On the 4th and 5th of November, the Middle East Monitor (MEMO) was present at a conference in Beirut, convened by the Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations under the theme "Israel and the International Law". The conference was attended by a large and distinguished gathering of scholars, experts, lawyers and researchers, including John Dugard (former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories), Curtis Doebbler (Professor of international law at An-Najah National University in Nablus), Mahmod Mobarak (Professor of International Law at King Faisal University in KSA) and Paul de Waart (Professor of international law at the VU University Amsterdam).
Al-Zaytouna Conference, Beirut
One underlying theme which prevailed all the discussions was the role of international law in the creation of the State of Israel. For good or bad, the international community has played a significant role in the conflict, at times being complicit in its aggravation. In his Keynote Address, John Dugard pointed out to the significance1 of the Partition Plan contained in the United Nations Resolution 181 (II), when the General Assembly approved the Partition Plan and divided Palestine into two provisional states, one Jewish and one Arab, ignoring the rights of the majority of the population in Palestine.
The conference discussed 20 working papers which addressed all the different international law and human rights violations committed by Israel since 1948: the denial of the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people; denial of their right of return; the Judaization of Jerusalem; the illegalities surrounding the house demolitions, the land expropriation and the construction of the settlements; the importance of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice concerning the construction of the wall; the siege on Gaza, the war crimes committed in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza during 'Operation Cast Lead.'
The presentation of the papers by the authors and the question and answer sessions which followed highlighted the double standards of certain western countries in backing the State of Israel or remaining silent to their international law violations, and therefore supporting Occupation. Proof of this is the recent endorsement of the UN General Assembly of the Goldstone Report. The United States voted against the resolution and Britain and other European Union countries abstained from it. On the other hand, the conference also shed light on the complicity of some Arab countries with the Israeli Occupation, including the Egyptian policy at the Rafah border, which worsens the siege of Gaza and threatens the health and living conditions of its inhabitants. Professor Mahmod Mubarak in his paper "The Israeli Siege on Gaza Strip" proposed different legal strategies to lift the siege.
Group picture of the Conference Participants
When looking at the extent of impunity Israel has accrued to itself in the international arena and the little pressure it is subjected to by the West to conform to international standards one may question the capacity of international and national legal systems in general to seek redress for the Palestinians and change the situation. However, the al-Zaytouna conference successfully addressed the different mechanisms to seek accountability in both national and international courts. Panelists Haytham Manaa from the Arab Human Rights Commission and Raji Sourani from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights discussed the role of human rights organisations in the national European courts and the importance of the principle of universal jurisdiction. The recent attempt to prosecute Ehud Barak in the UK and the 2005 attempt to issue an arrest warrant to Doron Almog are evidence of the fact that lawyers and activists in the field are becoming more involved in this "legal warfare", whether that be when seeking an arrest warrant to alleged Israeli war criminals upon their visit to Europe, holding the UK government accountable for increasing its trade relations with Israel and therefore collaborating with the occupation or seeking the International Criminal Court's jurisdiction over Israeli war crimes. MEMO will continue to monitor this developing area of law.
A final statement of the Conference and 15 action points agreed by all the participants can be found here. MEMO commends the Al-Zaytouna Center for this very insightful and well-organized conference.