Posted on July 12, 1999 in Washington Watch

Having experienced the nightmare of two devastating wars, in 1949, the world community advanced a compact designed to protect future generations of civilians from the massive violations of rights that often results from such conflicts.

Meeting in the aftermath of World War II, political leaders and legal scholars developed a code of international law and conduct they called “The Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War”. Since this was the fourth in a series of such compacts, it came to be known as the “Fourth Geneva Convention”.

Virtually every government in the world holds that this important convention applies to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (as well as to the occupied Golan Heights and the south of Lebanon). In fact, Israel alone makes the claim that the conventions do not apply to the West Bank and Gaza, using the spurious argument that since neither Egypt nor Jordan had legally recognized sovereignty over these territories, they could not be considered “occupied”.

This argument, of course, has been universally rejected. In any case, Israel, while contesting the applicability of the conventions, insists that it voluntarily applies the convention’s rules to its governance of the West Bank and Gaza.

The United States has been consistent in supporting the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied Palestinian lands. In 1969, for example, then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Charles Yost, told the Security Council that the United States had “informed the government of Israel on numerous occasions since July of 1969” that the U.S. held that the Israelis were bound to apply the rules of the convention to the West Bank and Gaza. Annually, in its Human Rights Report, the U.S. Department of State reaffirms its position that it supports the position held by the United Nations “that the stipulation of the Fourth Geneva Convention concerning the protection of civilian populations under military occupation apply to [Israel’s] governance of the occupied territories”.

A review of the articles of the convention show that in the past 32 years Israel has been guilty of massive violations of those international rules. Even after the signing of the Oslo agreements of 1993 and succeeding accords reached between the Palestinians and the Israelis, significant violations continue to occur.

Some of the articles of the conventions that Israel persists in violating are:

Article 27

    Protected person are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their person, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity.

The Israeli military violates this article daily with its demeaning, humiliating and, at times, life-threatening behavior toward Palestinians at the checkpoints at Erez, around Jerusalem and in Hebron.

Articles 31 and 32

    No physical or moral coercion shall be exercised against protected person, in particular to obtain information from them or from third parties.

    The High Contracting Parties specifically agree that each of them is prohibited from taking any measure of such a character as to cause the physical suffering…. This prohibition applies no only to murder, torture, corporal punishments…but also to any other measure of brutality whether applied by civilian or military agents.

The Israeli Supreme Court has legitimized the use of torture as a tool of interrogation. Respected international organizations have noted and condemned Israel’s use of torture.

Article 47

    Protected persons who are in occupied territory shall not be deprived, in any case or in any manner whatsoever, of the benefits of the present Convention…by any annexation by the [Occupying Power] of the whole or part of the occupied territory.

Israel has annexed the Golan Heights and has declared as annexed the eastern part of Jerusalem and a substantial area of the West Bank surrounding Jerusalem. With the closure of “greater Jerusalem”, the 150,000+ Palestinian residents of the city and the many small villages surrounding it have been cut off from the West Bank. Similarly, the Palestinians of the West Bank have been cut off from their religious, cultural, economic, social, medical and educational centers in Jerusalem.

Article 49

    The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

Over 350,000 Israelis currently live in settlements Israel has constructed in the West Bank (including Jerusalem) and Gaza.

Article 52

    All measures aiming at creating unemployment or at restricting the opportunities offered to workers in an occupied territory, in order to induce them to work for the Occupying Power, are prohibited.

Israel’s polices of land confiscation, annexation and economic development have made the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza dependent on day-labor employment in Israel. Periodically Palestinians are denied even these opportunities of employment by Israel’s closure of the territories.

Article 53

    Prohibits the destruction of property of protected civilian populations.

Almost weekly Israeli authorities demolish the homes or uproot the orchards and farms of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

Article 71

    Accused persons who are prosecuted by the Occupying Power shall be promptly informed, in writing, in a language which they understand, of the particulars of the charges preferred against them, and shall be brought to trial as rapidly as possible.

Since the beginning of the occupation, Israel has held thousands of Palestinians in “administrative detention”–for prolonged periods without charges, trial or benefit of legal counsel.

Currently there are 63 Palestinians in Administrative Detention. There are also 21 Lebanese who have been kidnapped from Lebanon and are being held without charges or trial in Israeli prisons as “hostages” or “bargaining chips” in future negotiations with Lebanon. Some have been held for 11 years.


Because these violations of international law and abuses of Palestinian rights are so extreme and are still continuing, it is appropriate that the July 15th meeting called for by the United Nations to discuss enforcement of the Fourth Geneva Convention be convened as planned.

The convening of this special session will not, as some are claiming, impede the peace process. If anything, the session will establish the seriousness with which the international community views the rule of law and the protection of human rights.

The development of an enforcement mechanism to protect human rights (which should be an outcome of the special session) will strengthen the resolve of peacemakers and create a firm and just foundation for the resolution of the long-standing conflict.

It is ironic that some in the United States Congress are seeking to question the credibility of the United Nations effort dismissing it as unfair because the Palestinians have an “automatic majority” in the world body. It is the “automatic majority” for Israel in the U.S. Congress that has placed so many burdens on the Palestinians and repeatedly impeded U.S. diplomacy in the on-going Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Israel should not be able to use its superior military forces or its special political relationship with the United States to attempt to impose conditions on the peace process that will reward their violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Final status negotiations between Israelis and the Palestinians must be based on recognition of and implementation of international human rights law.

If the lessons of Kosova, Bosnia, Rwanda and even Iraq are to be learned, the convenors of the special session should feel compelled to go forward with their effort to contribute to peace by securing the protection of human rights as an essential prerequisite for a just and lasting peace.

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