All UN member nations, including Israel, are signatories to the Fourth Geneva Convention. This convention outlined the treatment of the civilian population of an occupied state by an occupying state. My interpretation is that basically an occupying state must virtually take on the role of a normal government of the occupied state. In other words, if say, my home country, Australia, was occupied by Japan, as was nearly the case in the Second World War, then the Japanese occupying force would have to assume the role of the Australian government in all the areas that the Australian government would normally need to take on. The difference being that while the government is normally elected and tolerated quite well, even by those who didn’t vote for it, an occupying power is considered a hostile entity and has the competing role of maintaining the security of the occupying forces themselves from the occupied population.
The role of the occupying forces is not small, or inexpensive if it wants to maintain an occupation and stay within the limits of International Law. It must, as a minimum requirement, protect the rights of the occupied people just as if they were a normally elected government and try to satisfy the security needs of the occupying force as well. This is indeed a difficult task, but that is just the point. International Law is not there to make an occupation easy. An occupation that satisfies the minimum requirements of International Law would put an immense strain on the resources of the government of the occupying force and it is supposed to. In this way, International Law is trying to deter an occupation from continuing for an extended period of time. Put simply, if you can’t afford to maintain an occupation and satisfy the requirements of International Law, then get out of the country and end the occupation!
Over the last two weeks I have seen how, in numerous instances, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza violates International Law in grievous ways, all over the territories it occupies.
The question is, “How does Israel justify all these obvious violations of International Law?” The answer that Israel offers is that the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply in this case because these conventions are meant to be applied between states, and the West Bank and Gaza have never had proper Palestinian governances and hence cannot be considered as a state. That is, Israel is not occupying the West Bank and Gaza in a manner that would invoked the Fourth Geneva Convention. It needs to be said that no country, the US included, accepts this answer. This is clearly a matter of semantics that completely misses the point of the conventions.
But even if the Israeli answer is correct, and it has indeed found a loop hole in International Law, then what can we say about the attitude of the Israeli state? In my mind, if any state is actively looking for a loop hole in International Law that enables it to opt out if its obligations to uphold human dignity and human rights like any reasonable government should, then that government was never terribly interested in the concept of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in the first place.
Regardless of whether or not the Israeli argument on this point is correct, they have lost the moral argument at the very least. The testimony of my own eyes over even the last two weeks has only confirmed this point to me.
I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (email@example.com) for permission. Thank you.