Gaza, the West Bank & Belgium


War Crimes Denounced & Remembered

GPM # 66

Back in late May, Spain, Ireland and Norway declared their formal recognition of Palestinian statehood. One hundred-forty five out 193 UN member states now do so.

In situations like this, Israel doesn’t just fulminate. It doubles down on its illegal activities — activities it knows it can carry out with impunity — all the while turning the screws on Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank.

One day after Spain, Ireland and Norway’s statehood recognition came into effect, the Israeli military announced that dozens of bylaws governing its administration of the occupied West Bank would be transferred to pro-settlement civil servants under the supervision of far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

The move consolidates Israel’s effective annexation of the West Bank, flagrantly illegal under international law.

In a subsequent move, Smotrich announced that five so-called ‘illegal outposts’ would be formally legalized.

Halamish settlement, in the northern West Bank (David Kattenburg)

An estimated 750,000 Jewish settler-colonists now live in hundreds of fully developed colonies up and down the West Bank. Among the most violent, those living in the southern West Bank city of Hebron.

No one knows more about Israeli settler violence and land theft — aided and abetted by the Israeli military — than Atta Jaber. Jaber lives on a plot of land across Highway 60 from Kiryat Arba, a large settlement on the edge of Hebron.

Jaber’s family has owned the land for generations. Since the 1980s, his land and property have been steadily seized and destroyed. The GPM visited Atta Jaber back in 2022, in the company of Israeli activist Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).

Listen to Jeff and Atta in today’s podcast. Click on the play button above, or go here.

Jeff Halper & Atta Jaber (David Kattenburg)

Nine months into Israel’s assault on Gaza – widely described as genocidal by legal scholars; a position deemed “plausible” by the International Court of Justice – a top UN committee has just weighed in on the whole sorry affair.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel,” it’s called. More simply, the Pillay Commission, after its chair, South African jurist Navi Pillay.

Pillay, a South African jurist of Indian Tamil origin, has a lengthy resume: first non-white woman judge of the High Court of South Africa; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008 to 2014; former judge of the International Criminal Court, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and Commissioner of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty.

Established in May 2021, the Pillay Commission has issued a handful of reports and a host of press releases. This past June 12, it delivered its most recent report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Words were not minced. Israeli authorities, Pillay told the Council, are responsible for the war crimes of starvation as a method of warfare, murder, intentionally directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects, forcible transfer, sexual violence and torture, and the crimes against humanity of extermination, gender persecution, murder, forcible transfer, and torture.

Hamas and six other Palestinian armed groups have committed plenty of war crimes themselves, Pillay went on.

Having been denied entry to either Gaza or Israel ‘proper’ (standard Israeli procedure for all UN agencies independent experts), the Commission based its findings on interviews carried out in Turkey and Egypt, and other documentary evidence.

The Commission’s assessment of Hamas’ October 7 attack, and Israel’s response, are contained in a 21-page report to the Council, and a pair of detailed companion reports about Hamas’ October 7 attack, and Israel’s response.

Listen to Navi Pillay in today’s podcast, speaking to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 12. Click on the play button above, or go here.

Mark Deretz, University of Leuven archivist & library historian, in front of charred book remains (David Kattenburg)

As Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza unfolds — drawing attention away from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe’s bloodiest conflict since World War Two — thoughts turn to the First World War, the one that was supposed to end all wars.

On August 4, 1914 – almost 110 years ago — Germany invaded little Belgium. Three weeks later, in an orgy of destruction, German troops laid seven Belgian towns to waste.

The “Martyr Cities,” they came to be called. Leuven – Louvain, in French — was one of them.

Of all the acts committed by German troops in Leuven in August 1914, none sparked more international outrage than the destruction of Leuven University library, a treasure trove of European literature and art, torched by the Germans on the night of August 25, 1914.

Here’s a story I produced on the hundredth anniversary of that dreadful event – an event elderly residents of Leuven remember. Click on the play button above, or go here.