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Amnesty: Gaza is Still Under Israeli Occupation

Amnesty Israel Director explains its position that Israel is an “occupying force”.
By: Jonathan Dahoah Halevi, Translation Elad Benari
Published: June 2nd, 2010 in News » Israel
Amnesty International LogoPic: Amnesty International Logo

On May 31, Amnesty International called on the Israeli government to immediately hold a credible and independent investigation of the killings carried out by the IDF on the “Marmara” ship that tried to break the siege on Gaza. “It seems clear that Israeli forces used excessive force,” said Malcolm Smart, director of Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International. “Israel claims that the troops were attacked by the demonstrators and that they apparently acted out of self-defense, but there is a doubt that the level of deadly force used by Israeli forces can be justified. It seems that things got out of proportion in relation to the threat posed.”

“The activists on the ships made it clear that their primary purpose was to protest against the ongoing siege on Gaza, which is considered a means of collective punishment and as such is a violation of international law,” added Itai Epstein, Director of Amnesty International in Israel. Amnesty’s statement also said that for three years Israel, which is an occupying power in Gaza, has instituted a boycott policy and is stopping the supplies to Gaza, with the exception of basic humanitarian goods that are only transferred by international aid organizations. Only a handful of patients was allowed to leave Gaza for medical treatment, but dozens have died while waiting for permits. Israel , Amnesty says, has a duty under international law to maintain the welfare of Gaza residents, including the right to health, education, food and decent housing.

Shalom Life spoke with Itai Epstein, Director of Amnesty International in Israel, in order to find out Amnesty’s viewpoints on this issue and on the principle questions arising in connection with a siege on Gaza and dealing with terror.

Are you accusing the IDF of using excessive force?

What was said is that there is a serious concern that excessive force was used against something that in its nature was a non-violent act of protest.

You argue that it was a non-violent act of protest. Do the photos that were shown on TV, stabbing of soldiers and their abduction, not indicate that this was a violent act?

The flotilla by its nature was a non-violent act of protest that was met with violent opposition in international waters. As for what exactly happened there, I think this should be investigated. Israel and its various spokespeople described the force they are going to apply against unarmed protesters and this force looks excessive and far-fetched.

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, which does not hurt Hamas and is not directed at Hamas, but rather is directed at a civilian population and it hurts those who are weaker and poor. This is why 4 out of 5 of Gaza’s residents require humanitarian assistance. The siege hurts the sick who cannot leave Gaza, and only in the past year, 28 people have died in this manner.

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?

Related articles: amnesty international, occupation, siege, Itai Epstein
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