Action not words are needed to change Israel’s behaviour

Palestinian relatives of Mahmoud Shabat, 15, mourn during his funeral in Beit Hanoun after he was killed by an Israeli air strike last night in the northern Gaza Strip July 11, 2006. (MaanImages/Wesam Saleh)

The capture of a French-Israeli gunner on a tank during military operations on Palestinian territory triggered an extreme and illegal response from the Israeli government. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza are paying an unacceptably high price as a consequence of Israel’s ongoing attacks and border closures. The French-Israeli gunner is a prisoner of war and is entitled to treatment in accordance with the standards of international humanitarian law. The Palestinian militants should follow the rules of the Geneva Convention in their treatment of him. The Fourth Geneva Convention also applies to Israel to ensure that Palestinians receive humane treatment.

Israel’s performance shows a total disregard for the rules of international humanitarian law. They have lost sight of the human value and dignity of the Palestinian people. If Europe recognises that the lives of Palestinians are as valuable as the life of the French-Israeli soldier, it should act immediately to stop the tragedy that is unfolding.

The Geneva Conventions came into being as a direct result of the atrocities of two World Wars and others that preceded it. Europe has experienced first hand its fellow citizens being dehumanised during war and occupation and it is still struggling to come to terms with its past. As Europeans, we should act upon the lessons from our past and force Israel to comply with international law.

A lot of words

After the siege of Gaza, British and Dutch members of Parliament tabled Parliamentary Questions on the fast unfolding situation to, respectively, the British Foreign Secretary and Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs. On 29 June 2006, 98 Members of Parliament (MP) in Britain signed an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons calling for a return to negotiations and a settlement in line with the Road Map and United Nations Resolutions.

A press release from MP Richard Burden stated:

“The use of such extreme force and the destruction of power stations supplying schools and hospitals, as well as the main water pipe feeding refugee camps is appalling and violates international law. Today’s news of the abduction by Israel of over 20 democratically elected Parliamentarians only makes matters worse. These actions are likely to only lead to further bloodshed and misery on both sides.”

In the Netherlands, two MPs, Bert Koenders of the Labour Party and Harry van Bommel of the Socialist Party, also tabled questions along the same line as the British MPs. The Labour Party and the Socialist Party hold one third of the seats in the Dutch Parliament. Koenders called for independent research under the auspices of the UN into the recent attacks on Gaza. Van Bommel also requested that pressure be immediately brought on Israel to repair the power station that was destroyed in the attacks.

The Palestinian Authority invited the European Union to pay the $15 million needed to repair the power station.

A voice from Gaza

On 2 July 2006, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) called on the International Community to prevent further deterioration in the humanitarian conditions for civilians in the Gaza Strip. Israel must be pressured to immediately open border crossings and allow the free flow of food, medicine and fuel to the population before a humanitarian and environmental crisis erupts.

PCHR reports that the closure of Rafah International Crossing on 25 June 2006 has led to a devastating situation. More than 3,000 Palestinians are stranded on the Egyptian side. More than 400 Palestinians, mostly medical patients, are grounded in the waiting lounge at the Egyptian side of Rafah Crossing. They are enduring extremely difficult conditions due to lack of adequate services and facilities, especially for medical patients. The situation is made far worse by the conditions of a hot summer.

Patients who were returning to Gaza after undergoing medical treatment abroad, including surgery, have been left stranded. Travellers stranded at the border are also suffering from depleted financial resources and an inability to cope with the expense of being stuck outside the area longer than expected. They rely on assistance provided by the Egyptian Red Cross and are deprived of services required to meet their basic needs, especially for women, children and the elderly.1

Diplomats call for sanctions

In an interview published in the Swiss press,2 former diplomat Jean-Jaques Joris, who served as a diplomat at the Swiss Representation in Ramallah for three years, called upon Europe to act: “When Europe acts, it will not miss its effect. Sanctions, no matter how small and insignificant, will provoke a strong reaction.”

In June, former Dutch Ambassador Jan Wijenberg called for the harshest, peaceful measures, including sanctions, when Israel did not comply with international law.3

Dutch opinion poll

An opinion poll carried out at the request of the NGO United Civilians for Peace at the end of 2005 by NIPO, a well known and respectable Dutch institute which specialises in conducting opinion polls,4 made clear that 60 per cent of the Dutch public was of the opinion that the construction of the wall in Occupied Palestinian Territory was unacceptable. This is an increase of five per cent when compared with similar research by NIPO in 2004.

Sixty-three per cent of the people interviewed in the NIPO poll agreed with the statement that the Dutch government must put political pressure on the Israeli government in order to ensure that it complies with the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice related to the wall.

In the same poll, 75 per cent of the Dutch public was of the opinion that the building and expansion of settlements on the West Bank must stop. Half of the Dutch public felt that Israel should withdraw from the Palestinian territories as soon as possible. And two thirds of the Dutch public expressed that they were in favour of interventions by the Dutch government in the case of human rights violations.

Europe must act now

Europe has a moral and, according to the International Court of Justice, also a legal responsibility to act against Israel’s blatant violations of international law, and in response to the devastating impact Israel’s actions have upon the residents of Gaza and the West Bank.

Firstly, Europe can immediately improve the quality of life of Palestinians in Gaza by making funds available for the repair of the power station. The bill for the costs of repair should be immediately presented to the Israeli government and set against any assistance it might receive from the European Union.

Secondly, the European Union could follow the advice of former diplomats and impose sanctions, in an attempt to end Israel’s violations of international law and human rights. In this regard, it would be fully supported by international law.

Thirdly, MPs of the member states of the European Union should call upon their ministers of Foreign Affairs to act upon these two actions mentioned above.

Adri Nieuwhof is psychologist and human rights advocate. Jeff Handmaker is a human rights lawyer and doctoral candidate at the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights, Faculty of Law, Utrecht University.


[1] See The Palestinian Center for Human Rights

[2] Der Bund, 8 April 2006.

[3] Former Dutch Ambassador Calls for Sanctions if Israel Refuses to Comply with International Law, Adri Nieuwhof (19 June 2006)

[4] United Civilians for Peace

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