Frankly Speaking: Does Israel have a right to defend itself?

Special Francesca Albanese, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, speaks to Katie Jensen, host of “Frankly Speaking.” (AN Photo)
Francesca Albanese, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, speaks to Katie Jensen, host of “Frankly Speaking.” (AN Photo)
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Updated 30 October 2023

Frankly Speaking: Does Israel have a right to defend itself?

Frankly Speaking: Does Israel have a right to defend itself?
  • Francesca Albanese says Israel’s assault on Gaza is without legal merit as ‘self-defense cannot apply in a context of military occupation’
  • UN special rapporteur on Palestine says UN Charter only ‘entitles a state to repel an attack based on its intensity and scope,’ meaning response should be ‘proportional’
  • Wants allies of Israel to ask Netanyahu what he meant by talking of changing the Middle East as this would ‘make another form of resistance emerge’

DUBAI: Israel does not have the right to self-defense that it claims in the Gaza Strip owing to its status as an occupying power, according to the UN special rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Francesca Albanese, who was appointed to the post in May 2022 for a three-year term, also believes that Israel’s military response to the multipronged attack by Hamas on Oct. 7 has gone beyond simply defending its own territory and its citizens.

“The right to self-defense that Israel has invoked under Article 51 of the UN Charter is quite clear. It entitles a state to repel an attack that comes from another state. So, the action necessary to repel the attack must be based on its intensity and scope. And it must be proportional,” she said on the Arab News current-affairs show “Frankly Speaking.”

Albanese added: “There is jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice that says that self-defense cannot apply in a context of military occupation when, in this case, Israel is occupying another state, another people.”

Explaining the context of a “proportional” response, she said that “in 24, 30 hours, Israel had regained control of its territory. So, as of then, the right of self-defense in its own territory — if self-defense is to be applied — was exhausted.”

She added: “Does it mean that Israel had to passively leave after what Hamas had inflicted? No, as I said, the protection of Israeli citizens had to be insured, and the military presence of Hamas had to be repelled. Which was done.”

As the fate of 2.3 million Palestinians remains uncertain amid intensifying Israeli military operations and a rapidly rising death toll, Albanese, an Italian academic and international human rights lawyer, spoke about the underlying dynamics of the conflict, whether anyone would be charged with war crimes being committed against civilians, and if the UN had once again failed the Palestinian people.

Francesca Albanese, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said Israel’s retaliation has been indiscriminate, destroying more than 42 percent of Gaza’s housing capacity, targeting civilian areas including hospitals, and killing thousands of Palestinians. (AN Photo)

The fighting erupted when Hamas launched rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory before infiltrating the border and killing both civilians and military personnel at several border towns, kibbutzim and a music festival on Oct. 7.

Hundreds of Israeli citizens and soldiers, as well as numerous people from multiple other countries, were also taken to Gaza and are being held as hostages.

After clearing its territory of Hamas militants, Israel began retaliatory operations in Gaza, formally declaring war on the armed group.

Albanese says the fact that Israel has been bombing the entire Gaza Strip without a stated military goal raises important questions. “A clear military aim could be dismantling Hamas’ military capacity. This could be one, but this has not been the language. This has not been the intent,” she said.

“The intent has been to eradicate Hamas as a whole. But Hamas is also a political entity. So, what does it mean in practice?

“Statements of Israeli politicians and leaders have declared that all Palestinians in Gaza are responsible for Hamas actions, so their backbone should be broken. The language used is extremely dangerous. Genocidal language has been used, and alarm has been raised by hundreds of scholars.”

Albanese said that the Israeli military campaign has been highly destructive and indiscriminate, destroying more than 42 percent of Gaza’s housing capacity and targeting civilian areas including hospitals, places of worship, and public markets.

Palestinian health authorities said that more than 8,000 people had been killed by Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes as of Sunday.

Asked whether the latest conflict in Gaza had changed her views, Albanese said the “only way to have a loud, clear, unchallengeable legal and moral voice right now is to condemn the attacks on civilians, whoever they are.

Palestinians collect bags of dried pulses from a UN-run aid supply center, distributing food to local Palestinians and people displaced following Israel’s call for more than 1 million residents in northern Gaza to move south for their safety, in Deir al-Balah, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)

“What Hamas did on Oct. 7 goes beyond what legitimate resistance is, because the massacre of civilians is never justified, cannot be justified,” she told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking.”

Albanese continued: “Hamas is to blame for the brutal killing of civilians, because in a context of hostilities, while military targets are legitimate, and killing a soldier is a tragedy, killing a civilian is a war crime. Killing civilians is absolutely prohibited.”

On the other hand, she asserted that the Israel-Palestinian conflict did not begin on Oct. 7. “The occupation that Israel has maintained on the West Bank, including in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, is illegal for many reasons, including because it has translated into a default apartheid, into a vehicle to colonize Palestinian land, to forcibly displace people, to arbitrarily arrest and detain adults and children alike, to impose martial rule over millions of Palestinians, including blockaded Gaza,” she said.

“Gaza has been under an illegal blockade for 16 years, and during the 16 years, five wars had already taken place in Gaza — in 2008, in 2012, in 2014, in 2021, in 2022 — and these five wars had already caused the death of 4,200 people, including 1,100 children.”

Albanese’s opinions on Israel’s right to self-defense and actions in Gaza have stirred controversy; media outlets, NGO watchdogs and Israeli officials have accused her of antisemitism.

An Israeli minister demanded Albanese’s dismissal in April this year, writing a letter to the UN chief and the UN high commissioner for human rights to complain that she has been allowed to “continue to spew hatred, antisemitism, and incite violence.”

Albanese believes the efforts to remove her from her current position are a distraction from events happening in Gaza and in Palestine in general. “It’s nothing new. These kinds of attacks — ad hominem — have been used against anyone who has dared to criticize Israeli policies and practices vis-a-vis the Palestinians,” she said.

“So, I was not particularly surprised. Yes, they are very violent, but again, the louder the message, the louder the denunciation, the more violent the response.”

Arguing that the data that her detractors are attempting to deflect attention from is far more important than their accusations, she said: “Nothing that I’ve said in my three reports on self-determination and Israel violations — arbitrary, widespread and systematic arbitrary deprivation of liberty in the occupied Palestinian territories, the violations committed against Palestinian children — has ever been challenged. The substance of my factual and legal analysis remains valid, and this is why I urge the international community to consider this first and foremost.”

Appearing on Frankly Speaking, Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, said that Israel’s military response to the deadly October 7 assault by Hamas has gone way beyond simply defending its own territory and its citizens. (AN Photo)

With UN statistics saying that more than 1.6 million Palestinians have been forced to flee their homes as of Saturday, Albanese said it seems Gaza has reached the point of no return.

Multiple news outlets reported that in the wake of the evacuation order, airstrikes killed dozens of Palestinians attempting to flee Gaza City. Palestinians are unable to flee inside their own territory or to another country; Egypt, which borders Gaza, has not opened any corridors which would allow Palestinians to seek safety there.

“Israel has ordered the evacuation of 1.1 million people — so, half the population — from northern Gaza,” Albanese said.

“How can this even be considered legal when there are people in hospital, women and children, and elderly persons who cannot move? Because the south, where people have been ordered to move to, is being bombed. It has been bombed, and it’s destroyed. There is no capacity to accommodate these people.”

In other comments, Albanese condemned what she called attempts by the media to misinform or spread false information, something that has been common during the ongoing conflict.

“Every journalist should verify the information before disseminating it, but should also report all facts, all circumstances and try to inform. I’ve seen that there is a lot of bias,” she said.

One of the most contentious events in terms of media coverage was the explosion at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City on Oct. 17. Many details of the blast vary widely, and the entity behind the attack is a subject of fierce debate.

Multiple intelligence agencies claim that the explosion was caused by a misfired rocket from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, while the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health claimed that an Israeli airstrike was responsible.

Israeli tanks manoeuvre inside the Gaza Strip, as seen from Israel, October 29, 2023. (Reuters)

“I’ve seen conflicting narratives, because in the beginning, there were many warnings from the Israeli military to the hospital to evacuate. The medical personnel responsible for the hospital communicated that they were not able to evacuate because there were seriously injured people and other patients,” Albanese said.

Immediately after the bombing, quickly-deleted social media posts suggested the Israeli military had hit the hospital because there were Hamas operatives inside.

Asked if those deletions raised suspicion in her mind, Albanese said: “There is a commission of inquiry which is investigating right now all the violence and all the crimes that have been committed since Oct. 7. And that’s the Commission of Inquiry appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in May 2021. I will wait for the results of their investigation.”

In light of the international community’s failure to force Israeli to agree to a ceasefire, many people say the UN has failed the Palestinian people yet again.

However, Albanese said the UN is failing both the Palestinian and the Israeli people “because all of them deserve peace and stability, which is the responsibility of the UN Security Council.

“What I see happening is a political and the humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions,” she said.

On a final note, Albanese said allies of Israel should ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu what he meant when, in a televised address after the Oct. 7 Hamas assault, he said “what we will do to our enemies will reverberate for generations.”

Albanese said: “I fear for what it might mean, because on the one hand, you can eliminate all Hamas supporters and militants, but keeping the population under oppression, as Israel has done with the Palestinians for decades, would make another form of resistance re-emerge,” Albanese said.

“I am really scared that the situation can spill over an entire region, which is already critically affected. You are seeing streets and the squares of Arab cities full of people protesting. They protest because they think that the Palestinians deserve justice.”

Speaking for herself, Albanese said she had nothing but “a clear, people-centered approach” to her work.

“There is no one life that is more important than the other,” she said. “In the interest of both the Palestinians and the Israelis, the current hostilities must stop. A realistic international law-oriented solution has to be found now because tomorrow may be too late.”


Red Cross chief arrives in Gaza, says suffering ‘intolerable’

Red Cross chief arrives in Gaza, says suffering ‘intolerable’
Updated 04 December 2023

Red Cross chief arrives in Gaza, says suffering ‘intolerable’

Red Cross chief arrives in Gaza, says suffering ‘intolerable’

GENEVA: The Red Cross president arrived in war-torn Gaza on Monday, calling for the protection of civilians in the Palestinian territory, where she warned that human suffering was “intolerable.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross said ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric’s travel to the region would happen in several stages with “a visit to Israel expected over the coming weeks.”

“I have arrived in Gaza, where people’s suffering is intolerable,” Spoljaric said on X, formerly Twitter.

“It is unacceptable that civilians have no safe place to go in Gaza, and with a military siege in place there is also no adequate humanitarian response currently possible,” she added in an ICRC statement.

Spoljaric, whose organization has faced criticism from both sides in the conflict for not providing adequate help to Israeli hostages held by Hamas and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, insisted that “all those deprived of liberty must be treated humanely.”

“The hostages must be released, and the ICRC must be allowed to safely visit them,” she said.

Her visit comes after full-scale fighting resumed Friday following the collapse of a week-long truce brokered by Qatar, the United States and Egypt, during which Israel and Hamas exchanged scores of hostages and prisoners.

“The last week provided a small degree of humanitarian respite, a positive glimpse of humanity that raised hopes around the world that a path to reduced suffering could now be found,” Spoljaric said in the statement.

“As a neutral actor, the ICRC stands ready to support further humanitarian agreements that reduce suffering and heartbreak.”

Netanyahu graft trial resumes in Israel in midst of Gaza war

Netanyahu graft trial resumes in Israel in midst of Gaza war
Updated 04 December 2023

Netanyahu graft trial resumes in Israel in midst of Gaza war

Netanyahu graft trial resumes in Israel in midst of Gaza war

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial resumed on Monday, despite the country’s continuing war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The trial was suspended after the Palestinian militant group’s Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel in which 1,200 people were killed and 240 more kidnapped according to Israeli officials.

Netanyahu, leader of Israel’s right-wing Likud party, is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, allegations he denies.

Minister David Amsalem of Likud called the resumption of proceedings during the war “a disgrace.”

“War? Captives? ... No, no. The most important thing now is to renew Netanyahu’s trial,” said Amsalem on Sunday on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

Netanyahu and his allies have argued the accusations against him are politically motivated and had proposed a judicial overhaul that would have curbed some powers held by the courts.

The high-profile trial is expected to last several more months. An appeal process, if necessary, could take years.

In one of three cases the trial encompasses, prosecutors allege a plot between Netanyahu and the controlling shareholder of Israel’s Bezeq telecom giant to exchange regulatory favors for positive coverage on a news site owned by the firm. A second case relates to Netanyahu’s relationship with Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and other wealthy personalities.

According to prosecutors, between 2007 and 2016 Netanyahu allegedly received gifts valued at 700,000 shekels ($195,000), including boxes of cigars, bottles of champagne and jewelry, in exchange for financial or personal favors.

Netanyahu, who is Israel’s first sitting prime minister to stand trial, denies any wrongdoing, saying gifts were only accepted from friends and without him having asked for them.

In October 2019, his lawyers said they had received an expert legal opinion that concluded he had a right to accept gifts from close friends.

Egyptian Space Agency announces successful launch of MisrSat 2 satellite from China

Chinese and Egyptian engineers worked together to design and manufacture the satellite. (Photo: Xinhua news agency)
Chinese and Egyptian engineers worked together to design and manufacture the satellite. (Photo: Xinhua news agency)
Updated 9 min 28 sec ago

Egyptian Space Agency announces successful launch of MisrSat 2 satellite from China

Chinese and Egyptian engineers worked together to design and manufacture the satellite. (Photo: Xinhua news agency)
  • The Egyptian Space Agency was established in 2018 and aims to build and launch satellites from Egyptian territory

CAIRO: The Egyptian Space Agency has reported that the launch of the MisrSat 2 satellite from China was successful.

The agency said: “This (the launch) is in light of the strategic partnership between the governments of Egypt and China and the fruitful and constructive cooperation between the two friendly countries.”

A team of Egyptian engineers collaborated with Chinese experts in the satellite’s design and manufacture.

It was assembled and tested at the EGSA’s Satellite Assembly, Integration, and Testing Center.

The site, the largest of its kind in Africa and the Middle East, was established within the framework of the strategic partnership between the two countries.

The satellite forms part of Egypt’s sustainable development goals by utilizing space technology to enhance vital areas, including agriculture, the exploration of mineral resources, identification of surface water sources, and the study of the impact of climate change on the environment.

The agency said the work contributed to supporting the Egyptian economy as well as enhancing the country’s pioneering role by providing training programs aimed at qualifying specialized personnel on the African continent and the Middle East, while supplying spatial data.

It added that the launch of the MisrSat 2 was a milestone in Egyptian-Chinese cooperation, especially in the field of space technology.

The Egyptian Space Agency was established in 2018 and aims to build and launch satellites from Egyptian territory.


Tension mounts on southern front as Lebanon’s Hamas launches ‘resistance project’

Tension mounts on southern front as Lebanon’s Hamas launches ‘resistance project’
Updated 04 December 2023

Tension mounts on southern front as Lebanon’s Hamas launches ‘resistance project’

Tension mounts on southern front as Lebanon’s Hamas launches ‘resistance project’
  • Hezbollah now capable of striking deep into Israel, says security source 

BEIRUT: Hostilities escalated on Monday on the southern front of Lebanon between Hezbollah and the Israeli army.

A preliminary report said that a Syrian national was injured as a result of Israeli shelling targeting the Al-Wazzani border village. Avichay Adraee, the Israeli army spokesperson, said that “three soldiers were slightly injured” after Hezbollah had targeted the Israeli military outpost of Shtula.

In parallel with the mounting confrontations in the Gaza Strip, Hezbollah launched 20 missiles from southern Lebanon toward the Western Galilee, between the Shomera and Mattat settlements. The Israeli army said that “the missiles landed in open areas and that its air force targeted military infrastructure for Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.”

Speaking on behalf of Hezbollah, Nabil Kaouk, a member of the group’s central council, said: “We will harshly respond to any attack against civilians in the south, and we will not let any attack against any civilian in Lebanon pass without a harsh and severe response.”

Kaouk revealed that during the truce “pressure was exerted on Hezbollah to avoid a new confrontation, as they want Israel to wage war on Gaza without the support of southern Lebanon.”

He claimed that Israel “is unable to win in Gaza or in south Lebanon, and cannot protect its settlers and ships in the Gulf and Red Sea.”

He added: “Israel is incapable of rescuing the hostages, as they were freed through negotiation only.”

According to Hezbollah’s statements, the militant group’s hostilities on the southern border had targeted on Monday morning “a gathering of the Israeli occupation soldiers in the Shtula Forest, the Al-Raheb outpost, the Al-Baghdadi outpost, and the Rowaysat Al-Alam outpost in the Kfarchouba Hills and the Shebaa Farms.”

The Israeli army activated the Iron Dome after a series of missiles were launched from the central part of southern Lebanon toward Israeli outposts.

Israel’s Channel 12 announced that “an anti-armor missile was launched toward the Misgav Am region in the Upper Galilee and that three soldiers were slightly injured after rockets were fired.”

Israeli ground and air shelling targeted the outskirts of southern villages including Naqoura, Aayta Al-Shaab, Labbouneh, Odaisseh, Kfarkila and Kfarchouba, using burning phosphorus missiles.

Israeli reconnaissance planes were seen flying at low altitude over the western and central parts of southern Lebanon, namely Naqoura, Alma Al-Shaab, Marwahin and Al-Dahira. They also reached the southern border villages of Aayta Al-Shaab, Rmaych and Yaroun. More Israeli reconnaissance planes were also seen over Rachaya and the eastern slopes of the Al-Sheikh Mountain, reaching Deir Al-Ashayer on the Lebanese–Syrian borders. They were also spotted hovering over Tripoli in northern Lebanon on Sunday.

On Sunday, Hezbollah targeted the Israeli Beit Hillel military outpost with guided missiles, directly hitting an M113 personnel carrier and injuring 11 members of the outpost.

A security source commented on Hezbollah’s attack, saying: “This escalation demonstrates Hezbollah’s capability to move more freely along the southern border.”

The source added: “Hezbollah is now capable of targeting deeper spots in Israel rather than hitting border areas. It is also using guided missiles increasingly.”

Sheikh Naim Kassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader, said on Sunday that the group “is convinced that it will defeat Israel, and we are not in a rush to do so.”

Meanwhile, the Lebanese branch of Hamas announced on Monday “the establishment and launching of the Vanguards of Al-Aqsa Flood.”

It called on “young people and men in Lebanon and Palestine to join this movement to resist the occupation force through available and legitimate means, as a way to support the steadfastness and resistance of our Palestinian people.”

At the beginning of the confrontation in October, many Lebanese and Palestinian groups took part in the hostilities taking place on the Lebanese border, through armed members from the Al-Fajr forces — the military wing of the Islamic group — as well as through the military wings of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. These groups, however, have retreated, leaving Hezbollah alone to fight from the Lebanese border.

The Sayydet Al-Jabal gathering, which opposes Hezbollah, said in a statement on Monday that “Lebanon doesn’t want to enter a new war decided by someone else.”

The party, which includes a number of politicians and public activists, believes that Hezbollah has two options: “Either it returns to Lebanon and abides by the Lebanese terms — which are the terms stipulated in the Constitution, the Taif Agreement, and the resolutions of international legitimacy 1559, 1701, and 1680 — or it remains a representative of Iran until the latter abandons it the moment it faces a real threat, similar to what it did to Hamas in the last Gaza war.”

Yemen’s govt warns of massive Houthi strikes in Shabwa, Marib

Yemen’s govt warns of massive Houthi strikes in Shabwa, Marib
Updated 04 December 2023

Yemen’s govt warns of massive Houthi strikes in Shabwa, Marib

Yemen’s govt warns of massive Houthi strikes in Shabwa, Marib
  • Yemeni authorities fear the situation may be about to deteriorate as the Houthis gather militants and military equipment in Marib, Shabwa, and Taiz
  • Iran-backed militant group vows to target American naval ships in Red Sea

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s internationally recognized government has warned that the Houthis are planning major offensives in two Yemeni regions, action that may derail peace talks and plunge the country back into turmoil.

Muammar Al-Eryani, Yemen’s information minister, accused the Iran-backed Houthis of mobilizing major military forces in the southern province of Shabwa and the central province of Marib in recent weeks.

And he noted that the militia group planned to attack Marib from the south, east, and north, as well as launch another simultaneous attack on government-controlled Bayan, Ain, Ouslen, and other areas in Shabwa.

Al-Eryani pointed out that such an attack would “undermine peace efforts, re-emerge the country in conflict, and exacerbate the deteriorating humanitarian crisis.”

Fighting has mostly stopped on all fronts throughout the nation after a UN-brokered truce came into force in April 2022.

But Yemeni authorities fear the situation may be about to deteriorate as the Houthis gathered militants and military equipment in Marib, Shabwa, and Taiz.

The Houthis have used popular outrage over continued Israeli attacks on Gaza to begin military training and collect soldiers outside government-controlled cities under the guise of preparing to battle the Israelis.

Al-Eryani urged the international community to label the Houthis as terrorists, impose penalties on their leaders, freeze their assets, bar them from traveling, and limit the militia’s income sources.

In a post on X, the minister said: “The international community, the United Nations, and its special envoy are called upon to issue a clear condemnation of these escalatory steps that confirm the Houthi militia’s disregard for de-escalation efforts.”

The warning came after the Yemeni army revealed on Sunday that its forces had killed and wounded several Houthis after foiling raids on government-controlled territory south of Marib.

The Houthis also organized a funeral procession in Sanaa on Sunday for 15 officers of various military grades killed in combat with government troops near the country’s western coastline on the Red Sea and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Houthis threatened to target American naval ships in the Red Sea only a day after launching drone and missile assaults on commercial vessels in the waters.

On a US vow to respond to strikes, Supreme Political Council member, Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, said that America had “no right” to deploy ships in the Red Sea.

In a post on X, Al-Houthi said: “The Americans do not have a right in the Red Sea that allows them to say that they retain the right to respond.”

Washington said on Monday it would consult with its partners and allies on how to react to Houthi attacks on ships after the group fired four missiles and drones at commercial vessels operating in international waters in the Red Sea.

In a post on X, the US Central Command said: “These attacks represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security.

“They have jeopardized the lives of international crews representing multiple countries around the world,” it added.