There has been a notable increase in worldwide grassroots action attempting to hold Israel accountable for its large-scale violations of international law and Palestinian human rights as well as its sustained occupation of Palestine. This is perhaps best reflected in the growing support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, with a diverse range of supporters – American Jews included – that even the New York Times has recognised.
Palestine is increasingly becoming acknowledged and recognised as a state as well, whether being granted full recognition by Sweden or through non-binding parliamentary votes, as in Britain. This change in Palestine’s international relations reflects shifting public sentiment on a political level around the world. It appears, though, that the international community continues to employ double standards in relation to Israel, as the Jewish state continues to be shielded from any scrutiny and accountability.
Last month, Israel was elected to head the Sixth Committee at the incoming United Nations General Assembly. One of the UN’s six permanent boards, the Sixth Committee is the primary forum for the consideration of legal questions in the General Assembly.
Considering Israel’s running history of breaching international law, the Fourth Geneva Convention and countless UN resolutions, it is exceptionally ironic that it will be chairing a legal committee that aims to uphold international law and protect basic human rights.
Israel heads UN legal committee
What is more ironic than the appointment itself is the Israeli diplomat assigned to the post.
A staunch supporter of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, Danny Danon has also, time and again, reiterated his fierce opposition to the internationally supported two-state solution and called for the annexation of the occupied West Bank in order to ”make the land of Israel whole”.
“If I was in charge,” he told Al Jazeera in an interview, “I would have built much more all over Judea and Samaria [in reference to the West Bank], because I believe it’s ours. We don’t need to get permission from anyone for that.” In another interview with the Times of Israel, he said he hopes to “gain sovereignty over the majority of the land with the minimum number of Palestinians.”
The man who will now chair the General Assembly’s legal panel, engaging on questions of international law, is someone who is pungently opposed to all legally binding resolutions of the UNSC and who is seen as even more right-wing than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself. This is a man who, in a letter to the Turkish government, apologised for not killing more “terrorists” aboard the Mavi Marmara, where Israeli soldiers killed 10 Turkish civilians carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. He is also someone who warned Netanyahu not to give ground to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework for peace or else he would be ousted from the Likud leadership.
Speaking to MEMO about Danon’s chairmanship of the Sixth Committee, former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, said the appointment was “particularly ironic because [Danon] is a militant settler leader, and the settlements themselves are a violation of international law.” The professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University added that the move echoes “confusion within the UN itself.”
“On the one side, they’re fairly consistent in their condemnation of Israel’s policies and practices; on the other hand, they create political ambiguity by taking initiatives like this that are pushed by the US and geopolitical forces.”
Indeed, the United State’s mission to the UN congratulated Israel on the appointment, saying they were “confident that Israel’s Permanent Representative…will serve with the utmost objectivity and commitment to international law and norms.”
In actual fact, Israel is currently in breach of, or has been the subject of, over 30 UN Security Council resolutions. It has taken no action to remedy the breaches. The Foreign Policy Journal published a list of UN resolutions directly critical of Israel for violations of its Charter obligations and international law.
A history of violations
Since it was established, Israel has been consistently denying millions of Palestinians the basic human rights to which they are entitled under international law. With a long history replete of grave and repeated violations of international law and almost every one of the 149 substantive articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention that protect the right of Palestinians living in Occupied Palestine, the UN’s condemnations of Israel’s practices seem to afford no consequences whatsoever:
1. Collective punishment
Israel has a policy of collective punishment that sees it apply massive force against the civilian population in order to demonstrate to its opponents that there will always be a high price to pay, irrespective of innocence and guilt. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention defines collective punishment as a war crime, yet Israel ignores these “inconveniences” as seen by its many wars in the Gaza Strip as well as the indiscriminate ways it is handling the Jerusalem Intifada today. Another example of Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinians is its sustained air, land and sea blockade of the Gaza Strip, confining and starving 1.8 million people, and creating an open-air prison designed to, again, collectively punish the Palestinian people.
2. Settlements and annexations
Although the United Nations has consistently declared that Israeli settlements are illegal, over half a million Jewish-Israelis live in settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, reducing the UN Security Council to issuing feeble condemnations but otherwise imposing no sanctions on Israel. Furthermore, East Jerusalem was annexed by the Israelis, despite the UN declaring it illegal, in order for it to become part of their capital. Again, the UNSC took no action against Israel, whereas it did so immediately when, for instance, Saddam Hussein invaded and subsequently annexed Kuwait after 1990.
3. The Separation Wall
Since 2002, Israel has been building an enormous wall complete with military watchtowers and barbed-wire fences on Palestinian land. Although Israel falls back on its usual arguments of security, it does not have any answers as to why this wall is mainly inside Palestinian territory as opposed to being on the Green Line. The reality is that Israel primarily aims to enforce its apartheid state at the expense of the Palestinians.
4. Right of return
During the formal creation of the State of Israel in 1947-1949, Jewish forces ethnically cleansed 85 per cent of the indigenous Palestinian Arab population from the areas they claimed for their future state. UN resolution 194 was adopted in 1948 to guarantee the Palestinians’ right of return. Today, many of the survivors who were forced out of their ancestral homes and their descendants, numbering over five million, want to return to their homeland but are refused to do so by Israel.
Above the law
The appointment of Israel as chair of the General Assembly’s Sixth committee at the UN lays bare the blatant double standards and ineptness of the United Nations and the international community when dealing with Israel, and makes a mockery of the international legal system.
While western powers and world leaders do not shy away from taking up measures to punish the likes of Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Sudan and North Korea over their human rights abuses, whether in the form of sanctions or otherwise, Israel continues to get away with its actions. In fact, rather than taking action against Israel’s continuous breaches of international law, world powers such as the US seem to reward Israel for its flagrant violations by supplying it with arms and shielding it within the UN.
If the West had treated Israel with the same level of decisiveness by which they ordinarily treat nations known for their human rights abuses, the occupation could have ended a long time ago. Though, in light of this recent chairmanship, Israel once again gets a green light to continue its occupation of Palestine and to continue its disregard for international law without any fear or care of any consequences.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.