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International Law, Israel, and Palestine

The International Laws of Belligerent Occupation

Francis A. Boyle is a professor of international law at the University of Chicago and a Defence Lawyer at the International Court of Justice. He received his Master’s Degree and PhD in Political Science, as well as his Doctor of Law from Harvard University. He is the author of numerous books including, The Future of International Law and American Foreign Policy, World Politics and International Law, Defending Civil Resistance Under International Law, and Palestine, Palestinians, and International Law.

by Professor Francis Boyle
Professor of International Law, University of Illinois

Belligerent occupation is governed by The Hague Regulations of 1907, as well as by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and the customary laws of belligerent occupation. Security Council Resolution 1322 (2000), paragraph 3 continued: “Calls upon Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and its responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in a Time of War of 12 August 1949;...” Again, the Security Council vote was 14 to 0, becoming obligatory international law.

The Fourth Geneva Convention applies to the West Bank, to the Gaza Strip, and to the entire City of Jerusalem, in order to protect the Palestinians living there. The Palestinian People living in this Palestinian Land are “protected persons” within the meaning of the Fourth Geneva Convention. All of their rights are sacred under international law.

There are 149 substantive articles of the Fourth Geneva Convention that protect the rights of every one of these Palestinians living in occupied Palestine. The Israeli Government is currently violating, and has since 1967 been violating, almost each and every one of these sacred rights of the Palestinian People recognized by the Fourth Geneva Convention. Indeed, violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention are war crimes.

So this is not a symmetrical situation. As matters of fact and of law, the gross and repeated violations of Palestinian rights by the Israeli army and Israeli settlers living illegally in occupied Palestine constitute war crimes. Conversely, the Palestinian People are defending themselves and their Land and their Homes against Israeli war crimes and Israeli war criminals, both military and civilian.

The U.N. Human Rights Commission

Indeed, it is far more serious than that. On 19 October 2000 a Special Session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights adopted a Resolution set forth in U.N. Document E/CN.4/S-5/L.2/Rev. 1, “Condemning the provocative visit to al Aqsa Haram Sharif on 28 September 2000 by Ariel Sharon, the Likud party leader, which triggered the tragic events that followed in occupied East Jerusalem and the other occupied Palestinian territories, resulting in a high number of deaths and injuries among Palestinian civilians.” The U.N. Human Rights Commission then said it was “[g]ravely concerned” about several different types of atrocities inflicted by Israel upon the Palestinian People, which it denominated “war crimes, flagrant violations of international humanitarian law and crimes against humanity.”

In operative paragraph 1 of its 19 October 2000 Resolution, the U.N. Human Rights Commission then: “Strongly condemns the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force in violation of international humanitarian law by the Israeli occupying Power against innocent and unarmed Palestinian civilians...including many children, in the occupied territories, which constitutes a war crime and a crime against humanity;...” And in paragraph 5 of its 19 October 2000 Resolution, the U.N. Human Rights Commission: “Also affirms that the deliberate and systematic killing of civilians and children by the Israeli occupying authorities constitutes a flagrant and grave violation of the right to life and also constitutes a crime against humanity;...” Article 68 of the United Nations Charter had expressly required the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council to “set up” this Commission “for the promotion of human rights.”

Israel’s War Crimes against Palestinians

We all have a general idea of what a war crime is, so I am not going to elaborate upon that term here. But there are different degrees of heinousness for war crimes. In particular are the more serious war crimes denominated “grave breaches” of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Since the start of the Al Aqsa Intifada, the world has seen those inflicted every day by Israel against the Palestinian People living in occupied Palestine: e.g., wilful killing of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli army and Israel’s illegal paramilitary settlers. These Israeli “grave breaches” of the Fourth Geneva Convention mandate universal prosecution for their perpetrators, whether military or civilian, as well as prosecution for their commanders, whether military or civilian, including Israel’s political leaders.

Israel’s Crimes Against Humanity against Palestinians

But I want to focus for a moment on Israel’s “crime against humanity” against the Palestinian People — as determined by the U.N. Human Rights Commission itself, set up pursuant to the requirements of the United Nations Charter. What is a “crime against humanity”? This concept goes all the way back to the Nuremberg Charter of 1945 for the trial of the major Nazi war criminals. And in the Nuremberg Charter of 1945, drafted by the United States Government, there was created and inserted a new type of international crime specifically intended to deal with the Nazi persecution of the Jewish People.

The paradigmatic example of a “crime against humanity” is what Hitler and the Nazis did to the Jewish People. This is where the concept of crime against humanity came from. And this is what the U.N. Human Rights Commission determined that Israel is currently doing to the Palestinian People: Crimes against humanity. Legally, just like what Hitler and the Nazis did to the Jews.

The Precursor to Genocide

Moreover, a crime against humanity is the direct historical and legal precursor to the international crime of genocide as defined by the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The theory here was that what Hitler and the Nazis did to the Jewish People required a special international treaty that would codify and universalise the Nuremberg concept of “crime against humanity.” And that treaty ultimately became the 1948 Genocide Convention.

In fairness, you will note that the U.N. Human Rights Commission did not go so far as to condemn Israel for committing genocide against the Palestinian People. But it has condemned Israel for committing crimes against humanity, which is the direct precursor to genocide. And I submit that if something is not done quite soon by the American People and the International Community to stop Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Palestinian People, it could very well degenerate into genocide, if Israel is not there already. And in this regard, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is what international lawyers call a genocidaire—one who has already committed genocide in the past.

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Additional Resources

IHL Report – Review of the Applicability of International Humanitarian Law to the Occupied Palestinian Territory

UN Maps

Amnesty Report – Israeli army must respect human rights in its operations

Organizations

Public Committee Against Torture in Israel

United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine

Al-Haq

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories

Amnesty International

International Humanitarian Law Research Initiative


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