Israelís Illegal Occupation


The following is an article written by Dr. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Ambassador and Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, on Israelís illegal occupation of Palestinian land. It was written in response to an opinion piece that appeared in The New York Times on 21 March 2002. That piece, entitled "Annanís Careless Language" and written by Mr. George P. Fletcher, contended that the Israeli occupation is not illegal, as was stated by U.N. Secretary-General Annan. This article, which was submitted to The New York Times for publication but regrettably declined, confronts this contention with a concise explanation regarding the undeniably illegal nature of the Israeli occupation.

Israelís Illegal Occupation

Bringing an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is as much a prerequisite for peace in the Middle East as is the Palestinian recognition of Israel. The Israeli occupation is not only inhuman and the cause of extreme suffering for the 3.5 million Palestinians living under its subjugation, but it is also illegal under international law. Attempts to claim otherwise have no legal validity and are morally bankrupt and politically dangerous since they basically preclude the achievement of peace.

While it is true that victorious powers can legally occupy hostile territories seized in the course of conflict Ė an example of which is the Alliesí occupation of the territory of Nazi Germany during World War II, foreign occupation should nevertheless be a temporary situation, pending a political settlement or solution. During the interim, the occupying Power must comply with relevant instruments of international humanitarian law with regard to its conduct in the territory it has occupied.

International law is very clear on two basic principles: the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the prohibition of the transfer of civilians of the occupying Power to the occupied territory. Both are intended to prevent expansionism and the colonization of occupied territories. Both compliment another explicit principle of international law, namely the right of peoples to self-determination, a right that a colonial or occupying Power is obliged to respect. The Israeli occupation has clearly violated all three of these principles of international law. In fact, throughout its prolonged occupation, Israel has persistently and aggressively breached international law.

Thus, what makes the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land illegal is not the fact that it occurred during the war of 1967 (regardless of the narrative concerning the causes of the war). What makes the Israeli occupation illegal is that it has existed for 35 years, during which time it transformed into a form of colonialism and suppressed and oppressed an entire people for decades, preventing them from the exercise of their right to self-determination and the establishment of their State, Palestine.

Israel, as an occupying Power, has undertaken countless measures attempting to change the legal status, demographic composition and character of the territory by confiscating land, exploiting natural resources, building more than 250 settlements, transferring more than 400,000 Israelis to the occupied territories, establishing a dual system of law and even annexing part of the territory. These actions have been carried out in direct contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, which, among other things, defines the rules of conduct and the obligations of the occupying Power. Clearly then, the active intent of the Israeli occupation has been to negate Palestinian rights, to create new facts on the ground and to illegally expand Israelís borders.

Security Council resolution 242 (1967), which is the bedrock of the peace process and of any future peace settlement, is anchored in the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war. The old and deceptive argument that the resolution calls for withdrawal from "territories" and not "the territories" not withstanding (in fact, the French text of the resolution does contain the article "the"). The call in the resolution for the withdrawal of Israel can only be read within the context of the above-mentioned principle.

Since the onset of the Israeli occupation in 1967, and in response to established, illegal policies and practices of the occupying Power, the Security Council has adopted 26 resolutions that affirmed the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the territories occupied by Israel. Of those resolutions, several deal directly with the issue of Israeli settlements and several also specifically deal with Israeli violations in Occupied East Jerusalem. The resolutions clearly address the illegality of Israelís policies and practices with regard to both issues. For example, some of the resolutions affirm that the Israeli settlements "have no legal validity"; call upon the government and people of Israel "to dismantle the existing settlements"; and call upon "all States not to provide Israel with any assistance to be used specifically in connection with settlements in the occupied territories".

As for Occupied East Jerusalem, which the Israeli government illegally annexed in 1980, the Security Council, in resolution 478 (1980), determined "that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and, in particular, the recent "basic law" on Jerusalem are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith". Similar affirmations were made by the Council in several other resolutions. Moreover, the General Assembly and other U.N. organs have adopted scores of resolutions on the illegal policies and practices of the Israeli occupation and on the legitimacy of, and the necessity for, the exercise of the right to self-determination by the Palestinian people.

There has therefore been absolutely no impropriety on the part of the U.N. Secretary-General concerning his recent statements with regard to the Israeli occupation. Kofi Annanís call for an end to "the illegal occupation" was not only legally correct but was also not a concept invented by the Secretary-General, as reflected in the numerous resolutions of the United Nations. It was, however, important for Mr. Annan to add his moral authority to the urgent need for an end to that illegal occupation, particularly during this late stage in the perilous deterioration of the situation.

In that statement on 12 March 2002, the Secretary-General addressed both the Palestinian and Israeli sides. The Palestinian side probably did not like everything it heard. But, taken in its entirety, the statement was widely viewed as a necessary and responsible call that intended to, and should, help the parties to move forward towards a peaceful settlement. For this to happen, the Israeli people and the Israeli government must indeed come to terms, for once and for all, with the illegality of their occupation and the need for its termination.