In November of 2015 MCC signed a letter, along with seven other international NGO and faith based organizations, to be delivered to US Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry. The letter is a response to the increased violence in Palestine and Israel since the beginning of October. MCC and the other signatories of the letter request meaningful and just measures to address the root causes of the violence. We believe that the US must play a pivotal role in bringing about a just peace.
November 16, 2015
The Honorable John Kerry
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520
Re: Addressing the root causes of violence and the U.S. role in building accountability for violations of international law
Dear Mr. Secretary,
As humanitarian, development, human rights, and faith-based organizations working in, or partnering with similar types of organizations in, the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and Israel, we are alarmed at the ongoing violence and regret the loss of Palestinian and Israeli lives. For the benefit of civilians on both sides and in the interest of achieving a just peace, we urge you to take immediate steps to bring a halt to the repeated violations that further inflame the rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground.
Despite leadership by you and your international counterparts, the situation has continued to deteriorate and we remain concerned by the limited demands placed upon the parties thus far. The recent instability and rapid escalation in violence is a direct result of prolonged Israeli occupation and lack of accountability for repeated violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The lack of accountability has left Palestinians with diminished faith in the international community and in their own leaders, and with little hope that the peace process will bring positive change to their lives. At the same time, the physical and psychological wellbeing of Israelis is also impacted as they live in fear of violence and attacks.
As the occupying power, Israel bears the primary responsibility for the protection of the civilian population and ensuring their basic needs are met. As set out in Common Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions, High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions have an obligation to ‘respect and ensure respect’ for the law in all circumstances. Despite these obligations, violations have continued to negatively affect the lives of Palestinians across the Occupied Territory, fueling their frustration and resulting in increased instability on the ground. These violations include:
The ongoing separation policy, blockade and closure of Gaza, which has sealed 1.8 million civilians in an increasingly unlivable space and continues to impede access to desperately needed reconstruction materials. By listing even the most basic of construction materials as “dual-use,” the government of Israel has impeded reconstruction efforts, contributing to a deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
In October 2015 the Israeli army carried out four punitive demolition orders, demolishing or sealing the family homes of individuals accused of carrying out armed attacks. These punitive demolitions have left 33 innocent family members, including 22 children, homeless. At least 10 other Palestinian families have punitive demolition orders pending against their homes.[i]
In response to protests and escalating violence, the Israeli police and army have implemented unlawful closures and increased movement and access restrictions across the West Bank, including the closure of eight East Jerusalem neighborhoods in mid-October 2015. These closures prevented thousands of Palestinians from accessing services, markets, education and work places and impeded access to 5 hospitals[ii]. Similar measures have recently been applied in response to protests, demonstrations, and violent attacks in the H1/H2 section of Hebron.
Excessive use of force, arrest and detention, and restricting medical aid
In October 2015, around 876 Palestinians, including 133 children, were arrested in relation to demonstrations of protests across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.[iii]
Many Palestinians have been killed and injured while participating in protests or demonstrations against the occupation in both Gaza and the West Bank. Israeli human rights groups expressed concern that the Israeli police and army have used a “shoot to kill” policy rather than attempting to subdue and arrest alleged attackers[iv]. Amnesty International has raised concerns that in some cases Israeli forces used disproportionate lethal force that may rise to the level of ‘extra judicial executions’ under international human rights law[v].
An additional element to the escalating violence has been the continued use of explosive weapons in populated areas that results in a predictable pattern of unacceptable civilian harm. An Israeli airstrike in October 2015 claimed the lives of a 26 year old pregnant mother and her three year old daughter in Gaza, adding to ongoing concerns over Israel’s adherence to its obligations in the conduct of hostilities.
Concerns have also been raised last month over incidents where Israeli forces impeded or interfered[vi] with Palestinians’ access to health services, including the ability of health workers to provide care to those in need, with several cases of Palestinians injured in protests or alleged attacks left to bleed to death from their wounds. In the first 3 weeks of October 2015, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society documented 177 attacks on Palestinian medical teams and ambulances, with 86 volunteers injured, 49 ambulances damaged, and an additional 42 incidents of ambulances being denied access to the wounded.
At least 48 incidents of settler violence against Palestinians have been documented in October 2015. Tensions have been particularly high since the arson attack in Duma in July 2015, where settler violence claimed the lives of a Palestinian mother, father, and infant, leaving one surviving orphaned child with serious burns. The government of Israel so far has failed to charge any perpetrators in the Duma attack and reports from Israeli human rights organizations indicate that, historically, over 90 percent of all settler violence cases have been closed by the Israeli authorities without the issuance of any indictment[vii].
Wanton destruction of property, forced transfer, forced eviction, and residency revocation
In August 2015, the Israeli army carried out 138 demolitions in Area C, the highest monthly number of demolitions in over 3 years. The majority of these demolitions occurred in communities threatened with forced transfer through an Israeli “relocation plan.” In the first 9 months of 2015, the Israeli army executed 402 demolitions in Area C. One quarter of these demolitions have occurred in communities slated for the “relocation plan.”
Israeli police forcibly evicted a Palestinian family from their Silwan, East Jerusalem home in October 2015, allowing Israeli settlers from the extreme right-wing Ateret Cohanim movement to take over the house.
In October 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced during a security cabinet his consideration of the blanket revocation of permanent residency status from an estimated 90,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians residing in neighborhoods located beyond the Wall[viii].
In light of the above, we urge the U.S. to condition relations with the parties on compliance with international humanitarian law, including clear repercussions for continued violations that undermine prospects for peace. The U.S. should make clear that its expectations include:
- Condemning the loss of Palestinian and Israeli life and calling on all parties to refrain from incitement, violence, and to abide by their obligations under international law.
- Calling on the government of Israel to halt settlements, forced eviction, forced transfer, and the wanton destruction of Palestinian property. Furthermore the U.S. should note its obligation as a High Contracting Party in regards to grave breaches, specifically the obligation not to recognize as lawful an illegal situation, nor render aid or assistance in the maintenance of that situation.
- Condemnation of collective punishment, which is strictly prohibited by international humanitarian law. The U.S. should call on the government of Israel to cancel all outstanding punitive demolition orders and immediately cease and reverse punitive access restrictions in the OPT, including the blockade on Gaza.
- Calling on the government of Israel to facilitate reconstruction and development in Gaza through an immediate rationalization of the “dual-use” list. As a significant donor to reconstruction efforts, the U.S. should insist that construction materials, medical equipment, and essential water and energy equipment is immediately removed from the Israeli “dual-use” list. The U.S. should take proactive steps to work with the government of Israel to further rationalize the rest of the “dual-use” list against the Waasenaar Arrangement and other international standards. The U.S. should propose a time-bound plan to end the illegal blockade and open the crossings to Gaza for the free flow of people and goods, in line with international humanitarian law.
- Calling on the government of Israel to revoke “shoot to kill” policies and to open a transparent investigation into the deaths of Palestinians by Israeli police officers, civilians, or soldiers. The U.S. should make it clear to the government of Israel that impunity is unacceptable and that it expects any individuals who are found to have contributed to unlawful killings to be held accountable.
- Condemnation of use of force against medical personnel and refusal of permission for Palestinian ambulances and emergency medical teams to access specific areas to reach the injured and to evacuate them to hospitals. The U.S. should press the government of Israel to pursue all possible avenues to ensure accountability for apparent deliberate or reckless targeting of medical infrastructure and personnel.
- Calling on the government of Israel to abide by provisions outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and to limit arrests, interrogations, and detentions of Palestinian children as a last resort. Any arrests, interrogations, and detentions of children must be in line with international humanitarian law and juvenile justice standards.
- Calling on the government of Israel to fully and transparently investigate cases of settler violence, ensuring those who have committed crimes are indicted and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
- Calling on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to promote an inclusive process for peace and reconciliation, in which all Palestinian factions and all Palestinians, including refugees, women, and young people are fully empowered to participate. The ongoing political divide further undermines the social, economic and political rights of Palestinians and the PA’s ability to engage in meaningful peace talks on behalf of Palestinians. The U.S. should press the PA to open a formal process of consultation in which all Palestinians, including refugees, women, young people and other vulnerable groups can express their expectations of their leaders and their vision for the future and should allow the PA to engage all relevant parties.
We thank you in advance for your consideration to these recommendations and your commitment to work towards a just, durable peace that ensures the rights of all people are protected and respected. We look forward to your response and remain available should you wish to discuss these recommendations further.
Marie Clarke, Executive Director, ActionAid USA
Moira O’Leary, Country Director, ActionAid Occupied Palestinian Territory
Shan Cretin, General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee
Rev. Dr. James Moos, Co-Executive, Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ
Rev. Julia Brown Karimu, Co-Executive, Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ
Dalell D Mohmed, Executive Director, KinderUSA
J Ron Byler, Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Donna Baranski-Walker, Executive Director, Rebuilding Alliance
Alex Gray, Humanitarian Director, Relief International