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

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.”

Reactions to the crash of the Iranian president’s helicopter

Updated 4 sec ago

Reactions to the crash of the Iranian president’s helicopter

  • Iraqi government said it instructed relevant bodies to offer help to neighboring Iran in the search mission

LONDON: Following are reactions from foreign governments and officials to the news that a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister crashed as it flew over mountain terrain in heavy fog on Sunday.

“We are closely following reports of a possible hard landing of a helicopter in Iran carrying the Iranian president and foreign minister,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.

A spokesperson for President Biden, Karine Jean-Pierre, told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president had been briefed on the situation. She did not elaborate.

AZERI PRESIDENT ILHAM ALIYEV (Raisi was returning from Iran’s border with Azerbaijan when his helicopter crashed).
“Today, after bidding a friendly farewell to the (visiting) President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, we were profoundly troubled by the news of a helicopter carrying the top delegation crash-landing in Iran.”
“Our prayers to Allah Almighty are with President Ebrahim Raisi and the accompanying delegation. As a neighbor, friend, and brotherly country, the Republic of Azerbaijan stands ready to offer any assistance needed.”

The Iraqi government said in a statement it had instructed its interior ministry, the Red Crescent and other relevant bodies to offer help to neighboring Iran in the search mission.

UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

Updated 19 May 2024

UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

  • Shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus

DUBAI: A UAE aid shipment carrying 252 tons of food arrived in Gaza bound for the north of the enclave, Emirates News Agency reported on Sunday.

The shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus. The delivery involved cooperation from the US, Cyprus, UK, EU and UN.

The supplies were unloaded at UN warehouses in Deir Al-Balah and are awaiting distribution to Palestinians in need.

Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al-Hashimy said that the food supplies will be delivered and distributed in collaboration with international partners and humanitarian organizations, as part of the UAE’s efforts to provide relief and address the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

The UAE, in accordance with its historical commitment to the Palestinian people and under the guidance of its leadership, continues to provide urgent humanitarian aid and supplies to Gaza, she added.

Since the war began in October, the UAE has delivered more than 32,000 tons of urgent humanitarian supplies, including food, relief and medical supplies, via 260 flights, 49 airdrops and 1,243 trucks.

The UAE delivery came as Israel closed the Rafah border crossing. The World Health Organization said on Friday that it has received no medical supplies in the Gaza Strip for 10 days.

Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

The helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi takes off at the Iranian border with Azerbaijan.
Updated 37 min 12 sec ago

Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

  • IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials

DUBAI: A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister made a rough landing on Sunday as it was crossing a mountainous area in heavy fog on the way back from a visit to Azerbaijan, Iranian news agencies said.
The bad weather was complicating rescue efforts, the state news agency IRNA reported. The semi-official Fars news agency urged Iranians to pray for Raisi and state TV carried prayers for his safety.
IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials.
Interior Minister Ahmed Vahidi told state TV only that one of the helicopters in a group of three had come down hard, and that authorities were awaiting further details.
Raisi, 63, was elected president at the second attempt in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.
In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is the supreme leader rather than the president who has the final say on all major policies.
But many see Raisi as a strong contender to succeed his mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has strongly endorsed Raisi's main policies.

Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

Updated 19 May 2024

Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

  • Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu dismisses comments as "washed-up words"
  • Broad splits emerge in Israeli war cabinet as Hamas regroups in northern Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said Saturday he would resign from the body unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a post-war plan for the Gaza Strip.

“The war cabinet must formulate and approve by June 8 an action plan that will lead to the realization of six strategic goals of national importance.. (or) we will be forced to resign from the government,” Gantz said, referring to his party, in a televised address directed at Netanyahu.

Gantz said the six goals included toppling Hamas, ensuring Israeli security control over the Palestinian territory and returning Israeli hostages.

“Along with maintaining Israeli security control, establish an American, European, Arab and Palestinian administration that will manage civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip and lay the foundation for a future alternative that is not Hamas or (Mahmud) Abbas,” he said, referring to the president of the Palestinian Authority.

He also urged the normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia “as part of an overall move that will create an alliance with the free world and the Arab world against Iran and its affiliates.”

Netanyahu responded to Gantz’s threat on Saturday by slamming the minister’s demands as “washed-up words whose meaning is clear: the end of the war and a defeat for Israel, the abandoning of most of the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The Israeli army has been battling Hamas militants across the Gaza Strip for more than seven months.

But broad splits have emerged in the Israeli war cabinet in recent days after Hamas fighters regrouped in northern Gaza, an area where Israel previously said the group had been neutralized.

Netanyahu came under personal attack from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday for failing to rule out an Israeli government in Gaza after the war.

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s attack on October 7 on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized about 250 hostages, 124 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, including 37 the military says are dead.

Israel’s military retaliation against Hamas has killed at least 35,386 people, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry, and an Israeli siege has brought dire food shortages and the threat of famine.

US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

Updated 19 May 2024

US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

  • Washington called on Tehran to rein in proxy forces
  • Officials sat in separate rooms with Omani intermediaries passing messages

LONDON: US and Iranian officials held talks in Oman last week aimed at reducing regional tensions, the New York Times reported.

Through intermediaries from Oman, Washington’s top Middle East official Brett McGurk and the deputy special envoy for Iran, Abram Paley, spoke with Iranian counterparts.

It was the first contact between the two countries in the wake of Iran’s retaliatory missile and drone attack on Israel in April.

The US officials, who communicated with their Iranian counterparts in a separate room — with Omani officials passing on messages — requested that Tehran rein in its proxy forces across the region.

The US has had no diplomatic contact with Iran since 1979, and communicates with the country using intermediaries and back channels.

Since the outbreak of the Gaza war last October, Iran-backed militias — including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and armed groups in Syria and Iraq — have ramped up attacks on Israeli and American targets.

But US officials have determined that neither Hezbollah nor Iran want an escalation and wider war.

After Israel struck Iran’s consulate in Damascus at the beginning of April, Tehran retaliated with hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones.

The attack — which was intercepted by air defense systems from Israel, the US and the UK, among others — was the first ever direct Iranian strike on Israel, which has for years targeted Iranian assets in Syria, whose government is a close ally of Tehran.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a news conference this week that the “Iranian threat” to Israel and US interests “is clear.”

He added: “We are working with Israel and other partners to protect against these threats and to prevent escalation into an all-out regional war through a calibrated combination of diplomacy, deterrence, force posture adjustments and use of force when necessary to protect our people and to defend our interests and our allies.”