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Palestinian-Israeli Showdown Looms at War Crimes Court

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In this Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, file photo, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters. The U.N. has accepted Palestine's request join the International Criminal Court, setting April 1 as the starting date and clearing the way for potential war crimes investigations of Israel over its settlement building on occupied lands and a 2014 war in Gaza that killed hundreds of civilians.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

In this Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, file photo, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters. The U.N. has accepted Palestine’s request join the International Criminal Court, setting April 1 as the starting date and clearing the way for potential war crimes investigations of Israel over its settlement building on occupied lands and a 2014 war in Gaza that killed hundreds of civilians. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

KARIN LAUB, Associated Press
MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH, Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The U.N. has accepted a request by observer state Palestine to join the International Criminal Court, clearing the way for possible war crimes complaints against Israel. Palestinians hope the tribunal will give them more leverage in a lopsided conflict and keep a distracted world focused on their statehood claims.

But prosecution of Israel is not assured, and cases before the world’s war crimes tribunal can take years. Meanwhile, Israel is gearing up for a counter offensive that could land senior Palestinians in the defendants’ dock. Here is a look at the looming showdown at The Hague.

WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

Palestine formally joins the court April 1 as its 123rd member, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in accepting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ ratification of the court’s founding statute. Palestine was recognized by the U.N. General Assembly in 2012 as a state, covering the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967. Palestine exists in theory only, with Israel in full control of most of the occupied territory, but will be treated as a state at the ICC. Israel is not a member of the court and has no plans to join, but its actions in the Palestinian territories can now be investigated and prosecuted by the court.

WHAT CASES WILL THE PALESTINIANS SUBMIT?

They will focus on last year’s 50-day war between Israel and the Islamic militant Hamas group in Gaza and on Israeli settlement construction on occupied lands. More than 550,000 Israelis live in settlements built since 1967 in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The court’s 2002 founding charter says a state commits a war crime if it transfers its civilians to territory it occupies.

Abbas’ adviser Saeb Erekat said Wednesday that “we want to go forward” on both cases.

WHAT’S NEXT ON THE GAZA WAR COMPLAINT?

This week, Palestine accepted the court’s jurisdiction over its territory, going back to June 13, 2014. That’s the day after three Israeli teens were abducted and killed by Hamas militants in the West Bank, an attack that set off events culminating in the Gaza war the following month.

In the war, Israel launched some 5,000 airstrikes on Gaza, while Gaza militants fired thousands of rockets at Israel. More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, most civilians, according to the U.N., while 72 people were killed on the Israeli side, including 66 soldiers.

Palestinian human rights groups are already collecting evidence against Israel, including thousands of witness statements. The strongest potential cases, including airstrikes on homes killing multiple family members, are being prepared for the ICC, said rights activist Shahwan Jabarin.

DO PALESTINIANS FACE POSSIBLE WAR CRIMES INVESTIGATIONS?

Yes. U.N. investigators say Hamas has committed war crimes by indiscriminately firing rockets and mortar rounds at Israeli civilians and launching attacks from civilian areas in Gaza. The militants, who seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007, have carried out such attacks for more than a decade and Israel says it launched the last Gaza war to stop rockets.

The militant group claims it is engaged in legitimate resistance to occupation and has supported Abbas’ request for ICC membership.

Israel says Abbas and his aides could also face prosecution, arguing he is legally responsible for Hamas’ actions because the group supports his Palestinian unity government.

Separately, an Israeli group, Shurat Hadin, filed war crimes complaints against Abbas, three other Palestinian officials and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. The group says it is preparing 30 more complaints that it hopes will deter Palestinians from seeking ICC action against Israel.

WHAT IS ISRAEL’S POSITION?

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon alleges the Palestinians chose “legal warfare” over peace negotiations. Intermittent negotiations over 20 years have failed, most recently last year.

Israel retaliated for the Palestinian move to join the ICC by freezing the transfer of more than $100 million a month in taxes it collects for the Palestinians. The suspension means Abbas cannot pay salaries of 153,000 employees, dealing a major blow to a shaky economy. Israel has threatened further sanctions.

WHAT IS ISRAEL’S DEFENSE?

Israel denies it committed war crimes in Gaza, insisting it did its utmost to spare civilians. At the same time, Israel says its military is conducting a credible investigation of alleged violations of rules of combat, with 13 criminal probes launched and dozens of incidents under review. This could buy Israel time. The ICC is a court of last resort and will only step in if it believes war crimes allegations aren’t investigated properly at the state level.

Concerning settlements, Israel says they are not illegal. It portrays the West Bank as disputed rather than occupied and says east Jerusalem is part of Israel’s sovereign territory following its 1967 annexation — though the annexation was not recognized internationally.

IS AN ICC INVESTIGATION ASSURED?

No. It is up to ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to decide whether to open an investigation. She wrote in August that her approach to Palestine “will be no different” from that to other states if the court receives jurisdiction.

Stepping into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could broaden the reach of the court, which so far only prosecuted African dictators and warlords. But it’s also a huge challenge, considering setbacks suffered by the court, including the recent collapse of the prosecution of Kenya’s president.

HOW LONG COULD IT TAKE?

Cases can take years, from an initial review to launching an investigation and possibly filing charges, said Alex Whiting, a senior official in the ICC prosecutor’s office from 2010-2013 and now a Harvard law professor.

War crimes allegedly committed during combat are among the most difficult to prove, said Whiting, suggesting a Gaza war complaint would face stiff challenges.

WHAT DO THE PALESTINIANS WANT?

Joining the court is part of a broader strategy to involve the international community in the conflict with Israel, after Palestinians lost faith in bilateral talks and in the United States as a broker.

Some say that simply joining the court is an achievement for the Palestinians because it reframes the conflict with Israel as an issue of justice and war crimes.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS?

In joining the ICC, the Palestinians are transforming their relations with Israel from tense to hostile, reducing chances of negotiations on statehood.

The Palestinian Authority, Abbas’ self-rule government, could collapse if Israel continues to freeze tax transfers and Congress cuts off funding, as threatened. This could cost Abbas his job, damage ties with the U.S. and move Palestinian independence further out of reach.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Bay Area

Liberian Presidential Candidate Tiawan Gongloe Makes Visit to Bay Area

As the next president of Liberia, Liberian presidential candidate attorney Tiawan Saye Gongloe has unveiled a 10-point plan for “A Better Liberia Agenda” and a 12-point strategy to fight corruption in Liberia, which is chief among his plans. He believes fighting corruption in Liberia will be his biggest challenge due to the characters that he wants to purge.

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Liberian presidential candidate Tiawan Saye Gongloe at the Federal Building in Oakland holding the broom symbolizing his intent to sweep out corruption in his home country.
Liberian presidential candidate Tiawan Saye Gongloe at the Federal Building in Oakland holding the broom symbolizing his intent to sweep out corruption in his home country.

By Uche J. Uwahemu

Liberian presidential candidate attorney Tiawan Saye Gongloe is making a tour of the United States to gather support for his vision of a corruption-free Liberia.

Beginning May 12, Gongloe visited several cities across the U.S., touching base with centers of the Liberian Diaspora, including the Bay Area, where approximately 10,000 Liberians live.

Known as the ‘poor man’s lawyer’ because he has helped protect the rights of the poor and journalists, Gongloe has participated in several meet-and-greets, Town Halls and high-level meetings with government officials, business and community leaders from Atlanta, Ga., to Columbus, Ohio, to Fargo, N.D., and Minneapolis, Minn.

The Oakland Post publisher Paul Cobb, Nigerian natives Uche Uwahemu, and Kayode Gbadebo sat down with Gongloe and some of his supporters at the Post’s downtown headquarters to discuss his vision for Liberia on July 13, 2022.

Friends of Gongloe Global, a group formed and dedicated to electing Gongloe to president of Liberia organized his California visit, which included a stop in Antioch. Group member and long-time Liberian civil rights activist Lovetta Tugbe could not contain her enthusiasm and support for Gongloe. “Attorney Gongloe exemplifies what a true public servant is about. He has for decades fought for all Liberians and has on many occasions almost paid with his life. He is the candidate for any Liberian that believes in freedom.”

For decades, Liberia has been plagued by corruption and insecurity. Gongloe sees no end to the suffering and lack of opportunities for the majority of the population. So, he was compelled to run for president.

Now 65, Gongloe has served the Liberian people in other official capacities, among them Minister of Labor and Solicitor General, resigning from his post in 2010.

According to Front Page Africa, “Gongloe has helped in drafting legislation for civil service reform, local government reform, forestry reform law, jury reform, anti-press laws, code of conduct for public officials, land authority act, whistle-blower and witness protection act.”

As a civil rights lawyer, he has devoted most of career to fighting for freedom of speech and equal rights for Liberian people. He has fought to bring to justice the politicians and their supporters that engaged in human rights violations in Liberia.

In addition, he has represented victims of human rights abuses.

Challenging the status quo comes at a high cost and Gongloe has the battle scars to prove it. He has been arrested and imprisoned many times. The civil rights icon has worked with many international organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In 2003, Gongloe was awarded the prestigious John Humphrey Freedom Award by the Canadian government.

As the next president of Liberia, Gongloe has unveiled a 10-point plan for “A Better Liberia Agenda” and a 12-point strategy to fight corruption in Liberia, which is chief among his plans. He believes fighting corruption in Liberia will be his biggest challenge due to the characters that he wants to purge.

He carries a tightly wrapped broom that represents his unwavering commitment to fight and sweep corruption out of Liberia.  “From top to bottom, we must respect and abide by our Constitution. The president should not have the power to change the Constitution whenever she/he feels threatened or uncomfortable with the letter of the law.”

After corruption, Gongloe wants to address education. “Access to quality education is a right, not a privilege,” he said.

In order for Liberian youth and the nation to compete in the global market, Gongloe will make both primary and secondary education free. As a nation, he wants to create economic opportunities for all Liberian and he is using this U.S. tour to meet with business leaders to discuss bilateral synergies.

Gongloe wants to re-establish a mutually beneficial relationship with the United States.  He urged all Liberians across the globe to get involve and retake their country from corrupt politicians.

To learn more or support Gongloe’s presidential campaign and to learn more, contact Dr. Tuwe Mehn and Shad Mongrue (209) 242-1974.

Front Page Africa reports contributed to this story.

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Activism

Protest of Palestinian American Journalist’s Killing by Israeli Police Draws 500 in S.F.

“If you were a Palestinian anywhere around the world who watched the news since the late ’90s, you grew up with Shireen Abu Akleh,” said Sabreen Imtair, a San Francisco State University student and Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) member in an interview during the protest. “A lot of people are saying they lost a household member. We are really feeling her loss right now.”

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Protesters march down 16th Street in San Francisco on May 14 to speak out against the Israeli killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, 74 years of occupation, and USA support of Israel. Photo by Zack Haber.
Protesters march down 16th Street in San Francisco on May 14 to speak out against the Israeli killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, 74 years of occupation, and USA support of Israel. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

Starting at noon on May 14, over 500 people rallied and marched in San Francisco’s Mission District to protest the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and 74 years of Israeli occupation of Palestine.

“If you were a Palestinian anywhere around the world who watched the news since the late ’90s, you grew up with Shireen Abu Akleh,” said Sabreen Imtair, a San Francisco State University student and Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) member in an interview during the protest. “A lot of people are saying they lost a household member. We are really feeling her loss right now.”

Abu Akleh, who had worked for the Al Jazeera news network for 25 years as one of the most prominent journalists reporting in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, died of a bullet wound on May 11 while covering an Israeli army raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank.

She was wearing a blue vest with large white letters stating “PRESS.” During Abu Akleh’s massive funeral on May 13, Israeli police beat people carrying her casket.

“We’re not even able to bury our dead in peace,” said AROC organizer Sharif Zakout during a speech at the San Francisco protest. “It’s disgusting.”

AROC, Palestinian Action Network, Palestinian Youth Movement, and Jewish Voice For Peace organized the San Francisco demonstration. It was one of at least 60 such actions occurring between May 14-16 around the world to remember Abu Akleh and to mark Nakba Day, an annual commemoration for Palestinians that began after 1948, when the British government formally stopped recognizing the state of Palestine and recognized Israel in its place.

This sparked the Arab-Israeli war when Zionist military forces expelled over 750,000 Palestinians and captured 78% of Palestine’s land.

In an interview at the protest, Lisa Rofel, a member of Jewish Voice For Peace, spoke out against Israeli occupation and explained why the Jewish group was present.

“We’re here because we strongly support the Palestinian struggle for liberation from Israeli occupation,” Rofel said. “It’s an occupation which has been vicious, cruel and inhumane and now has turned into military rule over almost every aspect of Palestinians’ lives. We also demand an end to U.S. complicity in that occupation.”

According to a report by Congressional Research Service, the Biden administration has allocated over $3.8 billion in military financing and missile defense funding to Israel this year.

During the demonstration, a diverse array of people that included elders along with young children, marched about a mile-long route carrying signs, banners, Palestinian flags, and art as they chanted in English and Arabic. Over 18 marchers carried one giant Palestinian flag together.

Some protesters carried signs stating 55 journalists have been killed by Israeli forces since 2000, a figure The Palestinian Journalists’ Union cites.

Other protesters carried signs calling attention to Ahmed Manasra, a 21-year-old Palestinian who has been imprisoned since he was arrested at age 13 after being with his cousin, who allegedly stabbed two Israeli settlers in Pisgat Ze’ev.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, UN bodies and the International Court of Justice considers Pisgat Ze’ev an illegal settlement.

Chris Gazaleh, a Palestinian American artist based in San Francisco, made some of the art for the rally by creating signs inspired by Palestinian architecture and Arabic calligraphy to represent cities that Zionists ethnically cleansed during the 1948 Nakba.

During a speech at this year’s San Francisco Nabka rally, Rivka Louissant, a Haitian cultural worker who organizes with the an anti-war and anti-racism coalition ANSWER, spoke about how people and organizations are increasingly supporting an end to Israeli occupation and the struggle for Palestinian autonomy.

“Support for Palestinian rights and BDS is more popular than ever,” Louissant said. “The public is waking up to the evils of imperialism.”

In April of last year, Human Rights Watch accused Israel of “crimes of apartheid,” and in February of this year, Amnesty International described Israel as an “apartheid system,” and characterized its treatment of Palestinians as “a crime against humanity.”

Some local politicians have recently shown support for Israel. During a speech at the rally, AROC organizer Sharif Zakout criticized San Francisco Board Supervisor Rafael Mandelman for his recent visit to Israel for the Israel Seminar in light of Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing. Zakout characterized the seminar as “a propaganda trip.” The Israel Seminar is organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council, which has taken a public stand against the BDS movement, and has refused to denounce Israeli attacks against Palestinians. Photos from the trip, posted on May 15 and 16, also show Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, and San Mateo Councilmember Amourence Lee.

“We are here today to say the Bay Area does not put up with that BS,” said Zakout to cheers from the protesters. “We stand with oppressed people everywhere. From Haiti to Palestine to Sri Lanka, we stand by resisting all state violence, colonialism, occupation and warfare.”

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Activism

COMMENTARY: Beijing’s Winter Olympics? An African American Diplomat Speaks Out for the Uyghurs in China

Probably not “mass killing,” of an estimated 1 million like Pol Pot in Cambodia in the 1970s. But considering China’s restrictions on Uyghurs having children, and taking children away from families, it all falls within the conventional definition of the term, according to Naomi Kikoler, director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in the latest Smithsonian Magazine.

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Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He does a talk show on www.amok.com
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He does a talk show on www.amok.com

By Emil Guillermo

Elana Meyers Taylor, an African American and four-time Olympic bobsledder, missed out on the honor of being the U.S. flag-bearer at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing last week.

After testing positive for COVID-19, she was forced into isolation. But by Monday she was cleared to compete in her events.

COVID-19 hangs over these games in China like a dense cloud. But it’s not the only cloud.

The other involves China’s treatment of the Uyghurs.

Pronounced “Wee-ger,” they are a centuries-old Turkic people of Central Asia, but has been annexed as part of western China for a fraction of that time. Uyghurs are often referred to as Uyghur Muslims, and that should be your clue.

In a country viewed as homogenous as China, there are actually more than 50 ethnic minorities. The ones that stick out are the Uyghur Muslims.

Uyghurs’ movements in their home area, the Chinese province of Xinjiang, are restricted. What they do. What they say. How they pray.

The Chinese have subjected them to a forced assimilation into the Chinese mainstream. It’s really the systematic erasure of Uyghur culture.

Human rights advocates would say it earns China the gold medal in oppression.

It’s the reason U.S. President Joe Biden isn’t attending the Olympics. The U.S. has joined other countries in declaring a diplomatic boycott.

And the leading voice in defense of the Uyghurs’ human rights? An African American, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.

“Uyghurs are being tortured,” Thomas-Greenfield said recently on CNN. “And Uyghurs are the victims of human rights violations by the Chinese, and we have to keep that front and center.”

Mind you, as harsh and direct as those words were, Thomas-Greenfield from Louisiana, is being diplomatic. Makes you wonder just how bad it is for the Uyghurs.

The term ‘genocide’ is often used.

The Journal of Genocide Research in 2020 said many at first doubted the word should be used at all. But as British scholar Jo Smith Finley said, “More have shifted closer to this position, and others beyond our discipline have joined in.”

Genocide.

Probably not “mass killing,” of an estimated 1 million like Pol Pot in Cambodia in the 1970s. But considering China’s restrictions on Uyghurs having children, and taking children away from families, it all falls within the conventional definition of the term, according to Naomi Kikoler, director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in the latest Smithsonian Magazine.

Since 2017, China has placed up to 3 million Uyghurs caught praying or practicing their Muslim religion in re-education camps. It qualifies as the largest mass internment of an ethnic-religious minority since World War II.

China calls the camps vocational training. But survivors of the detentions say they were prisoners, some subjected to torture, rape, and beatings.

And then when people “graduate” from their indoctrination, they are sent to forced labor assignments with Western companies like Adidas, Amazon, Apple, and Google.

Some are calling it a form of slavery.

The lucky ones have fled the country in the Uyghur diaspora. In the U.S., there are about 250,000 Uyghur Americans who are able to keep their language and culture intact. But many haven’t been able to contact family and friends for years.

China is using the 2022 games as a propaganda tool of Olympic proportions. It even had the lone Uyghur athlete, Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a cross-country skier, light the torch. But then wouldn’t let her speak to the media.

So, all is good in China? We should know better.

And all this because the Uyghurs are Muslim and seen by China as terrorist threats to the state.

Nothing sporting about any of that. Enjoy athletes like Elana Meyers Taylor. But heed the words of Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

She can see through Beijing’s Olympic rings. She’s fighting for the Uyghers.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He does a talk show on www.amok.com

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