14 May 2009
15 May 2009 marks 61 years since the Palestinian “Nakba,” the “catastrophe” that led to the forcible displacement of more than half of the population of Historic Palestine. As Israel celebrates 61 years of independence and achievements, it must not be forgotten
that its creation was based on settlement and colonisation of Palestinian land. The six decades that have since passed have been characterised by a singular and consistent failure to address the world’s oldest and largest refugee problem, thus ensuring that Palestinian refugees from 1948 have been systematically denied their right to return to their homes, and their right to reparations should they not wish to return. Instead, Israeli policies of forcible displacement have been allowed to continue, with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced from or within the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) since 1967.
The forced displacement of Palestinians has been mirrored by unlawful policies of Jewish-Israeli settlement on appropriated Palestinian land in the OPT. With shrewd deliberation, Israel has openly implemented an aggressive policy of control, isolation and fragmentation of the land and people of the OPT. Piece by piece, decade by decade, large tracts of the OPT have been effectively annexed to Israel, amounting to the unlawful acquisition of territory by force.
These policies of settlement and ‘creeping annexation’ prompted former UN Special Rapporteur John Dugard to suggest in 2007 that “elements of the occupation constitute forms of colonialism.”
Over the past 15 months, Al-Haq has been part of a team of legal scholars and institutions from Palestine, Israel, South Africa, Ireland and the UK that has conducted an in-depth study in response to Professor Dugard’s questions as to whether Israel has violated the international legal prohibitions on colonialism and apartheid in the OPT. The findings of the study are outlined in its executive summary, available here.
Examining Israel’s practices in the OPT in relation to the prohibition of colonialism in international law—as set down in the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (1960) and other legal instruments—the study concludes that:
Five issues, which are unlawful in themselves, taken together make it evident that Israel’s rule in the OPT has assumed such a colonial character: namely, violations of the territorial integrity of occupied territory; depriving the population of occupied territory of the capacity for self-governance; integrating the economy of occupied territory into that of the occupant; breaching the principle of permanent sovereignty over natural resources in relation to the occupied territory; and denying the population of occupied territory the right freely to express, develop and practice its culture. […] Professor Dugard suggested that elements of the occupation resembled colonialism. This study demonstrates that the implementation of a colonial policy by Israel has not been piecemeal but is systematic and comprehensive, as the exercise of the Palestinian population’s right to self-determination has been frustrated in all of its principal modes of expression.
Colonialism is prohibited by international law and has been consistently condemned by the international community because it prevents, and aims to prevent, a people from exercising freely its right to determine its own future through its own political institutions and in pursuit of its own economic policy and social and cultural development; that is, because it amounts to a comprehensive denial of the right to self-determination.
Occupation is not unlawful in itself. A colonial occupation that serves to impede the right of a people to self-determination manifestly is unlawful. 61 years after the creation of the State of Israel, the Palestinian people still awaits its own self-determination.
In failing to take and maintain a principled stance in the face of decades of widespread and systematic violations of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, the international community has failed the cause of peace so often featured in political rhetoric. The duty to take measures towards the realisation of the Palestinian right to self-determination is an obligation binding on all States under international law. The urgency of the need for States to take immediate and meaningful action towards fulfilling this obligation cannot be overstated. The longer the façade of currently stalled ‘peace process’ is allowed to mask Israel’s continuing policies of settlement and colonisation and to defer the taking of vital preventive and remedial measures, the more irreversible the situation will become.
The example of occupied East Jerusalem serves as a stark illustration. Having unlawfully annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 and extended its own jurisdiction over the city, Israel has gradually and relentlessly implemented parallel policies of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, and transfer of the Palestinian residents out of East Jerusalem, fundamentally altering the demographic balance. The recent wave of house demolitions and eviction orders for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem is the latest phase in this concerted long-term plan to maintain “eternal” Israeli control over East Jerusalem; that is, to colonise it permanently.
Decisive action is thus required. The destructive consequences of colonialism on so many peoples in history need only serve as a warning.
Therefore, Al-Haq calls upon:
Israel to end its occupation of the OPT and to recognise the rights of Palestinian refugees, in order to allow the meaningful exercise of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.
Third States to take effective measures to uphold their legal obligation under customary international law not to recognise, aid or assist the illegal situation created by Israel’s continuing denial of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.
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