Ref:
162/2014

 

 

PCHR warmly welcomes the efforts made by the Swiss
Government to convene a conference of the High Contracting Parties to the
Fourth Geneva Convention at this critical time for the Palestinian people.

 

This Conference provides an opportunity for the High
Contracting Parties to fulfill their obligation to ‘ensure respect’ for the
Geneva Conventions in all circumstances and to carry out their legal duties as
stated in Article 1 of the Convention. It is imperative that the proposed
conference be held and that it results in a series of clear and practical steps
intended to ensure Israel’s compliance with international humanitarian law,
together with enforcement measures designed to ensure Israel’s de jure application of the convention
and its accountability.

 

International humanitarian law – and the Fourth Geneva
Convention in particular – extend specific and explicit protections to civilian
populations. To date, however, Israel has not been held to account for
systematic violations of international law committed in occupied Palestine. As
noted in the Goldstone Report (2009), the “prolonged situation of impunity has
created a justice crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that warrants
action.”The result has been an escalating cycle of violence as graphically
demonstrated by the recent offensive on the Gaza Strip (codenamed Operation
Protective Edge) that resulted in2193 deaths, 1682 of which were civilian.

 

It is evident that if the law is to be respected, it must
be enforced. Previous conferences of the High Contracting Parties, convened in
1999 and 2001, have failed to result in a meaningful outcome. Political
considerations and compromise have been favored over equal application of the
law with the pursuit of an elusive ‘peace process’ proffered as a reason for
not pursuing justice. Now there is neither peace nor justice for the
Palestinian people. 

 

It is imperative that this conference overcomes politically
motivated opposition, and that all High Contracting Parties fulfill their
binding legal obligation to ensure respect for the law of armed conflict, and
to pursue accountability in the event that this law is violated. This
conference must result in clear outcomes intended to ensure respect for
international law and the protection of civilian populations. Failure to do so
will result in a denial of Palestinians’ fundamental rights, and undermine the
utility and validity of international law.

 

 

 

The latest conference, scheduled for the 17thDecember
in Geneva, will reportedly address conditions in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip
and East Jerusalem–all of critical importance, particularly in the aftermath of
the events of this summer in which war crimes and crimes against humanity have
been committed on an unprecedented scale- in terms of the level of deaths,
injuries and destruction of civilians and civilian objects in the Occupied
Palestinian Territories.

 

In Gaza, Israel’s crippling and illegal closure is now in
its 7th year. The closure constitutes a catastrophic man-made
disaster that has resulted in widespread suffering – 90% of the people of Gaza
are living beneath the poverty line, 80% of the population are dependent on food
aid from the UN while 60% of the workforce are unpaid or unemployed. According
to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the closure “constitutes a
collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under
international humanitarian law". Specifically the closure regime violates
a number of principles of international humanitarian law; inter alia, Article 43 of the Hague Regulations, and Articles 33,
55 and 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

 

This summer Israel
launched its third offensive on Gaza in six years -a massive and unprecedented
onslaught in which civilians and civilian objects were in the eye of the storm.
Entire neighborhoods were erased in Shujaiya, Beit Hanoun, Zanna and Khuzaa.
Whole families were wiped out. Schools being used as civilian shelters were
targeted, as were hospitals, houses, factories, power plants, sewage plants,
and water storage facilities. Medical personnel, ambulances and journalists
were attacked. The onslaught that was unleashed on a closed-in half-starved
civilian population by one of the world’s military superpowers led to 2,193
deaths, 10,8950 injuries, 540,000 refugees of whom more than 110,000 are still
homeless as a result of the destruction of their houses. Three months after the
offensive and the siege of Gaza continues, becoming increasingly
institutionalized; there is no reconstruction and no national unity government.
The situation is disastrous.

Now in its 47thyear of occupation  – the longest in modern history – Israel continues
the ethnic cleansing and colonization of Jerusalem and the West Bank, through
an extensive programme of settlement-building in the West Bank and the
annexation and Judaization of East Jerusalem. In the Al Aqsa Compound,
Palestinians are subjected to ongoing restrictions and almost daily attacks. An
unparalleled apartheid regime is being established in Occupied Palestine.
Despite the illegality of Israel’s acts under the Fourth Geneva Convention,
there has been no effective action taken by the international community to
enforce the rule of law.

 

PCHR has consistently highlighted the deterioration of the
human rights and humanitarian situation in Occupied Palestine and has twice
played a key role in the convening of the conference of the High Contracting
Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention in order to ensure respect for the
Convention and Israel’s compliance with international law as an occupying
power, upholding its duties and responsibilities.

 

 

 

The history of the occupation has shown that as long as Israel
continues to act as a State above the law, it will continue to violate
international law. Innocent Palestinian civilians, the ‘protected persons’ of
the Geneva Conventions, continue to pay the price for Israel’s impunity, the
result of both the indifference and political expedience of the international
community.

 

PCHR demands an end
to the attempts by Israel and its allies to subvert the course of justice for
the Palestinian people through exerting political pressure and seeking to place
obstacles in the path of justice. Most recently Israel has refused entry to
Gaza for United Nations Human Rights investigators, mandated by the UN Human
Rights Council. The UN team was tasked with conducting an investigation into
"all violations of international humanitarian law and international human
rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and
the occupied Gaza Strip in the context of military operations conducted since
mid June.”

Switzerland’s
convening of this conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva
Conventions offers a precious opportunity to develop international humanitarian
law and to ensure that it remains capable of serving those it is mandated to
protect, and who, in the case of Palestinians, it has
failed so badly until now.

Unless international law is evenly applied, it has no
meaning. The Palestinian people need justice and dignity, not the law of the
jungle. It is our express hope that the High Contracting Parties stand for
their legal obligations as outlined in Article 1 of the Geneva Convention.

 

 

For
more information, see the  position paper.