Today, on the third anniversary of the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, PCHR submitted a memorandum to the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of August 12, 1949, summarizing violations of the Convention over the last three years and calling for immediate action to protect Palestinian civilians.
The memorandum presents updated information on Israel’s systematic violations of international humanitarian law, specifically the Fourth Geneva Convention, against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs) since 29 September 2000. The memorandum highlights in particular grave breaches of the Convention, providing statistics and information on willful killings, assassinations, torture and inhuman treatment, closures and curfews, unlawful deportations and transfers, wilfully causing great suffering and serious injury, and extensive destruction and expropriation of civilian property.
The memorandum further reminds the High Contracting Parties of their legal obligations, as defined in the Convention, including to ensure Israel’s respect of the Convention in the OPTs and calls for immediate action in this respect.
As the Al-Aqsa Intifada enters its fourth year, the cycle of violence which began on 29 September 2000 has escalated to levels unprecedented since 1967. Israeli military attacks in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs), particularly during the large-scale and prolonged Israeli military incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas conducted in 2002, have been characterized by systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including war crimes; excessive and indiscriminate use of force; wilful killings and injuries; restrictions on freedom of movement of people and goods, including prolonged closures and curfews; demolition of civilian property, including infrastructure, educational and health facilities; appropriation of lands; destruction of crops and uprooting of trees; extrajudicial executions; mass arbitrary arrests and detention; torture and ill treatment. Over the last three years, Israeli military actions in the OPTs have resulted in almost total suffocation of economic, political and social life; the humanitarian crisis continues to deepen, including escalating unemployment, poverty and malnutrition rates; civilian infrastructure has been devastated and civil government is on the verge of collapse.
These systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law have been met with consistent inaction from the international community, particularly from the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention. Total impunity for such violations, including war crimes, constitutes a breach of the clear legal obligations of the High Contracting Parties. Furthermore, the failure to heed the warnings of civil society; Palestinian, Israeli and international; regarding the consequences of this failure to act to ensure protection of the Palestinian civilian population perpetuates the current cycle of violence and may ultimately result in a state of total lawlessness in the region.
The Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem have been subject to an ongoing illegal belligerent occupation by Israel for the last 36 years. As such, the Geneva Convention Relative to Civilian Persons in Time of War 1949, (the Convention) is the primary legal framework governing activities in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem. As the Occupying Power, Israel is obligated to provide a wide-range of protections to the Palestinian civilian population living within these territories. The applicability of the Convention to all of these territories occupied by Israel since 1967 has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and in UN resolutions. The latest such reaffirmation can be found in the concluding statement of the High Contracting Parties following their meeting of 5 December 2001. Israel, however, has continued to deny the de jure applicability of the Convention to the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
However, the attitude of the state of Israel does not alter the de jure applicability of the Convention to the OPTs. Contrary to some claims by Israel, the implementation of the Oslo accords, including the establishment of an interim governing authority, the Palestinian Authority, also does not alter the status of the Convention. According to articles 7 and 47 of the Convention, no agreement between the belligerents shall deprive the protected persons of their rights as guaranteed in the Convention. The Convention remains applicable until the dismantlement of the ongoing military occupation. The Oslo accords, which were meant largely as a confidence-building measure to move the parties towards the end of the occupation with final status negotiations to have been completed by 4 May 1999, failed to take any account of the rights and protections afforded to Palestinians both individually and collectively under this Convention, and international humanitarian and human rights law in general. In reality, the Oslo agreements, rather than furthering the region towards a viable and fair solution for all parties, effectively permitted the deepening of Israeli military control over the OPTs, strengthening the apartheid segregation, including the ‘bantustanisation’ of Palestinian communities, and expediting the development of the settlement programme. The so-called “security fence” in the West Bank is just the most recent manifestation of Israel’s colonial aspirations.
The eruption of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000 came in response to the continuing violations of the Convention and other international humanitarian and human rights law by the Israeli military in the OPTs. The ongoing perpetration of grave breaches of international humanitarian law had been identified as a catalyst for the Intifada by PCHR and other human rights organizations even before September 2000. Despite consistent pressure from PCHR and others to halt Israel’s disregard for international humanitarian law in the OPTs, the High Contracting Parties to the Convention consistently ignored their legal obligations and failed to take any constructive action. A series of resolutions passed during the UN General Assembly emergency special session recommended the convening of a conference of the High Contracting Parties “on measures to enforce the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and to ensure its respect, in accordance with common article 1”. However, the meeting of the High Contracting Parties which was then convened on 15 July 1999 was adjourned after only 15 minutes on the basis of “the improved atmosphere in the Middle East as a whole”. This blatant politicization of international humanitarian law, despite the concerted cooperative efforts of global civil society, was particularly disappointing given the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions in 1999.
Human rights organizations and other civil society groups continued the campaign for international action, particularly following the outbreak of the Intifada in September 2000. On 5 December 2001, the High Contracting Parties reconvened in Geneva but again failed to take any concrete action in respect of their obligations under the Convention. The conclusion of this second meeting was of particular concern given the context of the dramatic escalation in violations of the Convention, including grave breaches, perpetrated by the Israeli military against the Palestinian civilian population at that time. The prevailing attitude of the participating High Contracting Parties contrasted starkly with the findings of UN and other investigations, including that of then High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, which highlighted the consistent violations of international humanitarian law perpetrated by the Israeli military against Palestinian civilians. Thus, this meeting again illustrated a total disregard for the facts on the ground, including as presented by experts mandated by the international community to investigate the situation.
Following the December 2001 meeting, predictably, the region has witnessed further escalations in violence. The prolonged large-scale Israeli military incursions into the West Bank between late March and June 2002 represented perhaps the greatest escalation in violence against Palestinian civilians to date. However, as this memorandum seeks to demonstrate, the Israeli military has continued to perpetrate systematic grave breaches of the Convention against the Palestinian civilian population throughout the OPTs. Thus, on this, the third anniversary of the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, this memorandum to the High Contracting Parties to the Convention serves to remind them of their legal obligations in respect of the enforcement of the Convention in the OPTs and to provide an updated summary of the pattern of Israel’s disregard for the Convention in the OPTs over the last three years.
The Israeli military and other state agents continue to perpetrate a vast range of violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention in the OPTs. However for the purposes of brevity and because of the severity of the acts and the regularity with which they are committed, this memorandum will highlight certain of those grave breaches of the Convention, as defined in article 147, perpetrated against Palestinians civilians by the Israeli military in a widespread and systematic manner. This memorandum focuses on the period from 29 September 2000 until 28 September 2003.
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