Subscibe to DEAL OF THE DAY

Viewpoint - May 31, 2018

Editor's Note:

Today, I have two articles for you. I had to put both stories in this issue. They couldn't wait for another day.

Thanks for reading!

Flotilla carrying Gaza wounded breaks 'unbearable' siege

A boat carrying 25 Palestinians has set off from Gaza's port with intention of reaching Cyprus, defying a 12-year siege.

by Maram Humaid & Farah Najjar

Gaza, Palestine - A flotilla carrying at least 25 patients, students and activists have broken Israel's imposed boundary off the coast of the Gaza Strip, the first time in more than a decade.

The group set sail on Tuesday morning from the besieged Gaza Strip, hoping to break Israel's debilitating siege on the enclave that has trapped more than two million Palestinians since 2006.

By midday, the boat had crossed nine nautical miles (16km), with four Israeli warships flanking the vessel.

"We're surrounded by Israeli warships to the left, the right, to our front and from behind. We're stuck in the middle," an activist on the flotilla told reporters.

"We're all safe and request your prayers."

Under the Oslo Accords signed in 1993, Israel is obligated to permit fishing up to 20 nautical miles, but this has never been implemented.

The widest range Israel has allowed in the past 10 years is 12 nautical miles (22km), and at times, the limit was reduced to one nautical mile.

Boats are often limited to six nautical miles (11km), and Israeli forces regularly fire warning shots to boats attempting to breach it.

"The siege breaches our basic rights and dreams."
--Zakaria Nabhan

Tuesday's flotilla carried patients, students, and protesters who had been injured in the weeks-long demonstrations dubbed The Great March of Return - all hoping to reach Limassol, Cyprus, which lies north of Gaza.

Organisers and authorities told Al Jazeera that all of those on board had valid passports, with the injured having made arrangements to receive medical treatment in Turkey.

Hundreds of others boarded more than 30 boats in support of the main vessel, but said they would not cross the permitted boundary.

The boats, most of which are small fishing vessels, carried men and women mostly in their 20s and 30s. Some families said they showed up with luggage and passports, hoping to leave Gaza for good.

'Life is unbearable'

For 50-year-old Mona al-Araysha who was among the crowds hoping to leave Gaza, life in the enclave had become "unbearable".

The mother of five said residents were yearning for "a way out".

"We can't just stay quiet, we have to be proactive and this is just one way of showing the world what we can do," she told Al Jazeera prior to the boat setting sail.

Following the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza, three of al-Araysha's children fled to Europe via the Mediterranean.

She had hoped to follow in their footsteps with her two youngest children.

Zakaria Nabhan, from al-Breij, had also hoped to board one of the boats, hoping to receive treatment after being shot in the knee.

Nabhan was shot by Israeli forces on March 30, while he was protesting near the fence with Israel as part of the weeklong demonstrations.

He is now on crutches and said he needed urgent medical attention, like thousands of others trapped inside the strip.

"The siege breaches our basic rights and dreams," Nabhan, who also wishes to leave in order to continue his education, told Al Jazeera prior to the main vessel setting sail.

"We need border crossings to leave, we need functioning hospitals and access to medicine."

Nabhan and al-Araysha were not on the main vessel, but had hoped to get on one of the supporting boats.

The move coincides with the eighth anniversary of Israel's attack on the Turkish Mavi Marmara flotilla, which killed nine Turkish nationals while the boat was sailing in international waters.

Gaza's coastguard was at the scene on Tuesday managing the crowds and instructed the vessels not to cross the permitted nautical boundary fearing an Israeli reaction.

Israeli forces have over the past few weeks, attacked two boats which the organising committee had intended to use for the initiative.

In 2016, there were 126 incidents in which the Israeli navy fired at Palestinian fishermen and their boats. That year, 12 fishermen were injured, and 121 were detained, according to the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR).

Earlier this year, Israeli forces opened fire at Ismail Saleh Abu Riyala, an 18-year-old fisherman as he was preparing for a night of fishing.

Riyala was sailing three nautical miles from Gaza's shore when Israeli forces opened heavy fire at it.

Break the siege'

Before the boats took off on Tuesday, an opening ceremonial event was held by members of the flotilla's organising committee, who are also involved in the March of Return campaign.

As a show of support, members from various factions including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Islamic Jihad movement, and Hamas - the group that governs the Gaza Strip - attended the opening event.

They told hundreds of people near Gaza City's port that the main objective of the voyage is to "break the siege until we achieve our right of return".

Ramadan al-Hayek, a 30-year-old activist, told Al Jazeera Israel's signs of aggression towards the Palestinian people show "no signs of ending right now".

"Today, the passengers, including patients, injured people and students are going to convey their message of being Palestinian in the Gaza Strip - that we want freedom," al-Hayek said.

"They are expected to be attacked by Israeli [soldiers] but they are determined to reach Cyprus no matter the circumstances," he said.

Organisers have reiterated the voyage was a continuation of the March of Return, which began on March 30 with Palestinians rallying for the right of return for refugees to the homes and villages they were forcibly expelled from in 1948.

Since then, Israeli forces have killed at least 120 Palestinians in the coastal enclave and wounded at least 13,000 others.

In 2007, following the election victory of Hamas and the group's assumption of control over the territory, Israel imposed a strict land, aerial and naval blockade on Gaza.

And in 2013, neighbouring Egypt, which has largely closed its border crossing with Gaza, blocked tunnels connecting Gaza with Egypt's el-Arish, shutting off the only other route out of the strip.

Original Article: Flotilla carrying Gaza wounded breaks 'unbearable' siege

Israel's high court blesses killing and maiming of Gaza protesters
by: Maureen Clare Murphy

Israel's high court rejected two petitions from human rights groups challenging the military's open-fire regulations this week as several more Palestinians died from wounds sustained during Gaza's ongoing Great March of Return protests.

It was the second ruling made by the court on Thursday rubber-stamping war crimes.

The high court ruling may be viewed by the International Criminal Court as an indication that Israel's judicial authorities are unwilling to carry out genuine proceedings concerning crimes against Palestinian civilians.

Between 19 and 25 May, Gaza's health ministry announced the deaths of seven Palestinians from injuries inflicted during protests along the eastern perimeter of the territory beginning 30 March.

The deceased were identified as Hussein Salem Abu Oweida, 41, Ahmad al-Abed Abu Samra, 21, Muhammad Mazen Alayan, 20, Muin Abd al-Hamid al-Saee, 58, Muhannad Abu Tahoun, 21, Ahmad Qatoush, 23 and Yasir Sami Saad al-Din Habib, 24.

Also this week a 15-year-old in the occupied West Bank, Oday Akram Abu Khalil, died from wounds sustained when he was shot in the stomach by Israeli forces during protests on 15 May, the annual commemoration of the 1948 Nakba or catastrophe.

More than 115 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip since 30 March, the vast majority of them during Great March of Return protests - including 14 children, two journalists and a paramedic.

Some 3,600 people were injured by live fire during the protests.

A lightly wounded soldier was the only reported Israeli casualty resulting from the protests in Gaza.

Court sides with state - again

The Israeli high court ruled in favor of the state's argument that protesters constituted a danger to Israeli soldiers and civilians, thus justifying the use of lethal force.

The judges sided with the government's contention that the protests take place in the context of a long-running armed conflict between Israel and Hamas. The state argues that the legal framework that regulates the use of fire during the protests is international humanitarian law, or the laws of war.

Human rights groups say that irrespective of the political affiliation of any of the organizers or participants, the demonstrations along Gaza's eastern perimeter are a civilian matter of law enforcement governed by the framework of international human rights law, which allows for the use of deadly force only to stop an imminent lethal threat.

"Some of the rioters have tried to trample or break through the border fence, creating a clear and present danger that terrorists will penetrate into the state's territory, and this is happening in areas near towns on the Israeli side," wrote Hanan Melcer, one of the three judges who reviewed the petitions.

"Among the rioters were some who threw rocks and fire bombs at Israeli troops. Therefore, it seems that gunfire was employed to achieve a legal purpose - defending citizens of the state and Israeli soldiers," Melcer added.

The court ruling gives the military "a green light to its continued use of snipers and live fire against Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip," stated Al Mezan and Adalah, two of the groups that had petitioned the court.

The two groups stated that the court had "refused to watch video clips documenting Israeli shootings of demonstrators and, rather than actually examining the case, fully accepted the claims presented to it by the state."

Al Mezan and Adalah published a video montage of such clips:

"The extreme nature of the ruling is also highlighted by the striking absence of any mention of the casualty figures that had been presented to the court," the human rights groups added.

The Israeli high court said it could not move forward with an inquiry into the military's rules of engagement because petitioning organizations rejected a request by the state to present the judges secret intelligence without the petitioners being allowed to review it.

"We have no concrete information about the identity of the key activists and inciters, the nature of their acts, their organizational affiliation, their involvement in terrorist activity or other forbidden hostile activity, or whether and in what manner they constituted a clear and present danger," Melcer stated.

The justices accepted the state's description of the Gaza protests as "violent disturbances" which were "organized, coordinated and directed by Hamas, which is a terrorist organization in a state of armed conflict with Israel."

No imminent threat

Adalah and Al Mezan stated that the court ruling "contradicts the conclusions and preliminary results of international human rights organizations and United Nations bodies documenting and evaluating the events in Gaza."

During a special session of the UN Human Rights Council concerning the events in Gaza last week, the body's High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein stated:

"Although some of the demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails, used slingshots to throw stones, flew burning kites into Israel, and attempted to use wire-cutters against the two fences between Gaza and Israel, these actions alone do not appear to constitute the imminent threat to life or deadly injury which could justify the use of lethal force."

The Human Rights Council voted to establish a commission of inquiry into mass civilian casualties during the demonstrations with a final report due next March.

Tania Hary, executive director of Gisha, an Israeli human rights group which challenged the open-fire regulations, said she was "disappointed but not surprised to see the court again sanction Israel's grave violations of human rights and international law in Gaza."

A Palestinian injured during Great March of Return protests rests outside Gaza City's al-Shifa hospital after being discharged, 19 May. Mohammed Zaanoun ActiveStills

Israel's high court has long championed policies towards Palestinians that violate international law.

Gisha has previously faulted Israel's judiciary, and principally the high court, for accepting "the state's legal positions almost unquestioningly" regarding the 11-year blockade of Gaza.

Palestinian human rights groups have urged the International Criminal Court to investigate the unprecedented closure of Gaza as a crime of persecution.

The Palestinian Authority's foreign minister made a referral to the International Criminal Court on Tuesday, calling for an immediate investigation into Israeli crimes.

In 2015, the court launched a preliminary examination into potential war crimes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Preliminary examination by ICC

A preliminary examination is the first step in the court's process to determine whether to open a formal investigation, which can then lead to indictments and trials.

But while a preliminary examination is carried out whenever a referral is made, it is open-ended and can carry on for years, at the discretion of the chief prosecutor.

In 2006, the prosecutor began a preliminary examination of alleged crimes committed in Afghanistan from 2002.

Eleven years after the examination was opened, and up to 15 years after the commission of the first alleged crimes, the prosecutor concluded that there was enough evidence to proceed with a formal investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Taliban, the Afghan government and the United States.

A preliminary examination into alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes in Colombia, opened in 2004, is still pending, according to the Coalition for the International Criminal Court.

In her response to the Palestinian complaint, chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda signaled that she does not intend to expedite the process, stating that the "preliminary examination has seen important progress and will continue to follow its normal course."

Israel's foreign ministry lashed out against the Palestinian move, calling it an effort "to politicize the court and to derail it from its mandate."

Over the past several weeks Bensouda's office has expressed "grave concern" over the situation in Gaza and warned Israeli leaders that they may face prosecution for the killing of unarmed Palestinian protesters.

Earlier this month the press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders formally requested that the International Criminal Court prosecutor investigate the targeting of journalists in Gaza as war crimes.

The Palestinian rights groups Al-Haq, Al Mezan and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights stated this week that they "have submitted five comprehensive communications to the prosecutor" as part of the court's preliminary examination.

"These communications have related to the 2014 offensive against the Gaza Strip, the Israeli-imposed Gaza closure, the use of the Hannibal Directive in Rafah, and crimes committed in the West Bank including Jerusalem," the groups stated, adding that they "have also provided information on the lack of domestic investigations and prosecutions."

The prosecutor "has sufficient evidence" to open a full investigation, according to the rights groups.

"The ICC acting as a court of last resort must provide redress to Palestinian victims," they added.

Original Article: Israel's high court blesses killing and maiming of Gaza protesters


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