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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Amnesty International official ties himself up in rhetorical knots

There is an amazing interview by Jonathan Dahoah Halevi with Itai Epstein, Director of Amnesty International in Israel.

Amnesty goes under the assumption that Gaza is under Israeli occupation. This makes no sense, because if it is under Israeli occupation, Israel would have the obligation to protect Gazan citizens - even from Hamas. Israel would be responsible for police work, for education, and for all other parts of Gaza's infrastructure. Occupation, by definition, means a physical presence on the ground.

But Amnesty disagrees, and the hoops they have to jump through to maintain a consistent stance with their assertion that Gaza is occupied and their demand that Israel lift the blockade are high indeed. Essentially,

Amnesty is arguing that Israel has no right whatsoever to stop Hamas from acquiring weapons.

Here is part of the interview:

Does Israel have the right to check if there were weapons on the ship?

Had the ship been in Israel’s territorial waters they would have had a right. If the ship were outside Israel’s territorial waters, the answer is no.

What is the reasoning for this claim?

The international law which distinguishes between territorial waters and international waters. Israel, like any other country, has powers within 12 miles of its beaches and 12 additional miles of water adjacent, and beyond these, Israel has no sovereign authority.

Amnesty claims that Israel is still considered an occupying force in Gaza. Does Israel not have the authority to check if weapons which can be put to use by Hamas arrive in Gaza?

Of course we do not back the transferring of weapons to Hamas, which is a violent regime and a violent political group which has committed war crimes. Having said that, I think the issue here is not the transferring of weapons but rather the siege Israel imposes on Gaza,...

The operation was conducted on ships making their way to Gaza. I am asking a question of principle, whether Israel, which you claim is still an occupying force in Gaza, has the authority to check if there are weapons on the ship?

The answer in principle is unrelated to the occupation of Gaza. Gaza is under siege and an Israeli occupation, there is no question about it. Even by Israel’s announcement that it is imposing a siege on Gaza. The question of the search on the ships is related to a different legal question, and that is the question of sovereign authority in territorial waters versus the authority in international waters.

This is a question of principle, since Israel is inspecting for weapons through the land border crossings.

Israel does not check for the possibility of weapons entering through land border crossings. Israel transfers, what little it transfers, on its own.

There is international assistance which arrives and there is also import coming in through the Ashdod Port with weapons and ammunition, and Israel inspects it. The principle question is simple: According to Amnesty’s perception, does Israel even have the authority to check ships headed to Gaza near Gaza’s water and see if they contain weapons?

The answer is very simple. The siege is illegal. All the actions performed as part of the siege are illegal.

With your permission, I’m going back to the question because there is a question of principle regarding the raiding of a ship.

I don’t think that’s a principle question at all. I think the principle question is whether it is permitted to impose a siege on Gaza.

Does Israel have the authority to inspect a ship at a distance of 12 miles from the Gaza shore to see whether there are weapons on it?

It has the authority to do it within Israel’s territorial waters.

Also in Gaza’s waters?

Gaza doesn’t have waters, Gaza is an occupied territory under Israeli rule, it has no territorial waters because it doesn’t have sovereign authority.

What is required of Israel to stop it from being an occupying force under Amnesty’s definition?

That there will be another sovereign power and that the border crossings to Gaza not be under Israeli control. That’s the meaning of occupation, there’s no other sovereign power there, there’s no control over the border crossings for free movement of people and goods and that’s why Gaza is under occupation.

Can Israel not ever close the border crossings to Gaza?

Assuming that another sovereign power will be there, there can be international border crossings. That’s not the situation as of today.

Hamas is defined as a sovereign power by the Goldstone committee which treated it as “the authority of Gaza” and is internationally recognized by a large number of countries.

It receives recognition as a de facto regime. The question of the Israeli occupation is not related to Hamas. It’s connected with Israel’s actions.

So what actions must Israel take? You say that the occupation ends if Israel opens the crossings, so if the occupation ends, Israel needs to close the borders since Gaza is defined as an enemy state. There’s a logical contradiction here.

I don’t understand where the contradiction is.
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What are all the components to end the occupation? Amnesty does not present a plan in which Israel stops the occupation. It says that Israel needs to stop the occupation and deepen the occupation by opening the borders. I don’t comprehend that.

Amnesty International does not deal with solving conflicts.

It’s not conflict solving. It’s ending the occupation. Amnesty says that Gaza is under occupation. According to Amnesty, what actions must Israel take in order to stop the occupation?

One of the things which need to be done is to allow the passage of people and goods through the air, the sea and land. That’s one component. There are other components related to agreements of the international community since Amnesty International does not deal with solving conflicts. It only addresses the question of whether the situation is adequate in relation to international humanitarian law and international standards. It doesn’t deal with solving the conflict, not here or anywhere else.
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Amnesty claims that Israel is an occupying country and is responsible for the welfare of Gaza’s residents. According to this definition, does Israel need to act against the Hamas government in order to care for the welfare and safety of Gaza’s residents?

The State of Israel has an obligation to protect its citizens. It has an obligation to distinguish between military targets and civil targets. ...


The question is whether Israel is committed, being an occupying force as Amnesty defines, to be concerned for the welfare of Gaza’s residents and therefore act against the Hamas government and the Palestinian terrorist organizations that control Gaza, in order to protect the Palestinian population?

Israel has a duty to protect its citizens.

Amnesty’s messages said that Israel should take care to protect the people of Gaza. Is the issue of the security of the people of Gaza not an authority which Israel has?

Israel’s duty is to protect its citizens and ensure that the people of Gaza enjoy all the social and economic rights recognized in international law and in the Geneva convention.

So if Hamas is violating the rights of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to live, as defined in international law, does Israel not have the authority to act against the Hamas government to care for the safety of the people of Gaza?

The problem is first and foremost the rights of the people of Gaza which Israel violates by the illegal siege.
He is being willfully obtuse. The Amnesty official refuses to accept that his interpretation of international law leads to absurd and contradictory (not to mention inhumane) results. When forced to look at the absurdity, he retreats into repeating irrelevant mantras. Israel must open its borders to end the occupation and then it can close them. He says (not quoted here) that Israel's closed border with Lebanon is different because it has border with other countries - pretending that Gaza does not have a border with Egypt.

It is instructive to see that some human rights workers cannot see beyond their own narrow view of human rights and insist on countries adhering to impossible and suicidal policies - because they cannot conceive that their viewpoints are severely flawed at the outset. The irony, of course, is that the human rights of Israelis would be severely compromised by listening to idiots like this guy - and then they would presumably write a couple of highly critical reports condemning the Iranian satellite of Hamastan for continuing to shoot ballistic missiles with chemical weapons towards Tel Aviv. Tsk, tsk.