Frankly Speaking: Does Israel have a right to defend itself?

Francesca Albanese, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, speaks to Katie Jensen, host of “Frankly Speaking.” (AN Photo)
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Updated 30 October 2023
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Frankly Speaking: Does Israel have a right to defend itself?

  • Francesca Albanese says Israel’s assault on Gaza without legal merit
  • Fate of 2.3 million Palestinians remains uncertain as Israeli operations intensify

DUBAI: Israel does not have the right to self-defense that it claims in the Gaza Strip owing to its status as an occupying power, according to the UN special rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Francesca Albanese, who was appointed to the post in May 2022 for a three-year term, also believes that Israel’s military response to the multipronged attack by Hamas on Oct. 7 has gone beyond simply defending its own territory and its citizens.

“The right to self-defense that Israel has invoked under Article 51 of the UN Charter is quite clear. It entitles a state to repel an attack that comes from another state. So, the action necessary to repel the attack must be based on its intensity and scope. And it must be proportional,” she said on the Arab News current-affairs show “Frankly Speaking.”

Albanese added: “There is jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice that says that self-defense cannot apply in a context of military occupation when, in this case, Israel is occupying another state, another people.”

Explaining the context of a “proportional” response, she said that “in 24, 30 hours, Israel had regained control of its territory. So, as of then, the right of self-defense in its own territory — if self-defense is to be applied — was exhausted.”

She added: “Does it mean that Israel had to passively leave after what Hamas had inflicted? No, as I said, the protection of Israeli citizens had to be insured, and the military presence of Hamas had to be repelled. Which was done.”

As the fate of 2.3 million Palestinians remains uncertain amid intensifying Israeli military operations and a rapidly rising death toll, Albanese, an Italian academic and international human rights lawyer, spoke about the underlying dynamics of the conflict, whether anyone would be charged with war crimes being committed against civilians, and if the UN had once again failed the Palestinian people.




Francesca Albanese, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said Israel’s retaliation has been indiscriminate, destroying more than 42 percent of Gaza’s housing capacity, targeting civilian areas including hospitals, and killing thousands of Palestinians. (AN Photo)

The fighting erupted when Hamas launched rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory before infiltrating the border and killing both civilians and military personnel at several border towns, kibbutzim and a music festival on Oct. 7.

Hundreds of Israeli citizens and soldiers, as well as numerous people from multiple other countries, were also taken to Gaza and are being held as hostages.

After clearing its territory of Hamas militants, Israel began retaliatory operations in Gaza, formally declaring war on the armed group.

Albanese says the fact that Israel has been bombing the entire Gaza Strip without a stated military goal raises important questions. “A clear military aim could be dismantling Hamas’ military capacity. This could be one, but this has not been the language. This has not been the intent,” she said.

“The intent has been to eradicate Hamas as a whole. But Hamas is also a political entity. So, what does it mean in practice?

“Statements of Israeli politicians and leaders have declared that all Palestinians in Gaza are responsible for Hamas actions, so their backbone should be broken. The language used is extremely dangerous. Genocidal language has been used, and alarm has been raised by hundreds of scholars.”

Albanese said that the Israeli military campaign has been highly destructive and indiscriminate, destroying more than 42 percent of Gaza’s housing capacity and targeting civilian areas including hospitals, places of worship, and public markets.

Palestinian health authorities said that more than 8,000 people had been killed by Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes as of Sunday.

Asked whether the latest conflict in Gaza had changed her views, Albanese said the “only way to have a loud, clear, unchallengeable legal and moral voice right now is to condemn the attacks on civilians, whoever they are.




Palestinians collect bags of dried pulses from a UN-run aid supply center, distributing food to local Palestinians and people displaced following Israel’s call for more than 1 million residents in northern Gaza to move south for their safety, in Deir al-Balah, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)

“What Hamas did on Oct. 7 goes beyond what legitimate resistance is, because the massacre of civilians is never justified, cannot be justified,” she told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking.”

Albanese continued: “Hamas is to blame for the brutal killing of civilians, because in a context of hostilities, while military targets are legitimate, and killing a soldier is a tragedy, killing a civilian is a war crime. Killing civilians is absolutely prohibited.”

On the other hand, she asserted that the Israel-Palestinian conflict did not begin on Oct. 7. “The occupation that Israel has maintained on the West Bank, including in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, is illegal for many reasons, including because it has translated into a default apartheid, into a vehicle to colonize Palestinian land, to forcibly displace people, to arbitrarily arrest and detain adults and children alike, to impose martial rule over millions of Palestinians, including blockaded Gaza,” she said.

“Gaza has been under an illegal blockade for 16 years, and during the 16 years, five wars had already taken place in Gaza — in 2008, in 2012, in 2014, in 2021, in 2022 — and these five wars had already caused the death of 4,200 people, including 1,100 children.”

Albanese’s opinions on Israel’s right to self-defense and actions in Gaza have stirred controversy; media outlets, NGO watchdogs and Israeli officials have accused her of antisemitism.

An Israeli minister demanded Albanese’s dismissal in April this year, writing a letter to the UN chief and the UN high commissioner for human rights to complain that she has been allowed to “continue to spew hatred, antisemitism, and incite violence.”

Albanese believes the efforts to remove her from her current position are a distraction from events happening in Gaza and in Palestine in general. “It’s nothing new. These kinds of attacks — ad hominem — have been used against anyone who has dared to criticize Israeli policies and practices vis-a-vis the Palestinians,” she said.

“So, I was not particularly surprised. Yes, they are very violent, but again, the louder the message, the louder the denunciation, the more violent the response.”

Arguing that the data that her detractors are attempting to deflect attention from is far more important than their accusations, she said: “Nothing that I’ve said in my three reports on self-determination and Israel violations — arbitrary, widespread and systematic arbitrary deprivation of liberty in the occupied Palestinian territories, the violations committed against Palestinian children — has ever been challenged. The substance of my factual and legal analysis remains valid, and this is why I urge the international community to consider this first and foremost.”




Appearing on Frankly Speaking, Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, said that Israel’s military response to the deadly October 7 assault by Hamas has gone way beyond simply defending its own territory and its citizens. (AN Photo)

With UN statistics saying that more than 1.6 million Palestinians have been forced to flee their homes as of Saturday, Albanese said it seems Gaza has reached the point of no return.

Multiple news outlets reported that in the wake of the evacuation order, airstrikes killed dozens of Palestinians attempting to flee Gaza City. Palestinians are unable to flee inside their own territory or to another country; Egypt, which borders Gaza, has not opened any corridors which would allow Palestinians to seek safety there.

“Israel has ordered the evacuation of 1.1 million people — so, half the population — from northern Gaza,” Albanese said.

“How can this even be considered legal when there are people in hospital, women and children, and elderly persons who cannot move? Because the south, where people have been ordered to move to, is being bombed. It has been bombed, and it’s destroyed. There is no capacity to accommodate these people.”

In other comments, Albanese condemned what she called attempts by the media to misinform or spread false information, something that has been common during the ongoing conflict.

“Every journalist should verify the information before disseminating it, but should also report all facts, all circumstances and try to inform. I’ve seen that there is a lot of bias,” she said.

One of the most contentious events in terms of media coverage was the explosion at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City on Oct. 17. Many details of the blast vary widely, and the entity behind the attack is a subject of fierce debate.

Multiple intelligence agencies claim that the explosion was caused by a misfired rocket from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, while the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health claimed that an Israeli airstrike was responsible.

“I’ve seen conflicting narratives, because in the beginning, there were many warnings from the Israeli military to the hospital to evacuate. The medical personnel responsible for the hospital communicated that they were not able to evacuate because there were seriously injured people and other patients,” Albanese said.

Immediately after the bombing, quickly-deleted social media posts suggested the Israeli military had hit the hospital because there were Hamas operatives inside.

Asked if those deletions raised suspicion in her mind, Albanese said: “There is a commission of inquiry which is investigating right now all the violence and all the crimes that have been committed since Oct. 7. And that’s the Commission of Inquiry appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in May 2021. I will wait for the results of their investigation.”

In light of the international community’s failure to force Israeli to agree to a ceasefire, many people say the UN has failed the Palestinian people yet again.

However, Albanese said the UN is failing both the Palestinian and the Israeli people “because all of them deserve peace and stability, which is the responsibility of the UN Security Council.

“What I see happening is a political and the humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions,” she said.

On a final note, Albanese said allies of Israel should ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu what he meant when, in a televised address after the Oct. 7 Hamas assault, he said “what we will do to our enemies will reverberate for generations.”

Albanese said: “I fear for what it might mean, because on the one hand, you can eliminate all Hamas supporters and militants, but keeping the population under oppression, as Israel has done with the Palestinians for decades, would make another form of resistance re-emerge,” Albanese said.

“I am really scared that the situation can spill over an entire region, which is already critically affected. You are seeing streets and the squares of Arab cities full of people protesting. They protest because they think that the Palestinians deserve justice.”

Speaking for herself, Albanese said she had nothing but “a clear, people-centered approach” to her work.

“There is no one life that is more important than the other,” she said. “In the interest of both the Palestinians and the Israelis, the current hostilities must stop. A realistic international law-oriented solution has to be found now because tomorrow may be too late.”


UAE contributes $5 million to United Nations OCHA for humanitarian efforts in Sudan

Updated 16 sec ago
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UAE contributes $5 million to United Nations OCHA for humanitarian efforts in Sudan

DUBAI: The UAE will allocate $5 million to support the Sudan Humanitarian Fund (SHF) that would be managed by the United Nations, state-run WAM news agency reported. 
In an agreement with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UAE contribution to the Sudan Humanitarian Fund will be managed by OCHA, in order to “facilitate access to funds to address the most critical humanitarian needs and emergencies on the ground,” WAM reported. 
Martin Griffiths, Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, in a statement said: “We are deeply grateful to the Government and the people of the United Arab Emirates for your generous support of $70 million to help bring relief to the people of Sudan through the United Nations. With this allocation, we can bolster our lifesaving support to families and communities caught up in Sudan's unprecedented humanitarian crisis.”
“The UAE’s long-term support to Sudan is a testament to our dedication to fostering a prosperous Sudan and promoting stability in the region. We are pleased to partner with OCHA and other UN agencies to deliver vital aid to those most impacted,” according to Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s Assistant Minister for Political Affairs and Envoy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
“I reiterate the UAE’s unwavering position is to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, and a peaceful solution to the crisis,” she added.

Meanwhile, Emirati officials also signed an agreement with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) to address the humanitarian crisis in Sudan and prevent the imminent risk of famine. 

FAO has received US$5 million in funding from the UAE, which will be directed towards the project titled ‘Mitigating Famine in Sudan – Support to Conflict-Affected Vulnerable Smallholder Farming and Pastoralist Households’.

The FAO project, set to run for one year, aims to provide emergency crop, livestock, and veterinary assistance to 275,000 vulnerable smallholder farmer and pastoralist households, benefiting approximately 1,375,000 individuals.

The UAE contributions to OCHA and FAO are part of a broader commitment of $70 million dedicated to addressing urgent humanitarian needs in Sudan, through UN agencies and humanitarian organizations.

This funding is a substantial portion of the $100 million pledge made by the UAE in April at a global humanitarian conference for Sudan and its neighboring countries.
This contribution takes the total amount of UAE aid to Sudan in the past 10 years to more than $3.5 billion.


Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Updated 22 June 2024
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Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

  • “This grave security incident is one of several in recent days,” Red Cross says
  • Humanitarian organization says Gaza office was ‘damaged’ in a shell attack Friday 

GENEVA: The International Committee of the Red Cross said its Gaza office was ‘damaged’ by in a shell attack Friday that killed at least 22 people who had taken shelter around the compound.
The ICRC did not say who fired the “heavy calibre projectiles” but in a statement on the X platform said they “damaged the structure of the ICRC office,” which is surrounded by hundreds of displaced persons living in tents.
It said 22 bodies and 45 wounded had been taken to a nearby Red Cross field hospital after the shelling, and there were “reports of additional casualties.”
“Heavy-calibre projectiles landed within meters of the office and residences of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday afternoon,” the statement said.
“Firing so dangerously close to humanitarian structures, of whose locations the parties to the conflict are aware and which are clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem, puts the lives of civilians and Red Cross staff at risk,” said the body.
“This grave security incident is one of several in recent days,” it added.
“Previously stray bullets have reached ICRC structures. We decry these incidents that put the lives of humanitarians and civilians at risk.”

 


Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Updated 22 June 2024
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Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

  • It said 22 bodies and 45 wounded had been taken to a nearby Red Cross field hospital after the shelling, and there were “reports of additional casualties”

GENEVA: The International Committee of the Red Cross said its Gaza office was ‘damaged’ by in a shell attack Friday that killed at least 22 people who had taken shelter around the compound.
The ICRC did not say who fired the “heavy calibre projectiles” but in a statement on the X platform said they “damaged the structure of the ICRC office,” which is surrounded by hundreds of displaced persons living in tents.
It said 22 bodies and 45 wounded had been taken to a nearby Red Cross field hospital after the shelling, and there were “reports of additional casualties.”
“Heavy-calibre projectiles landed within meters of the office and residences of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday afternoon,” the statement said.
“Firing so dangerously close to humanitarian structures, of whose locations the parties to the conflict are aware and which are clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem, puts the lives of civilians and Red Cross staff at risk,” said the body.
“This grave security incident is one of several in recent days,” it added.
“Previously stray bullets have reached ICRC structures. We decry these incidents that put the lives of humanitarians and civilians at risk.”

 


Likely Yemen Houthi rebel attack targets ship in Gulf of Aden as Eisenhower reportedly heads home

Updated 26 min 42 sec ago
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Likely Yemen Houthi rebel attack targets ship in Gulf of Aden as Eisenhower reportedly heads home

  • The Yemeni militant Houthi group has been launching drone and missile strikes in the key waterway since November in what it says is solidarity with Palestinian militants in Gaza

DUBAI: A commercial ship traveling through the Gulf of Aden saw explosions near the vessel, authorities said Saturday, likely the latest attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels attempting to target the shipping lane.
The apparent fire by the Houthis comes after the sinking this week of the ship Tutor, which marked what appears to be a new escalation by the Iranian-backed Houthis in their campaign of attacks on ships in the vital maritime corridor over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, US officials reportedly ordered the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, the aircraft carrier leading America’s response to the Houthi attacks, to return home.
The captain of the ship targeted late Friday saw “explosions in the vicinity of the vessel,” the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center said.
“The crew are reported safe and the vessel is proceeding to its next port of call,” the UKMTO said, without elaborating on whether the ship sustained any damage.
The Houthis, who have held Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, since 2014, did not immediately claim the attack. However, it can take the rebels hours or even days to acknowledge their assaults.
The Houthis on Friday released footage of one of their drone boats, the “Tufan,” or “Flood,” which they said targeted the Tutor.
The Houthis have launched more than 60 attacks targeting specific vessels and fired off other missiles and drones in their campaign that has killed a total of four sailors. They have seized one vessel and sunk two since November. A US-led airstrike campaign has targeted the Houthis since January, with a series of strikes May 30 killing at least 16 people and wounding 42 others, the rebels say.
In March, the Belize-flagged Rubymar carrying fertilizer became the first to sink in the Red Sea after taking on water for days following a rebel attack.
The Houthis have maintained that their attacks target ships linked to Israel, the United States or Britain. However, many of the ships attacked have little or no connection to the Israel-Hamas war.
Meanwhile, the US Naval Institute’s news service reported, citing an anonymous official, that the Eisenhower would be returning home to Norfolk, Virginia, after an over eight-month deployment in combat that the Navy says is its most intense since World War II. The report said an aircraft carrier operating in the Pacific would be taking the Eisenhower’s place.
The closest American aircraft carrier known to be operating in Asia is the USS Theodore Roosevelt. The Roosevelt anchored Saturday in Busan, South Korea, amid Seoul’s ongoing tensions with North Korea.


Qatar working to ‘bridge the gap’ between Israel and Hamas

Updated 22 June 2024
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Qatar working to ‘bridge the gap’ between Israel and Hamas

  • Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the Palestinian Islamist movement was open to “any document or initiative that ensures the foundations of the resistance’s position in ceasefire negotiations”
  • Israel has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry

MADRID: Qatar said Friday it was pursuing efforts to “bridge the gap” between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and release Israeli hostages held there.
The Gulf emirate, the United States and Egypt, have been engaged in months of negotiations for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war that erupted on October 7.
There has been one seven-day pause in November which led to the release of more than 100 hostages. Efforts since have been deadlocked.
“We have continued our efforts without interruption over the last few days,” Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told a news conference in Madrid with Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares.
“There have been several meetings with the Hamas leadership to try to bridge the gap between the two parties and reach an agreement that will lead to a ceasefire and the release of the Israeli hostages,” he added.
The talks are based on a plan US President Joe Biden laid out on May 31 calling for an Israeli withdrawal from “major population centers” in Gaza and a six week ceasefire, which could be extended if negotiators need more time to seek a permanent deal.
“Efforts are continuing, but so far we have not reached a formula that we feel is the most appropriate and closest to what has been presented,” the Qatari prime minister said.
“As soon as this is done, we will communicate with the Israeli side to try to bridge the gap and reach an agreement as quickly as possible,” he added.
Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the Palestinian Islamist movement was open to “any document or initiative that ensures the foundations of the resistance’s position in ceasefire negotiations.”
Hamas has insisted on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent ceasefire before the release of all hostages sought by Israel. The Israeli goverment has rejected the demands.
Haniyeh said “the priority is to stop the criminal war on our people.”
The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 41 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.