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A little R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Even for War Criminals?

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The passionate Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah, was the first to be arrested on October 15, 2009, when 30 activists vocally disrupted former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during his speech at the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy.

Olmert was Prime Minister during Israel's Dec.-Jan. attack on Gaza that killed 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza and also during Israel's 2006 invasion of Lebanon that killed 1,200. As Prime Minister and the top civilian commander of Israel's armed forces, he was involved in and responsible for planning and execution of both attacks.

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Protestors shut down Ehud Olmert speech at University of Chicago

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On the outside 150 activists protested in the freezing rain and
visibly armed SECURITY was highly present: University Police, the US Secret Service and Israeli security.

Video and photography were banned inside the hall and media was forbidden to cover the lecture, but activists creatively found ways to document the happening in the hall and also unfurl an eight-foot-long banner that read "Goldstone" in both English and Hebrew.

One of the organizers of the protest, Hatem Abudayyeh, National Coordinating Committee member of the United States Palestine Community Network said, "The fact that there's people around the world who know about it, the fact that PACBI [the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel] sent us a letter of support and endorsement of our action, the fact that there was coordination with the outside protest and the inside disruption -- all of these components and aspects of the action made it one of the more successful ones that we've done. There is real change happening, whether it's the international response to the Lebanon war or the international response to the Gaza war. The US is the most powerful country in the world, Israel is a powerful military as well, but the Palestinians have the world on their side."[1]

Ali Abunimah wrote, "Crimes against humanity are defined as 'crimes that shock the conscience.' When the institutions with the moral and legal responsibility to punish and prevent the crimes choose complicit silence -- or, worse, harbor a suspected war criminal, already on trial for corruption in Israel, and present him to students as a paragon of 'leadership' -- then disobedience, if that is what it takes to break the silence, is an ethical duty. Instead of condemning them, the University should be proud that its students were among those who had the courage to stand up.

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"For the first time in recorded history, an Israeli prime minister was publicly confronted with the names of his victims. It was a symbolic crack in the wall of impunity and a foretaste of the public justice victims have a right to receive when Olmert is tried in a court of law.[2]

On September 15, 2009, the UN Fact Finding Mission led by Justice Richard Goldstone released its report on Israel's Dec/Jan. assault on Gaza and "concluded there is evidence indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity." [3]

The 574- page report analyzed, "36 specific incidents in Gaza, as well as a number of others in the West Bank and Israel" conducted 188 individual interviews, reviewed more 10,000 pages of documentation, and viewed some 1,200 photographs, including satellite imagery, as well as 30 videos. The mission heard 38 testimonies during two separate public hearings held in Gaza and Geneva, which were webcast in their entirety. The decision to hear participants from Israel and the West Bank in Geneva rather than in situ was taken after Israel denied the Mission access to both locations. Israel also failed to respond to a comprehensive list of questions posed to it by the Mission. Palestinian authorities in both Gaza and the West Bank cooperated with the Mission.

"The Mission found that, in the lead up to the Israeli military assault on Gaza, Israel imposed a blockade amounting to collective punishment and carried out a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip. During the Israeli military operation, code-named "Operation Cast Lead," houses, factories, wells, schools, hospitals, police stations and other public buildings were destroyed. Families are still living amid the rubble of their former homes long after the attacks ended, as reconstruction has been impossible due to the continuing blockade. More than 1,400 people were killed during the military operation." [Ibid]

The report concluded "that the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population. The destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy which has made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population [and] that Israeli acts that deprive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip of their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water, that deny their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country [and] underlines that the loss of life and destruction caused by Israeli forces during the military operation was a result of disrespect for the fundamental principle of "distinction" in international humanitarian law that requires military forces to distinguish between military targets and civilians and civilian objects at all times." [Ibid]

On 22 October 2009, Bay Area residents attempted a citizen's arrest of Olmert, during his speech to the World Affairs Council in San Francisco. Twenty-two were arrested for verbally challenging Olmert and raised awareness and discomfort levels in the audience by demanding he be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.

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Citzens arrest and mass disruption of former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert in San Francisco

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Eileen Fleming,is a Citizen of CONSCIENCE for US House of Representatives 2012 Founder of Staff Member of, A Feature Correspondent for Producer "30 Minutes with Vanunu" and "13 Minutes with Vanunu" (more...)
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