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Apartheid in Occupied Palestine: A Rejoinder to Yaffa Zilbershats

Published on October 2, 2013        Author: 

 

 dugardJohn Dugard (pictured left) is Emeritus Professor of John ReynoldsInternational Law at the University of Leiden and Honorary Professor in the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria. John Reynolds (pictured right) is the EJ Phelan Fellow in International Law at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

‘Upper Nazareth is a Jewish city and it’s important that it remains so’, wrote its mayor Shimon Gapso last month. ‘If that makes me a racist’, he continued, ‘then I’m a proud offshoot of a glorious dynasty of racists’. Gapso was responding to criticism he had received over his call for the preservation of Jewish Israeli demographic superiority over Palestinians in his jurisdiction. He sought to undercut such criticism by situating his views as merely symptomatic of the core tenets of Zionism. His position, he suggested, is no more or no less racist than Herzl or Ben-Gurion and the pioneering Jewish settlement—with inevitable removal of Palestinians—that they espoused. While Gapso makes this admission of racism rather facetiously, so as to expound the ‘hypocrisy and bleeding-heart sanctimoniousness’ of his liberal Israeli critics, his comments go to the heart of Israeli policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians historically and contemporaneously: colonisation, displacement, and segregation. In pointing to security issues and the diverse political, socio-economic and cultural needs of the two population groups, Gapso essentially reproduces the vision of “separate development” that was central to apartheid in southern Africa. Apartheid was presented by its Afrikaner architects as not about oppression or denial of self-determination, but “separateness”.

Gapso’s comments mark the latest round in an ongoing debate over the role of ethno-racial dynamics in Israeli policy-making, and the nature of Israel’s institutional and legal regimes as they apply to the AbuDisWallPalestinians. They came in the context of the relationship between Israeli authorities and Palestinian citizens inside the state’s borders. They are equally and arguably more prescient when considered in relation to the occupied Palestinian territories, where the narrative of an Israeli apartheid-like regime has gained particular prolificacy in popular and political discourse since the 1990s. More recently, the relevance of the normative prohibition of apartheid as articulated through the specific language of international law has come to the fore. Our article in the current issue of the European Journal of International Law explores international law’s engagement with questions of race, racial discrimination and apartheid. It considers the nature of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in that light, and concludes that the regime of discrimination and segregation imposed in the occupied territories is of a sufficiently institutionalised nature to be qualified as a system of apartheid. (photo: Israeli wall at Abu Dis, credit)

Yaffa Zilbershats’ reply  to our article roots itself in the familiar refuge of Israeli exceptionalism, and parrots two standard talking points of Israeli government lawyers. The first is that as a mere occupying power, Israel’s behaviour in the Palestinian territories is not susceptible to the same standards by which a sovereign state would be judged. The second is that because Palestinians have committed acts of “terror”, Israel’s behaviour is not susceptible to the same standards by which a sovereign state would be judged. Both of these points are supported by almost exclusive reference to Israeli court decisions.

Occupation and Apartheid: “Apples and Oranges”

Zilbershats suggests that because Israel occupies the Palestinian territories without having formally annexed them (disregarding the fact that in the case of East Jerusalem it has done so), the state is bound there only by the laws of armed conflict. Israel can exempt itself from other spheres of international law, including, apparently, the prohibition of apartheid; its status as a jus cogens norm and explicit inclusion in the laws of armed conflict themselves notwithstanding. Zilbershats argues that, by asserting that regimes of apartheid and occupation can (and do) occur simultaneously, our article is guilty of ‘comparing apples and oranges’.

Apart from erasing several decades of Namibian history, this claim obscures the present reality that Israel’s colonisation of Palestinian territory goes far beyond the image of a temporary occupation that Zilbershats conjures up. With this “temporary” situation now approaching fifty years as the status quo and the settlement enterprise continuing apace, it is not merely a regime of belligerent occupation but also one of expansionary settler colonialism. Read the rest of this entry…

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Differentiated Statehood? ‘Pre-States’? Palestine@the UN

Published on April 3, 2013        Author: 

Nothing is ever simple in the Middle East in general, and the Arab-Israeli conflict in particular. The rather tired parable of the frog and the scorpion as applied to this arena (‘This is the Mid East, not the Mid West’, says the scorpion to the frog as they both drown) would be funny if it were not so sad; it can be applied to any number of protagonists in the conflict. Yet, in the case of the UNGA vote to ‘upgrade’ Palestine to non-member observer state status, the politics are, strangely perhaps, somewhat less knotty than the law.

Only the US, Canada, the Czech Republic and a few small Rent-a-States voted against the resolution. A good number of states, among them some undoubted Israel friends, abstained, and a large majority, including some other undoubted Israel friends, voted to accept Palestine to this new status.

The EU was all over the place, with member states in all three camps, including key member states such as Germany, the UK, Poland and the Netherlands among the abstentions, and others such as France, Italy and Spain, voting in favour. So much for the Common Foreign Policy.

Politically this was said to be a resounding defeat for Israeli diplomacy. That it was; but even the most brilliant diplomacy would probably have been of no avail here. The vote was a universal repudiation of Israel’s settlement policy which practically the whole world, including the United States, regards as an obstacle to peace and as illegal under international law. Indeed, it is illegal. The recent attempt by the Israeli-appointed Edmond Levy Committee to ‘kosher the pig’ by resurrecting arguments from the 1970s, which have today even less bite than they had then, has been largely met with derision. Interestingly the Levy Report remains ‘under study’ by the Israeli government, which has wisely avoided any official endorsement. Legally destabilizing the 1967 boundary, as the Report does, would be welcome, paradoxically yet understandably, not only to Israeli annexationists but also to Hamas. The UNGA vote was, indeed, intended by many as an expression of support for the PLO and Mahmoud Abbas in the intra-Palestinian struggles.

It was also, rightly or wrongly, an indication that in the blame-game, many in the international community ascribe more blame to Israel for failed movement in the peace process than to the Palestinians, the uncompromising and scary ‘negationist’ statements and policies of Hamas notwithstanding. If I am right in this last assessment it may also have an interesting, even profound, legal implication. Israel’s duty under the still-controlling UNSC Resolution 242 is to return Territories (and let’s not get into the stale discussion on the omission of ‘The’ in the resolution) in the context of a peace agreement, one objective of which would be to ensure peace within recognized and secure boundaries (the word ‘secure’ is the one which opens the possibility to mutually agreed border adjustments). Israel remains a lawful belligerent occupant pending such a peace treaty. Can that last forever? Surely this must be subject to some ‘good faith’ negotiation requirement if the legal formula does not become a recipe for permanent belligerent occupation. Read the rest of this entry…

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Some Observations on the Turkel Report and the Investigation of Wrongdoing by the Armed Forces

Published on March 13, 2013        Author: 

Alon Margalit is Research Associate, Hotung Programme for Law, Human Rights and Peace Building in the Middle East, SOAS, University of London.

The long awaited Turkel report which examines Israel’s practice of investigating allegations of wrongdoing during armed conflict by its security personnel was published in early February 2013.  The report (see original in Hebrew and an English translation) was issued by an expert Commission established by the Israeli government in June 2010 and headed by Jacob Turkel, a former judge of the Israeli Supreme Court.  The Turkel Commission produced an earlier report in January 2011 which dealt with legal aspects of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the interception of the Gaza-bound flotilla in May 2010 (this report was discussed here).  The second and final report of the Commission considers whether the mechanisms employed by Israel to investigate complaints regarding violations of the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) attributed to members of its armed forces conform with the state’s obligations under international law.

To a large extent, the Turkel report is a response to the report of the UN Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission (the Goldstone Report) that was published in September 2009 and looked into alleged violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law during the December 2008-January 2009 Gaza Conflict (codenamed by Israel as ‘Operation Cast Lead’).  The Goldstone Report, which was later endorsed by the UN General Assembly, found “major structural flaws” in the Israeli military justice system responsible for handling complaints of serious wrongdoing by Israeli soldiers, and further concluded that Israel’s investigation policies do not meet the required international standards.  The main concerns were the use of internal military investigations by the chain of command to examine complaints, as well as the dual role of the Israeli Military Advocate General (MAG).  The Fact-finding Mission was troubled that the MAG’s responsibility to provide legal advice to the military authorities creates a potential conflict of interest with the parallel responsibility to order the investigation and prosecution of unlawful actions which at times might be based on the MAG’S own legal advice.

Those issues were addressed by the Turkel Commission.  Four Israeli members and two non-Israeli observers prepared the report for two years.  They examined evidence provided by Israeli officials, academics and human rights NGOs, and further consulted several international law experts.  The comprehensive report which analyses the duty to investigate under LOAC and the relevant Israeli practice includes a significant comparative element.  To use the Commission’s own words, the report stands out in the sense that “is the result of considerable efforts to derive the main principles of international law from sources that are often vague and unclear”.  It is therefore a valuable document which might have a meaningful impact beyond the concrete Israeli context. Read the rest of this entry…

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Daniel Barenboim on Israel and Palestine

Published on February 5, 2013        Author: 

The great Daniel Barenboim has a very frank interview with Al Jazeera, dealing largely with his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which readers might find of interest. His diagnosis of the conflict as being in many respects asymmetrical, but in one aspect being “perfectly symmetrical, and that is the lack of curiosity about the other as human beings,” sounds right to me. This, of course, sounds even better:

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Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Israel, Palestine
 
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Palestine, When is Your Birthday?

Published on December 5, 2012        Author: 

lironpic

 Col. (Retired) Liron A. Libman, LL.M, is a former Head of the International Law Department of the Israeli Defense Forces.

On 29 November, in what some reports described as a historic vote, the UN General Assembly accorded to “Palestine” the status of a “non-member observer state” in the organization. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has enjoyed an observer status in the UN since 1974. Since 1988 the PLO mission to the UN was designated “Palestine”. Therefore, the supposed novelty is the UN recognition of Palestine as a state.

I do not want to discuss here the question of Palestinian statehood itself: whether “Palestine” has the objective qualification of a state under international law. Rather, I want to concentrate on the Palestinian official view as to the date when the Palestinian state was established. Many states celebrate their national day on that date, so in simple words, I ask when will the Palestinians celebrate their Independence Day?

I start my inquiry with the epilogue of Dr. Abbas, chairperson of the PLO, in his speech to the General Assembly:

“Sixty-five years ago on this day, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 181 (II), which partitioned the land of historic Palestine into two States and became the birth certificate for Israel.

The United Nations General Assembly is called upon today to issue the birth certificate of the reality of the State of Palestine.”

Dr. Abbas asked the General Assembly to grant a “birth certificate” to the state of Palestine. Taking this metaphor seriously, this implies that the Palestinian state already exists. To the best of my knowledge (as a father, if I may add), first, a child is born and only afterwards can the happy parents receive a birth certificate. The certificate is an official acknowledgement of a fait accompli.

However, Dr. Abbas paralleled the resolution he asks for with General Assembly resolution 181(II) of 29 November 1947, which he views as the birth certificate of the state of Israel. The problem is that clearly resolution 181(II) did not recognize an existing state of Israel, but rather recommended the future establishment of a Jewish state (alongside an Arab state) upon the termination of the British Mandate. The resolution even set a timetable for the coming into existence of the two future states.  Israel was established only about six months later, on 14 May 1948, when the Jewish People’s Council approved the Declaration of the establishment of the state of Israel. Clearly, resolution 181(II) was not the birth certificate of the state of Israel.

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Justice Levy’s Legal Tinsel: The Recent Israeli Report on the Status of the West Bank and Legality of the Settlements

Published on September 6, 2012        Author: 

In February 2012, the Israeli government appointed a commission, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Levy, to “examine the status of building in Judea and Samaria”—in other words, to examine the legality of settlements, whether authorised by the Israeli government or not, in the West Bank.  On 9 July 2012, the Commission’s report was released.  The report is in Hebrew, but its conclusions and recommendations have been translated into English by one of the Commission’s members, Alan Baker, and an unofficial translation of its arguments regarding international law has been published on a pro-Israeli US blog.

The reasoning of the Report, such as there is, is a travesty of legal argumentation.  It is selective in the issues it chooses to address, and perverse in its interpretation of international law. The arguments employed with regard to the status of the West Bank and legality of the Israeli settlements there are not novel.  Indeed, they are well-worn, tired, and have been thoroughly discredited in the past.  They contradict established legal opinion, both international and Israeli.

The Commission’s conclusions fall into two categories, one dealing with international law and the other with domestic Israeli law.  The Report states:

“Our basic conclusion is that from the point of view of international law, the classical laws of “occupation” as set out in the relevant international conventions cannot be considered applicable to the unique and sui generis historic and legal circumstances of Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria [ie, the West Bank] spanning over decades.

In addition, the provisions of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, regarding transfer of populations, cannot be considered to be applicable and were never intended to apply to the type of settlement activity carried out by Israel in Judea and Samaria.

Therefore, according to International Law, Israelis have the legal right to settle in Judea and Samaria and establishment of settlements cannot, in and of itself, be considered to be illegal.”

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Exploiting A ‘Dynamic’ Interpretation? The Israeli High Court of Justice Accepts the Legality of Israel’s Quarrying Activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory

Published on February 7, 2012        Author: 

 Valentina Azarov is a lecturer in human rights and international law and the chair of the Human Rights Program at the Al-Quds Bard College, Al-Quds University, East Jerusalem, Palestine. Formerly she worked as a legal researcher with Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organisation, with consultative UN ECOSOC status, and HaMoked-Centre for the Defense of the Individual, a legal aid human rights group that submits petitions before the Israeli High Court on violations of Palestinian rights in the occupied Palestinian territory. She is also an author for the International Law Observer.

On 26 December 2011, the Israeli High Court of Justice rendered its judgment in the case concerning Israel’s quarrying activities in the occupied Palestinian territory filed by the Israeli human rights organisation Yesh Din, who demanded that Israel terminate its quarrying activities since they violate Israel’s obligation as an Occupying Power to administer the occupied territory for the benefit of the local population (HCJ 2164/09 Yesh Din v The Commander of the Israeli Forces in the West Bank et al. (Unofficial English translation)). The judgment is an important occasion for examining the Court’s practice of applying international law to the manner in which the Israeli authorities’ administer the occupied Palestinian territory. By adopting a dynamic interpretation of the principles of the international law of belligerent occupation, in particular the ‘usufruct rule’ enshrined in Article 55 of the 1907 Hague Regulations, the Court’s ruling construes a right for the Israeli authorities to extensively exploit the natural resources in the Palestinian territory for the benefit of the Israeli private market. Among others, Gross’ Op-Ed on the judgment in the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, notes the purposive character of the Court’s argumentation, and the way in which its verdict violates the rules of the international law of belligerent occupation.

On 10 January 2012, Yesh Din submitted a request for a further hearing in the case with a larger panel of judges to examine a set of principled legal questions raised by the judgment. An amicus curiae brief was also presented to the Court by a group of Israeli international law scholars stating that the Court erred in its interpretation of Articles 43 and 55 of the Hague Regulations and concluding that the Court’s analysis is inconsistent with the most fundamental principles of the law of occupation.

Israel started operating quarries in the occupied Palestinian territory in the 1970s, with their production levels growing incrementally since. Today, there are ten quarries, eight of which are in operation. According to the petitioners, the majority of their yielded product (approximately 75%) is transferred for use in the Israeli construction market, whilst in some of these quarries the percentage of output transferred to the Israeli private market reaches 94%. The State claimed that the current level of production makes for about half a percent of the total potential production quota, and noted that Palestinian workers are being employed in the quarries and that royalties are paid to the Civil Administration, the Israeli military government in the occupied Palestinian territory, from the quarries’ operation (paragraph 1 of the judgment).

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Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Israel, Occupation
 

A Tale of Two Closures: Comments on the Palmer Report Concerning the May 2010 Flotilla Incident

Published on September 20, 2011        Author: 

Tamar Feldman is an attorney and director of the Legal Department at Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. She would like to convey her deepest gratitude to Sari Bashi and Yoni Eshpar for their insightful comments on an earlier version of this note and to Leora Garton for her excellent and timely edits.

On September 1, 2011, after months of repeated postponements, the Palmer Report was leaked to the media, obliging the UN Secretary-General to present the report officially the following day. The publication of the report was intended to calm the row surrounding its conclusions, but paradoxically served only to exacerbate the diplomatic crisis between Israel and Turkey. The bout of political arm wrestling that followed may one day be studied in faculties of international relations and conflict resolution as a classic example of bad diplomacy.

This wrangling is not only foolish, it is also dangerous. The principal danger is that it could lead to a regional conflagration that would certainly be of no benefit to the residents of Gaza, who are supposedly the subject of the dispute. However the row is also dangerous since it prevents serious discussion of the contents and conclusions of the Palmer Report.

As the committee itself notes at the beginning of the report, its recommendations are not legally binding and it is clear that the committee’s main goal was to resolve the diplomatic crisis between Israel and Turkey, rather than to draw conclusions on weighty legal issues. Nevertheless, of the five committees that have examined the events surrounding the Gaza Flotilla (the Eiland Committee, the Turkel Committee, the Turkish committee, the Committee of the UN Human Rights Council, and the Committee of the UN Secretary-General), the Palmer Committee is the most senior, and also the most balanced in its composition, since its members include representatives of both Israel and Turkey.

The comprehensive report submitted by the committee presents legal determinations, as well as detailed recommendations based on these determinations. A significant portion of the report (26 pages out of a total of 105) is devoted to a description of the legal framework applied by the committee in examining the legality of the naval blockade and the flotilla incident of May 31, 2010. Accordingly, the report’s conclusions and recommendations merit more serious examination. The present essay does not claim to provide a full analysis of the report, but rather to offer some comments and to highlight a number of aspects that have been sidelined by the power struggle waged by Israel and Turkey since the flotilla.

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The Palmer Report on the Mavi Marmara Incident and the Legality of Israel’s Blockade of the Gaza Strip

Published on September 6, 2011        Author: 

Overall, the Palmer Report is of high quality and merits close attention. I would strongly urge those interested to read, at the least, the very concise summary of its findings at pages 1-6, where the conduct of Israel, the Mavi Marmara protestors and Turkey all come in for criticism.  Israel in particular is found to have used “excessive and unreasonable” measures in boarding the Mavi Marmara resulting in “unacceptable” loss of life; and to have subsequently engaged in “significant mistreatment” of those detained (pages 4-5). There is also an excellent summary of the essential steps in the legal logic of both the Turkish and Israeli national inquiry reports (at paras. 23 and paras. 46-47). The Palmer Report itself, however, concludes the blockade of Gaza to be legal. On this essential point, I consider there to be serious gaps in the Report’s logic. Before turning to this, a few points should be noted.

First, the inquiry had no direct mandate to examine legal issues or render an opinion on the applicable law (as the report notes inter alia at paras 3, 5, 6, 14 and 15). Its task was to review the reports and findings of two widely divergent national inquiries into the incident, and to: “(a) examine and identify the facts, circumstances and context of the incident; and (b) consider and recommend ways of avoiding similar incidents in the future.” It was not asked, for example, to render an opinion on the applicable law to the Secretary-General. The key legal analysis is thus contained in an appendix and represents only the views of the Chairman and Vice-Chairman; indeed, the whole report predominantly reflects the conclusion of the Chairman and Vice-Chairman, with the Israeli and Turkish panel members appending a partial concurrence and a dissent, respectively.

My own analysis of the blockade is available in the current pre-publication British Yearbook of International Law. I only sketch the path of my analysis here, but to my mind these are the questions that any balanced assessment of the legality of the blockade must address. Starting from the proposition that blockade is ordinarily only available in an international armed conflict (IAC), the relevant questions are:

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Palmer Committee Report on the Mavi Marmara Incident

Published on September 2, 2011        Author: 

Yesterday the report of the UN Palmer Committee on the Mavi Marmara incident was leaded to the New York Times - the whole thing is available here. We hope to have more commentary on the report in the coming days; on the whole, it seems more favourable to Israel than the earlier Human Rights Council report. For now, however, I want to make two quick comments, and refer readers for background to Douglas Guilfoyle’s excellent recent piece in the British Yearbook.

First, although a very important finding in the report – a finding that Israel appreciates – is that the blockade of Gaza was legal as a matter of international law, that finding is based on a prior one that Israel most certainly will not like. Namely, as readers will recall, we discussed both on this blog and extensively in these two posts by Kevin Heller at OJ and the comments thereto that Israel’s blockade runs into a fundamental difficulty – that a maritime blockade, which involves the interdiction of the shipping on third states on the high seas, can only be effected in an IAC; it traditionally took place only in wars, and it necessarily involves a relinquishment by third states of their rights to the belligerents.

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