Thursday, May 29, 2008

Facts Speak Louder than Lies

On Tuesday, 26 February, the Israeli military entered buildings of the Islamic Charitable Society (ICS) in Hebron, handing over 6 military orders for confiscations and closure of the various facilities of the society. The orders included: two bakeries, an apartment building and administrative buildings, a new shopping mall, a warehouse, three schools and two orphanages.

The army had already confiscated a warehouse with over $300,000 worth of school supplies, clothing, and food, as well as two new school buses and a van. The Israeli Army also seized an apartment building with thirty units and removed two bakeries supplying 5,000 families with bread and all the equipment removed. They welded shut the gates of a $2,000,000 school for 1200 students, scheduled to open on September 2008 and confiscated and closed a sewing center where the girls learned a craft and earned small sums of money.

In each of these incursions, the army seized all that was movable, ripped equipment out of the walls, took bread, flour, pots, pans, computers, and, in short, emptied these buildings of all usable and useful contents. They threw the cloth and machines from the sewing center on the town dump as they left the city.

The Islamic Charitable Society has been serving the needs of the poor of Hebron since 1962, providing support to 7000 needy people and orphans, educating 1700 students and sheltering 240 orphans in orphanages.

The recent military orders constitute a new and particularly worrying development, since they refer to confiscation and transfer of ownership of private property in the H1 Area of Hebron (under Palestinian control) to the IDF. The orders deprive the beneficiaries, a particularly vulnerable population, of specialized services that provide much needed support and fundamental coping mechanisms. The IDF has allegedly so far confiscated all the contents of four establishments but is yet to implement the remaining provisions of the orders, i.e., eviction from the property and transfer of ownership of the property. Given the vulnerability of the affected persons, most of whom are children, the humanitarian and human rights implications are severe.

The Israeli measures in Hebron constitute a series of violations to articles 6 and 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; article 39 of the Fourth Geneva Convention; article. 38 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; article 50 (GCIV), which stipulates the duty of the Occupying Power to facilitate the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children; article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which relates to right to education of children; and article 9 of UDHR, which guarantees protection against arbitrary arrest and detention. An identical protection is guaranteed by Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Furthermore, the measures are a violation of the Oslo Agreement and the Hebron Agreement that were signed by Israel in 1995 and 1997, respectively.

The military orders charge is that the Charities are a front or fund raiser for Hamas, or possibly that some of the ICS staff or board are implicated in some way. However, as yet no proof has been offered to the Charities, the press or the many NGOs involved in protecting the orphans.

The Israeli military goes further in its accusations claiming that the ICS schools teach incitement and hatred, promote Hamas’ goals and recruit terrorists. The accusations are totally baseless. The curriculum taught at the schools is the same as the Palestinian Authority’s (which the army describes as moderate). The Charity, especially the schools, is willing to undergo any investigations by a credible and neutral organization to prove the truth about the accusations.

The ICS supports orphans on the basis of their being orphans only. It does not differentiate between orphans whose fathers were collaborators or those whose fathers were killed by Israelis or died in accidents or from illness . It is not an ICS policy to refuse care for any needy orphan for whatever reason. The Israeli classifications of orphans according to the fate of their parensts is in fact strangeare . Instead of spending time on such classifications, they should instead stop being a major cause of increasing numbers of orphans.

The ICS does not provide any support, of any kind, to families of prisoners. Although supporting the families of prisoners is a national responsibility, it is not, again, an ICS policy to do so. The only support that the ICS does in this regard is continuing to pay salaries to its employees when they face administrative detention. This is not a new trend in the occupied territories. The PA, UNRWA and NGOs do the same. Once more, the Israelis should stop their inequitable collective punishment and irrational policy towards the Palestinians, rather than labeling those who try to alleviate the hardships of affected people, as terrorists.

Dozens of international supporters have spent days and nights at the schools and orphanages and reported seeing only normal, happy children, living and learning in a caring and concerned environment totally devoid of terrorism. The ICS has received endorsement of support from former President Jimmy Carter, the European Parliament, World Vision, Defense for Children International, YMCA, and International Women’s Peace Service.

The Israeli military’s actions have been totally inhumane in confiscating the buses, food, and clothes destined for the orphanages, schools and needy families. It would seem illogical to equate school buses and sewing machines with tools of terrorism.

That once prosperous West Bank city of Hebron is now facing a more than 70% increase in poverty due to the continuing Israeli closures, a study by the Palestinian Centre for Communication and Development Studies has shown. Moreover, any visit to the once vibrant town will show the same decline. Removing the most important safety net from the thousands of families and children who depend upon the Charities will wreak devastation for Hebron.

There exists neither a substitute charitable or public fund nor the time to create one, were that be possible. If indeed the army has proof of these charges, then they should produce it for the communities that will be harmed by their actions and not, as usual, only to closed Israeli tribunals. Even if the charges are made public and can be verified, which would probably have been done by now if it could have been done, destroying the bakeries that have fed them, the sewing school that taught them a craft and closing the new schools that would have offered an education to hundreds of young boys and girls in this impoverished city, -- these are clearly collective punishments, that the Israeli army has imposed to intimidate and crush the local population and to remove their final hope.

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