Al-Haq takes the occasion of Land Day to highlight the intrinsic link between land and the exercise of the right to self-determination. Over nearly 40 years of occupation, Israel’s pervasive policies of land expropriation and confiscation, settlement construction and movement restrictions have severely damaged the access of the Palestinian people to their land in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), thereby rendering the meaningful exercise of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination all but impossible.
In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Annexation Wall encroaches deep into occupied territory, confiscating land and exacerbating movement restrictions. When completed, the Wall will effectively annex 10 percent of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. In parallel to the construction of the Annexation Wall, Israel has severely restricted Palestinian access to the Jordan Valley, which comprises some 25 percent of the West Bank.
While no wall has been constructed, a near impenetrable system of permits, checkpoints and closures restrict the movement of goods and people into and out of the Jordan Valley. The ongoing construction of a permanent border-like terminal at Tayasir checkpoint, the main access point to the northern Jordan Valley, is a stark physical manifestation of the intended permanence of these restrictions.
Also, as with elsewhere in the West Bank, Israel has aggressively pursued settlement construction and expansion in the Jordan Valley, resulting in massive confiscation and expropriation of Palestinian land. Some 7,500 settlers live in 26 settlements, alongside some 47,000 Palestinians. These settlements control some 90 percent of the land, to which Palestinians are denied access. Recently, the Israeli government announced its decision to establish a new settlement in the northern Jordan Valley, which it appears will be used to re-settle Israeli settlers removed from the Gaza Strip in August and September of 2005.
As affirmed by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in its Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Israel is an Occupying Power in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Accordingly, it is bound by the rules of international humanitarian law, which clearly establish Israel’s construction of settlements in the OPT as a flagrant violation of article Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is worth noting that, the “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly” is deemed to be a grave breach of the Convention.
In addition to constituting clear violations of international humanitarian law, when taken in their totality, Israeli actions and policies in the Jordan Valley clearly indicate an intention to retain control over the area in any future political settlement. Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, has referred to the Jordan Valley as “Israel’s eastern border.” Not only would Israel’s retention of the Jordan Valley constitute a further assault on the meaningful exercise of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people, but it would also violate of a core principle of the UN Charter: the Article 2(4) prohibition on the acquisition of territory by the use or threat of force.
In respect of the above mentioned violations, under Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and ensure respect for the for the Convention in all circumstances. Furthermore, by virtue of UN General Assembly resolution 2625 (XXV),
Every State has the duty to promote, through joint and separate action, realization of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, in accordance with the provisions of the Charter, …It is therefore with great concern that Al-Haq views recent announcements outlining projects for the development of the Jordan Valley, endorsed and supported by third states. While Al-Haq welcomes initiatives aimed at bolstering the Palestinian economy, these must not be carried out in violation of international law and must not serve to further entrench Israel’s illegal settlements, land confiscation and violation of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination.
While commemorating Land Day, Al-Haq reminds the international community of its obligations under international law with respect to Israel’s sustained violations of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, in particular the right to self-determination. It is only through ending the occupation, in accordance with international law, that these violations can be brought to an end and the rights of the Palestinian people realised. Al-Haq therefore calls upon: