Israeli officials acknowledged systematic violations of the Geneva Conventions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, secret documents disclosed by Israeli newspaper Haaretz have revealed.
The previously classified foreign ministry documents date from 1967 and 1968, shortly after Israel begun a now 49-year-old military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The two cables show how the Israeli government sought “to avoid application of the Geneva Conventions to the territories immediately after they were captured and how it tried to prevent international criticism of violations of the conventions.”
The documents also “reveal how Israel sought to avoid defining itself as an occupier in the territories, while admitting explicitly that this claim was put forth for strategic reasons, to avoid criticism, even though there was no substantive justification for it.”
One document, a “top-secret” cable sent in March 1968 to Israel’s then-ambassador in Washington, Yitzhak Rabin, states: “Our consistent policy has been and still is to avoid discussing the situation in the administered territories with foreign parties on the basis of the Geneva Conventions.”
“Explicit recognition on our part of the applicability of the Geneva Conventions would highlight serious problems under the convention with house demolitions, expulsions, settlement and more – and furthermore, when we’re obligated to leave all options open with regard to the issue of borders, we must not recognize that our status in the administered territories is solely that of an occupying power.”
The cable described “East Jerusalem” as “the most serious problem”, since “if the government were to follow the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Regulations, it wouldn’t be able to make far-reaching administrative and legal changes, such as expropriating land.”
A second “secret” cable was sent by Michael Comay, political advisor to then-Foreign Minister Abba Eban, to the foreign ministry’s deputy director general on 22 June 1967.
Comay says officials must “be careful about the use of certain phrases noted in the [Geneva] convention”, such as “‘occupied territories’ and ‘occupying power’”. This was “in light of the fact that the international Red Cross is trying to assert rights with regard to the civilian population.”
According to Haaretz, “these documents are not merely an interesting historical record of how Israel initially related to the Geneva Conventions, nor are they merely an admission of its violation. They are also relevant to the ongoing debate today over the occupation’s legality.”