Current Concerns
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May 22, 2015
The monthly journal for independent thought, ethical standards and moral responsibility The international journal for independent thought, ethical standards, moral responsibility,
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Current Concerns  >  2009  >  No 7/8, 2009  >  Accusations With Regard to Israeli War Crimes Must be Investigated [printversion]

Accusations With Regard to Israeli War Crimes Must be Investigated

by Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine and Other Occupied Territories

On 23 March Richard Falk, the American Professor of International Law and UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine and Other Occupied Territories, gave his eagerly awaited oral statement to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on the human rights situation in the Gaza strip during the last war lasting from Dec 27, 2008 to 18 January 2009. In this report he blatantly expounded the gross violation of law by the Israeli Army during the war in Gaza, which had lasted for 22 days. Thereby he questioned the Israeli reasoning that this had been a legitimate war of self defense and he demanded an investigation into the question, whether the assault on Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, had to be assessed as a war crime, for which Israel would be accountable. It is not the first time that an Israeli assault on the Palestinians was entirely disproportional and not at all in accordance with the international law. After Richard Falk’s clear statement the community of states have to ask themselves for how long they want to look on without taking any action against Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians.

Mr President, Distinguished Members of the Human Rights Council, Honoured Representatives of Civil Society Organizations, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
In my previous statement to the Council, I spoke about the desperate situation confronting occupied Gaza. Here, I will not repeat what I already said concerning Gaza, except to take note of two important aspects of the situation not covered in my main report.
First of all, the continuation of the blockade of Gaza, despite its previous impact on the civilian population since the cease-fire was established in January 2009, and despite calls by many prominent international leaders, including by Tony Blair, Special Envoy of the Quartet for the opening of the crossings and the President of the United States. Second, to take note of recent testimonies of Israeli soldiers that add credible confirmation to the allegations of Israeli war crimes associated with the 27 December and 18 January attacks.
An unfortunate effect of recent preoccupations with the desperate humanitarian plight of Gaza has been to neglect developments adverse to the human rights of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. These developments appear to have a serious, and perhaps, a decisive negative bearing on the prospects of achieving peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, and deliberately obstruct the exercise of the right of self-determination on the part of the Palestinian people.
Since I was denied entry into Israel in December 2008, in addressing these issues, I have had to rely on reports by other sources concerning the situation in the West Bank.
The Israeli NGO Peace Now, issued a report in March 2009 that details official plans for the extensive expansion of existing settlements including 73,302 housing units of which 5,722 are in East Jerusalem, and the rest in the West Bank.
On the basis of calculating four persons per house, this expansion plan would add as many as 300,000 to the settler population, which is now estimated to be between 450,000 and 475,000.
It is revealing that the maps showing the expansion indicate accelerated settlement construction on both sides of Israel’s security wall unlawfully constructed on West Bank territory.
As is well known, all settlement activity is in violation of Article 49 (6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Such activity is also inconsistent with pledges made by the Israel Government to the Quartet, and at the Annapolis meeting of December 2007. The outcome of the recent Israeli elections accentuates these concerns.
Given this background, the trends with respect to the settlements are deeply disturbing. In 2008 the settler population (not including East/Jerusalem) increased by 4.7% (three times faster than the Israeli population increase inside Israel), with the number of new structures in West Bank settlements increasing 69% beyond the rate of settlement growth in 2007, disclosing a pattern of not only expansion, but accelerated expansion.
This pattern raises the fundamental question as to how possibly could a viable independent Palestinian sovereign state be established on the currently occupied Palestinian territories, which have by now been so substantially transformed by the occupying Power. Should not the United Nations express in strong terms its opposition to the settlement process?
The settlement expansion also has negative effects on the freedom of movement of Palestinians. Currently, about one third of the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem is inaccessible to Palestinians without a permit issued by the Israeli Security Forces. These permits are increasingly difficult to obtain. In addition, the movement of most Palestinians is excluded on 340 km of roads inside the West Bank, a road network on which Israeli settlers are allowed free movement. Furthermore, OCHA reports that 630 obstacles block internal Palestinian movement, including checkpoints, concrete blocks and fences etc.
The combination of the construction of the Wall, the settlement road network and the settlements themselves greatly diminishes the land available to the Palestinians and make a viable Palestinian state much more difficult to establish.
Also of concern are reports of increasing settler violence directed at the Palestinian population and their property in the West Bank. According to the Israeli human rights organization BTselem, there were 429 incidents of settler violence in 2008, which represents a 75% increase over 2007.
There is also continuing concern about the use of excessive force by Israeli Occupying Forces in the West Bank, especially in response to non-violent demonstrations against the construction of the Wall. BTselem reports that 42 Palestinian residents of the West Bank were killed during 2008 by Israeli security forces. Despite suspicious circumstances surrounding many of these deaths, almost none of these incidents were investigated, there have been generally very few prosecutions for abuse, and almost no convictions.
There are also a variety of concerns about the Palestinian future in East Jerusalem, and allegations that Israel is engaged in a subtle, but cumulatively very efficient, process to ensure Jewish demographic dominance of the whole of Jerusalem. Independent observers have reported on the near completion of the Wall which cuts through East Jerusalem (and also runs far inside Occupied Palestine if measured from the Green Line); the demolition of Palestinian homes on the grounds of the absence of a building permits that are virtually impossible to obtain; discriminatory taxing pro visions; reduced issuance of working permits; and stricter enforcement of residence requirements that separate families living partly in the West Bank.
Particular concern, leading to protests and demonstrations, has been expressed in relation to the proposed demolition of 88 Palestinian homes in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem scheduled for later in 2009.
The overall effect of these measures, as applied over a period of years, if not halted and reversed, will effectively isolate East Jerusalem from the West Bank. If continued, these steps will lead to the further de-Palestinization of the city and should arouse the concern of the United Nations, and especially the Human Rights Council.
Finally, I would like to express the hope that I will be able to conduct a field mission to the occupied Palestinian territory before drafting my next report. Field visits are necessary for all Special Rapporteurs to be able to assess adequately the human rights situation in any given country or area, and especially where policies of occupation are under scrutiny from the perspective of international humanitarian law and human rights generally. The precedent that was set in December, when I was denied entry to Israel, should be seriously challenged for the sake of both this mandate and more broadly, to ensure that in future Member States accord appropriate respect and cooperation with special procedures of the Human Rights Council as well as with other official United Nations missions and activities. •

Greece’s Actions Differ From UN and NATO

An interview with Argyris Sfountouris

Current Concerns: Greece is a member of NATO and EU. Nevertheless, it has its own point of view concerning the Palestine question. Its government denied a German ship carrying US weapons that berthed in a Greek harbour permission to transfer its freight to smaller ships. The ship was made to leave the port. How is this firm attitude to be explained?

Argyris Sfountouris: In this question, the Greek government is greatly influenced by the public opinion. And the Greek population has had a positive attitude towards the Arab world for decades now. You have to be aware of the fact that Greece has always maintained a good relationship and cultivated interrelations with the Arab countries. There were close trade connections, and till the Nasser coup, hundreds of thousands of Greeks lived in Egypt and among other things dominated the cotton trade. Those are old traditions that continue to have an effect. This fact became apparent on the occasion of the Iraq War, as well. Greece was not willing to send troops to Iraq. Only a hospital ship was provided and nothing else. Of course, this also had to do with the war that offended international law, with the UN not having given a mandate. Greece did not want to get its fingers burned here as, due to its own history, Greece is opposed to wars of occupation. Greece has first-hand experience of the havoc an invading army can wreak. As to these armament supplies, Greece absolutely does not want the Palestinians to get the impression that we support Israel.Also since the dictatorial regime (1967–74) in Greece, the Greek have little faith in the US. The archives were opened 35 years after the coup, and they confirmed what many had suspected: that certain CIA officers had been in direct contact with the colonels who led the coup d’état, at the same time bypassing the official CIA channels and the other secret services. There was a secret plan for a coup concocted by the Johnson Government. All of this at that time surely had a connection with the six Days’ War, which started only a few days after the coup. The government had to be checked so that nothing uncontrolled would happen. After that, the dictatorial regime ruled Greece for seven years, although the US stood up for human rights and democracy everywhere else. That was clearly a plan concocted by the NATO and it was imposed on Greece as a NATO member. This explains the Greeks’ reservation  against the US. And the weaker the government, the more allowance it has to make for public opinion. The last few governments were very weak regarding foreign policy, because they had great problems on the domestic front.

Argyris Sfountouris, born 1940 in Greece, came to Switzerland as a war orphan in 1949. After his graduation as a physicist, he worked at first as a teacher and later in the Relief Organization for Emergency Aid. A. Sfountouris is an expert on Greek politics.