Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Al-Haq Director Randa Siniora on Collective Punishment and Occupation

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Al-Haq Director Randa Siniora on Collective Punishment and Occupation

Article excerpt

Despite the positive public perception of Israel's disengagement from Gaza, Israel is still violating Palestinians' legal protections against collective punishment under international law, argued Randa Siniora, general director of the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, at an Oct. 11 briefing at the Washington, DC-based Palestine Center. Even in Gaza, she stated, where Palestinians are now free of Israeli settlements and internal checkpoints, violations of Palestinians' human rights have not changed. Israel continues to practice cruel and illegal forms of collective punishment on the Palestinian civilian population.

Al-Haq, a leading Palestinian human rights organization, documents Israeli violations of the basic rights of people, pinpoints trends in human rights issues, launches campaigns based on its findings, provides legal aid to individuals, and does extensive legal research. Siniora discussed Al-Haq's anti-collective punishment campaign, which began in January 2004 and focuses "not only on the wall, but all its implications," with a special focus on East Jerusalem.

The International Committee of the Red Cross defines collective punishment as "penalties of any kind inflicted on persons or entire groups of persons, in defiance of the most elementary principles of humanity, for acts that those persons have not committed," Siniora noted. Throughout the occupied territories, she explained, Israel collectively punishes Palestinians in five major ways, namely: mass arrests; house demolitions; movement restrictions; property destruction; and construction of the annexation wall. She cited a United Nations declaration that states, "The impact, if not the intent, of the measures imposed by Israel has been the collective punishment of the [Palestinian] civilian population."

Siniora made clear that Al-Haq believes Israel fully intends to punish Palestinian civilians. According to Siniora, 400 Palestinians have been arrested in Israel's "First Rain" offensive launched on Sept. 24. For the most part, these arrests are en masse and arbitrary; in some cases, anyone within a certain age range was arrested.

Al-Haq defines home demolitions as separate from property destruction. The former occur when a home is demolished because one family member is wanted by the Israelis, Siniora said. Property destruction, on the other hand, lacks even this justification; the most common form of property destruction taking place now is the demolition of houses and other buildings which are "too close" to the annexation wall.

Al-Haq also defines the wall Israel has been and is constructing on Palestinian land in the occupied territories as an "annexation wall," rather than an "apartheid wall" or "separation fence." The wall's sections are much more substantive than a simple fence, she pointed out. Instead, they involve trenches, razor wire, motion detectors, military roads, and so forth, and can reach 19 feet to 30 feet high near populated areas.

When completed, the wall will be 416 miles long, effectively annexing 10.1 percent of the West Bank into Israel, including the best agricultural land and the West Bank's major aquifer. "This is creating facts on the ground to create new borders," said Siniora. While gates exist in the wall to allow farmers access to their fields, "these gates are completely controlled by the Israeli military," which opens and closes them at arbitrary times. …

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