I have had further thoughts about my brief Facebook comments attacking the International Committee of the Red Cross. I accused the organisation of hypocrisy for calling for the immediate release of the three abducted Israeli teenagers while refusing to call for a similar release of the nearly 200 Palestinian children effectively taken hostage by a member state of the UN (Israel) while in their own territory (Palestine) and then illegally transferred into foreign territory (Israel). For more on the issue, read Ali Abunimah’s excellent account.
I stand by my earlier accusation that the ICRC has proved itself to be serially gutless in remaining silent over decades about Israel’s belligerent occupation, but I should have set out the reasons for my criticism more fully.
Back in 2003, rumours started to surface that Israel was running a secret prison where Arabs seized by its security services overseas (mostly from Lebanon) were being held and horrifically abused. It was Israel’s Abu Ghraib. The Israeli media even reported later on a court case in which a Lebanese Shia leader, Mustafa Dirani, who was held in this secret jail, revealed that he had been repeatedly sodomised with a wooden baton during interrogations.
The prison, known only as Facility 1391, started to come to light only because of a small oversight by Israel. Following the mass round-ups of Palestinians as the second intifada reached its peak, Israel ran out space in its normal prisons and started to put a few Palestinians into the secret jail, or possibly jails. However, Israel had habeas corpus-style obligations, even according to its own legal codes, to report the whereabouts of Palestinian prisoners to their lawyers (not true for the other Arab inmates, who had no legal representation). Some leading Israeli human rights lawyers started to work out that these few Palestinian prisoners had effectively been disappeared.
When I called their office in Jerusalem to speak to them about it, they refused to say anything on the record. In fact they pretty much refused to say anything at all, apart from confirming that they knew of the prison’s existence, although they claimed not to have had access to it.
Their justification for refusing to speak further or to criticise Israel for the gross violation of international law the prison represented was that they believed it was more important to maintain a position of absolute political neutrality. They told me it was vitally in the interests of the Palestinian prison population that they keep the trust of Israel so that their access would not be withdrawn. That was not a view I shared, but it was one I could believe was honourably held.
But the principle of “absolute political neutrality” that was so important to the ICRC back in 2003 – and has apparently directed their policy for decades, given their almost complete silence on Israel’s belligerent occupation – has now been jettisoned with casual abandon when it comes to defending the rights of three Israeli teenagers. What about “absolute political neutrality” towards the Palestinians?
This is hypocrisy of the highest order, and why I continue to call the ICRC gutless – more concerned about the might of the Israel lobby than the rights of Palestinians under occupation.