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:
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.
Justice Levy’s Legal Tinsel: The Recent Israeli Report on the Status of the West Bank and Legality of the Settlements
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.”
Exploiting A ‘Dynamic’ Interpretation? The Israeli High Court of Justice Accepts the Legality of Israel’s Quarrying Activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
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).
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.
The Palmer Report on the Mavi Marmara Incident and the Legality of Israel’s Blockade of the Gaza Strip
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:
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.
Dr Amichai Cohen is a Senior Lecturer at the Ono Academic College in Israel; Prof. Yuval Shany is the Hersch Lauterpacht Chair of Public International Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Both Dr Cohen and Prof. Shany are senior researchers at the Israel Democracy Institute. The authors thank Prof. David Kretzmer, Mr. Gil Limon and Mr. Rotem Giladi for their comments to a previous draft. The usual disclaimers apply
On January 23, 2011 The Public Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident of May 31, 2010 – The Turkel Commission published its partial report on the Flotilla incident. This partial report deals with the two main issues raised in the aftermath of the Flotilla incident – the legality of the naval blockade on Gaza, and the tragic results that ensued from the raid by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) commandos of the flotilla ships, which tried to run the blockade – the killing of 9 passengers on board one of the flotilla ships – the Mavi Marmara.
The Turkel Commission was set up by the Israeli government on June 14th 2010, and was headed by a former Justice of the Supreme Court, Yaakov Turkel. Its members included a retired diplomat (Ambassador Reuven Merhav), a former army general (Amos Horev) and a civil law professor (Miguel Deutch). Shabtai Rossene, the fifth member of the Commission, a renowned international law expert, died during deliberations. The Commission also included two international observers, Nobel laureate, Lord David Trimble, and the former Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Forces, Brig. General Kenneth Watkins. The Commission was further assisted by two notable international law experts – Professor Michael Schmitt and Prof. Dr. Wolff Heintschel von Heinegg. The report, which covers 240 pages (the English version is almost 300 pages long), exonerated the IDF and the Israeli government from any violation of international law connected with the flotilla incident and declared that the nine deaths which occurred on board the Mavi Marmara were a tragic result of a conflict which Israel did not seek, plan or even foresee. This conclusion is supported by extensive fact finding and legal analysis. Although the Commission conceded that it could not verify the entire body of evidence for each and every case of shooting or other form of violence employed on the Mavi Marmara during the takeover (the Commission identified 133 such incidents), it did not find Israel’s action to violate any applicable international law standard.
The purpose of this comment is to discuss some of the specific legal findings made by the Turkel Commission, which we believe to be problematic in nature.
Today an Israeli inquiry, the Turkel Committee, published the first part of its report on the Mavi Marmara incident and the lawfulness of the Gaza blockade generally, finding that Israel acted in accordance with international law (full report; summary; BBC News article). An earlier UN inquiry reached the opposite conclusion – for a critique see Yuval Shany’s post; for previous coverage see this post by Dapo. I have not had the time to read the report, let alone digest it, but on a quick skim I saw, inter alia, that the report qualified the Israel/Hamas conflict as an international armed conflict, thus enabling the creation of a blockade, without however articulating a clear theory in that regard. The report also somewhat more controversially alleges that a blockade would be permissible even if the conflict was non-international in nature (see paras. 37-44).
Yuval Shany is the Hersch Lauterpacht Chair in Public International Law at the Law Faculty at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The author thanks Prof. David Kretzmer, Adv. Gil Limon and Adv. Rotem Giladi for useful comments to an earlier draft. The usual disclaimers apply.
The Report of the “international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, resulting from the Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance” (the ‘Flotilla Report” issued by the “fact finding mission”), which was published on 22 September 2010, is a troubling document.
Of course, the Report is troubling in that it suggests that Israel has committed serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law: The Report alleges that the Israeli blockade violated the laws of war, that the interception of the flotilla was therefore unlawful, that excessive force was used during the interception resulting in loss of lives, and that the individuals on board the flotilla ships were mistreated while in Israeli custody.
Still, at a different level, the Report is troubling in its many substantive weaknesses, which cast serious doubts on its potential impact, as well as on the desirability of engaging in such fact-finding exercises in the future. I will deal hereby with one set of problems I find in the Report: the poor quality of the legal analysis leading to identification of the law governing the Israeli interception operation and the application of such law to the facts at hand. I would note however that other problems in the Report exist: For example, one ought to be troubled by the mission’s rush to issue judgment on questions of fact, notwithstanding the unavailability to it of the full Israeli version of events, and without awaiting the outcome of investigations conducted in Israel (the Turkel Committee) and on behalf of the UN Secretary General (the Palmer Committee), which could throw light on some of the events that transpired on board of the flotilla ships and in detention facilities inside in Israel.
Documents such as the Flotilla Report touch upon sensitive and difficult matters and are inevitably bound to generate controversy. However, by failing to acknowledge many of the legal complexities and challenges presented by the circumstances of the flotilla incident, and through committing some serious error of law, I believe that the fact finding mission significantly eroded the Report’s credibility and undermined its potential impact.