Category Archives: United Nations

The West Bank and International Humanitarian Law on the Eve of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Six-Day War

By Theodor Meron (The American Society of International Law, 2017)

Judge Meron’s 19-page article is available here to download.

Rarely does a jurist have the opportunity to render a legal opinion twice on the very same case or controversy fifty years apart.

Theodor Meron

Theodor Meron

Theodor Meron was 37 when he was appointed the Legal Adviser of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs shortly after the Six-Day War. He was asked to address some of the international legal implications that followed from that war.

He opined on September 14, 1967 that “the establishment of civilian settlements in the occupied West Bank and other conquered territories violates the Fourth Geneva Convention related to the protection of victims of war and, specifically, its prohibition on settlements (Article 49(6)).” This prohibition is categorical, he wrote, and “not conditioned on the motives or purposes of the transfer, and is aimed at preventing colonization of conquered territory by citizens of the conquering state.”

In March 2017, his opinion has not changed. Given the inexorable demographic change in the West Bank over the past fifty years; the adoption by the Security Council of Resolution 2334 on December 23, 2016; John Kerry’s unprecedented speech delivered on December 28, 2016; and Netanyahu’s immediate rejection of the “shameful UN resolution” — Judge Meron felt compelled to speak up again in support of international law and its requirements and application to the settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Judge Meron’s career is noteworthy and worth recounting here because his opinion carries weight, except with Israeli leaders.

Meron

Theodor Meron – President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Judge and President of the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals; Judge and Past President of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; former Judge of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; Charles L. Denison Professor Emeritus and Judicial Fellow, New York University School of Law; Visiting Professor, University of Oxford, since 2014; past Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Journal; past Honorary President of the American Society of International Law.

Settlements in the Occupied West Bank

What is the scope of the problem? The Palestinian president says there will be no negotiations until Israel ends the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli prime minister says the Palestinians must come to the bargaining table with no preconditions, but he demands that the Palestinians first recognize Israel as a Jewish state. There have been no negotiations since 2010.

2016-mena-israel-overviewmap

Today there are nearly 600,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerualem. There are 127 government-sanctioned Israeli settlements (not including East Jerusalem and Hebron), and approximately 100 “settlement outposts”. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the annual growth rate for the settler population (excluding East Jerusalem) in 2015 was more than two times higher than that of the overall population in Israel: 4.1% and 2% percent, respectively.  Translated: there are more Israelis today moving to Palestine than to the State of Israel.

Check out this segment on NPR from December 2016 about the settlements.

The Jewish settlements were illegal in 1967 and they remain illegal today.

The Fourth Geneva Convention, adopted in 1949 to protect civilians in a war zone, is considered the “gold standard of humanitarian law.” While 196 countries have signed on, the United Nations concluded in 1993 that the Geneva Conventions had passed into customary law and therefore everyone is bound by them.

What does the Fourth Geneva Convention require of the occupying power (Israel) towards the protected persons (Palestinians) in the territories it occupies?

  1. No collective punishment (article 33) – including no pillage, intimidation, or terrorism. Collective punishment is considered a war crime.
  2. May not forcibly deport protected persons or transfer part of its own civilian population into the occupied territory (article 49).
  3. Must facilitate the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children (article 50).
  4. No destruction of property belonging to the protected persons or to public authorities (article 53).
  5. Maintain the public health and hygiene along with the medical facilities in the occupied territories (article 56).

Nakba refugees

Despite clear and strong opinions from the International Court of Justice, supported by a score of Security Council resolutions, the International Red Cross, and a rare consensus of the international community on the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied Palestinian territories, the State of Israel has built a 50-year record of parsing the Fourth Geneva Convention, applying provisions it likes while rejecting others. “This opacity is made worse,” Judge Meron writes, “by the reluctance of Israel to divulge in public the list of the Fourth Geneva Convention’s humanitarian provisions which it is prepared to apply.”

Disrespect for international law is, alas, not unusual in the affairs of states. It is rare, however, that disrespect of an international convention would have such a direct impact on the elimination of any realistice prospects for reconciliation, not to mention peace. And it is rarer still that such disrespect of internatioal law should subsist given the number of pronouncements on the matter.

Israeli leaders rejected Meron’s opinion in 1967 and, undoubtedly, reject it today. They hinge their position on the argument that the territories are not occupied because conquered territory only becomes occupied territory when it belongs to a legitimate sovereign that was ousted. This theory disputes the status of Jordan as such a sovereign of the West Bank in 1967 which, in the opinion of Israel makes the Geneva Convention inapplicable de jure. The government has simply decided, in the absence of an international obligation to do so, to act de facto in accordance with the humanitarian provisions of the Convention.

Judge Meron rejects this argument summarily, asking “what would prevent every conquering state from contesting the sovereignty of every defeated state, even where no legitimate doubts about the sovereignty arise?” In a nutshell, the status of the lands conquered in the Six Day War has no bearing on the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to Israel, as the conquering power.

While the Fourth Geneva Convention bestows rights on the “protected persons” (Palestinians in this case), the Hague Convention No. IV establishes responsibilities on the occupying power, and Israel’s Supreme Court has recognized the applicability of the Hague Convention No. IV as customary law to the West Bank.

There is the requirement to respect private property (Article 46), and the property of municipalities, and that of institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, and arts and sciences. (Article 56). The occupying power must also safeguard and administer the real estate in accordance with the rules of usufruct.

With the construction of the “security wall” encroaching on Palestinian lands, and a record number of housing demolitions in the West Bank in 2016, the reasonable question Palestinians and the rest of the world might ask is “Who is going to hold the State of Israel accountable for its violations of international law?”

12794787_10208838393703043_5184863994902971158_o Judge Meron concludes his 2017 opinion:

Those of us who are committed to international law, and particularly to respect for international humanitarian law and the principles embodied therein, cannot remain silent when faced with such denials or self-serving interpretations.

But if the continuation of the settlement project on the West Bank has met with practically universal rejection by the international community, it is not just because of its illegality under the Fourth Geneva Convention or under international humanitarian law more generally. Nor is it only because, by preventing the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian territory, the settlement project frustrates any prospect of serious negotiations aimed at a two-state solution, and thus of reconciliation between the Israelis and Palestinians. It is also because of the growing perception that individual Palestinians’ human rights, as well as their rights under the Fourth Geneva Convention, are being violated and that the colonization of territories populated by other people can no longer be accepted in our time.

 

 

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Senators should not build unity on the backs of Palestinians

When do U.S. Senators stand lockstep together?

When the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) convinces them that the United Nations is biased against the State of Israel.

The Wall Street Journal notes:

It’s rare, especially these days, for all 100 U.S. Senators—from Bernie Sanders to Ted Cruz, from Elizabeth Warren to Mitch McConnell—to agree on something. But the scourge of anti-Israel bias at the United Nations is such an issue.

So all of them, including Senators Warren, Sanders, and my two Senators from New Mexico signed on to the letter undoubtedly written by AIPAC, the pro-Israeli lobbying operation ensconced in Washington DC.

The letter is a warning note to Secretary-General Guterres – “reform your agencies from within or pay the consequences.”

Although, as Republicans and Democrats, we disagree on many issues, we are united in our desire to see the United Nations improve its treatment of Israel and to eliminate anti-Semitism in all its forms.

My response sent to my two U.S. Senators follows.  I hope they hear from many other constituents.

May 10, 2017

RE:   April 27 letter to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – Israel & Palestine

Dear Senators Udall and Heinrich,

I’m very disappointed with your signatures on the letter (likely drafted by AIPAC) to the United Nations regarding Israel.

Senator Martin Heinrich

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM)

You, along with your colleagues in the Senate, have adopted Israel’s strategy of deflecting legitimate and worldwide criticism of Israel’s brutal 50-year occupation by focusing criticism on the messenger, the United Nations. We’ve all seen this same “strategy of deflection” coming from the White House in the form of childish Tweets. Your letter is just as childish.

Threatening the United Nations and demanding internal “reforms,” based on false assertions that the U.N. is unfairly targeting Israel, belies the fact that the community of nations stand together in their condemnation of Israel’s long-term, illegal occupation of Palestine.

A quick online review of recent actions in the United Nations reveals that the U.S. stands alone with the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau (and sometimes Canada) in supporting Israel in the U.N. General Assembly. Every other nation is united in speaking the truth about Israel’s continuing violations of international humanitarian law and the law of occupation. Your letter’s bullying demands to the Secretary-General reflect poorly on the United States, but it’s certainly a testament to AIPAC’s power over the U.S. Senate.

I particularly want to draw your attention to the letter’s outrageous claim about “UNRWA’s troubling anti-Israel bias and activities.” You write that “UNRWA must pursue reforms or risk significant consequences.” I’m personally familiar with UNRWA’s solid work in the Gaza Strip and I find this characterization and threat totally unacceptable. The Senate’s blind loyalty to Israel’s hasbara must end.

Udall

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM)

I’m also astonished that you oppose the international call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as stated in the letter to the U.N.  Peaceful, nonviolent methods to end Israel’s occupation deserve your strong support, not condemnation.

Please learn the facts about the occupation, beginning with the fact that the Gaza Strip will be unlivable by 2020.

Israel’s leaders have proven over many decades that they are incapable or unwilling to end the occupation. If the United States cannot play a constructive role, then please support the United Nations and its constituent agencies in the work they are doing in the Middle East.

Finally, I invite you and your staff to join me in UNRWA-USA’s 5K run in Washington, DC in September.  Your support for this worthy cause would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Lora A. Lucero

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U.S. Senate to consider S.Res.6 opposing international law – January 17, 2017

loss-of-landAs the US Senate considers S.Res.6 condemning the UN and specifically asking for the repeal of UN Resolution 2334, the Palestine delegation addresses the UN Security Council today. It’s worth reading the Ambassador’s statement in its entirety, here.

In comparison to Senator Marco Rubio’s language in S.Res.6, Ambassador Dr. Riyad Mansour sounds like an adult.

“Resolution 2334 (2016) is not anti-Israel; it is anti-settlements, anti-violence, anti-human rights violations. As such, resolution 2334 (2016) is clearly pro-peace, pro-international law, pro-two-States and thus pro-Palestine and pro-Israel.
Moreover, resolution 2334 (2016) cannot by any sense of reason be characterized as one-sided. The law – on which the resolution is firmly based – is universal and fair and can never be biased. This is a fact and is the lifeline of our international system.”

What is so striking to me is that one speaks of the facts, while the other obfuscates the facts in rhetoric that is clearly Orwellian.  You can guess which is which.  Have we truly descended into a post-factual world where the truth doesn’t matter any more?

After the UN Security Council’s approval of UNSC Res. 2334 in December 2016, NPR prepared a short piece — 7 Things To Know About Israeli Settlements.

When the Israelis and Palestinians first began peace talks after a 1993 interim agreement, the West Bank settlers numbered a little over 100,000. Today they total around 400,000 and live in about 130 separate settlements. That number does not include East Jerusalem.

Peace Now keeps a pretty good record of Israel’s settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  Check it out here.

Unsuspecting Americans might not realize that S.Res.6 is defending Israel’s settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory which has long been held illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Why are our Senators even voting on a resolution premised on support of illegal activities?

The practical effect of S.Res.6 is that it encourages the status quo, where Israel’s settlement expansion continues. Should the U.S. Senate really encourage Israel to continue eating the pizza while urging the parties to talk about how to divide the pizza?

I’ll be watching closely to see how “my” two Senators from New Mexico vote today. They have heard my opinion about S.Res.6. If they vote in the affirmative, I’m going to ask them for an explanation of their vote.

 

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Does Congress listen to average blokes?

Actually, it’s a fair question and I don’t have the answer.

In my long history of writing elected officials, I’ve rarely received anything more than a form letter in response, and more often then not, these form letters are nonresponsive.

dear_sir_formal_letter_istock_000004683049xsmall

But I keep writing because (1) the act of writing empowers me and I learn about the issue; (2) writing is a respectful way of telling my elected officials that I’m watching them and care about these issues; and (3) writing letters provides a paper-trail to share with other constitutents/voters/average blokes.

(I also routinely call the Congressional offices in DC to register my 30 second opinion on a current issue — their numbers are on speed dial.)

Given all the money flowing into Congress from special interests, drowning out our voices because corporations have free speech rights, ya’ know, it’s even more important for average blokes to write — write clearly and write often.

This week I wrote two letters to Congress — here’s the shorter one.

I’m writing on behalf of the members of the _____________ to ask you to reconsider your support as cosponsor of S.Res.6 – Objecting to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334.  A copy of UNSC Res. 2334 is attached.

With the passage of UNSC Res. 2334, every member of the United Nations Security Council, save the United States, is urging the State of Israel to meet its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and end the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian Territories. UNSC Res. 2334 is even-handed and balanced when it speaks to both Israelis and Palestinians to “act on the basis of international law” and to return to the negotiating table.

The United States Congress is standing on the wrong side of history when it stands alone among the community of nations, to denounce well-established international law. The United States is not being a friend to the State of Israel by trying to shield it from criticism, just as a good friend doesn’t turn a blind eye to the destructive behavior of someone he/she cares about.

We believe President Obama’s decision to abstain in the UNSC Res. 2334 vote was both courageous and correct. We urge you to seek amendments to S.Res.6 to ensure that it supports international law, and supports negotiations between the parties in a balanced and fair manner.

 

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115th Congress: Israel’s BFF

iStock 20492165 MD - American and Israeli flags

America and Israel flags

In addition to H. Res. 11 mentioned in an earlier blog post, a number of other resolutions have been introduced in the House and Senate regarding Israel.

Reject the 2-state solution once and for all is what Representative Steve King (R-IA) is urging the new Administration to do with his H.Res. 27. Frankly, most Palestinians would agree that the 2-state solution is infeasible. Ramzy Baroud goes further and writes:

If the US was indeed keen on a two-state solution, it would have fought vehemently to make it a reality decades ago. To say that the two-state solution is now dead is to subscribe to the illusion that it was once alive and possible.

That said, it behooves everyone to understand that coexistence in one democratic state is not a dark scenario that spells doom for the region. It is time to abandon unattainable illusions and focus all energies to foster coexistence based on equality and justice for all. There can be one state between the river and the sea, and that is a democratic state for all its people, regardless of their ethnicity or religious beliefs.

However, King’s proposal is not for one democratic state. Far from it, he again demonizes the Palestinians for a failed Palestinian state in “Judea and Samaria” (code phrase for “this land between the river and the sea only belongs to the Jews and anyone else should leave”) which he says threatens the people of Israel, and he urges the Administration to reject the “two-state solution” as the U.S. diplomatic policy objective and to advocate for a new approach that prioritizes the State of Israel’s sovereignty, security, and borders.

That pesky little problem of what to do about the legal, human, economic and moral rights of the Palestinians is not addressed.

Representative Dennis Ross (R-FL) has 57 cosponsors for his asinine H. Res. 14 scolding President Obama for abstaining on the UN Security Council’s passage of  Resolution 2334 adopted on December 23, 2016. (Note: Don’t mistake this Dennis Ross for the other Dennis Ross, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.)

What’s got Rep. Ross’s knickers in a bunch?  The community of nations reiterated well-established international law — that Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal. Period. There’s no debate among legal scholars about that fact, but AIPAC wants to make sure Israel’s supporters in Congress stand firm and denounce these “one-sided, anti-Israel” measures.

It will be interesting to see how many members of Congress jump to attention to reassure Netanyahu that they have his back. It will also be interesting to see how self-identified “progressive” Democrats in the Congress defend their support of H.Res. 14.  Since when did opposing international law become a progressive value?

Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) chastises the Obama Administration’s abstention decision at the U.N. in softer terms, but no less objectionable to any reasonable observer of politics in the Middle East. See, S.Res. 5.  Who can argue with bilateral talks – point 1?  Or with point 2? However, points 3 – 11 are so one-sided that they reveal the true intention of the sponsor. To illustrate the skewed nature of S.Res. 5, I’ve drafted some counter points.

S. Res. 5 –

(1) urges the President and the international community to join in supporting bilateral talks between the Israelis and Palestinians;

(2) expresses support for individuals and organizations working to bring about peace and cooperation between the Israelis and Palestinians;

(3) opposes the use of the United Nations as a medium to unfairly impose external remedies to challenges between the Israelis and Palestinians;

(3a) Lora writes: supports the United Nations as the appropriate venue for resolving international conflicts, including the challenges between the Israelis and Palestinians.

(4) objects to the December 2016 abstention and declination to veto United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 by delegates of the United States at the United Nations;

(4a) Lora writes: supports the December 2016 abstention and declination to veto United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334. 

(5) regrets and seeks to reverse the negative public criticism of Israel by United States diplomats;

(5a) Lora writes: applauds Secretary Kerry’s “Separate and Unequal” message on December 28 warning both sides that the end of the two-state solution is at hand.

(6) urges the President-elect to adopt a policy of opposing and vetoing if necessary one-sided United Nations Security Council resolutions targeting Israel;

(6a) Lora writes: urges the President-elect to adopt a policy of thoughtful review and consideration of all United Nations Security Council resolutions that address international law and the rights and responsibilities of the Israelis and Palestinians;

(7) rejects international efforts to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist;

(7a) Lora writes: rejects any efforts that undermine the rights of Palestinians to self-determination;

(8) supports Israel’s right to self-defense;

(8a) Lora writes: supports the right of all people in the Middle East to live in peace and harmony;

(9) condemns acts of terrorism and violence targeted at Israeli civilians;

(9a) Lora writes: condemns acts of terrorism and violence targeted at any civilians, regardless of ethnicity, race, or religion;

(10) reiterates that Palestinian political goals will never be achieved through violence; and

(10a) Lora writes: reiterates that the political goals of the Israelis and Palestinians will never be achieved through violence; and 

(11) calls on all parties to return to negotiations and without preconditions, as direct discussions remain the best mechanism to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

(11a) Lora writes: calls on the State of Israel to end its illegal settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, so that all parties may return to negotiations, as direct discussions remain the best mechanism to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

S. Res. 6, introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is similar to the others but probably has more steam with its bipartisan list of 59 cosponsors.  The take-away messages from S.Res. 6 are (1) damn the United Nations for meddling in the Middle East, (2) damn everyone else for unfairly boycotting or ostracizing Israel, and (3) lets return to the status quo of endless talking and searching for a two-state solution while Israel continues to build its settlements in the occupied West Bank. Sounds like Senator Rubio and his colleagues favor allowing Israel to eat the pizza while urging the parties to talk about how to divide the pizza.

S. Res. 6 also mentions the Paris Conference scheduled on January 15th – more about that in a later blog post.

The points itemized in S. Res. 6 are:

(1) expresses grave objection to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016);

(2) calls for United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 to be repealed or fundamentally altered so that it is no longer one-sided and allows all final status issues toward a two-state solution to be resolved through direct bilateral negotiations between the parties;

(3) rejects efforts by outside bodies, including the United Nations Security Council, to impose solutions from the outside that set back the cause of peace;

(4) demands that the United States ensure that no action is taken at the Paris Conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict scheduled for January 15, 2017, that imposes an agreement or parameters on the parties;

(5) notes that granting membership and statehood standing to the Palestinians at the United Nations, its specialized agencies, and other international institutions outside of the context of a bilateral peace agreement with Israel would cause severe harm to the peace process, and would likely trigger the implementation of penalties under sections 7036 and 7041(j) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016 (division K of Public Law 114–113);

(6) rejects any efforts by the United Nations, United Nations agencies, United Nations member states, and other international organizations to use United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 to further isolate Israel through economic or other boycotts or any other measures, and urges the United States Government to take action where needed to counter any attempts to use United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 to further isolate Israel;

(7) urges the current Presidential administration and all future Presidential administrations to uphold the practice of vetoing all United Nations Security Council resolutions that seek to insert the Council into the peace process, recognize unilateral Palestinian actions including declaration of a Palestinian state, or dictate terms and a timeline for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;

(8) reaffirms that it is the policy of the United States to continue to seek a sustainable, just, and secure two-state solution to resolve the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians; and

(9) urges the incoming Administration to work with Congress to create conditions that facilitate the resumption of direct, bilateral negotiations without preconditions between Israelis and Palestinians with the goal of achieving a sustainable agreement that is acceptable to both sides.

H. Res. 23 sponsored by Rep. David Price (D-NC) has 101 cosponsors, including my Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D-NM), so it likely has alot of momentum. Although H. Res. 23 seems more benign than the others, it’s problematic for 2 simple reasons: it (1) opposes BDS, (“Whereas the United States steadfastly opposes boycotts, divestment campaigns and sanctions targeting the State of Israel”); and (2) favors the U.S. using its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to thwart the overwhelming global consensus on issues that impact Israel. H. Res. 23 provides:

(1) the United States should continue to support a durable and sustainable two-state solution to resolve the long-standing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians;

(2) a viable and sustainable two-state solution can only be achieved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians;

(3) the United States should continue to oppose, and if necessary, veto future United Nations Security Council resolutions that seek to impose solutions to final status issues, or are one-sided and anti-Israel; and

(4) the United States should continue to work with Israelis and Palestinians to create the conditions for successful final-status peace negotiations.

Three other measures focus on Jerusalem. Both the Israelis and Palestinians consider Jerusalem their capital, and that city has been the focal point of much of the conflict. Members of the U.S. Congress want to bully their way into this hot pot by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, to the detriment of any legitimate claims the Palestinians might have.

H.R.265 – To recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to relocate to Jerusalem the United States Embassy in Israel, and for other purposes.

H.R.257 – To recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to transfer to Jerusalem the United States Embassy located in Tel Aviv.

S.11 – Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act

Time to write and/or call your member of Congress and let them know what you think about these resolutions.

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Congress genuflects again

Just like clockwork, the U.S. Congress has disgracefully genuflected again to the State of Israel.

Every January, one of the first resolutions introduced in our august Capitol is AIPAC‘s loyalty test to determine which members of Congress might be straying from Israel’s tight leash.

Just like clockwork, the majority of both Republicans and Democrats lined up this week, including New Mexico’s three members of Congress. Representatives Steve Pearce (R-NM), Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D-NM), and Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) each want you to know they are unwavering in their loyalty to Israel.

This week, H. Res. 11 provided the litmus test. H. Res. 11 condemns the United Nations for passing Security Council Resolution 2334 in December which stated:

Israel′s settlement activity constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and has “no legal validity”. It demands that Israel stop such activity and fulfill its obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The substance of the U.N. resolution was not remarkable because the international community has recognized the illegality of Israel’s settlement activity for decades. What WAS notable is that the United States did not exercise its veto to thwart the Security Council’s resolution.

In a remarkable display of independence, President Obama broke with our country’s track record of providing diplomatic protection for Israel at the United Nations. The news sent shock waves on both sides of the Atlantic. Netanyahu gave the U.N. his proverbial finger and said Israel would continue to build settlements in the occupied West Bank, while the Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) expressed support for Obama’s abstention.

Statement by Jewish Voice for Peace Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson on UN Security Council vote to condemn Israeli settlements.

There is an increasing understanding among U.S. political leaders, thanks to ongoing grassroots pressure, of the need to hold Israel accountable to international law.

The U.S. abstention from this resolution is a welcome sign in that regard. As the only country that abstained, the evidence of the U.S.’s isolation from the global consensus during the vote was stark.

Unfortunately, JVP’s optimism about U.S. political leaders was premature, as we learned on Thursday, January 5, 2017.  The final vote on AIPAC’s creepy resolution was 342 to 80.

Why is it creepy?  Because the votes of a clear majority of both Republicans and Democrats (including the three from New Mexico) indicate they oppose international law, oppose holding Israel accountable for breaking international law, and oppose President Obama’s tepid action (a mere abstention) which only reflected the official U.S. foreign policy of past Presidents.

Fortunately, there are some thoughtful members of Congress (both Ds and Rs) who rejected AIPAC’s H.Res. 11, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA), and others. The messages from constituents who want the U.S. government to break with its lapdog fealty to Israel are finally making a difference.

Now it’s time to turn our attention on the other AIPAC-sponsored measures introduced in the first week of the new Congress.  Constituents need to be heard loud and clear.

H.Res. 27 – Rejecting the “two-state solution” as the United States’ diplomatic policy objective and calls for the Administration to advocate for a new approach that prioritizes the State of Israel’s sovereignty, security, and borders.

S.Res.6 – A resolution objecting to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 and to all efforts that undermine direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians for a secure and peaceful settlement.

H. Res.14 – Disapproving of President Obama and his administration’s refusal to veto the anti-Israel resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council on December 23, 2016.

S.Res.5 – A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate in support of Israel.

S.15 – Iran Ballistic Missile Sanctions Act

H.R.265 – To recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to relocate to Jerusalem the United States Embassy in Israel, and for other purposes.

H.R.257 – To recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to transfer to Jerusalem the United States Embassy located in Tel Aviv.

S.11 – Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act

H.Res.23 – Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives and reaffirming long-standing United States policy in support of a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

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The Israeli Occupation Comes to the UN Security Council

Hagai El-Ad’s address in a special discussion about settlements at the United Nations Security Council on October 14, 2016

(The following transcript and short videos are located on the Btselem website.

Members of the Security Council,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before I begin, I would like to express my deep thanks for this unique opportunity of speaking at this distinguished forum and engaging with the members of the UN Security Council.

What I’m about to say is not meant to shock you. It is, however, meant to move you.

For the past 49 years – and counting – the injustice known as the occupation of Palestine, and Israeli control of Palestinian lives in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, has become part of the international order. The first half-century of this reality will soon be over. On behalf of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, I implore you today to take action. Anything short of decisive international action will achieve nothing but ushering in the second half of the first century of the occupation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

What does it mean, in practical terms, to spend 49 years, a lifetime, under military rule? When violence breaks out, or when particular incidents attract global attention, you get a glimpse into certain aspects of life under occupation. But what about the rest of the time? What about the many “ordinary” days of a 17,898-day-long occupation, which is still going strong? Living under military rule mostly means invisible, bureaucratic, daily, violence. It means living under an endless permit regime, which controls Palestinian life from cradle to grave: Israel controls the population registry; Israel controls work permits; Israel controls who can travel abroad – and who cannot; Israel controls who can visit from abroad – and who cannot; in some villages, Israel maintains lists of who can visit the village, or who is allowed to farm which fields. Permits can sometimes be denied; permits must always be renewed. Thus with every breath they take, Palestinians breathe in occupation. Make a wrong move, and you can lose your freedom of movement, your livelihood, or even the opportunity to marry and build a family with your beloved.

Meanwhile, ever present, are the settlements and the settlers. They are Israeli citizens living, ostensibly, in a first-world democracy, that somehow exists only for them, beyond the borders of their country. This ever-expanding venture, its illegality notwithstanding, is to be found everywhere throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Settlements encompass the built-up areas as well as the generous allocations of land around them, meant for future expansion or “special security zones”; they mean checkpoints for Palestinians, and bypass roads for settlers; they mean the Separation Barrier; and finally, they mean the fragmentation of Palestine into hundreds of isolated communities, floating – or rather I should say, slowly sinking – in a sea of Israeli domination. Who could possibly deserve to endure such conditions for half a century?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Almost all aspects of this reality are considered legal by Israel. Israel’s control of Palestinian lives is unique in the careful attention the occupying power gives to the letter of the law, while strangling its very spirit. The occupation has so perfected the art of watering down International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law as to render them virtually meaningless. Once military lawyers, State Attorneys and Supreme Court justices are done masterfully chiseling out legal opinions, all that remains is raw injustice.

Show me a dead Palestinian whose killing must be explained away to ensure impunity, and there you will find a learned opinion by the Military Advocate General. Show me the 100,000 Palestinians ignored and neglected on the other side of the Separation Barrier built inside East Jerusalem, and I will remind you that even this glaring injustice has been pre-approved by Israel’s High Court of Justice.

Show me a plot of Palestinian land you wish taken over, and the Civil Administration will come up with the appropriately tailored legal mechanism – of course, it must all be legal! – to achieve that end: military training zones, nature reserves, archeological sites and, above all, declaring thousands of acres “State Land” – what “State” exactly? All these are successfully used in order to forcibly displace Palestinians and justify denying them access to running water or the power grid. Of course, such Israeli actions aren’t successful 100% of the time. That would be too transparent. So once in a long while, maybe once a decade, a low-ranking soldier might be put on a show trial; and once in a blue moon a master plan for a Palestinian village will be approved. These extraordinary cherry-picked rarities provide useful distractions from the big picture.

In order to uphold the guise of legality, Israel applies “due process” in just about everything: to potentially force-feed hunger strikers, as recently approved by the High Court; to routinely approve and renew administrative detention orders, or extend prolonged imprisonment without trial, of hundreds of Palestinians; to demolish the homes of the families of Palestinians who perpetrated attacks – yes, that too has happened hundreds of times, with due process and a seal of approval by the High Court. Since the year 2000, more than 4,400 Palestinians have lost their homes in this way.

Yes, Israel has professional lawyers, attorneys and judges. It is, indeed, a highly “professional” occupation. We have had plenty of time to work towards a more perfect occupation. But you don’t need to be a lawyer in order to recognize injustice. Look at the occupation and all the legal pretense surrounding it, and call it for what it is: a legal guise for organized state violence.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Israel has systematically legalized human rights violations in the occupied territories through the establishment of permanent settlements, punitive home demolitions, a biased building and planning mechanism, taking over Palestinian land and much, much more. Israel’s military law enforcement system – if one can call it that – routinely whitewashes hundreds of cases in which Palestinians were killed or abused.

Here are some figures: Israel has declared 20% of the West Bank “State Land”; Israel “generously” allows Palestinians to build on one-half of one percent of Area C, the 60% of the West Bank placed “temporarily” under Israeli control a generation ago; over the past decade, Israel has demolished some 1,200 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, thereby rendering homeless over 5,500 people, half of them minors; East Jerusalem figures would raise these by roughly another 50%; in April 2016 there were about 7,000 Palestinians in Israeli custody, a quarter of them individuals remanded for the duration of their military court proceedings, and roughly 10% administrative detainees. One final figures: in a quarter of the 740 plus complaints referred by B’Tselem to the military authorities since 2000, no investigation was even opened; in another half, the cases were eventually closed with no action taken; and only in 25 cases, were indictments served. And get this: during that time, the military authorities have physically lost track of 44 cases – more than the 25 cases that went to court. Israel insists that all of this is legal, under both Israeli law and international law.

It is not.

But this fact is of little practical significance in terms of keeping Israel from carrying on implementing its policies because, regrettably, international law lacks any effective enforcement mechanisms. And so, Israeli policies are implemented and advanced with ever greater domestic support. Despite broad international agreement – including previous Security Council resolutions – that the settlements are illegal, the only measurable change in this area is the growing number of settlements, of settlers, and of Palestinians living in their shadow, facing demolitions or displacement.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

B’Tselem has worked for 27 years to document and publish violations of human rights in the occupied territories, to analyze and interpret data, and advocate locally and internationally on these issues. We are not advocating for any specific political outcome: we are fighting human rights violations. In fact, we realize how Israel has effectively used the “peace process” itself to buy time – a great deal of time – while it further establishes more facts on Palestinian ground. B’Tselem’s mission to tell the Israeli public about the ways in which the state oppresses Palestinians will continue as long as the occupation does. We were and will always remain relentless in this effort, for it is our basic moral obligation. But after so many years, one has to draw certain conclusions. Moral principles alone will not be enough. Israel will not cease being an oppressor simply by waking up one day and realizing the brutality of its policies. Decades of false pretexts and genuine fears, economic interests and political dogma, have come together to prevent that eventuality, while too few convincing reasons to change course were presented. And globally?

Six-and-a-half years ago US Vice President Joe Biden warned that “the status quo is not sustainable”. Clearly he was at least six-and-a-half years too early in voicing such a warning. The “status quo” – that ever progressing vector of Israeli interests at the expense of Palestinian rights – has proven not merely sustainable, but in fact thriving.

Almost exactly a year ago the European Union embarked on a six-month “structured dialogue” with Israel, seeking to end administrative home demolitions in Area C. Six months later, the dialogue was going nowhere and demolitions were on the rise, yet the EU decided – to extend the dialogue. If an unprecedented number of demolitions goes hand-in-hand with an unlimited timetable for international dialogue, why stop demolitions?

Clearly, the occupation is internationally sustainable. It is so, because so far the world refuses to take effective action.

Recent years have made that realization even more painful. Israel’s long-term project to maximize its benefits from Palestinian land while minimizing the nuisance of Palestinian presence there has become even more palpable than perhaps ever before. Admittedly, even just half a day spent in the West Bank has long been more than enough to realize the permanence sought for the enterprise that Israeli governments right, center, and left have been advancing there since 1967. Similarly, retired Israeli officials have openly said so – most recently it was put quite simply by a former OC Central Command who said: “The army is there because the State of Israel has no intention of leaving.” But now that Israeli leaders currently in office, from the Prime Minister down, have been skipping the lip-service in real time and openly admitting this – with such a level of official clarity – it seemed that surely, finally, there would be implications. Was one naïve to have that expectation?

Perhaps. While unprecedented clarity in Israeli language has narrowed the divide between Israeli actions and the empty rhetoric on negotiations and diplomacy, the global response to it was, well, yet another report. Demolitions have been stepped up, making 2016 the worst year on record in this sphere. I feel compelled to ask: how many more Palestinian homes must be bulldozed before the realization sinks in that words that are not backed up by action do no more than indicate to Israel that it may carry on?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The realization of human rights need not wait any longer. Palestinians have the right to life and dignity, the right to determine their own future. These have all been delayed for far too long – and justice delayed is justice denied.

As Martin Luther King Jr taught us, “we know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor”. So the reality facing the international community is this: absence of action not only effectively gives the oppressor a license to proceed without having to suffer too many repercussions, but also gives the oppressor the power to decide when will be the right time to start considering alternatives. “Wait,” demands Israel, “now is not the right time”. But “‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never’,” responds Martin Luther King Jr. “The time is always right to do what is right.” That time is now: the time to, at long last, take action. The UN Security Council has more than just power: you have a moral responsibility – and a real opportunity – to act with a sense of urgency, before we reach the symbolic date of June 2017 and the second half of that first century begins, to send to the world, to Israelis and to Palestinians, a clear message, backed by international action: Israel cannot have it both ways. You cannot occupy a people for fifty years and call yourself a democracy. You cannot violate the rights of millions and claim international perks justified by hollow words about commitment to shared human rights values.

Israel is a sovereign country established through international legitimacy granted through a historic decision by this very institution in 1947. I am a citizen of that country. It is my homeland. For most of my country’s existence, the world has allowed it to occupy another people. I have lived my entire life, every single day of it, with that reality. Millions of Israelis and Palestinians know no other reality. We need your help. Fifty years of “temporary” occupation are too long for even a single person on this planet to accept such a contradiction in terms. The rights of Palestinians must be realized; the occupation must end; the UN Security Council must act; and the time is now.

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