A letter sent to Senators in support of Senator Frances Black’s Occupied Territories Bill 2018 from Comhlámh Justice for Palestine Group.
Since 1967, successive Israeli governments have authorised the transfer of almost 600,000 of its own citizens into territory it occupies east of the Green Line in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. Individuals within these administrations have been involved both directly and indirectly in the planning, establishing, building and encouragement of these settlements. They have accomplished this by carefully implementing a series of Israeli government laws and policies. Individual senior Israeli officials have been implicated in the confiscation and appropriation of Palestinian land and the eviction of Palestinians from properties their families have lived on for generations. Individual Israeli government ministries have made available subsidies to attract settlers into the territory and to increase the economic output of the settlements. There have also been well documented incidents of settler violence directed against the native Palestinian population. The occupying power have failed to honour their obligation under the Fourth Geneva Convention to provide protection to Palestinians, who are considered “Protected Persons” for the purposes of this Convention. Israeli law does not view settlement activity as being unlawful. Therefore is highly improbable that there will be any legal actions against individuals directly or indirectly involved in this activity.
The legal regime applicable to the Israeli Settlements in the West Bank are described in international human rights law and international humanitarian law. The 1907 Hague Regulations do not directly address the transfer of a civilian population into a territory that is under belligerent occupation. However, the Regulations are considered part of customary international law. This position is supported in an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice in 2004 entitled “legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in Occupied Palestinian Territory”. Therefore, the Regulations are binding on The State of Israel and any country that occupies a territory in a belligerent manner. The Israeli Supreme Court has acknowledged that the Hague Regulations are binding on the Israeli administration in the occupied West Bank because customary international law is considered part of the law in Israel. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention is a provision which is directly related to settlements. It states that an Occupying Power is prohibited from transferring its own citizens in an area it holds under occupation. In addition the International Court of Justice has stated the Israel as the Occupying Power is obliged to honour all the international human rights treaties it has signed up to. Therefore, it is obligated to implement it human rights obligations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Settler violence in tandem with the actions of the Israeli Defence Forces and Border Police which include harassment, violent search operations, collective punishment, arbitrary detentions and a constant failure to take the necessary measures to protect Palestinians from acts of violence by settler groups, have greatly infringed on a large number of human rights that Palestinians are entitled to enjoy. These rights include the right to enjoy a decent family life, a fair trial, freedom of movement, a proper standard of living and not be arbitrarily detained. The settlement are having a particular negative affect on vulnerable elements of the Palestinian population. Israel refuses to apply the Convention on the Rights of the Child to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As a result children who are detained for minor offences are mistreated and denied the due process rights that Israeli children who reside in the settlements enjoy
Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are a grave breach of Article 49 of Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel is a party to the Geneva Conventions and has an obligation to respect and ensure respect for the Conventions in all circumstances. This grave breech constitutes a war crime and falls within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Israeli settlements activity in the West Bank is widely viewed as a violation of Article 8(b) (viii) of the Rome Statute which prohibits “the transfer, directly or indirectly, by the occupying power of parts of its own civilian population into the territories it occupies”. An individual who is not a citizen of a state party to the Rome Statute but who commits an offence on the soil of a party to the Statute is libel to prosecution for such actions. In accordance with the norms of criminal law, a crime is considered to have taken place in a certain location if it has consequences there. The individual committing the crime does not have to be physically present in that place. So an Israeli citizen does not have actually set foot in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to be liable to prosecution.
The Israeli government argues that the settlements do not in fact violate international law. It argues that Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prevents the transfer of civilians into settlements in an occupied territory only if such settlements actually displace the local population. However this argument is somewhat flawed. The legal adviser to the United States State Department in a legal option on settlements in the Occupied Territories stated that Article 49 applies “whether or not harm is done by a particular transfer,” and that transfers of a belligerent occupant’s civilian population into occupied territory are broadly proscribed as beyond the scope of interim military administration”. The Israeli authorities also assert that it is allowed under the law of belligerent occupation to put in place security structures that protect the security of the State of Israel. The settlements contribute to these structures. While it is permissible for an occupying power to put in place measures that protect its security, most of the settlements that the Israelis have established do not appear to serve this purpose. Since 1967 various Israeli government have made arguments that relate to the ownership of the land on which the settlements are constructed. According to the law of belligerent occupation, who owns a certain parcel of land has no bearing in relation to the building of settlements. It is the actual transfer of a civilian population that is not permitted by the law.
We are aware that a number of Senators seems to support a balanced approach to finding a solution to the Palestine/Israel conflict. This notion of balance is a foreign concept to us. We believe that it just provides cover to those Israelis who support the military occupation. It fails to understand that this conflict is not between equals but between the occupier and the occupied. It is the direct result of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. Therefore, there can be no talk of balance, at least not until the Israeli government ends the military occupation, complies with United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 to withdraw to pre-1967 borders, and makes way for the establishment of an independent, democratic and economically viable Palestinian state. Then, it might be appropriate to talk about balance. Until that happens, there is no good military occupation.
For the past fifty years, the international community has turned a blind eye as the State of Israel has demolished Palestinian homes and stolen their land to create a booming multimillion-dollar settlement undertaking. Goods worth millions of Euro manufactured in these settlements are exported annually, notwithstanding the fact that most countries have officially denounced the settlements as illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Every country in the world including Israel has ratified the 1949 Geneva Conventions. States must respect and ensure respect for the Conventions in all situations. That is what they agreed to do when they ratified this treaty. Countries that persist in assisting settlements to prosper economically are failing to honour their obligations under the Conventions to ensure that their actions and those of their citizens do not acknowledge the existence, validity, or legality of the settlements.
Sadly, in the case of both the Irish government and the European Union, an ongoing policy of appeasement towards the State of Israel (with an occasional face-saving condemnation of Israeli government actions) has been the order of the day. The abject failure of international diplomacy and its “balanced” approach” has only provided encouragement and comfort to the occupying power, permitting them to sidestep their obligations under international law and continue their illegal settlement activity.
The time has arrived for states including Ireland to take direct international action by imposing a complete ban on all products manufactured in settlement illegally constructed on Palestinian land. We in the Comhlamh Justice for Palestine Group believe that Senator Black’s bill in a step on the road to achieving such a ban. Therefore, we respectfully urge you to lend your support and ensure the passage of the bill.
Comhlamh Justice for Palestine Group