South African lawyers condemn Israel’s flagrant breach of humanitarian law

Palestinians inspect the ruins of their house which was attacked by Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip. Photo taken 18 July 2006. (MaanImages/Wesam Saleh)


The National Association of Democratic Lawyers of South Africa condemns the flagrant breaches of international humanitarian law and the violations of the human rights of Palestinians further exacerbated by the latest attack by Israel on the residents of Gaza in Palestine.

We must never forget that Israel was created by the United Nations in 1948 at a time when it consisted primarily of colonising countries and when most of the present day developing world was still under the yoke of colonialism. It was the atonement for the West s guilt for the Holocaust that two thirds of Palestine was given to the one third that followed the Jewish faith. Hundreds of thousands of Arab residents of Palestine (Moslems, Christians and atheists) were ethnically cleansed from their lands and made into refugees. Respect for human rights knows no geographic boundaries, ethnic exclusions or religious bias.

The hollow justification of the capture of one Israeli soldier does not legitimise the destruction of electricity generation plants, water purification facilities, the bombing of schools and universities and the imprisonment of half of the elected members of the Palestine Legislative Assembly. Gaza is a huge refugee camp consisting of approximately 1.2 million people cramped into an area 45 km long, 5-12 km in width. Since Israel s so called withdrawal from Gaza, it has been converted into a huge open air prison with Israel controlling all its borders and airspace. Israel has fired hundreds of artillery shells into the Gaza strip. It is an uneven struggle of F16 jets, attack helicopters and tanks against persons armed with AK 47s , RPGs and crude missiles. The captured Israeli soldier was a serving member of an occupying army. Israel has imprisoned thousands of Palestinians, including women and children. Some of them sentenced by so called military courts and many in administrative detention.

We associate ourselves with the views expressed by our allies in the struggle against apartheid, the South African Council of Churches and the Congress of South African Trade Unions. We recognise the support of the National Lawyers Guild during our struggle and applaud their continued fight against oppression in Palestine. We remember that it was Israel that welcomed the apartheid prime minister, John Vorster, on an official state visit. Israel supplied arms to apartheid South Africa, sent military advisers to occupied Namibia to assist the then SADF and collaborated with the apartheid regime in the development of the nuclear bomb. It was the Palestinian people who were our allies in the struggle.

Our triumph over apartheid gave them renewed hope for their own struggle. Atrocities are being committed daily in Gaza, the continued building of the apartheid wall has been condemned as illegal by the International Court of Justice, marriages between Palestinians in the occupied territories and within Israel are prohibited, (which brings back memories of our Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act), which prohibition was upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court and the continued theft of Palestinian land. It is estimated that Israel wants to annex over fifty percent of the remaining rump of Palestine. There are roads in the occupied territories, which are reserved for Israelis only. The Palestinians have different coloured number plates and their vehicles are not permitted to use these roads or enter Israeli occupied areas such as Jerusalem. Permits are required, and mostly denied, for travel between towns in the occupied territories. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, is a fifteen-minute drive from Jerusalem. Yet there are residents of Bethlehem who have never been to Jerusalem because they have been denied permits. Bethlehem is completely hemmed in by the apartheid wall and Jewish settlements. The last remaining forest has been replaced by an Israeli settlement.

Israeli apologists are very sensitive to comparisons with apartheid South Africa, largely because the truth hurts. The present policy being applied in the occupied territories is akin to our Bantustans. This is only a misnomer in the sense that our Bantustans , believe it or not, were larger pieces of contiguous territory. The Israelis have divided the occupied West Bank into areas akin to our Black townships. Entrance and exit from these areas are at the whim of teenage Israeli soldiers.

This results in daily humiliation at these checkpoints with children being stopped from going to school, students to university, ill persons to hospital and the blocking of transport of fresh produce to markets. Palestinians from the occupied territories are not allowed to use the airport in Tel Aviv. The Israelis have destroyed the airport in Gaza. Instead, provided they receive the requisite permits, they must travel to Jordan, which involves a full days journey and an overnight stay, and even then they may be denied permission to leave at the border. This against a forty-five minute journey from Jerusalem.

This daily oppression and humiliation is combined with the daily killing of Palestinians. Approximately 3000 civilians, not combatants, have been killed in the last five years. A 2004 field study published in the British Medical Journal reported that, in the previous four years, Two-thirds of the 621 children … killed [by the Israelis] at checkpoints … on the way to school, in their homes, died from small arms fire, directed in over half the cases to the head, neck and chest the sniper s wound .

Yet our national airline, SAA, has an agreement with El Al whereby you book with SAA but EL Al flies you to the apartheid Tel Aviv airport. Our democratic government has entered into business agreements and other deals with Israel. How can this be ever justified? We must applaud the stance taken by Minister Ronnie Kasrils and many other South Africans, including persons of the Jewish faith. They remain true to the ideals we fought for. The striving for justice for all is much more important than a retreat to a tribal identity.

People who say that both sides are equally to blame are simply wrong. Unlike South Africa, where we demanded, fought for and eventually won a unitary state, under the rule of law with constitutionally entrenched human rights, the Palestinians are willing to settle for much less: The Oslo Accords which the Israelis have sabotaged, and the two principal political parties, Fatah and now Hamas (which has indicated a willingness) accept the creation of a Palestinian state in the remaining one third of historic Palestine which encompasses all the occupied territories along the 1967 border, a resolution of the issue of Palestinian refugees, preferably a right to return as is guaranteed by international humanitarian law and the sharing of Jerusalem. Distortions about offers made by Barak or that Palestinians willingly left their homes are neither borne out by facts nor do anything to take the process further.

The Palestinians have the right to basic human rights of statehood and sovereignty in a contiguous territory like any other peoples. Either Israel should allow the creation of the Palestinian state, or forego the two state approach for one democratic state of Palestine/Israel. It cannot have it both ways. Forget about the hypocrisy of the governments of the USA and the EU states. By virtue of our history, we have an obligation to support the just struggle of the Palestinian peoples right to self-determination.

Accordingly we support the following: The call on the South African government to immediately recall the South African ambassador from Tel Aviv and to begin the process of ending diplomatic relations with Israel. The call on all South Africans to establish a strong, forceful and determined boycott and sanctions campaign against the Israeli apartheid state until the end of the occupation. The call on South Africans to identify a national day of action in solidarity with the Palestinian people and to observe it with rolling mass action around the country.

The call on the South African government to ensure that no South African serves in any capacity in the Israeli Occupation Forces and that any South African citizen doing so will be prosecuted under the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act;

The demand that Israel immediately withdraws all Israeli Occupation Forces from Gaza and ends the occupation of Palestinian lands; The demand that Israel abides by the provisions of international humanitarian law and human rights law, and refrains from imposing collective punishment on Palestinian civilians (as per the UN Human Rights Council declaration issued on 6 July 2006);

The call on Israel to release all detained Palestinian ministers and legislators and to release all political prisoners including hundreds of women and children; The call on the EU and the USA to stop the severe sanctions imposed on the Palestinian Authority as a penalty for exercising their democratic right and electing a government of their choice. This by itself is a brutal intervention on behalf of the occupation

The call on the United Nations to implement the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on Israel’s Apartheid wall; The call on the United Nations to ensure that Israel fulfils its obligations in terms of international law. The demand that Israel immediately cease all military attacks and lift the economic embargo imposed on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Strongly condemns Israel’s actions designed to achieve its threat that it “will not allow the Palestinian government to survive.”

The calls upon the international community to join in our strong condemnation of Israel’s belligerent crimes against humanity and gross violations of international law, including Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibiting collective punishment and Article 48 forbidding military actions against civilian populations and infrastructure. Emphasizes the international community must continue to insist Israel immediately implement other international laws including U.N. Resolution 194.

Stress that while condemnation of Israel’s most recent crimes against humanity is critical, the international community must look as a whole at Israel’s gross violations of international law since its inception.

Israel’s unbroken pattern of crimes against humanity plainly uncovers the following reality: for nearly six decades Israel has been engaged in well- planned, systematic, and continuous campaign intended to destroy the Palestinian people, culture, civil society and the infrastructure of life itself. The call upon the international community to expose the myth that Israel has “disengaged” from Gaza despite Israel’s continued control of Gaza’s airspace, sea space, land borders, public services (including water, sewage, electricity, and telecommunication networks).

The call upon the international community to send immediate aid to Palestinians, including food, water, and medicine. Urge the international community to step-up its efforts to boycott, sanction, and disinvest from Israel.

We further call for an urgent dialogue with the South African Government to determine a common approach between government and civil society on the resolution of the Israel/Palestinian crisis.

Issued by the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL), July 2006

Related Links

  • BY TOPIC: Israel invades Gaza (27 June 2006)
  • National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL)