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International Law

Red Cross Report Says Israel Disregards Humanitarian Law

Steven Erlanger
New York Times
May 15, 2007

JERUSALEM, May 14 – The International Committee of the Red Cross, in a confidential report about East Jerusalem and its surrounding areas, accuses Israel of a “general disregard” for “its obligations under international humanitarian law – and the law of occupation in particular.”

The committee, which does not accept Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, says Israel is using its rights as an occupying power under international law “in order to further its own interests or those of its own population to the detriment of the population of the occupied territory.”

With the construction of the separation barrier, the establishment of an outer ring of Jewish settlements beyond the expanded municipal boundaries and the creation of a dense road network linking the different Israeli neighborhoods and settlements in and outside Jerusalem, the report says, Israel is “reshaping the development of the Jerusalem metropolitan area” with “far-reaching humanitarian consequences.” Those include the increasing isolation of Palestinians living in Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and the increasing difficulty for some Palestinians to easily reach Jerusalem’s schools and hospitals.

The Red Cross committee, which is recognized as a guardian of humanitarian law under the Geneva Conventions of 1949, does not publish its reports but provides them in confidence to the parties involved and to a small number of countries. This report was provided to The New York Times by someone outside the organization who wanted the report’s conclusions publicized. The leak came just days before Israel’s celebration of Jerusalem Day this Wednesday, observing the 40th anniversary of the unification of the city.

The committee is better known for its role in visiting prisoners all over the world to try to ensure humanitarian conditions. It has been involved for decades with the Israeli-Palestinian situation as part of its role in upholding the Geneva Conventions, which cover the responsibilities of occupying countries. But its reports rarely surface.

The report considers all land that Israel conquered in the 1967 war to be occupied territory. It was the result of nine months of work by the committee and was delivered in late February “to Israel and to a small number of foreign governments we believe would be in the best position to help support our efforts for the implementation of humanitarian law,” said Bernard Barrett, a spokesman for the committee in Jerusalem.

Israeli officials said that they respected the committee and that they had cooperated with it gladly on issues ranging from the release of captured Israeli soldiers to asking its officials to give briefings on international law to Israeli diplomats and commanders serving in the occupied West Bank.

They confirmed having received the report, but disagreed with its premises and conclusions.

“We reject the premise of the report, that East Jerusalem is occupied territory,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. “It is not. Israel annexed Jerusalem in 1967 and offered full citizenship at the time to all of Jerusalem’s residents. These are facts that cannot be ignored.”

Israel, he said, “is committed to a diverse and pluralistic Jerusalem, to improving the conditions of all the city’s inhabitants and to protecting their interests as part of our sovereign responsibility.” He added, “If any population in Jerusalem is thriving and growing, it is the Arab population.”

He also noted that Israel made great efforts to ensure health care for Palestinians, pointing to 81,000 entry permits in 2006 for Palestinians needing care inside Israel.

Conditions have worsened for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, which has long had inferior services.

Security restrictions and the barrier that runs around and through parts of East Jerusalem were Israel’s response to suicide bombings after 2000, but they made it much more difficult for Palestinians to move into and out of Jerusalem.

It is virtually impossible for Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza to move to Jerusalem if they were not born in the city; even visiting requires a permit that can be hard to get. Natural population growth and building restrictions in Arab parts of the city means that large families often share very small apartments.

Palestinians argue that the building restrictions are meant to suppress the growth of the their community; the Israelis counter that zoning restrictions are imposed throughout the city.

The Red Cross report notes that the separation barrier “was undertaken with an undeniable security aim,” but adds, “The route of the West Bank barrier is also following a demographic logic, enclosing the settlement blocs around the city while excluding built-up Palestinian areas (thus creating isolated Palestinian enclaves).”

Mustafa Barghouti, spokesman for the Palestinian unity government, welcomed the report, calling it consistent with the rulings of the International Court of Justice, which said in a nonbinding opinion in 2004 that Israel’s security barrier was illegal where it crossed the 1967 lines into occupied territory. “Israel violates international law with impunity, and couldn’t continue this blunt violation for 40 years if it did not feel impunity toward the international community,” Mr. Barghouti said.

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B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories

Amnesty International

International Humanitarian Law Research Initiative

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