sraeli collective punishment of people of Gaza must be ended


The UN, the EU and the Government all hold that Israel has imposed 'collective punishment' on Palestinians. Are they all wrong?, asks Philip O'Conor

SEÁN GANNON of Irish Friends of Israel criticises the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign for describing Israel's blockade of Gaza as "collective punishment" and "a violation of international law" (Opinion and Analysis, August 15th). In fact, it is the position of the EU, the UN and the Government, so we are in good company.

EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said on January 21st, 2008: "I am against this collective punishment of the people of Gaza. I urge the Israeli authorities to restart fuel supplies and open the crossings for the passage of humanitarian and commercial supplies."

Reporting to the Security Council on February 26th, 2008 after a visit to Palestine, John Holmes, UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator, stated unequivocally: "The effective Israeli isolation of Gaza is not justified, given Israel's continuing obligations to the people of Gaza.

"It amounts to collective punishment and is contrary to international humanitarian law."

The Government agrees with this assessment. Dermot Ahern said so in the Dáil on March 11th, 2008: "I remain deeply concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza. It is unacceptable that Israel should isolate the people of Gaza and cut off essential supplies in order to exert pressure on them to reject Hamas.

"I agree with the United Nations that this constitutes collective punishment and is illegal under international humanitarian law."

Were all these authorities wrong in describing Israel's blockade of Gaza as collective punishment contrary to international humanitarian law? Seán Gannon appears to think so.

Were all these authorities wrong in calling upon Israel to lift a blockade, which had produced the worst humanitarian crisis there since the occupation began in 1967, according to a joint report by Trócaire, Oxfam, Amnesty International, Christian Aid and other NGOs published on March 6th, 2008? Seán Gannon appears to think that Israel was justified in bringing about this unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

The Euro-Med Agreement, which the EU signed with Israel in 1995, grants Israel privileged access to the EU market. Article 2 of this agreement makes clear, however, that this privileged access is conditional on Israel respecting "human rights and democratic principles", which is said to constitute "an essential element of this agreement", not an optional element, nor a desirable element, but an essential element.

There is little doubt that Israel's economic strangulation of Gaza, which according to the Government "constitutes collective punishment and is illegal under international humanitarian law", means that Israel is failing to fulfil these obligations.

In the light of this, the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign has urged the Government to seek the suspension of the agreement.

In its programme for government, the present Government committed itself to "continue Ireland's strong support for the primacy of the UN in international affairs".

If the UN is to have primacy in international affairs, it is essential that UN member states accept and carry out decisions of the UN Security Council, as they are obliged to do under Article 25 of the UN Charter. If they refuse to do so, then the primacy of the UN in international affairs is inevitably undermined.

An essential aspect of the Government honouring this commitment to the primacy of the UN must be to use its influence, in whatever way possible, to seek the implementation of Security Council resolutions.

As President Bush told the UN General Assembly on September 12th, 2002: "We want the United Nations to be effective, and respectful, and successful. We want the resolutions of the world's most important multilateral body to be enforced."

Israel is violating over 30 UN Security Council resolutions, dating back to 1968, resolutions that require action by Israel and Israel alone.

For example:

• Resolutions 252, 267, 271 and 298 require Israel to reverse its annexation of east Jerusalem;

• Resolutions 446, 452 and 465 demand that Israel cease building Jewish settlements in the territories it has occupied since 1967, including in Jerusalem;

• Resolution 487 calls upon Israel to place its nuclear facilities under IAEA supervision;

• Resolution 497 demands that Israel reverse its annexation of the Golan Heights, which were captured from Syria in June 1967.

Israel has failed to implement these, and many other, Security Council resolutions.

We have urged the Government to use its voice in the EU and other international bodies to seek the implementation of these resolutions. Its commitment to the primacy of the UN in international affairs demands that it do so.

• Philip O'Connor is press officer of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign