Ill-considered intervention

Under a European Union-brokered deal, 13 Palestinians deported from the occupied territories are waiting in Cyprus to be transferred to third countries. This arrangement, rather than being a an instance of noble humanitarian intervention, actually implicates the EU in Israel’s violation of international humanitarian law.

When Israel’s five-week siege ended earlier this month 13 Palestinians were allowed to leave the Church of the Nativity to be spirited away to the Mediterranean island country, while 26 others were transferred by Israel to the Gaza Strip.

Far from being a problem-free solution to the standoff, the deportations and transfers raise numerous legal and ethical issues. The most obvious of these is posed by the fact that Israel does not have jurisdiction over the occupied territories, and only controls the areas by virtue of its illegal occupation. Consequently, its lack of jurisdiction renders illegal the deportations and transfers.
Because the agreement between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the EU was used, in effect, to coerce deportees and transferees to leave the Church of the Nativity, it is highly dubious from a human rights perspective.

The agreement, too, falls on the wrong side of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Under the provisions of articles 49 and 147 of the convention, the unlawful deportations and transfers of protected persons are specifically prohibited.

In hammering out an agreement, the EU also failed to uphold provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and, ironically, the European Convention on Human Rights. These treaties guarantee freedom of thought, conscience and religion. They also protect against arbitrarily depriving people of the right to enter their country, and the right to family life, the latter of which was violated by forcing the men to live apart from their families.

Under article 13 of the ICCPR, even where a country has sovereign control over a territory — which in the case of the occupied territories, Israel does not — it can only expel an alien from that territory in accordance with the law and before a competent authority. Israel, it goes without saying, initiated no such process.

If the deportees and transferees had been involved in any criminal activity, Israel could have sought to have them tried before a competent authority in the occupied territories.

Indeed, the forcible transfers and deportations should be seen in the wider context of Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing. In this regard, Israel has uprooted the Palestinian civilian population by military attacks that destroyed homes, property and agricultural land; it has confiscated land to be given to Jewish settlers; it has instituted punitive controls over the economy and destroyed key parts of civilian infrastructure.

Such actions are far from mere side effects of a campaign against “terrorism”. In fact, Israeli military and political officials have called for the mass transfer of all Palestinians from the occupied territories. For example, Tourism Minister Binyamin Elon was quoted on 18 December 2001 as saying that “if the Palestinians continue their violence against Israel and are defeated, they will ultimately be expelled from their homes”. And Elon’s view is by no means a minority one. Public opinion surveys in Israel reveal that a significant part of the Israeli public supports the mass transfer of all Palestinians from the occupied territories.

Although the EU earlier this month condemned Israel’s violations of human rights and said, “Israel must fully comply with international humanitarian principles,” including the conventions on the protection of civilians in times of war and refraining from excessive use of force, the EU has failed to back up its statements with practical measures.

Such measures might have included a suspension of trade with Israel — an action that would, in fact, be in keeping with the EU’s trade agreement with Israel, which includes a human rights clause. Ironically, the EU’s intervention also comes at a time when the damage wreaked by Israel to infrastructure projects in the territories funded by European taxpayers is assessed at approximately 14.5 million euros.

Meanwhile, EU countries continue to send arms to Israel even though it does not comply with the criteria of the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports.

The EU has at its disposal many options to show — and not merely tell — Israel of its displeasure. At the very least, the EU should seek to uphold international humanitarian law rather than aiding and abetting Israel’s abrogation of it.

The writer is a public advocacy officer at LAW, The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights in East Jerusalem. Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 23 May - 29 May 2002, Issue No. 587