Michael Sfard on some consequences of the Palestinian State

Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer who specializes in human rights and military matters, and who is legal adviser for the organization Yesh Din among others, wrote an article published in Haaretz yesterday predicting that if a Palestinian State is admitted into the UN in September (or anytime soon), then “The mechanisms of legal defense that it [Israel] built since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to combat the ‘danger’ of international jurisdiction about its conduct toward millions of people who are under its control” are about to collapse.

The article, published here also says that “Together with the diplomatic ‘tsunami’ that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has forecast, Israel can expect a legal tsunami, which for the first time will claim a price for violating human rights in the occupied territories. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territories that Israel conquered in 1967, are not an internal Israeli issue. This is an international conflict in which the international community has a legitimate interest. However, during the years of the occupation the state of Israel has repelled the professional legal mechanisms of the United Nations, that deal with protecting human rights, from discussing its actions there…”.

Sfard’s argument continued: “In the territories Israel refused to apply the various human rights treaties that deal, inter alia, with discrimination against women; rights of the child; racial and other discrimination; and torture. Some of Israel’s most talented advocates were sent to Geneva to claim that these treaties were not binding on Israel beyond the Green Line. Israel considers itself the representative of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, and as such was one of the initiators of the establishment of an international criminal court for war crimes. The height of jurisdictional isolation came when Israel decided not to ratify the court’s statute so as not to grant it authority to investigate and discuss crimes that, allegedly, were/are being carried out by Israeli officers and soldiers. Over the course of 44 years, Israel has succeeded in putting the job of judging its actions in the occupied territories in the hands of [Israel's own Supreme Court, the] High Court of Justice, which approved almost every policy and practice of the army in the territories, deepening the occupation and making possible massive violations of human rights under its patronage. Israel succeeded in leaving the investigations of its crimes to [Israel's] military advocates/attorneys who made sure that the policy of investigation would be such that enforcing the rigor of the law on soldiers and officers who had violated it would be a sort of miracle. All of this is about to come to an end”.

He wrote that “The significance of a Palestinian state joining the UN is that, for the first time, it will be the Palestinians who will decide what the international legal framework is that is binding in their territory. After more than 40 years in the wilderness of the occupation, the Palestinians will have the possibility of influencing their fate through legal means”.

This is because, he noted, “the significance of accepting Palestine as a member of the UN is that the new member will be sovereign to sign international treaties, to join international agreements and to receive the jurisdictional authority of international tribunals over what happens in its territory”.

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UN Rights Officials: Talk to Hamas + Stop the Violence

This came by email from Geneva this evening: “The United Nations Special Rapportur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, John Dugard, issued the following statement today — “The present situation in Gaza and neighbouring Israel cannot be allowed to continue. Palestinian rockets fired into Israel violate the rules of international humanitarian law and terrorize Israelis. Israel’s excessive and disproportionate response has likewise been unlawful in terms of international humanitarian law. The failure to distinguish between civilian and military targets violates one of the most fundamental rules of humanitarian law. Collective punishment and the terrorization of an occupied people are also unlawful. It is imperative that every effort be made to bring the violence to an end. This can be done only by negotiation and mediation. The United Nations is the obvious body to initiate such talks between Hamas in Gaza, the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. At present the United Nations is restrained by the United States, the European Union and Israel from speaking to Hamas and this has left it powerless to fulfill its principal duty of maintaining international peace. The Secretary-General of the United Nations must find the courage to overcome this obstacle and initiate meaningful talks between all parties. Without this the cycle of violence is doomed to continue”.

Also, from Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour issued this statement today: “The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour expressed alarm Monday about the violence that has been taking place in Gaza and Israel over the past few days. While recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself, Arbour condemned the Israeli Defence Force’s disproportionate use of force. The High Commissioner called for an impartial investigation into the reported killing of dozens of civilians, including children, in the IDF operation. Arbour also strongly condemned the rocket attacks by Palestinian militants against Israeli civilian targets. ‘These attacks are in clear violation of international humanitarian law’, she said, ‘and those responsible must be held to account‘. Arbour stressed that Israel, as the occupying power, bears a particular responsibility under international human rights and humanitarian law to protect the civilian population and civilian installations in Gaza. She called on the government of Israel to conduct impartial investigations into the killings of civilians, make the findings public and hold any perpetrators accountable. She also reiterated her earlier warning that collective punishment is prohibited under international law. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the international community to step up pressure on both sides to uphold their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, and to ensure that failure to do so is dealt with appropriately.