The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights praises the Swiss government’s bid to convene a summit on Palestine and calls for them to stand firm in the face of political pressure exerted by Israel and the US, who seek to subvert respect for the law and deny justice to the Palestinian people


Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

Press Release, 8 December 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.