Author Archives: David McDowall

Towards peace in Israel and Palestine 

I was only 19 when I first visited the West Bank in 1964 but was sufficiently gripped that, after studying the region’s history at university, I retained a strong interest in the area thereafter. The Israel-Palestine conflict seems far less amenable to a solution today than it did then. That is why I greatly welcome Conference’s Motion F39,’Towards a lasting peace in Israel and Palestine’.  There are two particular issues I should like to flag up. 

The first concerns UNRWA, the UN agency of Palestine Refugees for which I worked in the 1970s. As we watch the refugee crisis in Afghanistan it is easy to forget the Palestinian one. Unlike Afghan refugees, Palestinians never wished to be resettled and resisted attempts by the UN and Arab states. They demanded the right of return, adumbrated in General Assembly Resolution 194 (1949)  (which reflects Article 13.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). For political reasons, that return has not happened. Today, they are stuck in a terrible limbo, without full citizenship rights (except in Jordan’s East Bank) and in the case of the Gaza Strip, where they are some 80% of the population, suffering awful privation under Israel’s permanent siege. We must support the woefully underfunded UNRWA robustly, to sustain needy refugees whose right to the same freedoms we enjoy has, after seven decades, still not been realised. Support for UNRWA also has the self-interested virtue of helping reduce the tensions that lead to violence. 

The second issue concerns respect for international law as the bedrock of the international order. Nothing in that body of law is so crucial to this conflict as the Fourth (1949) Geneva Convention (4GC), dealing with the rules governing military occupation following the 1967 war. In law ‘occupation’ is a temporary situation, which can no longer be said of Palestine where it has been unlawfully prolonged. Why is 4GC so important? It was the inadequacy of existing rules (dating from 1907) as well as the Axis Powers’ comprehensive disregard of them, 1938-45, which impelled the drafting of the four Geneva Conventions in 1949. All four open with the requirement that all States party to them undertake to ‘ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances’, now recognised to mean that all State signatories have a responsibility to ensure that the protagonists in this particular conflict abide by the Convention’s terms. It goes on to forbid wilful killing, collective punishments, house demolitions, settlement of the Occupier’s own nationals in occupied territory, and much else besides. It lists ‘grave violations’, requiring signatory States to detain and charge individuals believed guilty of such crimes if such persons ever enter their own territory. For political reasons States have been loath to act. Whereas the West has been quick to punish Russia over Crimea, it declines taking similar measures against friendly states, a lack of consistency that smacks of hypocrisy to much of the world. 

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 12 Comments

How much do we still want a rules-based international order?

At the end of the recent G7 meeting, participants declared their commitment to ‘democracy, freedom, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights’. How many had fingers crossed behind their backs? Boris Johnson for one, but probably others, spared their own blushes by the blatant fraudulence of their host regarding Northern Ireland.

But it is not just Northern Ireland. Last week his government declined its obligations under Common Article 1 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, ‘to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances’. After Israel’s recent punitive and extensive destruction of life and property in the Gaza Strip, the UK rightly rebuked Hamas for its undoubted war crimes but declined to rebuke Israel, essentially because it is ‘an important strategic partner for the UK’. To our shame, we pick and choose. Currently, the UK defies the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea regarding the Chagos Islands, which in January ruled that the UK has no sovereignty, confirming the same conclusion by the International Court of Justice in February 2019. Of course, the UK should have recognised the human rights of the Chagossians at the outset in 1965, or when challenged in the ensuing decades. Persistent failure to do so constitutes a crime against humanity. I feel sullied and I expect you do too.

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged | 6 Comments

How Israel frustrates Palestine’s education

In the current issue of Times Higher Education (13 September), you’ll find a piece by Palestine’s Raja Shehadeh, about the way Israel discourages foreign faculty from teaching in Palestine.  Precisely half of the 64 foreign academics working in Palestine, have been adversely affected by denial or restriction in their permission to work, over the past two academic years. 

Once a university has invited a foreign academic to join its faculty, Israel uses an opaque two-tier system of control, through the Civil Administration in the occupied territory and, if an application clears that hurdle, the power of veto by Israel’s Interior Ministry.  The process is uncertain, Kafkaesque and has every appearance of being discriminatory, to impair the fundamental purpose of education, the dissemination of knowledge and the deepening of understanding. Unable to plan their future, such applicants give up, seeking employment elsewhere. Some Palestinian-born faculty educated in the US or Europe have also been denied residency. 

Israel’s handling of these applications seems tainted with illegality. In his ground-breaking book, Occupier’s Law, published in 1985, Shehadeh showed how the Civil Administration in the West Bank, which issues (or withholds) work permits, was created as part and parcel of ‘solutions for the legal problems encountered in achieving the goal of annexing the West Bank without its inhabitants,’ itself a profoundly illegal process. 

The second tier of Israeli control, however, lies within Israel’s Ministry of the Interior, which issues (or withholds) entry visas for residence in the Occupied Territory. Even where visas are issued, visa extensions may be denied on the grounds that foreigners may not reside in Israel for more than five years. But they are, of course, residing in the Palestinian territory, not in Israel. Under the Laws of Occupation, it may be debatable whether this illegally transfers powers that should remain within occupied territory. Yet it clearly transgresses operative clause 5 of the recent UN Security Council Resolution 2334 (December 2016), which requires all Member States, and that of course includes Israel itself, ‘to distinguish in all their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.’  

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 2 Comments
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