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UN expert Michael Lynk: International community must end Israel’s ‘belligerent’ occupation

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Canadian law professor and UN human rights expert Michael Lynk is no stranger to media attention.

As the Special Rapporteur on Palestinian territories, Lynk has reported on Israel’s human rights violations in the territories for years, drawing criticism from Israel and its allies, and widespread support from human rights defenders in Palestine and across the globe.

Lynk’s latest round of media scrutiny came last week when he released his newest report on the human rights situation in Palestine, and called for an international ban on Israeli settlement goods.

The report, which highlighted Israeli violations of international law in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, drew heavy backlash from the international pro-Israel lobby, as it called Israel’s 52-year long occupation of Palestine “the longest belligerent occupation in the modern world.”

Notably, Lynk also called on the UN to complete and release a database “on businesses engaged in activities related to the illegal settlements”, a so-called “blacklist” that the UN Human Rights Council was supposed to release in 2017 and has repeatedly delayed due to American and Israeli pressure.

Below is the advance unedited version of Lynk’s report:

Situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967( Advance Unedited Version) by Mondoweiss on Scribd

Mondoweiss spoke to Lynk about his latest report, his findings, his advice for the international community, and what part of his research shocked him the most.

Mondoweiss: Your recent report on the human rights situation in the OPT has caused quite a stir in the media, specifically your calls for a boycott of settlement goods. Were you expecting backlash? How do you feel about the reception of the report?

Lynk: I generally always get both a very positive response from civil society, Israeli, Palestinian, and international, and negative responses as well from the Israeli government and its supporters.

When I was thinking about what to write this year, I was thinking, we have lots of laws, but what we lack is enforcement and accountability. That ought to rise to the top of the international agenda when it comes to ending the occupation. So I was expecting to get support from civil society because they have written about this a lot, and I was expecting very critical responses from the supporters of the occupation and the Israelis. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the international community except a shrug of the shoulders.

I called specifically for a ban on all settlement goods and services because that strikes me as a moral imperative — a minimal political step for accountability, and a legal requirement and  obligation that rests on the international community in serious human rights violation situation. It was clear to me that if settlements are illegal and a war crime under the Rome Statute, the international community has a legal responsibility not to aid or assist in such violations.

Mondoweiss: What was the response from international diplomats and officials, given your harsh criticism of the international community for their lack of action in regards to the occupation?

Lynk: I spoke with several ambassadors in New York City after the publication of my report. The more candid diplomats agreed, or would say, that there is no more two-state solution. But when I asked about accountability, they began to speak about internal difficulties, politics of their own countries, and the fact that they’re not sure they have the political capital to challenge the position of the American administration on this.

I hope what I did was planted a seed in getting them to start thinking about formal accountability. But I didn’t see any of them say ‘yes you persuaded me and this is at the top of my agenda’.”

Mondoweiss: You mentioned formal accountability, and how international leaders need to start putting that at the top of their agendas. Banning settlement goods aside, what would formal accountability look like in practice?

Lynk: So, what I see as minimal steps, would be a ban on settlement goods and services and release of the database on business activities in settlements. There are a number of additional steps within international tradition and precedent: an international menu of what is to be done.

We have to think about the steps taken within other contexts of annexation and occupation, for example, Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. The EU in particular imposed substantial trade, political, and diplomatic countermeasures in response. That’s what should be happening in the case of the occupation of the Palestinian territories.

In my report I referenced a report from the ICRC that lays out a range of possible countermeasures. I would include reviewing things like: arms transfers, the sale of military weapons, it could involve trade and financial restrictions, it could involve the imposition of visas from resident of the country [Israel] to visit Europe or North America, it could involve seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice to determine whether the occupation is still lawful, and what are the responsibilities of the international community in bringing it to an end.

As I said in the report, Israel is a small country with a high dependence on the international community, particularly Europe and North America for trade and diplomatic relationships. It would not be difficult, if the international community puts its mind to it, to bring measures that would require a significant change by the leadership in Israel.

Israel does pay attention to international opinion. The most recent example is the role of most European countries in support of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar. Benjamin Netanyahu has held a piece of paper in his hand for the past 10 months allowing him to proceed with the demolition of the village. Two reasons he hasn’t done it yet is the line in the sand drawn by the EU, and because of a statement made by the chief prosecutor of the ICC warning that forced transfer of people under occupation may amount to a war crime.

Mondoweiss: You say if the international community ‘just puts their mind to it’ they can enact change. So, in your opinion, what needs to happen for them to really wake up and act? 

Lynk: It’s hard for me to reconcile the continual support and repeating of the importance of the two-state solution, even as the international community has watched the possibility of genuine two-state solution evaporate before its eyes without taking meaningful steps to try to save it.

The international community would say ‘we have made it clear we would not accept annexation,’ but there is no legal difference between annexation and advanced de facto annexation. If you’ve put more than 600,000 settlers, over 200 settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, with an enormous network of roads, security, factories, and overall control, that in effect is breaching the rule of international law on annexation.

De facto annexation is annexation. The international community has probably lost its chance to draw a line in the sand. It now has to think through what is the future with respect to this.

I don’t know what it would take, because there’s no occupation in the world that has been conducted in front of the international community, with the latter so knowledgeable of what the occupiers obvious intentions are with annexation, and so well informed of suffering and dispossession, yet so unwilling to act on the evidence in front of it. If all that has happened so far hasn’t moved the international community to take decisive steps, it’s difficult to imagine what would.

Mondoweiss: Your report touched on a lot of issues, from home demolitions and arrest campaigns, to the blockade on Gaza. Out of all the topics you highlighted, what is the one that stood out to you the most when compiling your report?

Lynk: I must say if I had to choose the first among equals it would probably be Gaza.

Gaza is a situation unique in the world in that there is a human-made catastrophe and crisis that is ongoing, that the world knows about, that the UN offices on the ground have been very diligent in reporting about, and yet the world’s attitude towards Israel’s continual siege of Gaza remains unchanged.

We’ve been through three devastating wars in the last decade that have caused immense human suffering and physical damage, it remains largely cut off from the rest of the world, its economy continues to shrivel and ossify, yet nothing winds up changing. Water is undrinkable, the healthcare system is collapsing, it has the highest unemployment rate in the world, and among people 30 years and younger it’s around 70%. Four out of five Gazans work below the already anemic minimum wage.

It becomes disheartening to keep on repeating dismal statistics of Gaza. Both the prior and current Secretary Generals of the UN says it amounts to collective punishment, which is illegal under the Geneva Conventions. But it continues.

Of all the issues you can think of that needs highlighting, there is unfortunately a wide range of issues to choose from, but Gaza has to be the worst of all the confounding tragedies in front of us.

Mondoweiss: The situation in the OPT, as you note extensively, is consistently developing for the worse. Many Palestinians are weary of the Trump administration and its plans for the region. What are your expectations for the “deal of the century”? Do you think Trump will try to see it through? And what effects might it have on the OPT and the wider region?

Lynk: I don’t have a high expectation that this will bring any of the needed relief and path forward for Israelis and Palestinians. Certainly any comments made by the principal authors of the peace plan including Friedman, Greenblatt and Kushner, all seem to indicate that they have largely lined up with the world view of the Israeli government: that the settlements will stay in place, that they envisage a little Palestinian state that will be a brand new definition of what it means to be a state in modern political science. And that the current permanent occupation will get a new title and rebranding.

I see it as a “state-and-a-half solution.” Any peace plan initiated by the international community that does not anchor itself in the accepted principles of international law — that settlements are illegal, the annexation of East Jerusalem is illegal, any Palestinian state would have to be viable contiguous and sovereign, the same as any country, that there has to be a just solution for the Palestinian refugee issue — if any proposed peace plan does not anchor itself in those widely accepted principals that make up the international consensus, then it’s not a peace plan worth advancing or releasing.

What has happened over the past 25 years since Oslo, Israel has successfully persuaded the US to act as a mediator and to mediate between the parties without the framework of international law and international consensus. And that’s why we keep on seeing failed agreements and initiatives.

Mondoweiss: With the situation on the ground getting worse everyday, and a lack of international action on ending the occupation, what would you say to the ordinary citizens of the world, who are interested in ending the occupation as well, moving forward?

Lynk: What I’ve been giving you has been a gloomy, dark, grim, and pessimistic view of the situation. But believe it or not, I remain optimistic, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, for all the persecution and slander thats directed by the government of Israel to the Israeli and Palestinian human rights defenders and for the shrinking space they’re facing doing their courageous work, they continue to perform invaluable advocacy and research of what’s going on on the ground.

Without pointing out some over others, the B’Tselems and Gishas of Israel, the Al-Haqs or Addameers of Palestine, plus the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watches, they keep the candles burning with respect to applying rules of humanitarian law to this conflict. They are the ones who mobilize international public opinion.

International public opinion remains largely in favor of wanting to see Palestinians attain their rights. As long as civil societies and popular opinion support the realization of rights for Palestinians so that Israelis and Palestinians can have a just, shared future, there’s every reason to be optimistic, there will be a future to look forward to.

It’s that public opinion, certainly in Europe, that I meet with in Ireland, Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands, who are the ones continuing to help drive political debate and diplomacy issues in countries like that. That’s why I remain optimistic.

There’s an opening in American public opinion as well. Three of the four leading contenders for the democratic nomination, to some degree or the other, say that we need to rethink our relationship with Israel if it’s going to continue down this path of forever occupation. It tells me the needle is moving in the US as well, and public opinion is being reflected in some of the debates going on. All of that makes me fundamentally an optimist that there are ways this will be turned around.

Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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9 Responses

  1. bcg on October 30, 2019, 4:13 pm

    “Israel does pay attention to international opinion…” says Lynk. Well, the international community seems to me like it’s in a deep slumber on this issue, but there are occasional glimmers of light –

    ” New Swedish Foreign Minister: ‘BDS legitimate not anti-Semitic movement’ ” –

    • just on October 30, 2019, 7:58 pm

      It’s terrible that Norway has gone off the deep end wrt Israel and BDS, but municipalities are stepping up and over the government! Just yesterday:

      “#BDS – Norway’s capital Oslo is banning Israeli settlement goods and services

      Despite concerted efforts by Israel and its right-wing allies in Norway and worldwide to repress accountability measures in support of Palestinian rights, Oslo, Norway’s capital and largest city, has now become the sixth Norwegian municipality to ban settlement goods and services, along with one county council.

      Last week, the UN independent expert on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Michael Lynk, called for an international ban on all Israeli settlements products, as a step towards ending Israel’s 52-year-old illegal occupation.

      Oslo’s City Council committed through their new platform to investigate the scope of action in the procurement regulations to not trade goods and services produced on territory occupied in violation of international law by companies operating under the permission of the occupying power.

      The ban on settlement products and services does not distinguish between Israeli and international corporations that operate in Israel’s illegal settlements.

      Sunniva Eidsvoll, leader of the Oslo chapter of the Socialist Left Party (SV) and of SV’s Oslo City Council group, said: “The Palestinian people, who have to deal with the illegal occupation of their territory every single day, deserve international attention and support. It is a shared global responsibility to help ensure that human rights and international law are not violated. I am proud that the Oslo City Council is now taking steps to prevent goods and services purchased by the city from supporting an illegal occupation of Palestine or other territories.”

      The Socialist Left Party of Norway has been a longtime supporter of the BDS movement.

      Tora Systaad Tyssen of the Association of Norwegian NGOs for Palestine (Fellesutvalget for Palestina) said: “The Oslo City Council follows those in Trondheim, Tromsø, Vaksdal, Hamar, Lillehammer, and the Nordland County Council in banning business with the illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian land. It is uplifting and inspiring to see Norwegian municipal councils taking a firm stand for human rights and international law when our current government is failing to.

      “Whereas our national government wants more trade and cooperation with Israel, the new City Council in Oslo states clearly that it does not want to contribute financially to the large-scale theft of Palestinian land and resources that Israel’s expanding settlement industry is carrying out.”

      Alys Samson Estapé, Europe campaigns coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), said: “We welcome this legally and morally responsible step taken by the Oslo City Council. Local councils are showing they are undeterred by repression, and continue to pave the way, despite inaction by national governments. A ban on goods and services from Israel’s illegal settlements is the very least that government institutions should enact to cut their complicity with Israel’s regime of apartheid, settler colonialism and occupation.

      “On top of such a ban, the Norwegian government should also adopt a comprehensive embargo on direct and indirect arms trade and military cooperation with Israel and Israeli companies to ensure end-user compliance with international law.”

      The Irish government is currently reviewing the Occupied Territories Bill, approved by both houses of Parliament, which would ban Ireland from importing goods from Israel’s illegal settlements.

      In 2018, three right-wing parties sought to prevent the settlement boycotts in Trondheim and Tromsø. However, Norway’s state secretary at the foreign ministry, Audun Halvorsen, dealt a blow to those efforts, saying that a boycott of “goods and services produced in settlements does not contradict Norway’s international commitments.”…”

  2. just on October 30, 2019, 8:07 pm

    Heartening news:

    “A version of a short film published by The Electronic Intifada has won an award at the International Documentary Film Festival in Mexico City.

    The film, directed by Anne Paq and Haidi Motola of the media collective ActiveStills, received the winning title in an international category named “Fragments.”

    The film follows Bilal Tamimi, a Palestinian from the occupied West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, who documents Israel’s attacks on the village through his camera.

    For the past decade, Palestinians in Nabi Saleh have held weekly demonstrations in protest at Israel’s encroachment on their land.

    Tamimi started filming when the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem asked to have someone in the village document Israeli attacks, around the same time the demonstrations started in 2009.

    The Tamimi family has been subject to Israeli occupation arrests, harassment, assault, maimings and killings.

    … Originally called “The camera is my weapon,” it was submitted to the Mexican festival under the title “I insist to keep on filming.”

    The film will screen at the London Palestine Film Festival, taking place between 15 and 30 November. It will also screen at a human rights film festival in Naples, happening between 20 and 30 November.

    The film also screened at the Boston Palestine Film Festival, the Arab Film Festival in San Francisco and the Respect Belfast Human Rights Film Festival earlier this month, and the Scandinavian International Film Festival in August. ”

    Video @

  3. Misterioso on October 31, 2019, 10:31 am

    “Facebook COO ignores Palestinian complaints of censorship, pledges $2.5 mill to Israel advocacy group”

    If Americans Knew Blog, Oct. 30/19, by Alison Weir.

    “The Israeli government & the ADL, which advocates for Israel, help Facebook executives decide which content to censor. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Palestinians’ Facebook pages are increasingly being removed. At a time when social media have become the new ‘public square,’ Palestinians are being denied equal access…”

    “While Facebook is in the midst of a controversy in which Palestinian journalists are complaining that the company has a different standard for Palestinians than for Israelis, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, publicly pledged $2.5 million to an organization that advocates for Israel.

    “This action was in line with Sandberg’s life history of connection to Israel. And it coincided with Facebook’s pattern of a double standard for Palestinians vs. Israelis.

    “While some American organizations that work on the Palestinian issue have largely been able to function on Facebook with relatively small difficulties (including the one I work for), the story for Palestinians living in the occupied Territories has been markedly different.

    “As we will see, for years there has been evidence that the company discriminates against Palestinian users, arbitrarily closing their pages, taking down their content, and suppressing their information.”

  4. philweiss on October 31, 2019, 11:21 am

    What an astonishing interview. Clear and calm. The two state solution has evaporated. There’s never been an occupation carried on in broad daylight with such impunity. Thank you!

  5. James Canning on October 31, 2019, 11:58 am

    We can thank foolish American politicians for Israel’s relentless trampling on international law, regarding its occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem).

  6. Misterioso on October 31, 2019, 3:33 pm

    More regarding Professor Michael Lynk, etc.

    “Israel’s New Moves to Airbrush the Occupation” by Jonathan Cook, The Palestine Chronicle, Oct. 29/19

    “The United Nations’ independent expert on human rights in the Palestinian territories issued a damning verdict last week on what he termed ‘the longest belligerent occupation in the modern world.’

    “Michael Lynk, a Canadian law professor, told the UN’s human rights council that only urgent international action could prevent Israel’s 52-year occupation of the West Bank transforming into de facto annexation.

    “He warned of a recent surge in violence against Palestinians from settlers, assisted by the Israeli army, and a record number of demolitions this year of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem – evidence of the ways Israel is further pressuring Palestinians to leave their lands.

    “He urged an international boycott of all settlement products as a necessary step to put pressure on Israel to change course. He also called on the UN itself to finally publish – as long promised – a database that it has been compiling since 2016 of Israeli and international companies doing business in the illegal settlements and normalizing the occupation.

    “Israel and its supporters have stymied the release, fearing that such a database would bolster the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign that seeks to end Israel’s impunity.

    “Lynk sounded the alarm days after Israel’s most venerated judge, Meir Shamgar, died aged 94.

    “Shamgar was a reminder that the settlers have always been able to rely on the support of public figures from across Israel’s political spectrum. The settlements have always been viewed as a weapon to foil the emergence of a Palestinian state.

    “Perhaps not surprisingly, most obituaries overlooked the chicanery of Shamgar in building the legal architecture needed to establish the settlements after Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967.

    “But in a tweeted tribute, Benjamin Netanyahu, the interim prime minister, noted Shamgar’s contribution to ‘legislation policy in Judea and Samaria,’ using the Israeli government’s term for the West Bank.

    “It was Shamgar who swept aside the prohibition in international law on Israel as an occupying state, transferring its population into the territories. He thereby created a system of apartheid: illegal Jewish settlers enjoyed privileges under Israeli law while the local Palestinian population had to endure oppressive military orders.

    “Then, by a legal sleight of hand, Shamgar obscured the ugly reality he had inaugurated. He offered all those residing in the West Bank – Jews and Palestinians alike – access to arbitration from Israel’s supreme court.

    “It was, of course, an occupier’s form of justice – and a policy that treated the occupied territories as ultimately part of Israel, erasing any border. Ever since, the court has been deeply implicated in every war crime associated with the settlement enterprise.

    As Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard noted, Shamgar ‘legalized almost every draconian measure taken by the defense establishment to crush Palestinian political and military organizations,’ including detention without trial, house demolitions, land thefts, curfews and much more. All were needed to preserve the settlements.

    “Shamgar’s legal innovations – endorsing the systematic abuse of Palestinians and the entrenchment of the occupation – are now being expanded by a new generation of jurists.

    “Their latest proposal has been described as engineering a ‘revolution’ in the occupation regime. It would let the settlers buy as private property the plots of occupied land their illegal homes currently stand on.

    “Disingenuously, Israeli officials argue that the policy would end ‘discrimination’ against the settlers. An army legal adviser, Tzvi Mintz, noted recently: ‘A ban on making real-estate deals based on national origin raises a certain discomfort.’

    “Approving the privatization of the settlements is a far more significant move than it might sound.

    “International law states that an occupier can take action in territories under occupation on only two possible grounds: out of military necessity or to benefit the local population. With the settlements obviously harming local Palestinians by depriving them of land and free movement, Israel disguised its first colonies as military installations.

    “It went on to seize huge swathes of the West Bank as ‘state lands’ – meaning for Jews only – on the pretext of military needs. Civilians were transferred there with the claim that they bolstered Israel’s national security.

    “That is why no one has contemplated allowing the settlers to own the land they live on – until now. Instead, it is awarded by military authorities, who administer the land on behalf of the Israeli state.

    “That is bad enough. But now defense ministry officials want to upend the definition in international law of the settlements as a war crime. Israel’s thinking is that, once the settlers become the formal owners of the land they were given illegally, they can be treated as the ‘local population.’

    “Israel will argue that the settlers are protected under international law just like the Palestinians. That would provide Israel with a legal pretext to annex the West Bank, saying it benefits the ‘local’ settler population.

    “And by turning more than 600,000 illegal settlers into landowners, Israel can reinvent the occupation as an insoluble puzzle. Palestinians seeking redress from Israel for the settlements will instead have to fight an endless array of separate claims against individual settlers.

    “This proposal follows recent moves by Israel to legalize many dozens of so-called outposts, built by existing settlements to steal yet more Palestinian land. As well as violating international law, the outposts fall foul of Israeli law and undertakings made under the Oslo accords not to expand the settlements.

    “All of this is being done in the context of a highly sympathetic administration in Washington that, it is widely assumed, is preparing to approve annexation of the West Bank as part of a long-postponed peace plan.

    “The current delay has been caused by Netanyahu’s failure narrowly in two general elections this year to win enough seats to form a settler-led government. Israel might now be heading to a third election.

    “Officials and the settlers are itching to press ahead with formal annexation of nearly two-thirds of the West Bank. Netanyahu promised annexation in the run-up to both elections. Settler leaders, meanwhile, have praised the new army chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi, as sympathetic to their cause.

    “Expectations have soared among the settlers as a result. Their impatience has fuelled a spike in violence, including a spate of recent attacks on Israeli soldiers sent to protect them as the settlers confront and assault Palestinians beginning the annual olive harvest.

    “Lynk, the UN’s expert, has warned that the international community needs to act swiftly to stop the occupied territories becoming a permanent Israeli settler state. Sadly, there are few signs that foreign governments are listening.”

  7. Vera Gottlieb on November 3, 2019, 12:29 pm

    Could use a lot more gonads and start standing up to israel. One day justice will prevail.

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