Sir, – In 1949, the creators of the Geneva Conventions – the foundation of the protection of civilians caught in conflict – expressly prohibited an occupying power from settling its own civilian population in territory that it occupies.
The purpose was to prevent states from establishing civilian settlements as a means of advancing illegal sovereign claims on occupied lands. Learning the bitter lessons of the second World War, the Geneva Conventions, along with the UN Charter, are meant to prevent acquisitive states from using wars, whether aggressive or defensive, to expand their borders.
Since Israel became the occupying power over East Jerusalem and the West Bank in June 1967, it has built over 240 Israeli settlements, which are home to 650,000 settlers.
These settlements have been repeatedly condemned by the UN Security Council as a “flagrant violation” of international law.
They are the engine of Israel’s occupation, and a major source of human-rights violations.
They are built on confiscated Palestinian property; they rely upon the illegal appropriation of Palestinian natural resources, including water, land and minerals; and they have forced Palestinians into smaller and more constricted space within their own territory.
Most importantly, the incessant expansion of the Israeli settlements robs the Palestinians of hope for a future based on freedom, as is their intent.
Last week, the leaders of Israel’s two largest parties agreed to form a coalition government. At the heart of their agreement is the annexation, as early as July of this year, of all these settlements and the extensive surrounding lands under their control. Annexation is the fulfilment of Israel’s well-signalled intent to establish permanent sovereignty over much of the West Bank.
What would be left is a Palestinian Bantustan, which some liberal Israelis have said would create an apartheid reality for the 21st century.
That Israel is on the cusp of striking such a major blow to the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination is a direct consequence of decades of failure by the international community to employ the tangible and plentiful legal and political tools at its disposal to end this injustice.
This failure is not only moral and political in nature; it also amounts to an abdication by the international community and its member states to uphold their legal duty to take all measures necessary to demand respect by Israel of its solemn obligations under international law.
Among the measures which states must adopt to this end is a ban on trade with Israel’s illegal settlements. I have therefore been greatly encouraged to observe the progression of the Occupied Territories Bill through the Irish parliament, bringing Ireland ever closer towards the fulfilment of its international obligations with regard to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. It is my fervent hope that a new Irish government would take the final steps to legislate the Bill into law, and demonstrate the leadership on this issue that the world has been sorely lacking.– Yours, etc,
(United Nations Special
Rapporteur on the Situation
of Human Rights in the
Occupied since 1967),
Faculty of Law,