Thursday, January 31, 2008

International Law and Gaza: The Assault on Israel's Right to Self-Defense. Part II

 

By Abraham Bell

2nd part of 2

Retorsion:

Israel's imposition of economic sanctions on the Gaza Strip, such as withholding fuel supplies and electricity, does not involve the use of military force and is therefore a perfectly legal means of responding to Palestinian attacks, despite the effects on Palestinian citizens. The use of economic and other non-military sanctions as a means of "punishing" other international actors for their misbehavior is a practice known as "retorsion." It is generally acknowledged that every country may engage in retorsion so long as the underlying acts are themselves legal. Indeed, it is acknowledged that states may even go beyond retorsion to carry out non-belligerent reprisals-non-military acts that would otherwise be illegal (such as suspending flight agreements) as countermeasures. Since Israel is under no legal obligation to engage in trade of fuel or anything else with the Gaza Strip, or to maintain open borders with the Gaza Strip, it may withhold commercial items and seal its borders at its discretion, even if intended as "punishment" for Palestinian terrorism.

Collective Punishment:


While international law bars "collective punishment," none of Israel's combat actions and retorsions may be considered collective punishment. The bar on collective punishment forbids the imposition of criminal-type penalties to individuals or groups on the basis of another's guilt. None of Israel's actions involve the imposition of criminal-type penalties.

Examples of retorsions are legion in international affairs. The United States, for example, froze trade with Iran after the 1979 Revolution and with Uganda in 1978 after accusations of genocide. In 2000, fourteen European states suspended various diplomatic relations with Austria in protest of the participation of Jorg Haider in the government. Numerous states suspended trade and diplomatic relations with South Africa as punishment for apartheid practices. Obviously, in none of these cases was a charge raised of "collective punishment."

3. The Legality of Israeli Military Actions under the Laws of Occupation

Some groups have claimed that the Gaza Strip should be considered "occupied" by Israel according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, in which case Israel would be required to "ensure the food and medical supplies of the population," as well as "agree to relief schemes on behalf of the...population" and maintain "public health and hygiene."

Due to internal political considerations as well as rulings by the Israeli Supreme Court, Israel continues to maintain the flow of basic humanitarian supplies such as food, medicine and water to the Palestinian population of Gaza. In a recent case (Albassiouni v. Prime Minister, HCJ 9132/07), the Israeli Supreme Court implied that it interpreted domestic Israeli administrative law to require the Israeli government to maintain a minimum flow of Israeli-supplied necessary humanitarian goods when engaging in retorsional acts such as the cutting off of Israeli supply of electricity to Gaza. Thus, even if there were a legal basis for considering Gaza Israeli-occupied territory, Israel would be fulfilling its duties under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

However, there is no legal basis for maintaining that Gaza is occupied territory. The Fourth Geneva Convention refers to territory as occupied where the territory is of another "High Contracting Party" (i.e., a state party to the convention) and the occupier "exercises the functions of government" in the occupied territory. The Gaza Strip is not territory of another state party to the convention and Israel does not exercise the functions of government-or, indeed, any significant functions-in the territory. It is clear to all that the elected Hamas government is the de facto sovereign of the Gaza Strip and does not take direction from Israel, or from any other state.

Some have argued that states can be considered occupiers even of areas where they do not declare themselves in control so long as the putative occupiers have effective control. For instance, in 2005, the International Court of Justice opined that Uganda could be considered the occupier of Congolese territory over which it had "substituted [its] own authority for that of the Congolese Government" even in the absence of a formal military administration. Some have argued that this shows that occupation may occur even in the absence of a full-scale military presence and claimed that this renders Israel an occupier under the Fourth Geneva Convention. However, these claims are clearly without merit. First, Israel does not otherwise fulfill the conditions of being an occupier; in particular, Israel does not exercise the functions of government in Gaza, and it has not substituted its authority for the de facto Hamas government. Second, Israel cannot project effective control in Gaza. Indeed, Israelis and Palestinians well know that projecting such control would require an extensive military operation amounting to the armed conquest of Gaza. Military superiority over a neighbor, and the ability to conquer a neighbor in an extensive military operation, does not itself constitute occupation. If it did, the United States would have to be considered the occupier of Mexico, Egypt the occupier of Libya and Gaza, and China the occupier of North Korea.

Moreover, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that foes of Israel claiming that Israel has legal duties as the "occupier" of Gaza are insincere in their legal analysis. If Israel were indeed properly considered an occupier, under Article 43 of the regulations attached to the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907, it would be required to take "all the measures in [its] power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety." Thus, those who contend that Israel is in legal occupation of Gaza must also support and even demand Israeli military operations in order to disarm Palestinian terror groups and militias. Additionally, claims of occupation necessarily rely upon a belief that the occupying power is not the true sovereign of the occupied territory. For that reason, those who claim that Israel occupies Gaza must believe that the border between Israel and Gaza is an international border between separate sovereignties. Yet, many of those claiming that Gaza is occupied, like John Dugard, also simultaneously and inconsistently claim that Israel is legally obliged to open the borders between Israel and Gaza. No state is required to leave its international borders open.

4. The Legality of Israeli Military Actions under International Human Rights Law

Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Israel is required to ensure the protection of certain rights "within its territory" including the right to life. The application of the covenant to Israeli activities in the Gaza Strip is questionable as it is unlikely that the Gaza Strip should be considered Israel's territory. Nonetheless, Israel has abided by the requirements of the convention, if it applies to Gaza. In combat situations the meaning of the rights in the convention is established by the rules of international humanitarian law. Thus, Israel is protecting the human rights of Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip by abiding by international humanitarian law.

5. Duties of Israel under the Genocide Convention

Article Two of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide defines any killing with intent "to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such" as an act of genocide. Given _expressions of intent by some of the Palestinian terrorist groups to kill Jews as a group due to their ethnic identity (such as the Hamas charter's call for an armed struggle against all Jews until judgment day), all the members of such groups who carry out killings are guilty of the crime of genocide under the convention. Under Article One of the convention, Israel and other signatories are required to "prevent and punish" not only persons who carry out such genocidal acts, but those who conspire with them, incite them to kil,l and are complicit with their actions. The convention thus requires Israel to prevent and punish the terrorists themselves, as well as public figures who have publicly supported the Palestinian attacks.

6. Duties of Israel under Anti-Terrorism Conventions


The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism requires Israel (like other state parties to the convention) to prevent the collection of funds intended to support terrorist attacks. The Palestinian attacks fall under the definition of terrorist attacks under Article 2(1)(b) of the convention because they are aimed at Israeli civilians in violation of the rule of distinction, and they are intended to kill or seriously injure civilians in order to intimidate a population. If Gaza is considered "territory of [the] state" of Israel, Israel is legally required to establish jurisdiction over Palestinian terrorist crimes under the convention; if Gaza is not Israeli territory, Israel is permitted to establish jurisdiction over the terrorist crimes.

Additionally, the convention establishes that Israel is not only permitted to impose certain economic sanctions on the de facto rulers of the Gaza Strip, it is required to do so.

Under a related convention, the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, it is a crime to bomb public places (such as city streets) with the intent to kill civilians, by persons who are non-nationals of the state of which the victims are nationals.
Under this convention too, the Palestinian attackers must be considered international terrorists and Israel is either required or permitted (depending on whether Gaza is Israeli "territory") to assume criminal jurisdiction over the Palestinian terrorists committing these acts. Additionally, other states signed on the convention-such as the United States, Russia, Turkey and France-must cooperate in helping to combat such Palestinian terrorist acts.

Finally, Security Council Resolution 1373 requires states to "deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts, or provide safe havens" and "prevent the movement of terrorists or terrorist groups." The resolution was adopted under Chapter VII and is therefore apparently binding on all states, although some have argued that the resolution is not binding because the Security Council is not authorized to enact quasi-legislation. While the resolution does not define terrorism, it references the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, making it clear that the Palestinian attackers from Gaza fall within the scope of the international terrorists covered by the resolution. Consequently, if binding, this resolution requires Israel to take steps to deny safe haven to Palestinian attackers from Gaza and to prevent their free movement. 

Conclusion


The Palestinian-Israeli fighting in Gaza has been characterized by the extensive commission of war crimes, acts of terrorism and acts of genocide by Palestinian fighters, while Israeli countermeasures have conformed with the requirements of international law.

International law requires states to take measures to bring Palestinian war criminals and terrorists to justice, to prevent and punish Palestinian genocidal efforts, and to block the funding of Palestinian terrorist groups and those complicit with them.

Dr. Avi Bell is a member of the Faculty of Law at Bar-Ilan University, Visiting Professor at Fordham University Law School, and Director of the International Law Forum at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

 

1 comment:

Joseph said...

the finest analysis of the sick reality I have ever read.
JJF

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