Above the Law for 54 Years - Why is Israel Afraid of the UN Fact-Finding Mission?

At least 52 dead - 26 of them civilians, more than 200 injured, a yet unknown number of persons considered missing, and 4000 - 5000 Palestinian refugees again made homeless by the destruction and damages (sources: Palestinian National Monitoring Committee of Israeli War Crimes; UNRWA) - these are some of the hard facts in the Jenin refugee camp as of today, while we have yet to see the arrival of the UN Fact Finding Mission appointed by UN General Secretary Kofi Annan in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1405 of 19 April 2002.

Following a week of official protests and efforts to re-negotiate the terms of reference of the UN Mission, the Israeli cabinet is to decide tomorrow, Sunday, whether it will accept to cooperate. A negative Israeli decision would return the ball into the yard of the United Nations.

Since the onset of the strong international criticism about Israel's military conduct in the Jenin refugee camp, official Israeli spokespersons and the media have missed no opportunity to underline that they have nothing to hide. "The destruction caused there was an unavoidable result of the tenacious fighting by the Palestinians who had dug in there. As far as it is known, no massacre occurred in the camp, nor are there signs that the IDF soldiers engaged in irregular conduct" (Uzi Benziman, Ha'aretz). Israeli army spokespersons volunteer maps which show that in fact only a minor portion of the camp (10 percent) was destroyed and hold that all those killed, except for three civilians, were "wanted terrorists" or Palestinian combatants. So what is Israel's problem with a UN Mission that should do no more than "develop accurate information regarding recent events in the Jenin refugee camp" (UN Resolution 1405)?

According to Israeli political analyst Aluf Benn (Ha'aretz, 25 April), the shift in Israel's stance from initial agreement to suspension of its cooperation with the UN Fact Finding Mission was prompted by the intervention of Daniel Bethlehem, an expert in international law at Cambridge University and Israel's external legal advisor on the UN inquiry. In the past, Bethlehem helped Israel compose its submissions to the Mitchell Committee of inquiry into the violence between Israelis and Palestinians. He also helped Israel draw up plans for cease-fires and the re-start of the peace process that would guarantee that none of the latter would materialize. As in the past 50 years, US-backing in the United Nations and expert advice helped Israel to overcome initial international sympathy with the Palestinian people also at the beginning of the current Palestinian uprising, and UN activity was eventually diverted into the Mitchell plan. Israel was able to rebuff the immediate international pressure to have its conduct investigated, and the Sharon government even managed to effectively shelf the Mitchell plan and empty it of political content.

However, Israel's legal advisor Bethlehem was alarmed by the terms of reference of the current UN Fact Finding Mission into the events in the Jenin refugee camp. "Unlike the Mitchell inquiry," he writes, "this exercise is not focused on finding a pathway back to negotiations. It is an exercise inquiring into allegations of war crimes." He goes on to warn, "If the committee's findings uphold the allegations against Israel - even on poor reasoning - this will fundamentally alter the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian leadership and may make it impossible for Israel to resist calls for an international force, the immediate establishment of a Palestinian state and the prosecution of individuals said to have committed the alleged acts... Israel has already lost the public relations battle. Whether or not there was a massacre in Jenin as the Palestinians contend, there is a widely-held perception in the international community that Israel's use of force in Jenin was excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate and that this was compounded by a failure to provide, or allow provision of, humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of the conflict. Even assuming that all the facts are in Israel's favor, it will be difficult to redress the balance."

Given the United Nations' 54 year-old record of non-enforcement of its own resolutions vis-a-vis Israel, the Palestinian refugees of Jenin might well never see the honorable members of the UN Mission set foot in their squalid camp, or they might find a Fact Finding Mission whose report will eventually whitewash the conduct of Israel's army during "Operation Defensive Wall."

END ISRAEL'S PRIVILEGE: "Above the Law" and "Immune"

Only a sustained International Campaign of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, including education about root-causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a broad Israel-Boycott Campaign, can bring about the enforcement of international law and UN resolutions vis--vis Israel, including not only of UNSCR 1405 (2002, Jenin), but also UNSCR 242 (1967, Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories) and UNGAR 194 (1948, Right of Return of Palestinian Refugees). It can end Israel's 54 year-old privilege of "being above" international law and UN resolutions.

A sustained International Campaign of Solidarity with the Palestinian People can end Israel's impunity for war crimes, including those committed in the Jenin camp in 2002 and in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982. The UN Commission on Human Rights has considered Israel's continued grave breaches of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention as rising to the level of war crimes since 1972 and affirmed this view during a Special Session of the Commission in October 2000. Since 1948, Israel's record of grave breaches, war crimes and crimes against humanity includes: forced displacement and consequent denial of return of some 6 million Palestinians; illegal expropriation/control of some 90 percent of Palestinian-owned land in Israel and in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories; construction and population of illegal colonies (settlements); and, denial of the Palestinian people's right to self-determination.

For action plans, resources and information about ongoing campaigns see:

"End the Ongoing Nakba" - Campaign against Israel's Brand of Apartheid

Boycott Israeli Goods Campaign
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Israel's March-April 2002 Military Campaign and War Crimes

International Campaign - Justice for the Victims of Sabra and Shatila
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Palestine Right to Return Coalition