Palestine Deep Dive / July 19, 2023
Israel’s military occupation has morphed the entire occupied Palestinian territory into an open-air prison, where Palestinians are constantly confined, surveilled and disciplined, UN Special Rapporteur for the oPt Francesca Albanese demonstrates in a new report to the Human Rights Council.
While the report finds that since 1967, over 800,000 Palestinians, including children as young as 12, have been arrested and detained under Israeli military rules, Albanese notes that Israel’s “carceral regime” haunts Palestinian life even outside of prisons.
With blockades, walls, segregated infrastructure, checkpoints, settlements encircling Palestinian towns and villages, hundreds of bureaucratic permits and a web of digital surveillance, Palestinians are confined to a carceral continuum across strictly controlled enclaves.
We learn more about the nature of Israel’s carceral regime and its relationship to international law with three leading human rights experts:
Francesca Albanese, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967.
Sahar Francis, Palestinian human rights defender, lawyer and the General Director of the Palestinian human rights organization Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association.
Nery Ramati, Israeli human rights attorney defending Palestinian children. He was a partner in Gaby Lasky and Partners Law Office, a leading human rights office in Israel, specializing in freedom of expression and protest.
Mark Seddon: Well, welcome to this our 76th edition of Palestine Deep Dive. Today I’m very fortunate to be joined by three special guests. Once again by our good friend Francesca Albanese. She’s actually in Sicily today, but she is, of course, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the [occupied] Palestinian territory, to give the full title. It’s her report that we’re going to be discussing today.
It was published on July 10th. Of course, it details, those of you who’ve been following developments in the news, it details Israel’s carceral regime, which the report says has turned the occupied Palestinian territories into an open-air prison. That’s at the centre of what we’re going to discuss today.
Welcome too to Nery Ramati. Nery is an Israeli lawyer. I think Nery is in Dublin and Nery is defending Palestinian children. He was a partner in the legal company Gaby Lasky & Partners Law Office, which is a leading human rights office in Israel specializing in freedom of expression and protest. He’s represented Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights and anti-occupation activists in the military and in the civil courts. Welcome, Nery.
We also welcome Sahar Francis. Sahar is in Ramallah. Sahar is a Palestinian human rights defender and the General Director of the Palestinian Human Rights Organization, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. She’s a lawyer, has worked for years promoting human rights in the face of Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories. As a director of Addameer, she focuses on the political and the civil rights issues in the occupied Palestinian territories, with a focus especially on Palestinian prisoners and detainees, and we’ll come to their plight as well.
We thought we would start by going to Francesca, first of all, because we thought it was a good idea to perhaps just give a little bit of a taste of the executive summary of this report. When people mention reports, people’s eyes often tend to glaze over but this is a report where no eyes will be glazing over. Of course, there’s been a great deal of interest and attention attached to it.
There’s been a major debate, as we know, in the United States Senate today.
I just thought that I would just begin by reading out just a couple of paras and then come directly to you, Francesca, because essentially you posit that Israel’s military occupation has morphed the entire occupied Palestinian territory into an open-air prison where Palestinians are constantly confined, surveilled, and disciplined.
Over 56 years, Israel has governed the occupied Palestinian territory through stifling and criminalization of basic rights and mass incarcerations. Under Israeli occupation, generations of Palestinians have endured widespread and systematic arbitrary deprivation of liberty, often for the simplest acts of life and the exercise of fundamental human rights. Without condoning violent acts that Palestinians may have committed during decades of Israel’s illegal occupation, most of their criminal convictions have resulted from a litany of violations of international law, including due process violations that taint the legitimacy of the administration of justice by the occupying power.
The final paragraph I’m going to read is this.
The report finds that since 1967, over 800,000 Palestinians, including children as young as 12, have been arrested and detained under authoritarian rules enacted, enforced, and adjudicated by the Israeli military. Palestinians are subject to long detention for expressing opinions, gathering, pronouncing unauthorized political speeches, or even merely attempting to do so, and ultimately deprived of their status of protected civilians. They are often presumed guilty without evidence, arrested without warrants, detained without charge or trial, and brutalized in Israeli custody.
It really throws things into sharp relief for those of us elsewhere in the world who live under the rule of law and are absolutely shocked when we hear about things like this. Look, please do send your questions in to our guests today. My name’s Mark Seddon. I used to work for the United Nations. I was a speechwriter to the former Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. I previously was a correspondent for Al Jazeera Television.
Francesca, if I can begin with you, we’ve just had a summation of the summary, if you like. Could you just please remind us what legal responsibilities occupying powers have for civilians who are living under that occupation?
Francesca Albanese: Thank you, Mark. Let me salute the other guests who are with us tonight, Nery and Sahar. The legal framework that applies to the occupied Palestinian territory is a composite one. It’s made of international humanitarian law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention and international human rights law, with the latter being the first port of call because humanitarian law is considered lex specialis so it does apply when there are active hostilities. Otherwise, human rights law should apply.
These frameworks together prescribe a detailed set of fundamental rights and minimum protections for civilians in occupied territory and for every human being, in fact, as limiting the faculty of, in this case, of Israel as the occupying power to make recourse to the use of force, including for internment or detention. Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory are protected persons under international law.
You cannot see that reading this report or previous reports of other special rapporteurs or other human rights organizations, but they do have rights to be treated humanely, with dignity at all time, not to be arbitrarily deprived of liberty, to have fair trial guarantees, not to be discriminated against, which is precisely what happens. This is just to mention a few. These are intransgressible protections under international law.
A corollary of it is that there cannot be a target of military or disproportionate attacks. When it happens, it often becomes a collective punishment. This is the reality. There is international humanitarian law. There is human rights law, but let me conclude also by saying that Israel questions and challenges the applicability of both for a variety of reasons. By doing so, it eliminates the sole legal basis to assess its conduct and to be held accountable.
Mark: Well, thanks, Francesca. By the way, for those of you who’ve been in touch saying, “Please, can we have a link to the report?” It is there for you. Thanks also for people getting in touch. Vicky has got in touch. She says, “Yes, definitely it’s an open-air prison.” Ed says, “Thank you. Bless you all for your hard work and dedication to humanity and justice. What a terrible way to treat children.” Kirsh says, “It’s terrifying to watch how one rich and armed powerful nation is allowed to oppress another country.”
Having said that, Francesca, people might say, this is a bit of a naive question because we kind of know the answer, but it’s worth just saying it again, what is supposed to happen if an occupying power is found to be in breach of those international obligations to those who it is occupying?
Francesca: This is not naive. It’s a quite fundamental question because as it is now commonly argued in the human rights community, and as my predecessor, Michael Lynk, pointed out in 2017, the occupation itself operates outside what is permitted under international law. We need to ask ourselves what to do. It’s not a question of addressing or dealing with a violation of international law here or there, it’s the overall system which is profoundly marked by unlawfulness.
What does international law says to correct this situation? The first body of law that comes to mind is the law of state responsibility, according to which Israel must cease the unlawful act or series of acts, so end the military occupation, which has been the vehicle to, in fact, colonize, acquire illegally more and more land by displacing the Palestinians. Ensure non-repetition. Third, offer reparations for international wrongdoing.
Israel of course knows it and doesn’t intend, doesn’t show any eagerness to abide by international law and its consequences. It’s up to states, particularly when thinking that this occupation violates the most fundamental right any people have, like the right of self-determination, the right to be free from alien occupation and control because these obligations, because this right is accompanied by an erga omnes obligation means all states are compelled to act to realize the right of self-determination.
In that case, the law of state responsibility imposes on them an obligation not to recognize any consequences of the unlawful act, meaning of this unlawful occupation and its manifestation, settlements, etc. Contribute to a cessation of the violations and ensure non-repetitions. Because this is not happening, there are also countermeasures that are offered by the UN Charter, like diplomatic, political, and economic measures that have to be taken against a state which acts in such a defiance of international law.
The second element is accountability. There should be justice. There should be a thorough investigation of every violation that takes place in the occupied Palestinian territory. What does it mean? That there should be a court examining the violation and ensuring the perpetrators to justice. The Israeli courts, let alone the military courts, and Neri and Sahar will elaborate on that because they’re a better fit than anyone else on this, military courts should not try civilians, let alone children in the first place.
The Israeli civil courts, like the Israeli Supreme Court, have proven unfit or are unable to really ensure justice for the Palestinians. There are only two avenues that remain. One is the ICC, the International Criminal Court, another is universal jurisdiction. Meaning, national courts that have the competence to investigate crimes against humanity, war crimes or other crimes that are relevant to the Rome Statute.
Mark: You’re almost talking about possibly an establishment of a Nuremberg kind of tribunal, possibly. Look, Nery, if I can come to you, even reading the report and, of course, we do see an awful lot of material on social media, even if we don’t get it very often so much from mainstream media reporting. We do see images of children being arrested, but this report actually tells us so much more. Children as young as 12 are being arrested and are being detained.
Nery, are you able to give us some specific examples that you’ve come across? I think Francesca was just setting out where all of this kind of stands in terms of international law. What rights do you have to access and to visit young children, and how long can children be held in detention? Can they be tried at the age of 12?
Nery Ramati: Well, again, you have to ask whose children? Because in the same area there are two kinds of children. Some children with Israeli citizenship that live in settlements cannot be tried at 12, cannot be arrested at the age of 12, cannot be jailed at the age of 12, and actually cannot be part of any of the things that Palestinian children are going through.
I’m talking about children who live in a distance of one mile from each other. One lives in a settlement and one lives in a Palestinian city. If we are talking about Palestinian children, Palestinian children, are with a little bit of makeup, actually are charged just as adults. It used to be totally like adults but then in 2009, Israel has passed a very kind of liberal law for Israeli children. The tension between the rights of Palestinian children and Israeli children has become too much.
So they kind of try to adapt a little bit military laws to make the rights of Palestinian children closer to the rights of Israeli children. The fact is they are not, this is all cosmetic. In the end, what’s happened to Palestinian children when he meets the law is first he will meet it in the middle of the night in the form of a soldier, not a policeman. A soldier will enter the house and will take them from their bed.
There is a whole reason about it. The army keep claiming that it’s a more comfortable way to enter the village at night and not seeing a resistance but the army [isn’t] afraid to go to villages [in the] day now. Still, he likes to arrest the Palestinian children at night. The fact that the children are taken from their bed and they’re seeing their parents not resisting to that arrest, it’s immediate shock for the child.
Now, the child could be from the age of 12 and he will be brought into a Jeep. And because it’s the middle of the night, he will not be taken immediately to a police station because there will be no police station active to take him. He will just be left on a Jeep during the night until he will get to the police where he will be questioned, usually without a lawyer present, and then he will probably confess some things that he did or did not do. That will be the end of his journey because after that confession there is not a lot that he can do, and he will find himself in prison.
Mark: Well, Nery, what are most of these children being arrested for from their homes at night anyway? Are they being filmed throwing stones? What is it that they’re being arrested and charged and detained for?
Nery: The most common offense of a child is stone-throwing, and it’s usually stone-throwing against the army. The army is, of course, really protected from those stone throwers, but also stone-throwing against objects, throwing against cars, that is the main felony. In general, it’s not about a felony. The idea is to take the children from the village. The villages that those children are arrested from are not just villages. Those are villages that are making the life of the settlement not as comfortable as they want. So in order to make any resistance of a village just vanish, the best thing is just arresting the youth.
We all know that the youth are the life power of resistance. They’re young, they have energy, they don’t have a lot of duties, and they’re a bit stupid. Yes, we all have been there. If you take them out of the village, you’ve kind of killed and subdue the village. That is the reason they’re really arrested. They’re not arrested for stones throwing, they’re arrested in order to subdue a village to [unintelligible 00:18:55]
Mark: To intimidate, I suppose.
Nery: Yes, yes.
Mark: Also, you are then criminalizing young children, and from an early age, who are going to become more and more angry and bitter about their treatment. It’s completely counterproductive you would’ve thought, wouldn’t you?
Nery: You would’ve thought if you have the Palestinian interest in your mind, but you need to thought that those judges are Israeli military judges. When they think about this minor that is coming in front of them, they’re thinking about one thing, “How will I make the life of the Israeli better?” If you are a Palestinian judge, you would think about the boy and say, “Okay, if I will bring him back to society, and he would finish his school, and he might go to university, he might learn something, and he might be a contributor to society.” That will be your interest.
If you are an Israeli judge, you are like, “Okay, this boy is annoying the settlements around. I’ll put him in prison. That will stop it.” That is the main problem, is that the system cannot treat the children to their benefit or to the benefit of the Palestinian society. It’s only treated them to the benefit of Israeli society.
Mark: Thank you, Nery. Sahar, if I might come to you, and with your particular focus, do you get to meet Palestinians who have been held in detention? Can you give us roughly some idea of how many are currently being held in detention? We’ve been talking about young children, perhaps you could give us a view about the ages and also gender as well.
Sahar Francis: Yes, sure. Actually, myself, I’m a lawyer that is still practicing, at least for the last 25 years in front of this system. Addameer is an organization that do offer legal aid for the Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli military system, so we do visit and represent on a daily basis, but to get the touch of how often and how the imprisonment is used, actually, to control the whole society, currently there’s 5,000 prisoners inside the Israeli prisons.
160 of them they are minors under 18. Around 20 of these minors are arrested without charge, are arrested based on the administrative detention policy without evidences, without clear charge against them and indefinitely without limiting the period that they will spend inside prison. Between 30 and 32, they are women prisoners, and the rest, of course, they are adults.
All of the prisoners were moved illegally to prisons inside the State of Israel outside of the occupied territories. This is by itself a violation for international law standards. They are subjected for lots of violations on daily basis whether it’s on health neglect, the education, the family visitation, the collective punishments, the torture, the ill-treatment that they face on daily basis. Add on top – the unfair trial procedures.
The main important when Francesca is saying that imprisonment is used as a tool, we should understand that Israel, since ’67 till today, develop the military system in order to criminalize every and each aspect of our daily, political and civil life. Being a student in your university, and if you dare to be active in supporting a book fair in your university, this would be a reason for imprisonment and sentencing you for one year, one year and half or sending you for administrative detention if they don’t have enough evidences.
A journalist could be arrested for incitement. Political leader, lawyers, human rights defenders, everyone in the occupied territories could be subjected for imprisonment and prosecution in front of this military system.
Mark: Sahar, what kind of access do international human rights monitors have, the Red Crescent and others? Also, when prisoners have completed their sentence or are released from detention, are they allowed to return home? Because you were just saying that they were taken from the occupied territories and put in prisons in Israel, are they allowed to return home?
Sahar: For the first part of your question, it’s just the Red Cross Committee that is allowed as an international organization to have access for these prisons. Of course, there are restrictions as well. Whenever the security decides that any person under interrogation is banned lawyer visit, the Red Cross representative would be banned as well. Imagine you could be held under interrogation for three weeks or four weeks and total solitary confinement and totally disconnected, and no one, no external body can monitor the torture and the ill-treatment that you’d be facing in the interrogation.
Of course, international lawyers or other international organization know they are not allowed into the prisons, not even into the military courts. We need to seek special permits for international observers in order to be able to attend the court sessions.
The issue of the release, there is differences between if you would be released within a political agreement, like exchange deal as it happened back in 2011 in the exchange deal with [the Gilad] Shalit case. Then Israel, for example, forced the deportation of certain prisoners. Around hundreds of the 1074 that they were released, part of them they were deported from East Jerusalem and the West Bank to the Gaza Strip. Until now they’re not allowed to come back to the West Bank. Some they were deported outside of the whole occupied territories to Syria, Turkey, or Jordan.
But if you finish your sentence without any privilege, without an early release, you could go back to your home. This doesn’t mean that you’re protected because even then you could be re-arrested for another case or based on secret information. From those who were released in the Shalit deal, 64 were re-arrested and they get back their life sentences two years after the release based on secret information that they became, again, activists. Without any evidences about being involved in the same activities from before, they were receiving the remaining of the life sentence. The life sentence in the Israeli system for the Palestinians prisoners that they considered security prisoners, it’s not limited, it’s open sentence.
Mark: Wow. I’ll come to Francesca in a moment, but you’ve been sending in lots of comments. I’ll read some of them out, but there’s so many I’m probably not going to be able to get through all of them. Raedsays, “Israel does what it does because it is never held accountable for its actions against us, Palestinians.” Derek says, “Western complicity prevents accountability.” Rana says, “Exactly, there’s no accountability when it comes to the occupier State of Israel. They block every investigation and any UN resolution is vetoed.”
W. Tech, I don’t know who you are, but there’s a question. “If a settler shoots children and kills them, do the soldiers arrest the killers?” Yes. We’ve got lots and lots of– Jamal in Leicester has a question. “Clearly the Israeli military prison system is a sham and is a violent colonial weapon which has been wielded for decades to cripple Palestinian life on their own land. Shouldn’t the West be calling for the release of all Palestinian prisoners from Israeli dungeons much like during the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa when the West was calling for the same?”
Well, we’ll come back to those questions in a minute, but I just wanted to ask you, Francesca, coming to you, because you said in your report, “These offenses appear to be part of a plan to de-Palestinianize the territory, the occupied Palestinian territories? They threaten the existence of the Palestinians as a people, as a national cohesive group.” What do you mean by de-Palestinianization or de-Palestinizing territory, if I can get my words out?
Francesca: I have the same. I never know in advance if the word will come out straight or not out of my mouth. The de-Palestinianization, as I discuss it, and this is the second report in which I make reference to this, and there’s been some reference to this, including by one of my predecessors as a special rapporteur, basically, is an attempt to diminish the presence, the identity, and the resilience of the Palestinians in occupied Palestinian territory. Attempting also to transform this territory or most of it surely is Jerusalem and the West Bank into a permanent extension of Israel’s metropolitan territory with as few Palestinians as possible.
Why did I refer to this in the report? Because if we put this in context and then, if time allows, I would like to go back to the context because Sahar made an important point on it, for more than 56 years, just looking at what has happened to the Palestinian people under military occupation, so since 1967 alone without considering what happened before, the Israeli military occupation has prevented the realization of Palestinianness, like the Palestinian existence as a people through their right of self-determination.
How so? By violating, as I argued in the first report I wrote, their territorial sovereignty, by violating their sovereignty over natural resources. Most importantly, by threatening the cultural existence of the Palestinians as a people. How does it happen? By appropriating, erasing and suppressing any manifestation, any symbol of Palestinian identity. You can see that in the acts that aim to ban the Palestinian flag, to suppress Palestinian school curricula. Attempting to eliminate Palestinian history by apprehending, seizing and converting anything that is Palestinian Muslim or Christian, doesn’t matter, into something else. You can see this has already happened a lot in East Jerusalem, and it’s happening more and more in the West Bank.
There is also another component which I mentioned in the first report. It becomes clear in the second report. In the use of mass incarceration, Israel targets the formation and expression of Palestinian identity. Why there is this prosecutorial attitude towards students, towards children, it’s because this frustrates the people from the very beginning, like strangling their possibility to exist as a people.
In the report that I just presented to the Human Rights Council, I argued how arbitrary deprivation of liberty is part and parcel of this attempt, of this what seems to be a plan. Look at how imprisonment and mass imprisonment has functioned. During the First Intifada, 100,000 Palestinian were imprisoned. During the Second Intifada, 70,000 Palestinian were imprisoned.
Over time, the occupation has erected what I called an overall architecture of imprisonment, which is made of wall settlements suffocating Palestinian towns and villages, segregated roads that are not just another form of discrimination because the Palestinians are prevented from accessing that, but there are also arteries that cartel Palestinian freedom of movement from one place to another. The physical barriers are countless. Think of the thousand checkpoints like the fixed permanent checkpoints and then the flying checkpoints.
On top of it, there are what I call the bureaucratic barriers, the maze of hundreds of permits that the Palestinians need to have in order to carry out any act of life, from choosing residents, building a house, cultivating, accessing their land, deciding whether to visit their family across, for example, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, or the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem. There has been this, little by little, this structure of physical confinement that has somewhat complemented, if not supplemented, what happens in prison.
They’re incarcerated no matter what, and they’re also digitally surveilled. Where are the Palestinians in all this? Their space, physical and psychological, is shrunk more and more. This is why they are threatened. Their very existence as a people is threatened.
Mark: Yes. Your report was, as you know, is subject to a press stakeout at UN headquarters. The Secretary General was asked some questions, not at least by one of my old colleagues, Sherwin Bryce-Pease from South Africa Broadcasting. He wanted to know whether it really was time for the United Nations to send in a special protection force. The Secretary-General sort of wandered off the podium at that stage and didn’t give an answer. That seems like a total impossibility, but there’s a question here specifically for you, Francesca.
This is from ET. I don’t know who ET is, but ET says, “Francesca, you’ve worked as a human rights expert in MENA, AP, and numerous contexts. How does the resistance you’ve personally faced to your work on Palestine compare to other contexts, what does this reveal?”
Francesca: It doesn’t compare to anything I’ve faced before in my life, in the sense that there is– Of course, especially when I was working with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights providing technical assistance to government or national human rights commissions, you would often come out with a critical view of national legislations or practices and I’ve never faced any real resistance. What I’m facing now as a special rapporteur is not unexpected, but it’s absolutely unprecedented.
I don’t think that I will ever face anything as massive as that in any other position because even if you look at other special rapporteurs or other people in the UN system, it’s very rare to find an institution, a mandate that attracts so much [crosstalk].
Francesca: Again, let’s put things in context because I also enjoy an incredible solidarity. This means more than anything else to me – from the UN, the diplomatic community. There is a clear apparatus designed to silence anyone who expresses or raises any criticism toward Israel, but not as a state. This is not my job. I have nothing specific on the state of Israel per se. It’s the way it treats the Palestinians. This is what we should be talking about. I’m sorry. The Secretary General didn’t answer the question that was raised.
Mark: Rana says, “Why are you only focusing on Palestine since the 1967 occupation?” Essentially, Francesca is the special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories. We’re talking about her report specifically on that today, but we will come to Nery if we may because there is a question, obviously, and it relates to what you are saying, Rana, that there is a huge turmoil seizing civil society in Israel right now.
I suppose the question is, given that what might loosely be determined or described as liberal Israeli opinion has taken to the streets against Netanyahu’s legal reforms, which I don’t see if it was reforms at all, and they see that their civil liberties and human rights are going to be affected by these proposed changes. Do you pick up any sort of idea amongst Israelis marching in these great demonstrations that actually there should be solidarity with the Palestinians? Because a lot of this stuff has presumably been tried out on the Palestinians first.
Nery: There is a small block inside the protest that is talking about the occupation and is trying to manifest some kind of solidarity with Palestinians. It’s a very small block. The majority of the protest is a very much mainstream, even mainstream right wing kind of liberal demonstration who have a blind spot about what’s happening in Palestine. Most of Israelis, it’s kind of amazing when you speak with Israelis, the ability of them not to see what is happening in their own country, or it’s not even not to see, but their choice not to see what is happening.
It might be that in the end they will be pushed, the people who are fighting for the Israeli court, who is actually the Israeli Supreme Court. This is the main reason why the demonstrators are outside. The Israeli Supreme Court is one of the most oppressive courts for Palestinians in its decisions. It might be that in the end they might see the similarity, but at the moment, I don’t think we could put our hope there. Our hope is not inside Israel.
Mark: No. Do you see almost an existential struggle, sort of battle, if you like, between liberal Israelis and orthodox hardliners? I mean it’s very difficult, all of this, but how could this possibly pan out, and how could this affect Palestinians as well? You really do get the impression there’s such a deep schism in Israel, there’s a battle for the whole soul of people. It will have an impact on Palestinians as well. What is your [unintelligible 00:40:57]
Nery: Of course, it will first impact Palestinians, but it is unfortunately a very Israeli Jewish debate at the moment. At the moment, it’s a very internal Israeli Jewish debate about the face of the country. I think what everybody’s feeling is that demography is a key issue here. There are less and less liberal Jewish voices in Israel and more and more religious right-wing voices. There was a very sad shift that ultra-Orthodox Judaism was never really into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was kind of sailed into the right in the last 10 years.
Now they are really part of the hardcore right who have the vision about cleaning Palestine from Palestinians and establishing a big Jewish land from the sea to Jordan.
Mark: Thank you, Nery. There’s a question. This is for Sahar. This is from Richard, and he’s in London. Richard says, “Greeting, Sahar, and solidarity. Your organization, Addameer, was one of six organizations targeted in late 2021 when Israel or the Israeli government designated you and five other organizations as a terrorist organization.” On what basis did they say that you were a terrorist organization, and how has that affected your ability to operate?
Sahar: The case of the seven organizations that were illegalized back in 2021 reflects perfectly this system of oppression and control and policies of not just apartheid, but I would say the continuous attack against human rights defenders and activists. Basically, because of our work, all of us in different levels, whether on the agriculture, the women rights, the children rights, the prisoners, the general human rights issues. And even the research because Bisan Center, one of the organizations, is a research centre that was targeted, reflects our success in trying to seek accountability and causing this change on the discussion on the international level talking about apartheid, about accountability, about racism, seeking justice via the International Criminal Court, all this work, and definitely supporting the Boycott Divestment and Sanction campaign.
All these efforts led for a very long smear campaign that came before the real designation. We were attacked for more than 15 years by different Israeli right-wing groups like NGO Monitor, UK Lawyers for Israel, Shurat Hadin and Regavim, and tons of other organizations. And at the end, I believe that the personal issue because [Benny] Gantz himself is one of the names that were submitted to the International Criminal Court over the war on Gaza in 2014 as responsible for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
And this is what caused him to take this initiative to use the anti-terror law and to designate us. Just three weeks after his decision, the military commander issued a military order declaring us as illegal organizations. We all decided not to obey this decision. We continued our work. Our offices, all of us, the seven, were raided last year in August 2022. They confiscated lots of property from the organizations. They destroyed the furniture inside the organizations. They even arrested some of the colleagues from the health work committees back in 2021.
All these efforts will never stop us from continuing our work. We know that now maybe we are not facing more measures, but we are aware that they are trying to attack our donors. It’s any moment that they can raid again, they can arrest us, they can ban us from travel outside the country. They can use lots of measures to intimidate and harass and affect our daily work. All the time that we are still here, we would continue our work. Even as my colleague, Shawan, the director of Al-Haq said, “Even if they will arrest us, we will continue to follow and report and document violations from inside the prison and communicate with Nery and Francesca to lobby in our behalf.”
Mark: Good luck, Sahar and Nery. There’s a question here. This is from Ed. Ed says, “The level of PTSD in Palestinian children has surpassed the levels of adult war veterans.” I’m assuming this is war veterans in Israel-Palestine. Is there any organization explaining these facts to the mainstream media and elsewhere in the world in any way? Do you pick up on that, Sahar, that PTSD in Palestine is a really quite extreme levels at very, very high levels?
Sahar: It is. I would recommend, there was in your report, published by our colleagues, one of the six organizations, Defense for Children, and they are reflecting about all the related violations that the child prisoners face inside the prison. Like me, myself, and my colleagues dealing, and I’m sure Nery, but maybe Nery because he is not meeting the children outside the prison, there is lots of symptoms that these children develop after the release.
Mainly they don’t go back to their school, they don’t sleep properly at night. Most of them they will wet their beds at night. Lots, and especially girls, girls will face even more restrictions from their families and small children that they are young as 14, the family would be very terrified after the release that they could be re-arrested. The care would mean that they will lock them in the house. The circumstances for the children after the release are really difficult.
Some of the organizations, like the YMCA with Save the Children, DCI, and other centers try to offer the psychological proper treatment for these children. I would say that Israel intentionally targeting children in order to affect the whole Palestinian young generation because they know the impact. They know exactly what is the impact on the children. The last proposal for a new legislation in the Israeli criminal code is to enable custodial imprisonment for those between 12 and 14 years old.
That the Israeli criminal code before this proposal were enabling to have them in rehabilitation centers instead of custodial imprisonment till they reach 14, and then transfer them to prison. So the current government even wants to change this procedure, and they want to send the children for custodial imprisonment. They know what they are doing, and they are targeting children in purpose.
Mark: Judy comes in. Judy says, “The Gaza Mental Health Center has much documentation describing PTSD as a result of constant bombing, death of family members, and more.” Adam Broomberg has a question. This might be a question for you, Francesca, if it’s all right. Adam Broomberg says, “Do you know of a link to the International Criminal Court’s new hotline for people to report war crimes committed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories?” Is there such a thing? Is there such a thing as a hotline?
Francesca: Yes, it was announced. It was announced, I think, a couple of days ago by the office of the prosecutor that there will be a platform, an online platform for victims to make submissions. To be totally honest, Adam, I’ve not had the time to study this proposal. Of course, it’s welcome. Although I want to say that it’s less than what the previous prosecutor used to offer in a way because there was really an open channel for many representatives of victims and the victims themselves. Now, this is my experience, and I would also like to hear from Nery, and especially Sahar.
I feel that the Palestinians perceive a sense of distance an increased sense of distance with the ICC. In any case, I think that the amount of cases, of violations that have already been documented and made the object of submissions to the ICC weren’t the deployment of investigators. I don’t understand why it’s taking so long to the Office of the Prosecutor to send investigators to the ground.
Mark: Look, there’s a question. This is for Nery and also Sahar, and it’s a question that’s quite pertinent because in this country, as you probably know in the UK, there’s legislation going through parliament that would outlaw elected local authorities from effectively boycotting goods from the occupied Palestinian territories. That has brought about a wider questioning about what powers government might use to try and limit the boycott and divestment and sanctions campaign.
Coming to you, Nery, how important do you think that BDS is for helping, well, essentially the work that you do in a way by throwing a spotlight on what is happening? Do you think it’s necessary? Both, first to you Nery and then to Sahar, how important do you think this boycott and divestment and sanctions campaign is?
Nery: I think that at the moment, Israelis, although they are wrong, are feeling that they are paying no price for controlling the occupied territories or that they are paying price that is good enough for them, for that control. It’s unbelievable from my side. There are many countries that are violating human rights in the world, but I don’t think we have such a clear example of a country that have so many documented violation of human rights and has no sanctions against. Nothing.
The prime minister is going around the world and accepted in all the Western countries with great respect, a little bit of criticism, but nothing more. The only way to solve if there is a way to solve what’s happening in Israel-Palestine is that the powerful side will feel that it needs to solve it. Without BDS, the Israelis will never feel that they need to do anything because everything is working fine.
Mark: Thank you. Sahar.
Sahar: I think the BDS is a very needed strategy because as Francesca described in her introduction in the first question about the failure of the international community to find Israel accountable via the legal procedures, whether the universal jurisdiction that we never succeeded to convince any court in any country neither in the UK, or in Spain, or in Belgium, or in any other country that implements universal jurisdiction to prosecute one of the Israeli perpetrators, or now with the ICC that we are waiting since 2014 for the prosecutor’s office to initiate investigation.
And there’s no other mechanisms that we can use on the international level in order to make them feel the accountability in order to pay the price, as Nery said. This is why the BDS is actually the most powerful tool in our hands, whether as organizations calling for divestment from international corporations or as individuals that they are deciding to boycott products that coming from settlements, and of course, we will continue asking states to impose sanctions.
Why this legal tool is used by the security council in other contexts in Iraq, in Sudan, in the Russian-Ukrainian context now, but never against Israel? This is the best of and the double standards that actually makes Palestinians frustrated from the UN system.
Mark: Ori has got a question. He’d come back at you, and would say, “Look, if West Bank Palestinians illegally engage in violence against Israelis or other Palestinians, how do you suggest that Israeli authorities deal with them? Should they not be subject to incarceration?”
Nery: I can answer.
Mark: That’s for you, Sahar. That’s the question from Ori/ We’ve lost your sound. Nery, oh, you’re okay. [crosstalk]
Nery: I would say if it was the question of Palestinians are violent and what do we need to do with them, if that was what we were discussing here, it will be a different discussion. We are talking about a systematic way to oppress the Palestinian people. Yes During my time as a lawyer in the military court, I met, I have to say, very few Palestinians who actually acted violently against Israelis. Most of my work was dealing with strange indictments against minors and human rights activists. That has nothing to do with violence against them.
Yes, if Israel will only bring to court Palestinians who took violence as the last effort against Israeli targets, we would be in a much better shape, but we are not there. This is not what the military system does. The military system is there to suppress the whole population. It doesn’t really do the difference between those who actually act or do something and the majority who are not.
Mark: Thanks, Nery. Unfortunately, we are really running out of time. We’ve got one last question. This is for Francesca. This is from Omar in London. He says, “At the heart of much of the West, commitment to Israeli impunity is surely an element of anti-Palestinian racism. How can we hold anti-Palestinian racists accountable?”
Francesca: I know we are running out of time, but I take I ask your permission to add two elements to what Nery was saying before because I think it’s very important. I spent six months really looking at why arrest and detention is so massive. It’s a small place and the numbers are astonishing. There are almost 1 million people because the 800,000 Palestinians [that have been] arrested at least once. This is something that has been cited since 2006. Why is [this] so?
I encourage people who are following the show to really look at the part of the report where I describe what are the legal grounds that lead Palestinians to be arrested by the Israeli military. When we talk about laws, let me be more explicit. This is a maze of about 2,500 military orders written by soldiers, applied by soldiers, reviewed by soldiers. Even when we talk of military courts, these are soldiers.
These are not professional judges. Their job is to apply military law, martial law. They’re not experts in civilian law, Israeli civilian law, let alone human rights. This is the context. I provide about 20 examples of the conduct that commonly lead Palestinians to be arrested. It’s really about the exercise of ordinary acts of life and sometimes really basic rights and freedoms. Because for examples – this is one of the most astonishing, but also the most telling, being part of a gathering of 10 or more people where something political might be discussed, it can be a vigil, it can be a protest, but technically, it could also be a wedding, which is not authorized by the army, can lead to 10 years imprisonment.
Entering a zone that is considered closed, declared closed by the army, can lead to seven years imprisonment. Actually, more than 20% of the West Bank alone is considered a closed area, but these are areas that the military has declared closed, but there are Palestinians living in there. Going to school, going to a doctor, you can be arrested really for virtually anything, for farming your land, for fishing. This is why Nery was saying we really don’t see many Palestinians who have been arrested because of committing violent act.
Now let’s go back to Ori’s question. Nothing we are saying should be taken as, oh, Palestinians who commit acts of violence shouldn’t be condoned or shouldn’t be justified. No, but anyone who commits an act of violence is entitled to guarantees of fair trial and to a judicial system that is not the military. Let’s go back to a more contextual and overarching point because she’s asking how Israel should not arrest and detain Palestinians who commit acts of violence. First of all, the act of violence should be qualified because Israel maintains an army, which is also the vehicle for oppression that has been ongoing for 56 years.
And without justifying acts of violence, this is a coercive environment that requires a lot of violence and triggers, violence in response, but also what is the reason why Israel is in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and encloses, blockades, Gaza in the first place? After 56 years Israel shouldn’t be there. Israel confuses the security of its metropolitan territory with the security of its annexation plan in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Mark: Thank you, Francesca. Thank you very much for that. Unfortunately, we really have run out of time. I’d just like to say thank you, obviously, to Francesca, to Nery, and to Sahar for joining us today. Thank you for all of you who are out there who have been watching, taking part, and sending your questions in and commenting. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go through all of them.
Please do subscribe to Palestine Deep Dive on YouTube if you haven’t. Also, this show will end up in lots of different ways out there in the media, not at least on Twitter, etc. There will be key excerpts edited and put out there. Please do share as widely as possible. There are not many fora that actually have the opportunity to examine in the kind of depth we have today this issue and indeed this particular report.
So thank you so much, Francesca, for all that you do. Thank you, also, Nery and Sahar. More power to your elbow, your collective elbows, and let’s meet again soon. Thank you.
Sahar: Thank you.
Francesca: Thank you so much. Bye-bye, everyone.
Francesca Albanese – United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967