(09 March 2016) Report of the UN Secretary General Highlights Israeli Policies Which Underpin Forcible Transfer of Palestinians

PR/EN/09/03/2016

BADIL welcomes the recent report issued by the UN Secretary General, Ban ki-moon, which highlights a number of human rights implications of Israel’s construction and expansion of settlements/colonies within the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).[1] Specifically, BADIL is particularly encouraged by the report’s address of Israel’s forcible transfer of Palestinians.

According to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and ICRC Rule 129 of customary international law, an occupying power is strictly prohibited from forcibly transferring the civilian population of an occupied territory; that is to say, forcibly removing persons from their homes and communities for reasons which are not permitted under international law. This same prohibition is found in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as both a war crime and crime against humanity.

The notion of ‘force’ in this context is not restricted only to physical considerations, but also includes threats of force or coercion, such as that caused by fear of violence, duress, detention, psychological oppression or abuse of power against such person or persons or another person, or by taking advantage of a coercive environment. This may include “threatening and intimidating acts that are calculated to deprive the civilian population of exercising its free will”,[2] and in recent months the analysis employed by the United Nations in relation to the forcible transfer of Palestinians inside the oPt has come to recognize a variety of means through Israel pursues such transfer.

For instance, in relation to Israel’s implementation of discriminatory planning and zoning policy, the Secretary General noted that the “impossibility of building safely creates enormous pressure on [Palestinian] communities, particularly those targeted for relocation, as they know that within the current system there is no long-term protection from demolition and destruction of their property, creating a coercive environment that effectively drives communities off the land they have inhabited for decades.”[3]

This development of the UN’s analysis follows extensive efforts by BADIL and other human rights organizations based inside the oPt to improve understanding of forcible transfer by relevant actors, both in terms of its underpinning legal framework, and its application on the ground.

Indeed, the report of the Secretary General explicitly highlights the following factors as contributing to the creation of a coercive environment for Palestinian residents of the oPt: Israeli zoning and planning policy (including demolitions), long-standing access restrictions to basic services and grazing land; and systematic intimidation by Israeli settlers.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and BADIL has identified 9 separate, though interrelated Israeli policies which serve to create a coercive environment inside the occupied Palestinian territory, including implementation of an unlawful and pervasive permit regime; the denial of residency, and segregation and institutionalized racism.[4] However, in the broadening of its understanding as to which acts of the Israeli state may serve to force Palestinians to leave their homes and communities, the UN is making significant strides towards the delivery of justice to victims, and the ensuring of accountability for perpetrators.

In addition, though analysis by UN bodies and agencies on the subject of Israel’s forcible transfer of Palestinians has previously focused largely upon those Palestinian Bedouin communities targeted by Israel’s ‘Nuweima plan’ - under which some 7,000 members of Palestinian mobile pastoralist communities would be transferred to urban townships – the report of the Secretary General also makes welcome progress in this regard. For instance, the report notes:
“Displacement and relocation to alternative residential areas, as a result of demolition orders, and a coercive environment could amount to individual and mass forcible transfer and forced evictions, contrary to the obligations of Israel under international humanitarian and human rights law.”[5]

As such the report, correctly, separates discussion of forcible transfer from a requirement for a formal ‘transfer plan’. No such requirement exists under international law.

The report, then, makes significant headway in identifying contemporary instances of Israeli-perpetrated forcible transfer inside the oPt, yet such progress in the analytical space - however valuable - affords no guarantees to affected persons on the ground. As just one example, the first two months of 2016 witnessed an acceleration in Israel’s demolitions of Palestinian homes and other structures inside Area C of the West Bank. On 6 January 2016, five homes in Abu Nwar were demolished, leaving 26 refugees, including 17 children, displaced and without a home. On 20 February 2016, four prefabricated structures, consisting of homes and classrooms, were seized from the same location by Israeli forces.[6]

As noted by OCHA’s Humanitarian Coordinator in the occupied Palestinian territory, “[b]etween 1 January and 15 February 2016, Israeli forces destroyed, dismantled or confiscated 283 homes and other structures, displacing 404 Palestinians, including 219 children, and affecting another 1,150 Palestinians, who lost structures related to their source of income. Over 100 of the demolished structures were already provided as humanitarian assistance to families in need, often in the wake of an earlier demolition.”[7]

Yet, forcible transfer is a crime which confers legal obligations on third party states, with Common Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention stipulating that “the High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances”. Third States have a responsibility, therefore, to take appropriate steps - unilaterally or collectively - against parties to a conflict who are violating International Humanitarian Law, in particular to intervene with states over which they may have some influence to stop the violations.

What is urgently required is for all relevant actors to realize their legal and moral obligations to intervene in Israel’s ongoing forcible transfer of Palestinians; to prevent further instances of transfer, and to hold to account all those responsible for transfers which have already taken place.

Accordingly, the BADIL Resource Center:
  1. Urges all UN bodies and agencies to continue to develop understanding of what may constitute a ‘coercive environment’ in the context of forcible transfer of Palestinians inside the oPt
  2. Calls upon High Contracting Parties to honor their obligation under Common Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to take all available measures to halt Israel’s perpetration of forcible transfer of Palestinians inside the oPt;
  3. Draws to the attention of the International Criminal Court Israel’s continuing practices of forcible transfer inside the oPt.
 

[1]   UN Secretary-General, 20/01/2016. A/HRC/31/43. Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the Occupied Syrian Golan (hereafter ‘Report of the UN Secretary General, January 2016’).
[2]   For more information, see BADIL’s June 2015 submission to the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967; Israel’s Forcible Transfer of Palestinian Bedouin: Forced Displacement as a Pillar of Colonialism and Apartheid. Available at: http://www.badil.org/en/publication/press-releases/60-2015/4439-pr-en-1307155-25.html
[3]   UN Secretary-General, 20/01/2016. A/HRC/31/43 Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the Occupied Syrian Golan. Report of the Secretary General. Para.46
[4]   For more information on these policies, see BADIL, March 2014. Forced Population Transfer: the case of Palestine. Introductory Paper. Available at: http://badil.org/phocadownload/Badil_docs/publications/wp15-introduction.pdf
http://badil.org/phocadownload/Badil_docs/publications/wp15-introduction.pdf
[5]   Report of the UN Secretary General, January 2016, para.68
[6]   Haaretz. 21/02/16. Israel Dismantles Palestinian Prefab Classrooms Near Jerusalem. Available at: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.704567
[7]   17/02/2016. UN Humanitarian Coordinator calls on Israel to halt demolitions in the occupied West Bank immediately and to respect international law. Available at:  http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/hc_statement_demolitions_feb16_final.pdf