United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict
Public hearings – Geneva, Afternoon Session of 6 July 2009
UNOFFICIAL TRANSCRIPT – check against webcast before quoting
These transcripts are posted as an information guide to the contents of the Public Hearings:
their posting on the Fact Finding Mission web pages should in no way be taken to represent
an official or precise record of the proceedings. The spelling of words in these transcripts is
often phonetic. Richard Goldstone
Alright. Well, we, we, we‟re back in the session in the afternoon of the first of two days of
further public hearings. And the, the next witness is Mr. Shir Hever, who is speaking to us by
video conference, uh, from, from Israel. He‟s an economist with that Alternative Information Center. Mr., Mr. Hever, welcome back and thank you for taking the time to, uh, to, to speak to us.
Can, can, can you hear us clearly?
Yes, I can hear you. Thank you.
Good. Well, um, we, we, we have met. So I won‟t, I won‟t waste time introducing the members of the, of the mission. I think you know as much as necessary about our mission. And I‟ll hand
straight over to you to introduce yourself and to, and to brief us on the topic, uh, uh, that you
want to, uh, to make us aware of.
Okay. Uh, so my name is, uh, Shir Hever. I am, uh, an economist working for the Alternative
Information Center, which is a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization working in, uh, Jerusalem and in,
um, Beit Sahour, um, and, uh, reporting about the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. Um, I
would like to speak, uh, at this, uh, session on the repression of, uh, dissent. And, uh, the violation of
human rights and the right, uh, uh, to protest in Israel by the Israeli authorities of, uh, individuals and
organizations that express their, uh, protests, uh, against Israel‟s operations in, uh, Gaza, the Gaza Strip.
But I would like to start, please, uh, by, by clarifying that even though I will focus mostly on the, um,
repression of Israeli dissent, uh, this is not, uh, to, in order to create the, the impression that this was the
main violation of human rights, uh, regarding the attack on, on Gaza and, uh, events preceding it and
But, uh, in fact, uh, the main victims, uh, most of the victims of this attack are Palestinians,
especially the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Uh, and even though by comparison the repression
of Israelis was, uh, was, uh, secondary, uh, it is still worth mentioning and, and worth, uh,
describing. Um, so due to the nature of the kind of, um, of, of, of session that, that, we have here.
I think it would be best, uh, if, uh, even as I‟m speaking you will interrupt me and ask me, uh,
questions or, or, uh, stop me if I‟m starting to say something that other, um, people have already
testified about so that I can, uh, best use the time to talk about things that were not mentioned by
If, if, if there‟s any, if there‟s anything-
During your testimony, we‟ll, we‟ll come in but only for clarification. I think, I think it may be
better if we keep our questions „til the end.
Very well. Okay. So I will, uh, try to, to, uh, keep my presentation short, uh, in order to leave
more time in the end for, for, uh, uh, whatever questions, uh, whatever you would like, uh, to
elaborate on. Um, so, let me start by saying that, uh, even though, uh, the vast majority of the
Israeli, Jewish-Israeli public in Israel did support the attack on Gaza, uh, and supported the use
of violence against Palestinians in Gaza, uh, this was the popular, uh, sentiment in Israel but it
didn‟t represent the entirety of, uh, the opinions, uh, of the Israelis and especially of Israelis who
are not Jews.
Uh, 22 percent of Israel‟s population, uh, are Palestinians, in fact. Uh, and even though they are
Israeli citizens, uh, they, uh, are not treated with, uh, the same, uh, equality and the same rights
that Jew, Jewish citizens receive. Uh, and the protests that, uh, these people, both Palestinians
and Jews, uh, expressed regarding Israel‟s attack was, uh, very limited by the Israeli authorities.
There were over 800 arrests of demonstrators. Uh, almost all of them were, were Palestinian
demonstrators, uh, Palestinian citizens of Israel. And very few Jewish Israelis were arrested as
well. Um, the police cracked down and dispersed by force demonstrations, uh, even if those, uh,
were not demonstrations but actually, um, vigils.
And vigils, uh, don‟t require special permit from the police. They also dispersed, uh,
demonstrations that did have, a, a, permits from the police, because, uh, for example, there was a
counter demonstration by, uh, right-wing Israelis. So the police decided to crack down on the
protestors and to arrest, uh, the demonstrators who were, uh, using their, uh, democratic right to
Uh, the vast majority of the Palestinians who were arrested, the Palestinian-Israelis who were
arrested by the Israeli forces had, uh, been requested by the prosecution to be detained, uh,
pending conviction or release, which would mean many months in jail, basically, while they are, uh, while their trial, uh, begins and, uh, starts to proceed. This is not something that is often used, uh, against, uh, uh, protestors. It is usually, uh, something that is intended to keep people who are dangerous, uh, in, in jail while their trial goes on. But, uh, for almost all of the demonstrators who were not Jews, the prosecution asked that these people would be detained pending conviction or release.
Almost all of these requests were accepted by the Israeli authorities, by the Israeli courts, which means that most, uh, uh, of the demonstrators were, indeed, uh, arrested and kept in jail pending conviction or release. And even today, um, about seven months, uh, since the beginning, over seven months since the beginning of the attack and the beginnings of the arrests, uh, there are still people who are in jail waiting, uh, to be either convicted or released. One of these people arrested is a member of my organization.
A man who is, uh, despite his, uh, disability, despite the fact that he‟s, uh, uh, ______, that he
requires, uh, a walking stick to walk; was detained for months and, uh, recently was, uh, transferred to house arrest. Um, and, um, just I, I want to use this as an example of the kinds of arrests that, uh, were, were made during the attacks immediately afterwards. Um, he, he was accused of organizing protests during the attack on Gaza, protests against the attack, uh, in Jerusalem.
One day after the attacks on Gaza subsided, he was, uh, taken from his home, in 3 a.m. at night, in front of his wife and children, by unidentified security personnel wearing masks to conceal their features. And they took him to jail where he was held for two weeks before he was even, uh, notified what we was accused of. Unfortunately, this is not the only case of, uh, people who
have, uh, been arrested and had their, uh, due procedure denied them, uh, were not given the rights that they, uh, are entitled to.
Many of the people arrested were denied, uh, the right to confer with an attorney. Many of them suffered from abuse by Israeli policemen, uh, with racist remarks being shouted at them. And, and, uh, and, of course, uh, this is, uh, uh, something that is not, uh, unique in Israel, unfortunately. It is not something completely new. But certainly the extent of the violations of the rights of the detainees was, uh, extremely, uh, high and much higher than, uh, the normal situation in Israel, uh, even towards, uh, occupied Palestinians.
Um, following the attacks there have also been, uh, an increased number of, uh, secret police investigations of people who are suspected of a political activity and, uh, of, uh, expressing opinions against the attack on Gaza and in favor of the rights of the people, the Palestinians. These people were invited to be interrogated by the Israeli secret police. Uh, in the case of, um, one organization, uh, at least, uh, when people refused to come of their own volition to volunteer to be, uh, interrogated by the secret police, the secret police raided their office, uh, took the people to, to be interrogated by force.
Um, and, um, also there were a prosecution of, uh, organizations per say, not just of individuals. Which means that several organizations which expressed opinions, for example, opposing Israel‟s obligatory conscription laws and, uh, trying to create a space for Israelis who are not, uh,
who did not want to go to the army, did not want to enlist the army, and to offer them some kind of support. Uh, these organizations, um, were also prosecuted by the Israeli authorities. Um, the organization, Yish Gvol,for example, uh, had, uh, several of its members interrogated. The organization, New Profile, had seven of its members taken for interrogations.
Their computers were confiscated. In the demonstrations following those interrogations, a demonstration of solidarity with the New Profile organization police used extreme brutality against the demonstrators and arrested eight of the demonstrators, uh, overnight, uh, after, after beating them up. Um, these series of events are all tied to the attack on Gaza. And the way that they are tied is because there is a growing climate in Israel‟s public opinion and especially
amongst the Israeli authorities, that the level of accountability that they have to, uh, present to the international community or to the Israeli public itself is very low.
Uh, following the war in 2006 when Israel, uh, attacked Lebanon, um, Israel began to develop a, a new kind of combination of war, uh, which is both military and diplomatic. During the attack on Lebanon, Israel fought until the point where the international community, uh, intervened and demanded a ceasefire. Uh, with the attack on Gaza, the Israeli authorities, uh, the government expressed their belief that Israel would be only allowed to continue their attack on Gaza until a certain point.
Uh, and, they, uh, attacked, uh, in, uh, they attacked, uh, Gaza waiting for the international community to intervene at some point and to say that is enough, that is the limit. And this is not just, uh, um, my, my own analysis. It is something that has been discussed in the Israeli media. It was discussed, uh, in the Israeli army. They were trying to plan their attack on Gaza in such a way that they would be able to achieve as much as possible within a limited timeframe that will be defined by the international community.
But what happened in an unexpected way was that the international community did not intervene. It failed to intervene. Both the United States and the governments of Europe did not set a time limit on Israel‟s offenses. They didn‟t, uh, demand a ceasefire at any point. And this created a,
kind of, um, unexpected turn of events for the Israeli army, for the Israeli authorities, where they
felt that they had the ability to continue their attack, um, without, uh, interference and without, uh, accountability.
And because of that, this created a radicalization of Israeli public opinion towards Palestinians, towards the right to protest, towards, uh, uh, the limits on the use of force, and towards the, um, safeguards of democracy. Uh, because it was seen that, in fact, the international community is no longer, um, a barrier in front of, uh, the Israeli society, then it, uh, it was expected that, uh, Israel would be allowed to get away with even worse acts of violence, with even worse violations of human rights. And because of that, that is one of the main reasons why, uh, in the recent Israeli elections, uh, right-wing government, uh, was elected even more to the right than the previous government.
People voted for politicians, who expressed openly their desire to violate international law, uh, by expanding settlements, by expelling Israeli citizens and revoking the citizenships of, uh, non-Jewish Israeli citizens pending certain circumstances. And this led to this, um, increasing climate of tolerance in the Israeli public and especially by the Israeli authorities of increasing severe violations of human rights, of civil rights and of, uh, democracy. Um, this is, um, this is –
therefore, I would argue that, uh, the various, um, uh, violations that we, uh, we have witnessed in Israeli, uh, against, against protest and against the organizations that, uh, are, uh, of various opinions, uh, that differ from the Israeli mainstream.
Um, even if the crackdown was not directly linked to the attack on Gaza, in an, in an, uh, open way, it was certainly indirectly linked simply because, um, it was now legitimate to, uh, shut, uh, and to, uh, silence, uh, types of oppression, uh, types of dissent and types of, um, protest that were previously acceptable in Israeli society and previously considered to be part of the, um, leeway allowed by the Israeli, uh, democracy or, um, apparent democracy. I think, um, that I
would stop at this point to see if you have any questions or comments before, uh, I am moving
Richard Goldstone Thank, thank you very much Mr. Hever for your, for your interesting submissions and-
Christine Chinkin Thank you very much, indeed, for that very, um, detailed and careful account of the situation.
Could you just, um, explain what law those that are arrested are charged under and the way the,
um, legal system is, um, responding to these issues? Thank you.
I‟m, I‟m sorry. Um, who is responding? I, I didn‟t hear your, the end of your question.
Richard Goldstone Uh, Professor Chinkin. Did, did you hear the question or do you want her to repeat it?
I, I heard the first part of the question, under what law, but I didn‟t hear the, um, second part of
the question. Someone is responding to these, uh, arrests, you mean?
Christine Chinkin No. How is the legal system responding to the, um, arrests and charges that are being brought?
Um, okay, so the, the arrests were done under, um, a variety of accusations, uh, and a variety of
laws as well. Uh, I believe that most of the arrests, although this has not been, uh, uh, fully
confirmed yet within official statistics, but I, but I think it is likely that most of the arrests will be,
um, revealed to have been, uh, made under, um, illegal demonstration, accusations of illegal
demonstration or disturbing the peace. Uh, the people who were arrested for, uh, conducting
legal vigils on, uh, sidewalks, uh, were accused of blocking sidewalks, interfering with traffic. That was, uh, the main, uh, accusation for these people.
Uh, however, uh, these are not the only types of accusations. There were also accusations of incitement, uh, to hurt Israeli, uh, security personnel. Because, for example, when demonstrators, uh, expressed their opinion that, uh, the Israeli army or the Israeli police are using excessive force, uh, and are, um, uh, killing innocent people in Gaza; uh, then this was interpreted, sometimes, by the Israeli authorities as, um, an incitement against Israeli military personnel or, or police.
Um, but also the, there is another law in Israeli which makes it illegal to incite to, um, avoid military service. Um, and inciting or even assisting someone to avoid obligatory military service can result in up to five years in jail. And in the case of doing that during wartime, it could result in up to 15 years of jail time. This actually means that even, uh, concerned parents of young Israeli um, teenagers, uh, who were about to be, uh, called for, for military service; if they advise their own children to, uh, find a way to avoid military service – and there are many ways to
avoid it – uh, these parents could be theoretically charged um, with, uh, breaking this law and be
sent for up to 15 years of, of prison time.
It should be mentioned that Israel is constantly in a state of emergency and constantly in a state of conflict. So it is always the wartime clause of the law, never, uh, the peacetime clause. Um, but, of course, the law is not often invoked. Uh, it would have, uh, I think, um, um, recent statistics show that about 50 percent of young Israelis actually go to the army. 50 percent, uh, are, uh, find, find a way not to do their military service by various ways. Either they are exempt because of their nationality, because they‟re Palestinians or they‟re exempt because of their
religion, uh, or they, uh, are exempt because, uh, of health problems or because they, uh, pretend to be crazy.
Uh, but, uh, for but, of course, for, for most of these people who, who don‟t do military service
the army does not, uh, begin litigation and tries to, to send everyone who has, uh, advised these people not to go to the army, to jail. But in the case of these organizations that I mentioned, uh, especially New Profile but also Yish Gvol,um, these organizations were targeted by the government. And, uh, and the government gave instructions to the police to start a procedure of litigation against these organizations. Because it was an attempt to deter other organizations. And because it was an attempt to redefine the borders of legitimate discourse in Israel. Richard Goldstone
Is, is this having an affect on the media? On, on, on freedom to express dissent and criticism, investigative reporting? I mean, I‟ve always been impressed with the openness of the, of the
media in Israel. Is, is there any shift in your, in, uh, in your opinion?
Shir Hever I think the shift in the, uh, openness of the Israeli media is a, is a slow process that began with the second Intifada with 2001. It is a slow process. Uh, in 2001, uh, it was still possible for Israelis to be informed of, uh, the, at least the gist of the military, uh, operations, uh, conducted by the Israeli forces in occupied in Palestinian territories and even to know how many Palestinians were killed by the Israeli forces in any given month. Um, this has gradually deteriorated even before the attack on Gaza. And, but to the point where, uh, the Israelis, the Israeli public today sometimes has no choice, uh, and no recourse but to, uh, turn to the international media in order to learn about operations of the Israeli army.