SA academic Dugard slams Israel

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A former Human Rights advocate at Wits University Professor John Dugard in his capacity as Special Rapporteur of the UN’s Commission of Human Rights, has severely attacked Israel. During his tenure as law professor in SA, Dugard was threatened with contempt of court for criticizing Apartheid South Africa’s failure to defend human rights. Consistent with his concern for HR violations Dugard has accused the Jewish State for its disregard of various international laws and conventions.

In his new capacity as Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, Dugard visited the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and Israel at the end of June, meeting a number of government and non-governmental organizations on both sides. His brief was to assess Israeli operations in relation to international human rights laws and international humanitarian law.

The Report [1] highlighted two issues before the international community- the unlawful annexation of Palestinian territory and the restrictions on freedom of movement. Thereafter it focused on deaths, detentions, the demolition of property and settlements.

Whilst acknowledging Israel’s security concerns, he suggests that there ought to be a limit “to the extent to which human rights may be violated in the name of counter-terrorism”. International humanitarian law recognizes the principle of proportionality. Israel’s response is disproportionate assuming the “character of punishment, humiliation and conquest.”

The Report deals at length with what the Palestinians call the “Apartheid Wall” and Israel euphemistically refers to as a “Security Fence’ or “Seam Zone” or Separation Wall”. He disputes Israeli attempts to obfuscate this and charges that it is in fact “annexation under the guise of security”. This massive Wall, ostensibly built as a security measure, will fail to deter “suicide bombers” because most suicide and car bombs pass into Israel through shoddy checkpoints.

The Apartheid Wall absorbs substantial parts of Palestine, includes illegal Jewish settlements and isolates Palestinian villages. It does not follow the Green Line and effectively cuts of Palestinians from their land, workplace, schools, clinics, and social services. Critically, it annexes some of the most fertile agricultural land and water wells in the region. At least 210,000 Palestinians living in 67 villages, towns and cities will be affected.

The permanent nature of the Apartheid Wall is confirmed by its enormous cost: $1.4 billion on its construction. This will only benefit the settlers, approximately 200,000 of whom will be incorporated onto the Israeli side. The restriction of Palestinians freedom of movement and access to health and education and also the unlawful taking of Palestinian property transgresses their human rights.

More seriously Dugard states that the Apartheid Wall violates the most fundamental principles of contemporary international law: the prohibition on the forcible acquisition of territory and the right to self-determination. Annexation or conquest, whether as an act of aggression or self-defense, violates the principles of the United Nations Charter, the Geneva Conventions and International Law. It also interferes with the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people.

Just as the annexation of East Jerusalem and Golan Heights are “null and void”, Dugard calls on UN member states to condemn and reject Israel’s contention that the Apartheid Wall “is designed entirely a security measure…”

The restrictions imposed on the Freedom of Movement by means of checkpoints, closures and curfews causes’ enormous suffering on Palestinians .Accounts of long delays and women giving birth at the 300 checkpoints fail the reveal the extent of the rudeness, institutionalized humiliation and brutality. Between 390,000 to 520,000 Palestinian civilians have been under tight and continuous curfews in 2002.

Palestinians require permits to travel through the West Bank which is divided by checkpoints into a patchwork of cantons. Gaza is totally isolated form the rest and also divided into three cantons. These measures, known as collective punishment, do not protect the illegal Jewish Settlements, but restrict internal trade and restrict the entire population from traveling from village to village or town to town.

This has caused a major negative impact on the Palestinian economy. Unemployment stands at 40%, poverty at 60% (2 million people); drop in health care and standards, school closures and .severe malnutrition in children. John Dugard states that “There is a humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza. It is not the result of a natural disaster. Instead, it is a crisis imposed by a powerful State on its neighbor.”

International humanitarian law limits the harming and killing of civilians in conflict requires respect to the principles of distinction and proportionality. Since September 2000 over 2755 Palestinians and 830 Israelis have been killed and 28,000 Palestinians and 5,600 Israelis injured. Most have been civilians. 550 children have been killed, of whom 460 were Palestinians.

The assassinations have killed 230 Palestinians, including 80 children, women and innocent bystanders. Over 300 persons have been injured. Judge Antonio Cassese, former President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, has submitted an expert opinion to the Court in which he asserts that the assassinations of this kind could be considered as war crimes.

The indiscriminate use of violence, the use of flechette shells and the failure of the Israeli Defence Force to investigate crimes committed by its members has long been criticized. A mere 55 investigations has been opened resulting in only six indictments.

There are 6,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, many without trial. There have been serious complaints about the terrible conditions and torture made to various NGO’s, including the Mandela Institute for Human Rights. Violent shaking, covering of the head with a sack, sleep deprivation and painful shackling used by the General Security Service (GSS) has been justified by the Israeli government on grounds of necessity. John Dugard notes that the degree of civilization of a State can be measured by the way in which it treats prisoners.

Dugard disputes the three principle reasons cited by Israel justifying the destruction of Palestinian homes and agricultural property: Israeli security, punishment for crimes against Israel and building without a permit which is rarely issued anyway. Over 1,134 homes have been destroyed leaving almost 10,000 individuals homeless. The average demolishing of homes in 2003 has increased to 72 per month!

Dugard reiterates that the transfer of one’s owns population into Settlements violates the Fourth Geneva Convention and should be opposed by the international community. There are 200 Settlements in the OPT containing a total population of over 400,000- 120 in West Bank (230,000); 16 in Gaza (7000); and 180,000 in East Jerusalem. New Settlement construction continues despite Israeli government undertaking to halt it.

Special Rapporteur John Dugard concludes that the occupation of the OPT continues to result in widespread violation of human rights and international humanitarian law. The excuse of security cannot justify the abuse of Palestinian human rights. ” The construction of the Wall within the West Bank and the continued expansion of settlements, which, on the face of it, have more to do with territorial expansion, de facto annexation or conquest, raise serious doubts about the good faith of Israel’s justifications in the name of security.”

Note:

[1] Report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, John Dugard, on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, submitted in accordance with Commission resolution 1993/2 A

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