UN rapporteur urges sanctions on Israel for driving Palestinians ‘back to the dark ages’

S. Michael Lynk at UN press conference on Oct. 26, 2017.

Last week there was a significant development in the international response to the Israeli occupation when the UN rapporteur for human rights in the occupied territories came out with a harsh report saying the world was too passive about the occupation.

The “duration of this occupation is without precedent or parallel in today’s world,” the report said. Israel has “driven Gaza back to the dark ages” due to denial of water and electricity and freedom of movement. There is a “darkening stain” on the world’s legal framework because other countries have treated the occupation as normal, and done nothing to resist Israel’s “colonial ambition par excellence,” which includes two sets of laws for Israelis and Palestinians.

At a press conference about his report, S. Michael Lynk, a Canadian professor of law and human rights expert, said it is time the international community reach into its “toolbox” of enforcement mechanisms, so as to “raise the stakes” against the occupation and change international “opinion” of Israel. The country had been worried by the Goldstone Report in 2009 and is today worried by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), Lynk said; so if the international community took “unified actions on an escalating basis” to declare the occupation illegal and demand Israel’s withdrawal, Israel would respond.

That means sanctions.

Israel is very dependent upon trade with the outside world, it’s very dependent upon its market with the United States, it’s very dependent upon its market with Europe. If there was an understanding that all of a sudden Israelis wanting to travel abroad needed to have visas, if all of a sudden Israel wasn’t going to get preferential trading agreements with the EU. If all of a sudden, the many and multitude of forms of military or economic cooperation or academic cooperation with Israel were now going to come to an end as long as Israel continued that,  I think you’d begin to see a sea-change in the attitude of ordinary Israelis and in the attitude of the Israeli government…. Every journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.

“I didn’t use the word boycott,” Lynk said in the press conference, though he called for a refusal to purchase settlement goods.

He got an immediate reaction. US ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley on Friday said that the U.S. was “deeply disturbed” by Lynk’s report and by his support for “economic and academic boycott” of Israel. The Jerusalem Post turned on Lynk for seeking to turn Israel into a “pariah state” (don’t worry, it’s happening on its own).

Lynk’s report is the big news here. Its characterization of Israeli actions in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza as flagrant violations of international law that are causing huge suffering that the world ignores, along with its implicit endorsement of BDS, are as important an intervention as earlier efforts by Richard Goldstone and Jimmy Carter.

As Peter Belmont wrote on his blog, Lynk is seeking to revive the dead letter of the two-state solution:

Prof. Lynk may have come up with a powerful reason for the nations to act together with a program of minimal steps which they might take while getting up the nerve and determination to take really effective steps—sanctions against Israel to compel Israel to comply with [international law]. Such sanctions, one supposes, could result in bringing the occupation to an end…. Voilà! A two-state solution!

Israel refused Lynk access to the occupied territories. Here are excerpts from the report that convey its emphatic character.

The occupation affects all of Palestinian life:

The human rights and humanitarian law violations associated with the occupation impact every aspect of life for Palestinians living in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza

Gaza is in misery:

In addition, water supplies are at risk, with most homes receiving water through the piped network for only a few hours every 3-5 days, while the desalination plants are functioning at only 15 per cent of their capacity. More than 108 million litres of untreated sewage were reportedly being discharged into the Mediterranean every day…

In August of 2017, five cancer patients died while awaiting permits to travel for needed care

The settlements have choked the two state solution and threatened human rights.

[T]he two state solution [is] on life support, with a fading pulse…

The world just treats Israel as the lawful occupant of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  This represents an “abject failure” of international law and “a darkening stain.”

This is the longest-running military occupation in the modern world. Notwithstanding insistent calls by the international community, most recently in 2016, that the Israeli occupation must come to a complete end, that many of its features are in profound breach of international law, and that its perpetuation both violates the fundamental right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and undermines the possibility of a two-state solution, it has become more entrenched and harsher than ever. Indeed, the Israeli occupation has become a legal and humanitarian oxymoron: an occupation without end.

Thirty-seven years ago, in June 1980, the Security Council – sufficiently alarmed by the duration and severity of the occupation and Israel’s defiance of prior resolutions – adopted Resolution 476. At the time, the Israeli occupation was already thirteen years old. In its 1980 resolution, the Security Council reaffirmed “…the overwhelming necessity to end the prolonged occupation of Arab territories…by Israel” and “strongly deplore the continuing refusal of Israel to comply with the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly.”

The inability to end the Israeli occupation has been an abject failure of international diplomacy, a darkening stain on the efficacy of international law and the source of multiple broken promises to the Palestinian people. Nor does the prolongation of this occupation serve the people of Israel, for it corrodes their society and their public institutions by entangling them in their government’s drive to foreclose a viable and just solution to the half-century of occupation and the century-long conflict, and makes them the beneficiaries – unwittingly or not – of a profoundly unequal and unjust relationship.

The prevailing approach of the international community has been to treat Israel as the lawful occupant of the Palestinian territory, albeit an occupant that has committed a number of grave breaches of international law in its conduct of the occupation, including the settlement enterprise, the construction of the Wall, the annexation of East Jerusalem and the systemic violations of Palestinian human rights. In the view of the Special Rapporteur, while the lawful occupant approach may have been the appropriate diplomatic and legal portrayal of the occupation in its early years, it has since become wholly inadequate both as an accurate legal characterization of what the occupation has become and as a viable political, diplomatic and legal catalyst

It’s a colonial project, par excellence:

The duration of this occupation is without precedent or parallel in today’s world.

The only credible explanation for Israel’s continuation of the occupation and its thickening of the settlement regime is to enshrine its sovereign claim over part or all of the Palestinian territory, a colonial ambition par excellence. Every Israeli government since 1967 has pursued the continuous growth of the settlements, and the significant financial, military and political resources committed to the enterprise belies any intention on its part to make the occupation temporary…

It’s apartheid, though Lynk doesn’t use that word.

According to recent reports by the World Bank and the United Nations, the expanding Israeli settlement enterprise and the supporting apparatus of occupation has deepened the already separate and distinctly inferior civil and economic conditions imposed upon Palestinians in the West Bank. There, the Palestinians are subject to a harsh and arbitrary legal system quite unequal to that enjoyed by the Israeli settlers.

And ethnic cleansing, though he doesn’t use that word either:

Israel employs practices that in some cases may amount to the forcible transfer of Palestinians, primarily those living in rural areas, as a means of confiscating land for settlements…

As for East Jerusalem, the occupation has increasingly detached it from its traditional national, economic, cultural and family connections with the West Bank because of the Wall, the growing ring of settlements and related checkpoints, and the discriminatory permit regime…

The dark ages line. Gaza is unique in the world for suffering a decline in GDP in the last 11 years:

Israel has maintained a suffocating economic and travel blockade that has driven Gaza back to the dark ages. More than 60 per cent of the population of Gaza is reliant upon humanitarian aid, it is unable to secure more than one-third of the electrical power that it requires, it will soon exhaust its sources of safe drinking water, and, virtually unique in the world, its gross domestic product is actually lower than it was in 2006…

The international community refused to impose the “robust tools” of law to counter these human rights abuses:

the international community recoiled from answering Israel’s splintering of the Palestinian territory and disfiguring of the laws of occupation with the robust tools that international law and diplomacy provide. International law, along with the peoples of Palestine and Israel, have all suffered in the process.

We need international pressure:

[The world must] devise and employ the appropriate diplomatic and legal steps that, measure by measure, would completely and finally end the occupation. As Amos Schocken, the publisher of Ha’aretz, has written about his own country’s leadership: “…international pressure is precisely the force that will drive them to do the right thing.”

Lynk likens the occupation to the South African occupation of Namibia, which was ruled illegal, and calls for an International Court of Justice opinion stating that every bit of the occupation, not just the settlements, is illegal. That would lead to a wideranging program of sanctions:

A determination that Israel’s role as occupant is now illegal would serve several significant purposes. First, it would encourage member states to take all reasonable steps to prevent or discourage national institutions, organizations and corporations within their jurisdiction from engaging in activities that would invest in, or sustain, the occupation. Second, it would encourage national and international courts to apply the appropriate laws within their jurisdiction that would prevent or discourage cooperation with entities that invest in, or sustain, the occupation. Third, it would invite the international community to review its various forms of cooperation with the occupying power as long as it continues to administer the occupation unlawfully. Fourth, it would provide a solid precedent for the international community when judging other occupations of long duration. Most of all, such a determination would confirm the moral importance of upholding the international rule of law when aiding the besieged and the vulnerable.

Lynk is essentially endorsing BDS. The story has not been covered in the New York Times or other leading U.S. papers, yet.