ISRAELI VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW IN
THE OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

Presented at a Hearing on "EU-Israel Bilateral Relations in the
Framework of International and European Law" at the European Parliament
(June 20,2002)

By Prof. Jeff Halper, Coordinator
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD
 

I would like to begin my presentation by talking about "sides." There is
a perception -- indeed, an expectation -- that Israelis and Palestinians
will be on separate, conflicting and irreconcilable "sides" of what is
called the "Israeli-Palestinian Conflict." There is a committee of the
European Parliament that liasons with the Palestinian "side," and
another that liasons with the Israeli "side." I would like to declare at
the outset that I do not locate myself on either of those "sides." For
me, as an Israeli Jew, "sides" mean something different altogether. I am
on the "side" of Israelis and Palestinians who seek a just peace that
addresses Palestinian rights of self-determination as well as Israeli
concerns of security and regional integration. I am on the "side" that
stands for equality, human rights, democracy, peaceful co-existence and
regional economic development. To be sure, there is another "side,"
those Israelis and Palestinians that advocate exclusivity, conflict, a
win-lose mentality and continued injustice and suffering. That is the
way the "sides" divide, not Palestinian-Israeli.

In terms of resolving the conflict, there is yet another meaning to
"sides"
-- that of two equal parties coming together to resolve their grievances
and perceived causes of injustice. Here some kind of symmetry is
supposed, of two parties that consider each other legitimate parties to
negotiations
-- "sides." It took the Palestinians until 1988 to formally recognize
the fact, if not the full legitimacy, of the Israeli "side," which they
did in their declaration of independence in Algiers. They did so again
in the Oslo Declaration of Principles of 1993, where by recognizing
Israel as within the 1967 borders, the PLO conceded not only the 56% of
the land partitioned to the Jewish state by the UN in 1947, but also the
additional 22% conquered from the prospective Palestinian state -- 78%
altogether. In return, Israel did not recognize the right of
self-determination of the Palestinian people. In the Oslo Accords it
agreed only to negotiate "final status issues" with the PLO, without
committing itself to any particular outcome, including the establishment
in the end of a viable, sovereign Palestinian state.

Understanding this is crucial for comprehending Israel's unilateral
"giving" certain concessions to Palestinians, presenting its positions
in a "take-it-or-leave-it" manner, or declaring the results of certain
rounds of negotiations as "null and void." It explains why Israel
continues to reinforce an occupation whose every element, including the
systematic demolition of 9000 Palestinian homes since 1967, violates
international humanitarian law, and particularly the Fourth Geneva
Convention. It explains the absolute impunity by which Israel invades
Palestinian cities, imposes a permanent closure that impoverishes
millions of people or imprisons an entire people behind barbed wire,
checkpoints and walls "so high that even the birds cannot fly over
them," in the words of a prominent Israeli military historian. For
neither Israel nor its pre-state Yishuv nor the Zionist movement as a
whole has ever recognized the Palestinians as a distinct people with
national or even individual rights and holding legitimate claims to the
country. Israeli Jews view Palestinians as merely "Arabs," an
undifferentiated part of an Arab mass that might just as well live in
one of the "other" 22 Arab countries as in "ours." From the point of
view of legitimacy there is only one "side" in the view of Israeli Jews,
themselves as the only nation in the country, exclusive holders of
exclusive claims to it (a right that extends to all Jews whether or not
they live in Israel or have citizenship there). This exclusive right
extends to the entire country, including the Occupied Territories. There
is no other "side," only a mass of intractable "Arabs" with which we
must deal in one way or another. This is the source of Israeli human
rights violations in both the Occupied Territories and within Israel
itself. This is the source of the impunity.  There is no symmetry, no
"two sides."

The issue of symmetry -- or a fundamental lack of symmetry -- must also
be recognized at the outset. There are no two "sides" from the point of
view of power, of the ability to resolve the conflict equitably -- and
even of responsibility. We often speak of "two sides," each of which
must "stop the violence' or which is "equally guilty" of perpetuating
the conflict. But this ignores the fundamental imbalance of the
situation. One "side," Israel, is an internationally recognized state
with one of the most powerful military forces in the world (including
200-300 nuclear warheads, making it the world's fifth largest nuclear
nation) and an economy more than 20 times larger than that of the
Palestinians. And it is the occupier. The other "side" is a fragmented,
stateless, impoverished, vulnerable and traumatized people (70% of which
are refugees or displaced persons) possessing no sovereignty and only a
lightly armed militia. And it is occupied -- or exiled. The
Palestinians, moreover, are in a situation of resisting colonization --
a right recognized in international law -- which differentiates their
use of "violence"-as-resistance to Israel's "violence"-as-repression,
the latter a violation of the right of self-determination. While
Palestinians must also be held accountable for their actions, including
the use of terrorism, their situation is qualitatively different from
that of the Israelis whose use of state terror and systematic violations
of human rights (in making its occupation
permanent) involve a much greater degree of choice.

>From here I would like to make one other fundamental point: the Israeli
Occupation  is not simply a reaction to terrorism or a means of
self-defense, but is an expression  of a pro-active policy of de facto
annexation that began immediately after the 1967 war. It is a goal in
and of itself, which has generated over the years a high degree of
suffering, violence and human rights violations. Israel tries to deflect
attention from this fact by presenting its military actions and policies
of repression as mere reactions to "Palestinian violence and
intransigence." In this way it has made the Occupation disappear from
the discourse. This presentation rests on the fundamental proposition
that the Occupation is an outcome of conscious Israeli policy of
controlling the entire "Land of Israel" from the Jordan to the
Mediterranean. Nothing illustrates this better than the construction of
more than 200 Israeli settlements -- 44 in the year and a half of
Sharon's premiership alone. It is the Occupation and its role in
preventing the Palestinians from realizing their right of
self-determination that is the source of the conflict, not Palestinian
resistance.

What flows from all of this is an Israeli attitude of impunity towards
Palestinian human rights and a disregard - even a rejection - of
international humanitarian law as applying to either Palestinians or to
the situation of occupation. Virtually all of Israel's occupation of
Palestinian lands violates human rights conventions - and especially the
Fourth Geneva Convention that forbids an occupying power from making its
presence a permanent one. Thus:

-- Article 3 prohibits "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular
humiliating and degrading treatment," a routine element of Palestinian
life under Israel's occupation.

-- Article 32 forbids assassinations, and any brutalization of the
civilian population, including their treatment at checkpoints and in
"security searches."

-- Article 33 prohibiting pillage would obtain to Israel's extensive use
of West Bank and Gazan water resources, especially as they are denied
the local population. It also prohibits the use of collective
punishment, as represented by the imposition of closure, curfew, house
demolitions and many other routine actions of the Occupation
Authorities.

-- Article 39 stipulates: "Protected persons [residents of occupied
lands] who, as a result of the war, have lost their gainful employment,
shall be granted the opportunity to find paid employment." It thereby
prohibits the imposition a permanent "closure" on the Occupied
Territories, such as Israel has done since 1993.

-- Article 49 forbids deportations and any "forcible transfers," which
would include such common practices as revoking Jerusalem IDs or banning
Palestinians from returning from work, study or travel abroad. It also
stipulates that "The Occupying Power shall not.transfer parts of its own
civilian population into territories it occupies" - a clear ban on
settlements.

-- Article 53 reads: "Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or
personal property belonging individually or collectively to private
persons.is prohibited." Under this provision the practice of demolishing
Palestinian houses is banned,  but so is the wholesale destruction of
the Palestinian infrastructure (including its civil society institutions
and records in Ramallah) destroyed in the reoccupation of March-April
2002..

-- Article 64 forbids changes in the local legal system that, among
other things, alienate the local population from its land and property,
as Israel has done through massive land expropriations.

-- Article 146 holds accountable individuals who have committed "grave
breaches" of the Convention. According to Article 147, this includes
many acts routinely practiced under the Occupation, such as willful
killing, torture or inhuman treatment, willfully causing great suffering
or serious injury, unlawful deportation, taking of hostages and
extensive destruction and appropriation of property. Israeli courts have
thus far failed to charge or prosecute Israeli officials, military
personnel or police who have committed such acts.

-- The PLO also bears a measure of responsibility for the violations of
its own people's rights under the Fourth Geneva Convention. According to
Article 8, the PLO had no right in the Oslo Agreements to abrogate their
rights and suspend the applicability of the Convention, since "Protected
persons may in no circumstances renounce in part or in entirety the
rights secured to them by the present Convention." Had international
humanitarian law been the basis of the Oslo peace process rather than
power-negotiations, the Occupation would have ended and the conditions
for a just peace would have been established, since virtually every
element of Israel's occupation violates a provision of the Fourth Geneva
Convention.

And this is perhaps the most important point. The International
humanitarian law provides a map for the equitable resolution of the
Israeli-Palestinian "conflict." By guaranteeing the collective rights of
both peoples to self-determination and prohibiting occupation and the
perpetuation of refugee status, it leaves only the details of an
agreement to be worked out by negotiations. Boundaries, the just
resolution of the refugee issue based on the Right of Return and
individual choice and the other "final status issues" can be resolved
only if they are addressed in the context of human rights and
international humanitarian law -- and not as mere by-products of power.
Nothing is being asked of Israel that is not asked of any other country
-- accountability under covenants of human rights formulated and adopted
by the international community, which Israel pledged to respect as a
condition for its creation by the UN and upon which Israel itself has
signed.

As it is, Israel refuses to abide by international law and treats both
the Palestinians under its control and the international community
attempting to intervene with absolute impunity. The refusal of the
international community to intervene makes it complicit in the
violations of human rights and war crimes that Israel is committing in
the Occupied Territories. The European Union and this very Parliament
has emerged in our time as a hopeful sign of a new age of lowered
boundaries and great economic integration for the benefit of all its
member nations. International humanitarian law has also emerged since
World War II as a hopeful sign of a world based on justice and equality
rather than power and dominance. If the new political and economic form
that is it the EU is not founded firmly on the new notion of universal
rights and justice, then it will remain an interesting but finally
localized experiment in technical cooperation among states, with no
implications for a truly better world.

The Occupation poses a bold challenge to the international community,
whether to its elected representatives as in this chamber or to the
civil society as represented by the NGOs and faith-based organizations
testifying before you today. In an era of global transparency, of mass
media, instantaneous news coverage and the internet, can a new Berlin
Wall be built that locks millions of Palestinians behind massive
fortifications, Israel's $100 million "security fence?" Decades after
the end of colonialism and a decade after the end of South African
apartheid, will the international community actually sit passively by
while a new apartheid regime arises before our very eyes? And in a world
in which the ideal of human rights has gained wide acceptance, could an
entire people be imprisoned in dozens of tiny, impoverished islands,
denied its fundamental right of self-determination? Until we all act
according to the ideals and rules we ourselves have created, the answer
will remain blowing in the wind.
 

(Jeff Halper, an anthropologist, is the Coordinator of the Israeli
Committee Against House Demolitions <www.icahd.org>. He can be reached
at
<icahd@zahav.net.il>.)