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Is Israel’s Use of Force in Gaza Covered by the Jus Ad Bellum?

Published on August 22, 2014        Author: 

On any account, the conflict in Gaza is depressing. It is clear that Hamas’ firing of rockets which are incapable of distinguishing between military and civilian targets is a violation of international humanitarian law. However, the question whether Israel’s actions in Gaza, which have reportedly resulted in the death of over 2000 people, comply with international law generates much more heated debate. As Professor Geir Ulfstein has pointed out, in a recent post on Just Security, in discussions about whether Israel has violated international law, “the focus is only on violations of international humanitarian law (jus in bello), not on breaches of restrictions following from the right of self-defence (jus ad bellum).” An example is this post by Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association on Huffington Post. One of the key questions that arise in connection with Israel’s actions in Gaza is whether its actions are proportionate. In a later post I will focus on proportionality and what it might mean in this conflict. Suffice it to say for now that as Geir Ulfstein notes (and as pointed out by Marko in this post) the “requirements of proportionality are different in international humanitarian law (IHL) and as a restriction on the right of self defence”. One may also note that even if every individual acts of targeting by a party to a conflict is proportionate under IHL, the overall campaign might still be disproportionate under the law relating to self defence in the jus ad bellum. Prof Ulfstein ends his post by saying that “the restrictions on self-defence for Israel’s military operations should receive more attention”. This posts responds to that call.

In this post, I wish to address the question whether Israel is bound by the law relating to self-defence in the action it is taking in Gaza. Put differently, the question is whether the international law limitations on the right of self-defence apply to Israeli action in Gaza? As Israel’s actions in Gaza are taken in response to Hamas’ actions and Israel claims to be acting in self defence, our intuitions might suggest that we ought to assess whether Israel’s actions comply with the international law limits on self defence. In particular, one may ask whether Israel’s actions are proportionate in the jus ad bellum sense.

Despite first impressions, it is not at all obvious that the jus ad bellum applies to Israel’s use of force in Gaza. When one scratches beneath the surface, the question appears more complicated. Read the rest of this entry…

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Collective Punishment Receives a Judicial Imprimatur

Published on August 21, 2014        Author: 

In her recent book on the application of international humanitarian law by national courts, Sharon Weill describes the “apologist role” that is sometimes played by domestic judicial bodies, whereby decisions of courts serve to legitimise unlawful state policies. Last week’s judgment by the Israeli Supreme Court (sitting as the High Court of Justice) upholding the orders of a military commander to destroy and seal a number of Palestinian houses in the West Bank is an exemplary case in point.

The judgment in Qawasmeh et. al.is significant for it provides judicial approval for the recent reinstatement of Israel’s punitive house demolition policy after a “decade-long hiatus”. The judges condone practices of collective punishment, despite the existence of a clear prohibition of such practices under international humanitarian law. The approval is not inadvertent, for the judgment shows that the Court is fully aware of the harm caused to persons other than the perpetrator by the practice of demolishing or sealing the houses of those responsible for criminal or hostile acts.

The background facts of the case are well-known, given that the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June 2014 served as the trigger for a violent escalation leading to ‘Operation Protective Edge’ in Gaza. The Israeli authorities identified the alleged perpetrators of this crime and ordered the demolition or sealing of their homes “in view of the need to deter others from the recurrence of similar actions” (although one residence was already destroyed once the individual was identified). At the time of the judgment, two of the suspects had not been arrested and the third had not yet been tried. Since then, the demolition and sealing orders have been carried out, with a statement by the Israeli military expressly referring to the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the orders and its rejection of the petitioners’ appeals.

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Mapping the Scholarly Commentary on Israel-Gaza Wars 2008-2014

Published on August 11, 2014        Author: 

John Louth, Editor-in-Chief of Academic Law Books, Journals and Online content at Oxford University Press has produced another one of those impressive Debate Maps that they have been creating over the last year or so. This one is about the Israel-Gaza Wars from 2008 to 2014 and it:

“. . . maps scholarly commentary on the international law aspects of the armed conflict(s) between Israel and Gaza since Israel withdrew from the territory. Sources in the map include commentary published in English language law blogs and newspapers, and free content from OUP’s online services other free repositories.

A later update of this map will include consideration of a referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court.

Whereas previous maps attempted to provide comprehensive coverage of blog commentary, this map is more selective due to the time period covered. Comments from readers pointing out important issues and perspectives that have not been included can be sent to john.louth {at} oup(.)com.”

We at EJIL:Talk! have, at least thus far, not had much to say about the current conflict in Gaza. However, as the OUP Debate Map shows, we have have posted extensively on previous manifestations of the conflict between Israel and Gaza. Much of that prior analysis remains relevant to the current conflict. We are highlighting that previous commentary in our “From the Archives” box which is to the left of this post (if you’re on a computer) or below the list of posts (if you’re on a mobile device). As John has not yet included material on the possibility of a Palestinian acceptance of the jurisdiction of the ICC, we have included in the “From the Archives” box some of the previous EJIL:Talk! posts on that issue. We have also included some of the posts on whether Gaza is occupied - an issue of critical importance with regard to the debate on whether Israel has a continuing obligation to supply electricity to the territory. We have also included some of our early posts on proportionality and on the question of who is to be regarded as a combatant in Gaza (here, here and here).

As with the other Debate Maps produced by OUP, this one is to be highly recommended. It is one of the easiest and best ways to get an overview of the legal issues and provides a really useful bibliography of scholarship on those issues. For an explanation by John and Merel Alstein at OUP of the thinking behind the Debate Maps see here and here.

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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