Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign
التضامن الإيرلندي الفلسطيني

Israel’s violations of international law – A brief introduction

Human rights and Palestinian solidarity activists frequently mention violations of international law and the commission of war crimes by the state of Israel. The IPSC National Coordinator Kevin Squires took a look at some of these offences in detail for Liberty, the monthly newspaper of SIPTU, the largest trade union in Ireland.

It was part of a four page ‘Palestine Special’ in the September edition, which also included contributions from Palestinian lawyer Diana Buttu, Dr. Claudia Saba of Gaza Action Ireland, and Mags O’Brien of Trade Union Friends of Palestine. You can read the whole section online by clicking here on pages 15 to 18 (PDF).

Collective punishment

Israel operates a military policy of collective punishment called the ‘Dahiya doctrine’, after the area in Lebanon where it was first used by Israeli forces in 2006. Simply put, the doctrine sees massive force being used upon the civilian population in order to exert political pressure on enemy forces. Aside from being a classic definition of the word “terrorism”, Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention defines collective punishment as a war crime, stipulating that “No persons may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited … Reprisals against persons and their property are prohibited.”

Settlements and Annexations

The first Israeli settlements were built in late 1967, immediately following the military occupation of the Palestinian territories.  Today over half a million Jewish-Israelis live in such settlements. As Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that it is illegal for an occupying power to “deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”, all such settlements are thus war crimes. UN Security Council Resolution 446 declares settlements have “no legal validity”.

In 1980 Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem as Israel’s “complete and united” capital. UNSC Resolution 478 declares the annexation “a violation of international law” which is “null and void and must be rescinded.” UNSC Resolution 497 similarly states that Israel’s annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights in also illegal.  

The Wall

In 2002 Israel began building 710km a barrier consisting of 8m high concrete walls, military watchtowers and barbed-wire fences on Palestinian land. Israel claims its purpose it to prevent Palestinians from crossing into Israel, but its route winds deep within the West Bank –only 15% of its route follows the Green Line border– leading  it to be dubbed the ‘land grab’ or ‘Apartheid’ wall. In 2004, the International Court of Justice (The World Court) issued an Advisory Opinion regarding the legality of the wall, stating that the wall “and its associated régime, are contrary to international law” and called for reparations for those affected by its construction.

Right of Refugees’ Return

Between 1947 and 1949 Jewish-Israeli military forces ethnically cleansed at least 750,000 Palestinians from what became the state of Israel, representing some 85% of the indigenous Palestinian population. 1967, Israel forced around 300,000 people (around half of them already refugees from 1948) from their homeland. Today, refugees and their descendants number, at a conservative estimate, around five million people. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.”  Under Article 147 of the 1949 Geneva Convention IV, “unlawful deportation or transfer … of a protected person” constitutes a grave breach of the Convention.

For six decades Israel has refused Palestinian refugees their Right of Return; UN General Assembly Resolution 194 states that Palestinian “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.” This resolution has been reaffirmed many times over by UNGA. Opponents of Palestinian rights claim 194 is irrelevant as UNGA resolutions are non-binding, however Israel’s accession to the UN was predicated upon its acceptance. Furthermore, the resolution is merely an acknowledgement of the specific applicability of the right of return to Palestinian refugees which, according to the Cambridge Journal of International & Comparative Law can be found in eight branches of international law: inter-State nationality law, law of State succession, human rights law, humanitarian law, law of State responsibility, refugee law, UN law, and natural/customary law.

The Siege of Gaza

Since 2007, the 1.8 million people in the Gaza Strip have existed under a regime of land, sea and air closure, known as the Siege, or Blockade, of Gaza. This siege has kept Gaza on the brink of a humanitarian disaster for the past seven years, a policy described by an Israeli official as being to “put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” There is broad consensus amongst human rights organisations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Committee of the Red Cross as well as UN offices such as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that this siege is illegal. UNOCHA called it “collective punishment, a violation of international humanitarian law,” while outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has stated that it “is illegal and should be lifted.”

UN Resolutions

Israel is currently in breach of, or has been the subject of, over 30 UN Security Council resolutions directed at it alone for violations which it has never taken action to remedy.