It is fast becoming obvious to the citizens of the world that the integrity and authority of states and their Governments cannot be determined ultimately by the power of the sword.
The rapid demise of the Berlin wall and the USSR over 20 years ago and now the winds of the Arab spring bear strong testament to the powerful forces of the free human spirit.
These are lessons Israel would do well to heed. It’s own authority and security cannot justify the increasingly oppressive regime it is imposing on the Palestinian people.
This issue has been scrutinised carefully over the past two months by a UN committee of the Human Rights Council which sits in Geneva. CERD (Committee for the Elimination of all Racial Discrimination) examines state’s periodic reports about their policies and practices with regard to discrimination. It comprises eighteen respected experts from different countries, who contribute their combined experience and knowledge, independent of their governments.
NGOs are entitled to make oral submissions. I did so on behalf of The Russell Tribunal on Palestine, which recently found that the discriminatory policies of the Israeli state against Palestinians amounted to Apartheid – in violation of the International Conventions on Apartheid.
On Tuesday 13 March, CERD published it’s review. The terms it used are measured but unequivocal. Some of the ground had been traversed before in 2007 on topics and recommendations ignored by Israel.
In it’s general introduction the Committee expresses deep concern that the international convention against the elimination of all racial discrimination does not apply to ‘all the territories under Israel’s control, not only Israel proper, but the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza strip, and the occupied Syrian Golan. Israel therefore is not in accord with Convention, and international law as affirmed by the ICJ’.
The Committee lists a large number of violations concerned with segregation of Jewish and non- Jewish communities, unequal access to land and property as well as work and social benefits. It requires the revocation of discriminatory legislation on Citizenship and Entry and an end to house demolitions and forced displacement particularly of the Bedouin population.
It is, however, the following paragraph which is the nearest any UN body has come to a recognition that the cumulative effect of all Israel’s policies across the whole territory is tantamount to an institutionalised regime of discrimination or Apartheid :
para 24 ‘The Committee is extremely concerned at the consequences of policies which amount to de facto segregation, such as the implementation by the State party in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of two entirely separate legal systems and sets of institutions for Jewish communities grouped in illegal settlements on the one hand and Palestinian populations living in Palestinian towns and villages on the other hand. The Committee is particularly appalled at the hermetic character of the separation of the two groups, who live on the same territory but do not enjoy equal use of roads and infrastructure or equal access to basic services and water resources. Such separation is concretized by the implementation of a complex combination of movement restrictions consisting of the Wall, roadblocks, the obligation to use separate roads and a permit regime that only impacts Palestinian population (Article 3 of the Convention).
The Committee draws the State party’s attention to it’s General Recommendation 19 (1995) concerning the prevention, prohibition and eradication of all policies and practices of racial separation and apartheid, and urges the State party to take immediate measures to prohibit and eradicate any such policies or practices which severely and disproportionately affect the Palestinian population in OPT and which violate the provisions of Article 3 of the Convention.’
None of this should come as any surprise, least of all to Israel which continues it’s quite unsustainable denial in the face of overwhelming evidence. Two UN rapporteurs have previously made similar observations (Falk and Dugard) and originally the world’s leading expert on Apartheid, Hendrik Verwoerd, Prime Minister of South Africa 1958 – 1966, proudly declared on November 23 1961, ‘Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state ‘ (Rand Daily Mail).
Persistent, long standing, deliberate and blatant failure by Israel to conform to international legal norms whether pronouced by the UN or the ICJ cannot be tolerated any longer. Might is not right.
There are immediate steps to be taken:
The UNGA should reconstitute it’s committee on Apartheid and at the same time refer the matter to the ICJ in The Hague for an Advisory Opinion on Apartheid, following it’s determination on the illegality of the Wall in 2004. The Security Council needs to attend to it’s obligations to rectify illegalities of this magnitude, one of which is to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court. Another is to institute sanctions, so readily employed elsewhere.
Michael Mansfield QC