Thursday, December 2, 2010

Press Conference: Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Palestine

I missed adding this video earlier, but as we all know, better late than never.

After the presentation of his report on the situation of human rights in Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 to the UN General Assembly, Richrd Falk Held the following Press Conference:

Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights in Palestinian Territories Occupied Since 1967:

The enormous cumulative effect of prolonged Israeli occupation, accelerated settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and related policies to destroy homes and revoke residency permits made the vision of an Israeli-Palestinian peace based on a two-State consensus a “political impossibility”, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said today.

Special Rapporteur Richard Falk said, at a Headquarters press conference, that the intergovernmental peace process was premised on an “illusion” that talks would result in an independent, sovereign Palestinian State. He was discussing his latest report, which he recently presented to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural). (See Press Release GA/SHC/3984)

First and foremost, the report underscored the persistence of a very serious humanitarian situation in Gaza, he said. While the Israeli blockade had been eased in some respects, it had been maintained in others, placing Gazans under great psychological and physical stress. Israel forbade the export of goods produced in Gaza, substantially destroying the local economy. Further, young people were forbidden from visiting their families in the West Bank or East Jerusalem and from studying at universities in other parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

He said that with intergovernmental negotiations frozen, civil society initiatives took on new importance in establishing solidarity with Palestinians to achieve the right of self-determination, and also in challenging, symbolically and substantively, the dimensions of the Israeli occupation. Recalling one new development, he said Israel’s 31 May raid on a six-ship flotilla carrying humanitarian goods to Gaza had resulted in its Government backing away, for the first time, from its claimed right to blockade Gaza. But while Israel had agreed to its termination, the blockade in fact continued, with only one third of the trucks carrying humanitarian assistance into Gaza prior to the blockade now allowed to enter the enclave.

In response to a question as to whether a future Palestinian State was indeed becoming an illusion, he said the idea of a separate Palestinian State, which formed the basis for Security Council resolution 242 (1967) and international negotiations, seemed increasingly problematic since it would require a substantial reversal of the settlement process. Political realities in Israel, and among the settlers, made that a “non-viable possibility”, he added.

Asked whether he was speaking about a political reality or more than that, since the parties had for years discussed swapping territory for settlement blocks, Mr. Falk said his informed opinion was that continued expansion outside the settlement blocks was irreversible. It was not clear whether the supposed swaps could ever materialize in an agreement, he said, stressing that whatever Israel offered the Palestinians would in no way compensate for the loss of land, water and territory that was integral to the West Bank.

He said he had always been sceptical about the viability of such arrangements, pointing out that the settlements had been built in violation of international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention, in paragraph 6 of Article 49, established the unlawfulness of transferring the population of an occupying Power to occupied territory, he noted. Even the United States had condemned the establishment of settlements by reference to international law. Now there had been a “creeping reformulation” to say that only the expansion of the settlements contravened the creation of a political atmosphere conducive to peace negotiations. In sum, the fundamental Palestinian right was connected to all settlements, not just their expansion, he stressed.

Questioned about the contents of the two thirds of cargo prevented from entering Gaza, he said Israel had not said it was excluding items from Gaza. The reason present cargo levels were now one third of pre-blockade levels was not connected to security or to the “contraband character” of the trucks denied entry, since Israel had always inspected everything flowing into Gaza to ensure none of the authorized materials could be used to make weapons. While the 30 per cent of goods entering the enclave represented a “diminished level of collective punishment”, it still constituted collective punishment in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Asked, in the context of the flotilla incident, whether he agreed that States had the right to defend themselves, he said the correspondent’s description of the naval raid differed from his understanding of it and from its characterization in the report of the Human Rights Council. The Council had not endorsed Israel’s claim that it was entitled to blockade Gaza. It had found that the blockade itself was unlawful since it inflicted disproportionate harm on the population, overcoming any claim Israeli of security.

Furthermore, there had been no weapons on the ships comprising the flotilla, he said, adding that the only allegation to that effect had come from a “misleading” Israeli narrative that had since been contradicted by almost all independent studies. However, there was a right to deliver assistance to a suffering population, and Israel was not living up to its obligation to provide civilians of an occupied territory with basic necessities, he said, adding that there had been every confirmation of that over the years.

Recalling that one British official had described Gaza as a prison camp, he said Israel was obliged to allow the existence of civilian normality subject to genuine security requirements. However, there was consensus that Israel’s actions had been carried out in a “spirit of punishment” against Palestinians who had voted for Hamas, he said, noting that senior Israeli officials had confirmed that.

In response to a comment that his report provided no context for the unfolding events in Gaza and the West Bank, and pressed to address militant actions, such as firing rockets into Israel or the kidnapping of Israelis, he said “maybe I should have devoted more attention to the conflict as a foundation for the context”.

Mr. Falk said he disagreed, as would most international legal experts, with Israel’s claim that, since it had disengaged from Gaza in 2005, it was no longer responsible for conditions in the enclave. As long as Israel controlled the airspace, sea access, exit and entry to Gaza, it was in effective control, just as the gates of a prison were controlled by prison administrators. The mandate under which his report was issued dealt with the Israeli occupation, he said, stressing that his responsibility was not to characterize the political conflict which provided the context for the occupation.

Pressed on how he expected to advance the situation if he did not address its root causes, he said that even if he had specified the context, however fully, his analysis would still be “congruent” with assessments of Israeli violations of international humanitarian law with which Israel was charged and on the basis of which it administered Gaza, the West Bank and Palestine. The larger context was helpful in understanding the interaction, but not in excusing Israeli behaviour.

Asked to discuss the position of Hamas vis-à-vis Israel, and the difficult, nuanced situation of a Government that called for the destruction of its neighbour, he said that description was not accurate. Since its election, Hamas had repeatedly tried to establish a long-term ceasefire, and its Charter was not necessarily relevant. There had been various statements from Israel too, he said, adding that Israel had made a “huge mistake” in not dealing with Hamas as a political actor. Until it did so, no progress would be made.

Questioned about the Israeli civil society’s reaction to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, he said his report tried to portray the growing strength of that movement. Israel had expressed concern about its growing impact, and the country’s strategic institutions were now of the view that the “delegitimization project” was a greater threat than armed Palestinian resistance.

He said the BDS movement reflected the fact that Israel no longer held the moral high ground, which now belonged to the Palestinian struggle. That shift had resulted from the way in which Israel had conducted its 2006 war with Lebanon, attacked Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, and handled the flotilla incident. The cumulative effect of those three developments had deprived Israel of the moral high ground in global public opinion, he reiterated, saying that whichever side gained that ground, even if militarily weaker, often prevailed in the political struggle. “It’s certainly my view, yes,” Mr. Falk replied when asked whether that was his opinion as well.

Asked to comment on Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s proposal to put off intergovernmental negotiations and simply redraw the borders, he said that was the direction in which the parties were going, but he did not think that was where they should go. Such a redrawing amounted to de facto annexation under the banner of temporary occupation. It was a subversion of the regime of occupation, which underpinned the Security Council consensus reached in 1967 that Israel was obliged to withdraw from the lands occupied since that year’s six-day war. It was an important reality that must be exposed, but the media had not done a good job of clarifying such a fundamental change in the negotiability of a viable Palestinian State, he said.

"Press Conference: Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories
22 October 2010

Running time: 00:31:46

Earlier that morning (20 October 2010) the special Rapporteur presented his report to the General Assembly

Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestinian Territories

RICHARD FALK, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, presenting his last report to the General Assembly in this term, described some of the difficulties that had faced the mandate-holder in discharging the functions of the position. The most salient of those difficulties involved the non-cooperation of the Government of Israel, which had refused to fulfil its obligations as a Member of the United Nations by its failure to allow the Special Rapporteur to enter Israel to visit the occupied territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. That Israeli procedure of non-cooperation was extended to other United Nations undertakings, including the “Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict” known as the Goldstone Report and the fact finding panel appointed by the Human Rights Council to investigate the flotilla incident of 31 May 2010.

The United Nations must also be faulted for its failure to respond more strongly to complaints of Israeli non-cooperation, setting an unfortunate precedent and encouraging impressions of Israeli impunity, he said. This mandate had also been hampered to some extent by the Human Rights Council, which never acted upon the proposal in his initial report that the mandate be reformulated to allow for the consideration of Palestinian, as well as Israeli, violations of international law, taking account of criticisms of an impression of bias. Additionally, while the Palestinian Authority had supplied helpful information, he had felt considerable pressure from it regarding his independence as Special Rapporteur, particularly with respect to reporting on the situation within Gaza.

The report itself, he said, focused on several developments pertaining to occupation, pointing out that, due to the issues associated with the blockade of Gaza, there had been a tendency to overlook Israeli encroachments on the rights of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It stated that the cumulative effects of the settlements, the security wall and the extensive settler-only road network had been to convert the conditions of de jure “occupation” into circumstances of de facto “annexation”. The extension of the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem by way of unlawful settlements, house demolitions and revocations of Palestinian residence rights made it difficult to envisage a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. “If the conditions on the West Bank and East Jerusalem are substantially irreversible for political and practical reasons, it becomes misleading and diversionary to continue adherence to the ‘two-state consensus’,” he said, discussing the assertion that the Israeli occupation had features of “settler colonialism” and “apartheid features” based on dual and discriminatory legal structures and restrictions.

Furthermore, concerning assumptions that material conditions in the West Bank were acceptable, he said that the actual living realities of people there were not sufficiently noticed and, according to Save the Children UK, human necessities like food and water had reached a “crisis point” in an area totally under Israeli military administration. Another important issue concerned the surge of settler violence directed against Palestinians, including attacks on mosques and burning of olive trees.

The situation in Gaza remained disturbing from the perspective of human rights and international law, despite the welcome partial-easing of the comprehensive blockade in the aftermath of the 31 May attack on the six-ship flotilla carrying humanitarian assistance, he said. According to the latest information, the entry of basic necessities to Gaza remained at one third the level that existed prior to when the blockade was established in June 2007. He called the blockade “a form of collective punishment”, adding that the fact-finding mission report also found that the attacks on the flotilla in international waters were contrary to international law and reliant on excessive force.

He concluded by calling attention to two of the recommendations in his report that arose from the legal analysis of the occupation. “In particular, it is time, after 43 years, to acknowledge the intolerable burdens of ‘prolonged occupation’ on a civilian population,” he said, urging a formal study of the human rights aspects of prolonged occupation under either the auspices of the Human Rights Council or another respected organization. The other recommendation was to encourage United Nations support for both the effort to send humanitarian assistance direct to the people of Gaza in defiance of the unlawful blockade, and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign, which sought to respond to Israel’s failure to uphold its international law obligations.
Click here to read the Report(.pdf)

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