Category Archives: International Humanitarian Law

The Threatened Demolition of the Khan al-Ahmar “Rubber Tire School” in the Occupied Palestinian Territory

The Khan al-Ahmar community is located in the West Bank, near the road that connects Jerusalem to the city of Jericho and the Dead Sea and not far from the Israeli settlements that rise to the east of the Holy City.[1] Its 180 inhabitants (35 Bedouin families) belong to the tribal group Jahalin, originating from Tel Arad, in southern Israel. Members of this clan were expelled by the Israeli army in 1951 and had to relocate in what was then a territory under the control of Jordan. Nowadays, their lands are formally located within the so-called Area C of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which, under the Oslo Accords, is administered by Israel, and in particular on corridor E1, an area considered strategic for controlling the territory up to Jericho and for the expansion of the settlements. Families are extremely poor and live in temporary structures built without permits from the Israeli authorities, often funded by European countries. Villages are not connected to electricity, roads and the sewage system. They lack health and education infrastructures. Scattered in the area of Khan al-Ahmar live twelve Palestinian communities with roughly 1,400 inhabitants. The so-called “Rubber Tire School”, located in Khan al-Ahmar, serves 150 children from five different communities. The Italian NGO Terra di Vento established it in 2009 with an innovative project using mud and tires. Together with other infrastructures, it was funded by Italy, Belgium and the European Union.

Over the years, the Israeli authorities have confiscated and demolished existing facilities and issued several demolition orders to the detriment of the Bedouin communities of the Jerusalem area. As documented by the Israeli NGO B’Tselem, “from 2006 until the end of May 2018, 26 residential structures were demolished. 132 people were left without shelter, of which 77 were children and teenagers. In addition, 7 non-residential structures were demolished”.[2]

Several petitions were filed with the High Court of Justice in favor or against the demolition orders. The Israeli settlers petitioned the Court to have the demolition orders implemented, whereas the Palestinian communities tried to resist deportation. In this respect, the position of the Israeli Government is that the Khan al-Ahmar buildings were established without any permits and that residents have been offered an alternative location where the school would be reconstructed.[3]

On 28 May 2018, the Israeli High Court confirmed that the Government might demolish the homes of the residents of Khan al-Ahmar and the school.[4] On 4 July the Israeli civil administration started implementing the expulsion of the residents and the demolition of the buildings, but a subsequent petition to the Court froze the process. With a temporary injunction, the Court invited the parties to reach an agreement. The Government then insisted on the immediate relocation of the Palestinian community to a site in Abu Dis, near a garbage dump.[5] The Palestinian community refused the proposed solution and continued resisting to the expulsion and the destruction of their homes.

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Italy’s stance on the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

On 6 December 2017, the United States (US) President, Mr. Donald Trump, put into effect his presidential campaign promise to effectively recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, thereby indicating a future move there for the US embassy from Tel Aviv. Such a decision has been interpreted by many as marking a turning point in the US approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Indeed, even though the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act adopted by the US Senate and House of Representatives committed the Federal Government to moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, since its enactment every US President has regularly availed himself of the possibility to invoke a six-month waiver of the application of the law. President Trump himself signed such a waiver twice, before (June 2017) as well as after (December 2017) his own declaration. Nonetheless, his announcement sparked controversy and many countries voiced their dissent. Italy is among those States and its stance will be discussed below. However, in order better to understand the dissent it expressed along with a number of other countries, it is useful to provide a factual and legal context, starting with Mr. Trump’s actual words. 

In his speech, Mr. Trump motivated his decision as follows: 

Israel is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital. […] But today we finally acknowledge the obvious. That Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done. 

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The Legality of Italy’s Export of Arms

On 17 July 2017, during a Parliamentary debate on the ongoing war in Yemen, the Sottosegretario di Stato per gli Affari esteri e la Cooperazione internazionale (Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation), Mr. Vincenzo Amendola, presented the stance of the Italian Government vis-à-vis the conflict between the Houthi rebels and the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The request for military support from President Hadi’s government, which enjoys wide international recognition, has been accepted by a coalition of States, led by Saudi Arabia. Before the Camera dei Deputati (Chamber of Deputies, 835th Meeting, XVII Legislature) Mr. Amendola qualified the government as the legitimate authority in Yemen. He described the situation as follows: 

In 2014, there was a true subversion of the institutional order from the Houthis, carried out by paramilitary militias. The coup interrupted the process of transition that was in place and resulted in the destitution of President Hadi and the fall of the Yemeni Parliament. Given the situation and the worsening of the terrorist threat brought about by Al Qaeda in great part of the Yemeni territory, which took advantage of the power vacuum in the country, a military intervention upon request and sustained by the legitimate government was launched by a coalition of States formed by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Sudan, Egypt and Morocco. 

Allegations of a violation of international humanitarian law as a result of the bombings carried out by Saudi Arabia led to questioning the export of arms to Riyadh. On this issue, too, the Undersecretary explained the Italian position. The obligations applicable to Italy as to the export of arms derive from domestic, European and international legal instruments. However, Mr. Amendola only mentioned the domestic framework and reminded that: 

The exports of arms are governed by Law no. 185 of 1990 and its subsequent amendments, and the authorizations for licenses involve different Ministries and authorities, as to the analysis of the content of the single operation as well as in terms of opinions for the export to non-EU/NATO countries. 

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Italy’s Reaction to the Use of Chemical Weapons at Khan Shaykhun and to the US Attack on a Syrian Airfield

On 4 April 2017, it was reported that the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun – controlled at the time by the Tahrir Al-Sham Alliance – had been the object of an airstrike by the air force of the Government of President Bashar Al Assad.[1] As a result of the airstrike, chemical agents poisoned large numbers of civilians. 

In a report released on 30 June 2017, the Fact-Finding Mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) estimated the number of deaths “as approximately 100 people” and determined that “Sarin or a Sarin-like substance” had been used as a weapon in Khan Shaykhun.[2] It took until 27 October 2017 for the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism to take position on the responsibility for the attack and affirm that the Leading Panel of the mechanism itself was “confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of Sarin at Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017”.[3]

In the aftermath of the attack, however, several countries condemned the action and the United States (US), the United Kingdom and France openly called into question the responsibility of the Syrian Government.[4] The US President, Mr. Donald Trump, condemned the attack as “intolerable” and openly blamed the inaction of his predecessor Barack Obama, who, after establishing “a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons did nothing”.[5] On its part, the Syrian government denied any involvement in the use of chemical weapons.[6] The Government of the Russian Federation offered alternative explanations of the events, mentioning the fact that the Syrian Air Force could have “bombed an underground factory producing chemical warfare agents” or alluding to a possible “provocation by the terrorists”.[7] Within the United Nations (UN) Security Council, a draft resolution condemning the attack – tabled by France, the United Kingdom and the US – was vetoed by the Russian Federation, with the abstention of China, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan.[8] 

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A Speech by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, on the Recent Developments of the Situation in the Gaza Strip

CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES, XVII LEGISLATURE, 274th MEETING, 29 JULY 2014.

On 29 July 2014, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, delivered a speech before the plenary session of the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Parliament on the conflict between Hamas and Israel. After expressing sorrow, on behalf of the Italian Government and people, for the casualties suffered on both sides, she highlighted the complexity of the conflict. Thus, to avoid any oversimplification, she briefly illustrated the political context of the whole region, showing how much the situations of Syria, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon and Jordan are interrelated. Then, referring to the end of the “Skyes-Picot order”, she called all the Middle-Eastern actors to assume direct and shared responsibility in the regional politics, together with Italy and Europe. Pointing out that the conflict cannot be examined through biased eyes, and that the aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians – respectively, to live in peace and security and to have a sovereign State – are legitimate, she added:

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A Statement at the Human Rights Council on Behalf of the EU on the Situation in the Gaza Strip

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL, 21st SPECIAL SESSION, HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN THE OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORY, INCLUDING EAST JERUSALEM, 23 JULY 2014.

On 23 July 2014, the Permanent Representative of Italy at the Human Rights Council, Amb. Maurizio Enrico Serra, expressed the position of the EU with respect to the Human Rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The statement took place in the context of a debate on Israel’s military operation ‘Protective Edge’, which has started on 7 July 2014 in the Gaza Strip, and on the escalation of rocket fire against Israel. At the outset, Amb. Serra specified that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Iceland, Serbia, Albania and Liechtenstein aligned themselves with his statement. 

He then stated: 

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A Statement of Italy on Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Assistance

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL, 2014 SESSION OF THE HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS SEGMENT, 25 JUNE 2014.

On 25 June 2014, at the general debate of the Humanitarian Affairs Segment of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, Italy delivered a national statement. After aligning itself with the one made by Greece on behalf of the European Union, Italy expressed its wish to add some remarks:

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