has been used if we have a civilian victim, because it should be a very precise and accurate weapon and the victim is a civilian person, and there are no military injured in the same event, so in my opinion that’s much more interesting to discuss. No weapon is legal, even in war, to be used against the civilians. It’s not legal to bomb a house because we suspect something is being hidden there.
Q: Some of the actions of Israel during the recent aggression against the Gaza Strip, according to many international law experts, amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity because of the deliberate targeting of the civilian population. Is it really possible and practical to hold Israel accountable over these crimes and launch an independent inquiry into its conduct? Will the US and its European allies allow such an investigation to take place?
A: Well, I don’t know. But with regard to the 2008-2009 attacks, we had the Goldstone Report and that definitely explained everything to the UN officials regarding that campaign. I think it’s quite natural that they [the Palestinians] follow up with an independent international inquiry by the UN and I really hope that’s going to happen. Then, there will be the international law institutions that have to follow up such issues, but how that’s going to be done, we don’t know. And of course, it’s important that all the UN member states follow this impartially and take action.
Q: Something which has been very much striking during the recent Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip is the killing of children. Do you have any figure of how many children were killed? Why do you think Israel has targeted the children in such a broad extent?
A: In my opinion, we have seen evidence that children have been affected by very precise weapons. I suspect that children are targeted not simply by an accident, because of the nature of the victims. For example, there were four children playing at the beach while they were attacked by a modern cocktail rocket, and there were no adults nearby. It’s very difficult to understand that it was an accident. If you look at the actual numbers, as of August 10, it was 1,935 people killed, at least those whose bodies were found in the ruins, and 9,886 people injured. When we look at the number of children, there are 467. I’m a bit uncertain where they put the age limit, but I think in this statistics, it’s 18 years. So around 24% of the killed are children. And if you look at the injured, there are 3,009 recorded children injured which is close to 30% of the total children. This is very similar to the figures in the Operation Cast Lead.
Q: You’ve been to the Gaza Strip for a long time in 2008-2009 and also in the recent weeks, and have just returned to Norway. What were the most striking and heartrending scenes that you witnessed there? What have been the most important experiences you’ve had, especially in the Al-Shifa hospital which I noted was attacked several times by the Israeli army?
A: The biggest problem for me is the issue of children. It’s not necessarily the injury of the children; but you have an injured child in the bed, and you know that her parents, brothers and sisters are all killed, and so a couple of others; they’re struggling with their own injuries, but eventually we would have to tell them that they no longer have a family, and they have to be taken care of by their uncles or aunts or somebody else. Behind all the figures of the injured and killed, you have several families that have lost their children, and the children that have lost their parents. And of course this is going to be a tragedy for this people for a long time. I’m really sorry about this. I think about my friends in Gaza and the years to come when they have to live with these problems. It’s very difficult for anybody from the outside to really understand or comprehend the situation that is devastating the Palestinian families.
Q: So, what’s your perspective on the psychological impact of the recent war on the people of Gaza? They have to live with bitter and painful memories and heartrending scenes that they constantly witness.
A: As I said, this is something which they have to live with for many years, and they have to cope with it and struggle with it, and for some of them, it’s going to cause a severe damage to their mental health. I’ve worked in the Middle East and with the Palestinians for more than 30 years, and what often surprises me is not the fact that so many people get traumatized by these wars, but that all the young people that experience tragedies like this are so resilient and end up growing courageous people. Of course they will carry this burden and trauma with them, but amazingly the majority of them grow up and become positive and important citizens of the Palestinian society. But of course they have to carry this burden with themselves for their whole life. When you look at these figures, almost 2,000 people killed, the majority of them are parents and children that have to grow up.
Q: And finally, I want to ask you the reason why you have been to the Gaza Strip. There are many Western statesmen, politicians, intellectuals, authors and activists who are watching the mass killing in the beleaguered territory in silence and inaction, but you’re one of those who have broken the wall of silence and took action to help the people of Gaza. What has taken you to Gaza?
A: Well, I work for different organizations and they have projects. I’ve been to Gaza in May this year. We have lots of projects with them. We know them and I’ve worked with them in the wartime. I think that I can make a difference. It’s very important for the leadership of Gaza and my colleagues that somebody come and share his experiences in these difficult times. So, it’s quite natural for me to go there due to a long-term collaboration both in peace and war, and I always support them. I think it’s a privilege because most people in the world have to look at this and have no way of helping, so at least I can be there and support them when they are in such a need. So believe me, in a situation like this, they need all the support they can get from anywhere. I’m honored to have been able to work with them and actually very grateful that I’ve had such an opportunity.