On 8 May 2003, the Electronic Intifada obtained and published the text of a document distributed by the Israeli military to foreign diplomatic representatives. The document, entitled “Form to be filled out and submitted to IDF authorities prior to entry to the Gaza Strip”, is mandatory for all internationals to sign in exchange for passage into Gaza.
The document is primarily aimed at excluding foreign peace activists associated with the International Solidarity Movement, a group mentioned by name in the document, or any similar groups undertaking nonviolent direct action to thwart Israeli military violence against civilians and their property in the Gaza Strip.
The form requires activists to declare that they have “no association with the organization known as ISM (International Solidarity Movement) nor any other organization whose aim is to disrupt IDF operations,” describing this activity as “criminal.”
Seeking to sidestep Israeli legal responsibility for violence directed at activists who are confronting illegal Israeli actions in occupied Gaza, the document assumes the following responsibility onto the signer:
“I am aware of the risks involved and accept that the Government of the State of Israel and its organs cannot be held responsible for death, injury and/or damage/loss of property which may be incurred as a result of military activity.”
In essence, the form represents an Israeli ‘We have the right to kill you’ visa for Gaza.
The new measure additionally aims to bar all internationals from key areas of Gaza. “The Military Installation Area along the border with Egypt,” states the text, “is IDF administered territory and is strictly out of bounds to foreign nationals. Please note that this area has been the site of intense hostilities and is extremely dangerous.”
The area described above is Rafah, a Palestinian city of 130,000 inhabitants on the southern border where the Gaza Strip meets Egypt. Surrounded by several refugee camps, Rafah is an area of extreme poverty and has borne the brunt of some of the harshest Israeli repression during the Intifada. To describe it as “the site of intense hostilities” is to imply there is a war being waged between two armies. The reality is far more one-sided, with Israel’s nightly shelling of civilian homes which are also razed in regular bulldozing campaigns and instance after instance in which civilians have been shot and killed in situations where Israeli soldiers were not threatened or under attack.
Internationals have not been spared. Between March 16th and May 2nd — a period of less than two months — Israeli troops killed three foreign nationals. American ISM activist Rachel Corrie was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in Rafah on March 16th. British ISM activist Tom Hurndall was left clinically dead after being shot in Rafah on April 12th. And British journalist James Miller was shot and killed in Rafah on May 2nd.
Israel claimed that the bulldozer driver did not see Rachel Corrie, an assertion rejected as ridiculous by eyewitnesses who noted that the bulldozers and a tank present left the scene after Corrie was crushed without offering any medical aid to her. Israel claimed that Hurndall and Miller were shot in “crossfire” accidents. Eyewitnesses noted that there was no concurrent Palestinian attack on Israeli troops on either occasion. Only Israel was shooting.
The effect of this sequence of clear instances of excessive and unlawful use of force involving internationals posing no threat to Israeli troops has been that eyes of the world have been opened to the impunity with which Israel acts in the occupied territories. This is something Israel clearly does not want to see continue, hence the new conditions on entry to Gaza.
The legality of the declaration
Declarations that violate fundamental human rights or attempt to abrogate them have no validity under international law, and are an illegal form of coercion. In this case, Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights state that:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers… Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”
This includes the right to associate oneself with the International Solidarity Movement, to visit their members, and to be an eyewitness — one of the most immediate forms of “media” there is — in Rafah.
Additionally, the Fourth Geneva Convention mandates Israel, as the Occupying Power, to protect civilians and be solely responsible for the actions of its forces in the occupied territories. Human rights, as stated in the first sentence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are “inalienable”, a key concept in international law. Webster’s dictionary defines “inalienable” as “incapable of being alienated, surrendered, or transferred to another; not alienable; as, in inalienable birthright.” As such, regardless of what international visitors may sign, international law does not recognise these declarations as binding or in any way excusing Israel from its legal responsibilities.
A 9 May 2003 news release from Amnesty International after its delegates refused to sign the waver in order to enter Gaza stated:
“The organization is categorically opposed to any attempt to get people to sign away their rights. The signing of ‘waivers’ does not absolve the Israeli army of its responsibility in any way, nor the Israeli authorities of their duties to ensure that armed forces respect human rights in all circumstances… The organization is concerned that one aim of these new and drastic restrictions is to prevent outside monitoring and scrutiny of the conduct of the Israeli army. It is also concerned that these restrictions will lead to more killings in Gaza and calls on the army to immediately end the use of excessive and unlawful force.”
It is hard to fathom what Israel thinks it can achieve by insisting that international visitors sign this bizarre and legalistic form in order to enter a geographic region where Israel itself has typically acted in utter violation of all commonly understood interpretations of international human rights law, to say nothing of universal notions of morality.
If Israel bulldozes another Rachel Corrie, will we accept her murder just because the next Rachel Corrie signed a declaration upon entry to Gaza that stated that she would not stand in front of bulldozers? When Israel shoots its next Tom Hurndall or James Miller, will we nod understandingly simply because point four on the declaration states that “Foreign nationals are strongly advised to stay well clear of military activity?”
Of course not.
In all civil rights movements in the past, there has come a point where both those struggling for freedom and those reporting on the struggle for the international media have confronted unjust laws. Trying to bar activists from the areas where they typically confront Israeli human rights violations is essentially asking for people to make a “loyalty declaration” to a system of military occupation that is the cause of untold misery for millions of Palestinians for over half a century. As a result, the document is fundamentally meaningless.
Instead of addressing any of the root causes that fuel the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as ending the violence of Israel’s military occupation against Palestinian civilians, Israel prefers instead to remove more of the eyewitnesses who can give us an honest account of what life on the ground in southern Gaza is like.
On 20 March 2003, Israeli peace activist Billie Moskona-Lerman spent a night with two activists from the International Solidarity Movement who were acting as human shields in the home of a Palestinian family in Rafah:
“It was at 7.30 that I went with Laura and Joe to stay the night in the house of Muhammad Jamil Kushta, the first house fronting the IDF position on the Egyptian border, an ill-fated house… Rains of ammunition, bullets came down on us on that one single night. A single night, for me. The shooting went on continuously from 1.30 to 4.15, near the first light. Only then it calmed down.”
At one point during the night, Billie’s host Muhammad notes, “You hear it so close, because they are shooting at the wall near us.” Their subsequent exchange gives us a clear and disturbing picture of life for Palestinians in Rafah:
“So they never hit your house itself?” I ask him with an enormous burst of hope.
“Oh, sometimes they do. Look at the bullet holes”. I raise my head and look to the sides. The ceiling is fool of holes, the side walls are cut up. So is the kitchen wall near the tap, near the table, in the toilet, one centimetre from the children’s beds. Some of the holes have been filled up. Every night, once the shooting ends, Jamil closes the bullet holes with white cement. The walls are patchwork, and if you dare approach the window you can see that Jamil and Nora’s home is surrounded by ruins on all sides.
Source: “ ‘I was a human shield’: An Israeli visits ISM in Rafah”,
Billie Moskona-Lerman, Live from Palestine/The Electronic Intifada, 1 May 2003
The ridiculous document and its ongoing implementation concurrent with raids on the offices of peace activists in other areas of the occupied territories and the expulsion of activists from Gaza reveals an Israel desperate to pull the rug back over the hellish situation in southern Gaza and elsewhere that its recent clumsy killings of foreign activists and news professionals has uncovered.
Even as Israel has begun brazenly to shoot international peace workers, as it has for decades shot Palestinians, European and American governments continue to aid and abet the perpetrator by directly supplying both the murder weapons and the legal and political cover needed to allow the Israeli colonisation project to continue daily.
At some point, enough people in the world will clue in to the obvious fact that there can only be so many “accidents” in occupied Palestine, and the critical mass will form to birth a movement equal or greater in size to that which the Anti-Apartheid Movement reached in the late 1980s, the period immediately before it defeated White South Africa.
Until that snowball starts to roll — and let us recognise that moment is inevitable given the righteous anger of the millions of people on the earth who have become eyewitnesses-by-media to Israel’s repression of the Palestinian uprising — we should feel deep shame.
Nigel Parry and Ali Abunimah
Nigel Parry and Ali Abunimah are two of the co-founders of Electronic Intifada.