The recent Gaza conflict reminds us once again of the saga that is Israel vs. the Arabs. If the root of the problem seems to have been buried like a brick underneath the Gaza rubble, let’s tackle a few UN Resolutions to help us remember how it all began … sort of.
You see, all the mayhem may have started with the plan to create a Jewish state leading to the abrupt and unnatural division of Palestine – one side Jewish, the other Arab. One group permitted a homeland while another is displaced. One group allowed to create a state in a portion of land the other is forced to leave.
Or perhaps it started long before that, when anti-semitism in Europe forced the Jewish diaspora to dream of a homeland where they can be safe and secure in their ways and beliefs. The same anti-semitism may be cited as affording the anti-semites the vigor to create a Jewish homeland so the Jews may leave Europe asap.
Both these perspectives are real and well-founded but would entail a very long discussion … on history and religion (not to mention geopolitics) which we are not prepared to undertake.
Focusing on the law, a good backgrounder on the conflict would be the UN resolutions. There are a good number of them (the conflict has been going on forever it seems) but we shall touch on those that reveal significant reality involving the occupied territories (rarely discussed in mainstream media by the way).
First, a quick history: towards the end of World War I, the Turkish Ottoman rule over Palestine (including Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) ended and Palestine was placed under British rule (called the British Mandate). During the British Mandate (1922-1947), a large number of Jews slowly migrated to Palestine (mostly fleeing from persecution in Europe). Resentment towards the immigrants led to clashes between them and the existing Arab population.
The British could not solve the Arab-Israeli conflict and turned the Palestine issue to the UN. To end the British Mandate, the UN in 1947 came up with a Partition Plan for Palestine to divide it into a Jewish State, an Arab State and creating a “Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem”. The plan gave 53% of Palestine to the Jews who numbered less than half of the Arab population who in turn were to get only 46% of Palestine. That the Arabs were livid is the understatement of a lifetime. And so a civil war between Jews and Arabs ensued (from 1947-1948).
On the day the British Mandate expired in 1948, the Jews established the State of Israel prompting her Arab neighbors to attack the new state. This war (from 1948-1949) resulted in Israel enlarging her territory by capturing 77% of Palestine. And so the already thickened plot coagulated some more.
Next came the Six Day War (in June 1967) which was fought by Israel (and, some say, with US and British military support) on one side and Egypt, Jordan and Syria on the other. The end of the war resulted in Israel taking some more land: East Jerusalem and the West Bank (from Jordan), the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula (from Egypt), and the Golan Heights (from Syria).
Israel may have captured only 77% of Palestine after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War but the 1967 Six Day War ended with Israel seizing 100% of Palestine. You’d think we were still back in the Old Testament. Warring tribes. Land Conquests. Then again, this is Israel. Still waiting for the Messiah. But, that’s another story.
Anyway, the Sinai Peninsula was completely turned over by Israel to Egypt in 1992. The rest are still under Israeli control. We’ll let the UN resolutions hereon declare the status of things under international law. Don’t be discouraged to read them. They are in simple, concise terms and are quite enlightening.
Re East Jerusalem –
Remember, the “Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem” under the UN Partition Plan never happened. The 1948 Arab-Israeli War divided Jerusalem into 2: the large part captured by Israel, the small one by Jordan. At the end of the Six Day War in 1967, Israel seized East Jerusalem from Jordan and gained control of the entire city of Jerusalem.
In 1980, Israel completed its annexation of Jerusalem by officially declaring it as their capital in their Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel.
Now we go to what the rest of the world had to say about this. The Security Council, in Resolution 478 (1980) -
1. Censures in the strongest terms the enactment by Israel of the "basic law" on Jerusalem and the refusal to comply with relevant Security Council resolutions;
2. Affirms that the enactment of the "basic law" by Israel constitutes a violation of international law and does not affect the continued application of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949 Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since June 1967, including Jerusalem;
3. Determines that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and, in particular, the recent "basic law" on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith;
4. Affirms also that this action constitutes a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East;
5. Decides not to recognise the "basic law" and such other actions by Israel that, as a result of this law, seek to alter the character and status of Jerusalem and calls upon all Members of the United Nations: (a) to accept this decision; (b) and upon those States that have established diplomatic Missions in Jerusalem to withdraw such Missions from the Holy City;
xxx” [underline supplied]
Accordingly, there are no embassies in Israel’s ‘capital’ in compliance with Resolution 478. But neither has Israel repealed said Basic Law.
Resolution 478 remains valid to this day.
Re the Golan Heights –
As with Jerusalem, Israel formally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981 by passing the Golan Heights Law which imposed Israeli law over the Golan Heights. The UN Security Council then passed Resolution 497 (1981) condemning Israel’s action. Resolution 497 is quoted in the fairly recent UN General Assembly Resolution below.
As recent as January 15, 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution A/Res/61/120 where the General Assembly,
1. Calls upon Israel, the occupying Power, to comply with the relevant resolutions on the occupied Syrian Golan, in particular Security Council resolution 497 (1981), in which the Council, inter alia, decided that the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the occupied Syrian Golan was null and void and without international legal effect and demanded that Israel, the occupying Power, rescind forthwith its decision;
2. Also calls upon Israel to desist from changing the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan and in particular to desist from the establishment of settlements;
3. Determines that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken or to be taken by Israel, the occupying Power, that purport to alter the character and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan are null and void, constitute a flagrant violation of international law and of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, and have no legal effect;
4. Calls upon Israel to desist from imposing Israeli citizenship and Israeli identity cards on the Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan, and from its repressive measures against the population of the occupied Syrian Golan;
5. Deplores the violations by Israel of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949;
xxx” [underline supplied]
As is natural in any illegal occupation, locals have either fled or been expelled from the new regime. The residents of the Golan Heights are no exception.
Re the West Bank -
Although under Israeli control since 1967, the West Bank has not been annexed by Israel (some say because doing so could increase Israeli citizenship of a huge number of Arabs which might lead to Arabs outnumbering the Jews in political decision-making). What a coup that would be!
In any case, the lack of official annexation has not stopped Israel from building settlements on occupied territory. The UN naturally has denounced Israel’s actions in several Security Council resolutions some of which are cited in Resolution 471 (1980) where the Security Council,
“Recalling once again the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949), and in particular article 27 which, inter alia reads:
"Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons ... They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof,",
Reaffirming the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949) to the Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem,
Recalling also its resolutions 468 (1980) and 469 (1980) of 8 and 20 May 1980,
Reaffirming its resolution 465 (1980), by which the Council determined "that all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or in any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel's policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive just and lasting peace in the Middle East" and strongly deplored the "continuation and persistence of Israel in pursuing those policies and practices",
Shocked by the assassination attempts on the lives of the mayors of Nablus, Ramallah and Al Bireh,
Deeply concerned that the Jewish settlers in the occupied Arab territories are allowed to carry arms thus enabling them to perpetrate crimes against the civilian Arab population,
1. Condemns the assassination attempts on the lives of the mayors of Nablus, Ranallah and Al Bireh and calls for the immediate apprehension and prosecution of the perpetrators of these crimes;
2. Expresses deep concern that Israel, as occupying Power, has failed to provide adequate protection to the civilian population in the occupied territories in conformity with the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949);
3. Calls upon the Government of Israel to provide the victims with adequate compensation for the damages suffered as a result of these crimes;
4. Calls again upon the Government of Israel to respect and to comply with the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, as well as with the relevant resolutions of the Security Council;
5. Calls once again upon all States not to provide Israel with any assistance to be used specifically in connection with settlements in the occupied territories;
6. Reaffirms the overriding necessity to end the prolonged occupation of Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem;
xxx [underline supplied]
On top of the illegal settlements, Israel has built a barrier/wall/security fence/apartheid wall (depending on whom you ask) snaking its way though the West Bank in and amongst residential and business areas.
The UN General Assembly adopted Resolution A/Res/58/98 following the U.S. veto of the Security Council resolution that would have similarly condemned Israel for putting up the wall. In their resolution, the General Assembly,
1. Reaffirms that Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan are illegal and an obstacle to peace and economic and social development;
2. Calls upon Israel to accept the de jure applicability of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and to the occupied Syrian Golan and to abide scrupulously by the provisions of the Convention, in particular article 49;
3. Reiterates its demand for the complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan;
4. Demands that Israel stop and reverse the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, which is in departure from the Armistice Line of 1949 and is in contradiction to relevant provisions of international law;
5. Stresses the need for full implementation of Security Council resolution 904(1994), in which, among other things, the Council called upon Israel, the occupying Power, to continue to take and implement measures, including confiscation of arms, with the aim of preventing illegal acts of violence by Israeli settlers, and called for measures to be taken to guarantee the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilians in the occupied territory;
6. Reiterates its calls for the prevention of all acts of violence by Israeli settlers, particularly in the light of recent developments;
xxx [underline supplied]
The wall is effective at hindering the free movement of Palestinians as well as vital goods and services.
Re Gaza -
In 2005, Israel officially relinquished control of Gaza, but (and it’s a big one), Israel controls Gaza’s borders. So the West Bank walls are not the only hindrance to the free movement of Palestinians (and basic goods and services). The Gaza checkpoints might be doing a much more effective job at it.
Because a chapter of the conflict is ongoing in Gaza, it’s only proper to quote the UN Security Council’s latest resolution (dated January 2009). In it, the Security Council,
Stressing that the Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the territory occupied in 1967 and will be a part of the Palestinian state,
Reaffirming the right of all States in the region to live in peace within secure and internationally recognized borders,
1. Stresses the urgency of and calls for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza;
2. Calls for the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment;
3. Welcomes the initiatives aimed at creating and opening humanitarian corridors and other mechanisms for the sustained delivery of humanitarian aid;
4. Calls on Member States to support international efforts to alleviate the humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza, including through urgently needed additional contributions to UNRWA and through the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee;
5. Condemns all violence and hostilities directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism;
xxx” [underline supplied]
The issues tackled above are by no means exhaustive. To be clear, the UN does not ignore acts of terrorism and accordingly condemns terrorism and violence against civilians (be they committed by Israel, suicide bombers, HAMAS, etc).
One significant point of this review is to reflect on why some acts of terrorism take place in the first place. The idea that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” could have been conceived specifically from this conflict.
Whatever previous notions you have of this conflict, the facts on the ground are enshrined in UN documents. That they are rarely exposed outside the world wide web might be another point to ponder. It is important to know they are there and can certainly help us maintain focus on the root cause of the conflict and realize what it would take to resolve it.
 UN General Assembly, Future government of Palestine, 29 November 1947. A/RES/181. Online. UNHCR Refworld, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3b00f1950.html [accessed 28 Janury 2009]
 UN Partition Plan. Retrieved January 30, 2009, from BBC News Web site: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/middle_east/israel_and_the_palestinians/key_documents/1681322.stm
 Question of Palestine. Retrieved January 28, 2009, from United Nations Web site: http://www.un.org/Depts/dpa/ngo/history.html
 Basic Law- Jerusalem- Capital of Israel. Retrieved January 28, 2009, from Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Web site: http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/1980_1989/Basic+Law-+Jerusalem-+Capital+of+Israel.htm
 UN Security Council, Resolution 478 (1980) Adopted by the Security Council at its 2245th meeting, on 20 August 1980, 20 August 1980. S/RES/478 (1980). Online. UNHCR Refworld, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3b00f1728c.html [accessed 29 January 2009]
 Golan Heights Law. Retrieved January 29, 2009, from Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Web site: http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace+Process/Guide+to+the+Peace+Process/Golan+Heights+Law.htm
 UN Security Council, Security Council Resolution S/RES/497 (1981) Resolution 497 (1981) Adopted by the Security Council at its 2319th meeting, on 17 December 1981, 17 December 1981. S/RES/497 (1981). Online. UNHCR Refworld, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3b00f15734.html [accessed 29 January 2009]
 UN General Assembly, The occupied Syrian Golan : resolution / adopted by the General Assembly, 15 January 2007. A/RES/61/120. Online. UNHCR Refworld, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/45fa5e8e2.html [accessed 27 January 2009]
 UN Security Council, Resolution 471 (1980) Adopted by the Security Council at its 2226th meeting, on 5 June 1980, 5 June 1980. S/RES/471 (1980). Online. UNHCR Refworld, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3b00f1716c.html [accessed 29 January 2009]
 UN General Assembly, Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan: Resolution adopted by the General Assembly, 22 December 2003. A/RES/58/98. Online. UNHCR Refworld, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/403b55a27.html [accessed 29 January 2009]
 UN Security Council, Security Council resolution 1860 (2009) [on a durable and fully repected ceasefire and the .full withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip], 8 January 2009. S/RES/1860 (2009). Online. UNHCR Refworld, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/496c51fa2.html [accessed 28 January 2009]