ICRC head Kellenberger (and Rabbani) on the Gaza crisis

Our friend Christiane writes from Lausanne, Switzerland, that she has found– and translated for us– an important interview about Gaza conducted with Jakob Kellenberger, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). You can find her great translation (very lightly edited by me), here. Big thanks for your work there, Christiane!
I assume that most JWN readers realize that the ICRC holds a very special position among international non-governmental organizations because, since the very beginning of the codification of International Humanitaran Law (IHL, aka the ‘Laws of War’) in the 1850s, all the governments that have signed onto these important treaties– the ‘Hague’ series, the ‘Geneva’ series, etc– have thereby agreed that the Geneva-based ICRC will be the depositary and, if you like, the trustee for the whole process. No other NGO occupies anything like such an authoritative role in interpreting and guarding the integrity of IHL.
The ICRC and the whole emerging body of IHL importantly predated both the establishment of the League of Nations (which occurred after World war I) and that of the UN in 1945. Thus, even before there were global inter-governmental organizations of that sort there was IHL, and there was the ICRC in a position to act as continuing guarantor of the important protections IHL provides to those who are victims of war. Granted, its performance has often in the past been flawed– most notably, during many of the vicious counter-insurgency campaigns that European powers waged against national independence movements over the first 120 years of the ICRC’s existence, and its performance during the European Holocaust against the Jewish, Roma, gays, and handicapped populations of Nazi-ruled countries. But over time the ICRC has worked much more fully to underline and work for the equal concern for all human persons that is, after all, one of its foundational values.
Kellenberger was the only head of any human-rights or humanitarian organization who made a point of going to visit Gaza in person at the earliest time he could, to assess the consequences of the Israeli assault on the Strip’s population.
Anyway, here is the link to the original French version of the Kellenberger interview, which was published in the Swiss daily 24 heures, yesterday.
Christiane writes, ” To sum it up, Kellenberger is issuing the same call as Helena concerning Gaza.” That is, I’m assuming, the point he makes about the urgency of the need for a political solution of the problem faced by Gazans (and all other Palestinians.) Though there certainly is currently a physical-needs humanitarian crisis in Gaza of the highest order, as I’ve noted before the crisis is not only, and indeed not even centrally, one of the basic human needs of Gaza’s 1.5 million people. It is quintessentially a political crisis.
Gaza’s humanitarian crisis has been deliberately caused and exacerbated by the intentional policies of siege, encirclement, and physical destruction that successive Israeli governments have pursued toward its civilian population; and it could be ended quickly and successfully if those policies were abandoned. Gaza is not the drought-torn Sahel. Its population is well educated and– until the latest Israeli assault– it had a pretty good infrastructure capable of supporting rapid socio-economic reconstruction and development. Those assets could all be rapidly reactivated if Israel would only lift the siege and agree to reasonable and sustainable terms to stabilize the very fragile parallel-ceasefire situation created on January 18.
On a related note, I have just read the sharp criticism that Mouin Rabbani (formerly with the Crisis Group) has just written, of the way that Human Rights Watch has dealt with Israel-related concerns over the years, including during the Gaza crisis.
Rabbani raises some of the same criticisms that I’ve raised about HRW in the past, though his analysis of the organization’s one-sidedness is much deeper than anything I have ever written.
Human Rights Watch does, without a doubt, do a lot of good work in the Middle East. For that reason I recently accepted an invitation from the organization to stay on their Middle East advisory committee for a further year. However, many of the criticisms that Rabbani raises are well documented, and serious. His analysis of the tentativeness of the language with which HRW raises the “possibility” of Israeli infractions of IHL, versus the often strident tone with which it denounces possible infractions by Arab actors, is particularly thought-provoking; and my advice to my colleagues and friends at HRW is that they engage very seriously with these criticisms if they want their work to be widely respected throughout the whole Middle East.

12 thoughts on “ICRC head Kellenberger (and Rabbani) on the Gaza crisis

  1. Don Bacon

    news report:
    Clinton was asked if there was a diplomatic path with Hamas. She responded that Hamas must renounce violence, recognize Israel and abide by past peace agreements. “Hamas knows the conditions,” Clinton said. “They must renounce violence, they must recognize Israel, they must agree to abide by prior agreements.”
    Translation: Submit to slavery in your gulag or die, Gazans.
    Sadly, there is probably at this time more hope from the Egypt dictatorship than there is from the freedom-loving US government. If something doesn’t happen soon by some government the recent Israeli aggression would be just a warm-up.
    According to the WaPo: In recent days, former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who according to polls appears poised to reclaim his old job, has left little doubt over what he would do if elected. “The next government will have no choice but to finish the work and remove the Iranian terror base for good,” he said in a radio interview last week.

  2. John Francis Lee

    Both the US and the Israeli have decided to make the “reconstruction” of Gaza the means of empowering the PA/Contras, funneling any money spent there through them, and funding their “security requirements” before anything is spent on the Palestinians of Gaza, or the West Bank for that matter.
    Both the US and Israeli “authorities” know that they must kill every Palestinian with allegiance to their democratically elected government, of course that’s “have them killed” by the PA/Contras.
    It’s just another “counter insurgency” operation to Obama and the Retreads. By proxy. Like Sabra. and Shatila. And they are proceeding apace.
    The FCN keeps the airwaves and newsprint clear of any talk such as we read above. And the position of the “progressive” blogosphere is to “give Obama a chance”.
    A chance to do what? I fear the unspoken answer is to eliminate this “problem” once and for all. So we can all get back to feeling good about America.

  3. John Francis Lee

    Both the US and the Israeli have decided to make the “reconstruction” of Gaza the means of empowering the PA/Contras, funneling any money spent there through them, and funding their “security requirements” before anything is spent on the Palestinians of Gaza, or the West Bank for that matter.
    Both the US and Israeli “authorities” know that they must kill every Palestinian with allegiance to their democratically elected government, of course that’s “have them killed” by the PA/Contras.
    It’s just another “counter insurgency” operation to Obama and the Retreads. By proxy. Like Sabra. and Shatila. And they are proceeding apace.
    The FCN keeps the airwaves and newsprint clear of any talk such as we read above. And the position of the “progressive” blogosphere is to “give Obama a chance”.
    A chance to do what? I fear the unspoken answer is to eliminate this “problem” once and for all. So we can all get back to feeling good about America.

  4. Jack

    Some of the comments are well intentioned, but over the top. It is very disheartening, however, to hear Hillary repeating the Bush/Likud mantra on Hamas. The PA, Fatah, and the PLO are clearly finished. They no longer have any credibility among Palestinians and apparently are now seen solely as agents of Israel and the US. Israel truly does not have a partner for peace, because they have destroyed it. And after Israel murdered the legally noncombatant police in Gaza, just who does Hillary expect to police the cease fire? The same old Israeli story – destroy the government and blame them for not having a government, destroy the police and blame them for a lack of control. Hillary, Hillary, Hillary; you no longer represent the influential Israeli lobby. You now represent the US and you do not reflect the majority view.

  5. menno hert

    Hillary, Hillary, Hillary; you no longer represent the influential Israeli lobby. You now represent the US and you do not reflect the majority view.
    Clinton does nothing what is not consistent with Obama’s promises during his campaign (you have only to watch his AIPAC speech to see this confirmed). So why this surprise? Whether this reflects the majority view or not; what is certain is that it reflects the unambiguously announced policies of the man who was elected by the majority of American voters: they get exactly what they voted for.

  6. bevin

    “…what is certain is that it reflects the unambiguously announced policies of the man who was elected by the majority of American voters: they get exactly what they voted for.”
    No: You don’t always get what what you want. The ability of the US to dictate surrender terms to Palestine diminishes daily. As does its ability to offer unconditional succour to whichever terrorist gang currently commands a majority in the knesset.
    The significance of Obama is not what he thinks about Israel or the PLO but how quickly he adjusts to realities. And the realities are all moving against Israel: Jordan run by Hashemites on the CIA payroll, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey also lined up to do as they were bid, Iraq occupied and Iran and Syria under the gun.
    So, recently, was the political situation in the region aligned to support Israel but Israel ‘never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.’
    The current situation is that Isreal’s regional allies are reduced to Mubarak and the King of Jordan, neither of whom would be advised to forget a Police Chief’s birthday.
    Iran and Syria are full of confidence, they have weathered the storm.
    Iraq is unlikely to harbour any charitable thoughts towards Israel for many years to come: Zionists will look back on Saddam as a benevolent old windbag and rue the day they urged W to take him down.
    Obama and his mates can do nothing but keep busy, scotch any really vicious schemes from the Stern Gang’s bag of tricks, most notably those with nuclear aspects, and wait for the call from a chastened Israel to help make peace.
    Bush and Cheney gave Israel everything it asked for and lots more than it needed, most of all it gave them miles of rope. And we all know what happens if you give people like Barak and Netanyahu enough rope

  7. rfk

    Talk about despair and desperation! I am glad that Helena and others like her aren’t swayed by defeatism the above emotionalism elicits. Where the above only see dark clouds, I see slivers of light bursting through the gloom in the work and efforts Helena posts here on her blog. This posting and ‘Learning the Lingo’ provide proofs that organs of the US establishment are in a process of change from the Bush/Cheney unilateralist, Islamophobic, goose stepping, “bring it on” regime that has afflicted and mired the US in national disasters strategic, diplomatic and economic. Just because the I/P problem isn’t addressed exactly the way some demand at this precise moment, doesn’t mean progress or change hasn’t taken place among players in that vast and amorphous body called the US establishment. And the last entity in that group to look to for action on the I/P issue is the US Congress. That’s like looking at the south end of a north bound Donkey, and that’s not the fault of the Donkey. Ditto for the executive branch too. The US is a republic, its not a democracy. And that delusion is the source of the eternal grievance that afflicts those who mistakenly believe it is.

  8. rfk

    Talk about despair and desperation! I am glad that Helena and others like her aren’t swayed by defeatism the above emotionalism elicits. Where the above only see dark clouds, I see slivers of light bursting through the gloom in the work and efforts Helena posts here on her blog. This posting and ‘Learning the Lingo’ provide proofs that organs of the US establishment are in a process of change from the Bush/Cheney unilateralist, Islamophobic, goose stepping, “bring it on” regime that has afflicted and mired the US in national disasters strategic, diplomatic and economic. Just because the I/P problem isn’t addressed exactly the way some demand at this precise moment, doesn’t mean progress or change hasn’t taken place among players in that vast and amorphous body called the US establishment. And the last entity in that group to look to for action on the I/P issue is the US Congress. That’s like looking at the south end of a north bound Donkey, and that’s not the fault of the Donkey. Ditto for the executive branch too. The US is a republic, its not a democracy. And that delusion is the source of the eternal grievance that afflicts those who mistakenly believe it is.

  9. menno hert

    The significance of Obama is not what he thinks about Israel or the PLO but how quickly he adjusts to realities. And the realities are all moving against Israel: Jordan run by Hashemites on the CIA payroll, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey also lined up to do as they were bid, Iraq occupied and Iran and Syria under the gun.
    Don’t tell that to me, tell that to Obama. He seems to have a different view of reality than you do. The reality as he sees it, as he explained many times, is that the US army needs more troops and new equipment, that the war in Afghanistan needs to be expanded, and that “it is a top priority” for his administration “to stamp out Al Quada once and for all”.
    He also made it very clear what his thoughts are about the Israel-Palestine issue, and what his policies will be. That’s all there is to say. You may believe that Obama will “adjust” his views and policies according to what you see as the “changing realities” of the Middle East, but about that I’ve nothing to say. You can believe whatever you like, of course.
    But I only can stick to the facts. That’s all we have.

  10. rfk

    Its been reported and I believe Helena said the same here, that the recent I/P conflict in Gaza has caused the Obama team to act sooner than they intended. I think that may be an example of “changing realities” that has prompted Obama to quickly adjust to changed facts and circumstances on the ground in the region. If that’s true, than its a double whammy against the Israelis since one aim was to create an opposite effect by dissuading the new president from any near term peace initiatives on the I/P question.

  11. Joshua

    Rabbani’s piece was exceptional. Not to say that HRW has not done good work in the past but they really do go out of their way to whitewash certain crimes.

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