Defending Human Rights in Palestine

Israeli Human Rights Attorney Gaby Lasky spoke about the challenges Palestinians face under Israeli occupation and Israeli settler violence.

Lasky is the former secretary general of Israeli Peace Now and a former lieutenant of the Israeli Defense Forces. Now she represents Israelis, Palestinians and internationals involved in non-violent resistance to Israeli occupation in Israeli courts.

She spoke on behalf of an Arab-Jewish grassroots organization called Ta’ayush (in Arabic, means “life in common”), to raise money for their legal fund. Ta’ayush works to eliminate racism and segregation through the creation of an Arab-Jewish partnership. Also, here is more information about the reasons for the legal fund.

“One of the activities that it (Ta’ayush) has been doing for the last year is dealing with secular and army violence against Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills,” Lasky said. “Most of the settlers are violent settlers…and they go around with machine guns and weapons everywhere they go…they believe everything belongs to them.”

Last Thursday, two settlers from the illegal outpost of Mitzpeh Yair attacked UN workers. Lasky was told that one of the settlers called for other settlers, who came with stones. They did not allow for the UN vehicle to cross, so one settler crushed the windshield glass on the driver’s side, and then came at him with a weapon.

“You can imagine what happens to Palestinians children or Palestinians mostly alone,” Lasky said. “Settlers take advantage of those situations and I can tell u as a lawyer nothing happens to them.”

Israeli Settlers Lead the Israeli Army

How are settlements created?

Settlers decide they want to expand the existing settlement, so they set up a tent or a house and a generator “…and then it becomes an outpost office settlement,” Lasky added.

Even though the Israeli Army and the Israeli Government knows it is illegal, the army sends soldiers to care for the settlers. Then the Israeli Government paves roads, connects the settlers to electricity and installs telephone lines to them. Settlers do not install wires, cables, lines, and pylons all by themselves: they have Israel’s continued support for these colonies.

“The settlers bring the army with them wherever they go, even if the army and the government understand the settlements are illegal. These outposts are made not only to conquer more land, to create a path for all Jewish-built territories in the Occupied Territories so that even if some government decides to end the occupation it will be very difficult,” Lasky said. “It will be very difficult to create a viable, Palestinian state because there will be so many settlements that have annexed Palestinian land.”

For example, in the Hebron area there are an estimated 300 Israeli soldiers caring for the settlers, Lasky explained. In Susya, Palestinian families have been expelled from their cave and hut dwellings, but somehow these Palestinians – farmers and sheepherders – managed to return to their homes.

In the Hebron area, Palestinian children are scared of the settlers, so now they must travel 10 km to reach two schools. However, they are accompanied by adults because of the Israeli-pogrom violence. Moreover, “…the settlers don’t like to see any Palestinian presence. There have been many violent frictions they (the settlers) are using their guns and a lot of violence against the children and the people accompanying them…people have been hospitalized from the violence from the settlers,” Lasky said.

The IDF could not be reached for comment.

With regards to Israeli outposts and settlements, Palestinians have petitioned Israel’s Civil Administration to evacuate the settlements, so “they have 30 days to evacuate or demolish before they go to court,” Lasky said. “But of course the Civil Administration has not done anything and it is harder to move the settlers out of the area after the 30 days.”

In contrast, it is almost impossible for Palestinians to acquire building permits to build new homes. If they build a new home, they face the threat of demolition and eviction orders. Hence, they take the chance of losing everything when they build.

Israeli Settlements, Outposts and International Law

According to a Peace Now Report there are over 120 Israeli settlements in the West Bank with a population of over 260,000 settlers (excluding East Jerusalem) that costs US $556 M/year. Moreover, there are over 100 Israeli outposts in the West Bank. Article 49 of The Fourth Geneva Convention states “the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies,” and “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.”

The Israeli Government is a signatory of The Fourth Geneva Convention and the UN General Assembly has pointed out Israel’s violations of International Law.

Lasky explained that there are two different kinds of law: contract law and customary law. Customary law applies to countries all over the world, but contract law has to be implemented within a country’s legal system. “Israel has not made the necessary legal activities to make the Geneva Convention part of Israel’s legal system,” she added.

When Israel presented its report of how it has enacted the Geneva Conventions into their country’s legal system, Lasky explained that Israel’s position to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is “the Convention does not apply to the Occupied Territories; it applies in Israel but not the Occupied Territories.” However, Israel has been told, time and time again, the Geneva Conventions applies to the Occupied Territories.

Palestinian Prisoners

Lasky touched on this topic because she represents Palestinian and Israeli non-violent resistors in the Israeli courts.

Several media sources stated there are an estimated 10,000 Palestinian prisoners within Israeli prisons. The conditions of Israeli jails for Palestinian prisoners can be found in a report issued by the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society.

Further information about the use of torture on Palestinian prisoners and administrative detainees can be found at The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and Palestinian narrative accounts of abuse and torture can be found at PPS.

“There are 1,000 administrative detainees in Israeli prisons today without being charged, indicted, without seeing any evidence against you, they can keep you in prison six months and prolong it for another six months without knowing the charges against you,” Lasky said. “I have appeared in administrative courts. You are in another planet. This is not law you don’t have any substantial rights. When you do try and ask questions the army attorney says that it’s secret evidence and they can’t show it.”

Lasky said it is important that people look at the details of the cases that come to courts. Palestinians have been indicted and charged of terrorist activity as a member of a terrorist organization because they are members of political parties on university campuses.

When asked why she continues to do legal defense work despite the disappointing outcome, Lasky said: “Well I think that when I am able to release on bail a Palestinian I think it’s a great success. I am really happy about it when I can bring the bail down from $5000 NIS (New Israeli Shekel) to $1000 NIS I am happy. When I go to these lower courts I deal with people in their everyday lives.”

Unrecognized Villages

There are an estimated 100 unrecognized Arab villages inside Israel. In this context, unrecognized means the Israeli Government does not recognize these villages on any Israeli maps. Even if the people in these villages pay taxes, most of the villages do not have paved roads and/or access to electrical services and water.

According to the documentary, The Unrecognized, written by Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, 72,000 Arab-Israelis are without drinking water. The people deal with a variety of health and sewage problems due to the lack of access to water, electricity, medical clinics and hospitals. Hidden munitions in the land put the Arab populations at risk also.

Lasky talked about the Israeli artist colony of Ein Hod, where the Palestinian village of Ayn Hawd once stood almost 60 years ago. Although most of the 900 –” 950 indigenous inhabitants of Ayn Hawd were expelled from their land to neighboring countries and refugee camps, some of the descendants of the Palestinian inhabitants now live in the new Ayn Hawd, only 1.5 km away.

Director Rachel Leah Jones created the documentary, “500 Dunums on the Moon,” about Ayn Hawd and Ein Hod.

Lasky brought up Ayn Hawd because Ta’ayush is one of the few organizations that helps pave roads to these unrecognized villages and tries to help the people rebuild their communities.