Israel’s policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territory have come under unusually hard-hitting attack by the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, for their challenge to international law.
In an article in the latest edition of the International Review of the Red Cross, Maurer explains this move away from the ICRC’s normal behind-the-scenes diplomacy by the fact that “the ICRC has been unable to engage in any meaningful dialogue with the Israeli government” on such key issues as the annexation of East Jerusalem, the routing of the barrier separating the West Bank and Israel, and the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The organisation believes all of these are violations of international humanitarian law, IHL.
“The ICRC has therefore opted to engage with civil society, academia, and the Israeli public directly in explaining its position regarding the discrepancies between IHL and the Israeli government’s policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” he writes.
He makes a general plea for respect for IHL in all conflict and occupation situations everywhere in the world, warning that otherwise “it is most unlikely that the various communities will find their way toward reconciliation or be prepared to share the burden of a just peace after decades of conflict”.
On the specific case of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, he notes that while the “shape and degree” of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have varied, Israel has maintained “effective control over the territories it occupied as a result of the Six Day War in 1967, and over the Palestinian population living there”.
He writes of the “profound impact” this has had on different aspects of the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis, and the grief caused to both sides by “recurring excesses of armed violence”.
He stresses that the ICRC recognises the Israeli government’s right to ensure the security of its own population and territory, but says that any measures it takes must be “in accordance with the rules and procedures prescribed by international law”.
The Review carries a response from Alan Baker, former legal adviser of Israel’s foreign ministry, who rejects Maurer’s definition of the legal status of the Palestinian territories and the concept of occupation.
He says some of the basic assumptions figuring in ICRC official positions and statements – which, he adds, have also been adopted by the international community in general - are mostly “politically-generated” and appear to “run counter to the ICRC’s fundamental principles of impartiality and neutrality”.
He calls on the ICRC not to “prejudice its historic and vital task by any hint or perception of bias or partisanship”.
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