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)
Short Url
Updated 30 October 2023
Follow

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.”


Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah in its fight against Israel

Updated 24 June 2024
Follow

Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah in its fight against Israel

BEIRUT: Thousands of fighters from Iran-backed groups in the Middle East are ready to come to Lebanon to join with the militant Hezbollah group in its battle with Israel if the simmering conflict escalates into a full-blown war, officials with Iran-backed factions and analysts say.
Almost daily exchanges of fire have occurred along Lebanon’s frontier with northern Israel since fighters from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip staged a bloody assault on southern Israel in early October that set off a war in Gaza.
The situation to the north worsened this month after an Israeli airstrike killed a senior Hezbollah military commander in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah retaliated by firing hundreds of rockets and explosive drones into northern Israel.
Israeli officials have threatened a military offensive in Lebanon if there is no negotiated end to push Hezbollah away from the border.
Over the past decade, Iran-backed fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan fought together in Syria’s 13-year conflict, helping tip the balance in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Officials from Iran-backed groups say they could also join together again against Israel.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech Wednesday that militant leaders from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other countries have previously offered to send tens of thousands of fighters to help Hezbollah, but he said the group already has more than 100,000 fighters.
“We told them, thank you, but we are overwhelmed by the numbers we have,” Nasrallah said.
Nasrallah said the battle in its current form is using only a portion of Hezbollah’s manpower, an apparent reference to the specialized fighters who fire missiles and drones.
But that could change in the event of an all-out war. Nasrallah hinted at that possibility in a speech in 2017 in which he said fighters from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan “will be partners” of such a war.
Officials from Lebanese and Iraqi groups backed by Iran say Iran-backed fighters from around the region will join in if war erupts on the the Lebanon-Israel border. Thousands of such fighters are already deployed in Syria and could easily slip through the porous and unmarked border.
Some of the groups have already staged attacks on Israel and its allies since the Israel-Hamas war started Oct. 7. The groups from the so-called “axis of resistance” say they are using a “unity of arenas strategy” and they will only stop fighting when Israel ends its offensive in Gaza against their ally, Hamas.
“We will be (fighting) shoulder to shoulder with Hezbollah” if an all-out war breaks out, one official with an Iran-backed group in Iraq told The Associated Press in Baghdad, insisting on speaking anonymously to discuss military matters. He refused to give further details.
The official, along with another from Iraq, said some advisers from Iraq are already in Lebanon.
An official with a Lebanese Iran-backed group, also insisting on anonymity, said fighters from Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, Afghanistan’s Fatimiyoun, Pakistan Zeinabiyoun and the Iran-backed rebel group in Yemen known as Houthis could come to Lebanon to take part in a war.

Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces march during Al-Quds or Jerusalem Day in Baghdad, Iraq on June 8, 2019. (AP/File photo)

Qassim Qassir, an expert on Hezbollah, agreed the current fighting is mostly based on high technology such as firing missiles and does not need a large number of fighters. But if a war broke out and lasted for a long period, Hezbollah might need support from outside Lebanon, he said.
“Hinting to this matter could be (a message) that these are cards that could be used,” he said.
Israel is also aware of the possible influx of foreign fighters.
Eran Etzion, former head of policy planning for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a panel discussion hosted by the Washington-based Middle East Institute on Thursday that he sees “a high probability” of a “multi-front war.”
He said there could be intervention by the Houthis and Iraqi militias and a “massive flow of jihadists from (places) including Afghanistan, Pakistan” into Lebanon and into Syrian areas bordering Israel.
Daniel Hagari, Israel’s military spokesman, said in a televised statement this past week that since Hezbollah started its attacks on Israel on Oct. 8, it has fired more than 5,000 rockets, anti-tank missiles and drones toward Israel.
“Hezbollah’s increasing aggression is bringing us to the brink of what could be a wider escalation, one that could have devastating consequences for Lebanon and the entire region,” Hagari said. “Israel will continue fighting against Iran’s axis of evil on all fronts.”
Hezbollah officials have said they don’t want an all-out war with Israel but if it happens they are ready.

Houthi fighters march during a rally of support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the US strikes on Yemen outside Sanaa on Jan. 22, 2024. (AP/File photo)

“We have taken a decision that any expansion, no matter how limited it is, will be faced with an expansion that deters such a move and inflicts heavy Israeli losses,” Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Naim Kassem, said in a speech this past week.
The UN special coordinator for Lebanon, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and the commander of the UN peacekeeping force deployed along Lebanon’s southern border, Lt. Gen. Aroldo Lázaro, said in a joint statement that “the danger of miscalculation leading to a sudden and wider conflict is very real.”
The last large-scale conflict between Israel and Hezbollah occurred in the summer of 2006, when the two fought a 34-day war that killed about 1,200 people in Lebanon and 140 in Israel.
Since the latest run of clashes began, more than 400 people have been killed in Lebanon, the vast majority of them fighters but including 70 civilians and non-combatants. On the Israeli side, 16 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed. Tens of thousands have been displaced on both sides of the border.
Qassir, the analyst, said that if foreign fighters did join in, it would help them that they fought together in Syria in the past.
“There is a common military language between the forces of axis of resistance and this is very important in fighting a joint battle,” he said.=


Lebanese minister denies Hezbollah weapons at Beirut airport

Ali Hamieh. (Twitter @alihamie_lb)
Updated 24 June 2024
Follow

Lebanese minister denies Hezbollah weapons at Beirut airport

  • Israel has for years accused Hezbollah of keeping precision rockets and missiles in different installations throughout Lebanon, including on a site near Beirut airport

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s transport minister denied on Sunday that Hezbollah was storing weapons at Beirut airport, as fears grow of all-out war between the militant group and Israel.
Ali Hamieh called a press conference to deny the allegations of “absurd articles” in the media, and attacked the British daily The Telegraph.
The newspaper said the Shiite militant group is storing missiles and rockets at the airport, where “whistleblowers” had reported the arrival of “unusually big boxes.”
Backed by Iran, Hezbollah has been exchanging near-daily fire with Israeli forces in support of its ally, Hamas. The Palestinian movement has been at war with Israel since October 7 when Hamas militants from Gaza attacked southern Israel.
“I am holding this press conference to clarify that everything that has been written in The Telegraph is false and to say that there are no weapons entering or leaving Beirut airport,” Hamieh told journalists.
He spoke from Beirut International Airport, located in an area south of the capital where Hezbollah is influential.
Hamieh invited ambassadors and journalists to inspect the airport on Monday morning in a visit “open to all“
The Lebanese air transport union condemned in a statement “simply erroneous statements and lies aimed at endangering Beirut airport and its employees, all civilians, and those who frequent it.”
Israel has for years accused Hezbollah of keeping precision rockets and missiles in different installations throughout Lebanon, including on a site near Beirut airport.
Hezbollah denies this.
More than eight months of exchanges of fire between Hezbollah and Israeli forces have left 480 people dead in Lebanon, mostly fighters, but also 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.
Cross-border exchanges and tension have escalated over the past two weeks after an Israeli air strike killed a senior Hezbollah commander.
 

 


An Israel offensive into Lebanon risks an Iranian military response, top US military leader says

Updated 24 June 2024
Follow

An Israel offensive into Lebanon risks an Iranian military response, top US military leader says

  • US President Joe Biden’s senior adviser Amos Hochstein met with officials in Lebanon and Israel last week in an effort to deescalate tensions
  • Pentagon officials have said that Austin has also raised concerns about a broader conflict when he spoke to Gallant in a recent phone call

ESPARGOS, Cape Verde: The top US military officer said Sunday that an Israeli military offensive into Lebanon will risk an Iranian response in defense of Hezbollah, triggering a broader war that could put US forces in the region in danger.
Air Force Gen. CQ Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iran “would be more inclined to support Hezbollah.” He added Tehran supports Hamas, but would give greater backing to Hezbollah “particularly if they felt that Hezbollah was being significantly threatened.”
Brown spoke to reporters as he traveled to Botswana for a meeting of African defense ministers.
Israeli officials have threatened a military offensive in Lebanon if there is no negotiated end to push Hezbollah away from the border. Just days ago, Israel’s military said it had “approved and validated” plans for an offensive in Lebanon, even as the US works to prevent the months of cross-border attacks from spiraling into a full-blown war.
US officials have tried to broker a diplomatic solution to the conflict. The issue is expected to come up this week as Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant visits Washington for meetings with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other senior US officials.
US President Joe Biden’s senior adviser Amos Hochstein met with officials in Lebanon and Israel last week in an effort to deescalate tensions. Hochstein told reporters in Beirut on Tuesday that it was a “very serious situation” and that a diplomatic solution to prevent a larger war was urgent.
Brown also said the US won’t likely be able to help Israel defend itself against a broader Hezbollah war as well as it helped Israel fight off the Iranian barrage of missiles and drones in April. It is harder to fend off the shorter-range rockets that Hezbollah fires routinely across the border into Israel, he said.
Pentagon officials have said that Austin has also raised concerns about a broader conflict when he spoke to Gallant in a recent phone call.
“Given the amount of rocket fire we’ve seen going from both sides of the border, we’ve certainly been concerned about that situation, and both publicly and privately have been urging all parties to restore calm along that border, and again, to seek a diplomatic solution,” said Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary last week.
A war between the two heavily-armed foes could be devastating to both countries and incur mass civilian casualties. Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal is believed to be far more extensive than Hamas’.
Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah have exchanged fire across Lebanon’s border with northern Israel since fighters from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip staged a bloody assault on southern Israel in early October that set off the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
The situation escalated this month after an Israeli airstrike killed a senior Hezbollah military commander in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah retaliated by firing hundreds of rockets and explosive drones into northern Israel and Israel responded with a heavy assault on the militant group.
Israeli strikes have killed more than 400 people in Lebanon, including 70 civilians. On Israel’s side, 16 soldiers and 10 civilians have been killed.
An escalation in the conflict could also trigger wider involvement by other Iran-backed militant groups in the region, leading to all-out war.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech last Wednesday that militant leaders from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other countries have previously offered to send tens of thousands of fighters to help Hezbollah, but he said the group already has more than 100,000 fighters.

 


Heads of churches say Israeli government is demanding they pay property tax, upsetting status quo

Updated 23 June 2024
Follow

Heads of churches say Israeli government is demanding they pay property tax, upsetting status quo

JERUSALEM: Leaders of major churches have accused Israeli authorities of launching a “coordinated attack” on the Christian presence in the Holy Land by initiating tax proceedings against them.
While Israeli officials have tried to dismiss the disagreement as a routine financial matter, the churches say the move upsets a centuries-old status quo and reflects mounting intolerance for the tiny Christian presence in the Holy Land.
In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week, the heads of the major Christian denominations alleged that four municipalities across Israel had recently submitted warning letters to church officials cautioning them of legal action if they did not pay taxes.
“We believe these efforts represent a coordinated attack on the Christian presence in the Holy Land,” wrote the heads of the Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox churches. “In this time, when the whole world, and the Christian world in particular, are constantly following the events in Israel, we find ourselves, once again, dealing with an attempt by authorities to drive the Christian presence out of the Holy Land.”
Christians are a tiny minority, making up less than 2 percent of the population of Israel and the Palestinian territories. There are 182,000 Christians in Israel, 50,000 in the West Bank and Jerusalem and 1,300 in Gaza, according to the US State Department. The vast majority are Palestinians.
The churches, who are major landowners in the Holy Land, say they do not pay property taxes under longstanding tradition. They say their funds go to services that benefit the state, like schools, hospitals and homes for the elderly.
The letter said the municipalities of Tel Aviv, Ramla, Nazareth and Jerusalem in recent months have all either issued warning letters or commenced legal action for alleged tax debts.
The Jerusalem municipality told The Associated Press that the church had not submitted the necessary requests for tax exemptions over the last few years. It said that “a dialogue is taking place with the churches to collect debts for the commercial properties they own.”
The other municipalities did not immediately comment. It was unclear if the municipalities acted in a coordinated effort or whether the tax moves are coincidental.
In 2018, Christians closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — revered by Christians as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection — to protest a move by Israeli officials to impose taxes on commercial properties in the holy city.
The Christian leaders argued that the sites — like pilgrim hostels and information centers — served important religious and cultural purposes, and that taxing them would infringe on Christian religious observance in the Holy Land. After the public backlash, Netanyahu quickly suspended the plan.


Bahrain and Iran agree to start talks on resuming political relations

Updated 24 June 2024
Follow

Bahrain and Iran agree to start talks on resuming political relations

  • Bahrain’s minister of foreign affairs Abdullatif Al-Zayani and Iran’s acting foreign minister Ali Bagheri Kani met in Tehran

LONDON: Bahrain and Iran agreed on Sunday to start talks aimed at resuming political relations between the two countries, Bahrain News Agency reported.

A joint statement was released after a meeting that brought together Bahrain’s minister of foreign affairs Abdullatif Al-Zayani and Iran’s acting foreign minister Ali Bagheri Kani in Tehran.

According to the statement carried by BNA, the discussions were held “within the framework of the historical fraternal relations between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the ties of religion, neighborhood, common history and mutual interests between them.”