No State Is Above the Law

The last two weeks have seen the devastation of residential areas in southern Gaza, as Israeli occupying forces have demolished hundreds of homes, cut water and electricity lines, and left over 2,000 Palestinian refugees homeless. In a chilling development, Israeli forces have demolished houses in which the residents who have not been given warning were still inside. Scores of Palestinians have been killed during the last two weeks, including the killing of 8 Palestinians and injuring of 41 others during a peaceful demonstration on 19 May 2004. Those who are injured are unable to obtain medical assistance: even if they are able to reach local health care centres, such facilities have a very limited capacity and cannot treat all those who presently need help. Israeli forces have also conducted mass arrests, calling on all males over the age of 16 to turn themselves in or their houses will be demolished.

These actions are clear violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. In particular, the destruction of real or personal property belonging to private persons, the destruction of water supplies, and armed attacks on protected persons are all serious violations of international humanitarian law. Many of these acts constitute collective punishment and are grave breaches (i.e., war crimes with mandatory universal jurisdiction) of the Fourth Geneva Convention. These acts also constitute violations of international human rights law, including but not limited to the right to life, the right against arbitrary detention, and the right to adequate housing.

As human rights organisations monitoring the situation, Adalah, Al-Haq, Al-Mezan, Housing and Land Rights Network of Habitat International Coalition (HIC-HLRN), the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), and the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT) call on the international community to take immediate and concrete action to stop Israel’s ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Rafah and elsewhere in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). We acknowledge that international bodies and leaders have clearly condemned the situation, most recently through the passage of a Security Council resolution expressing its grave concern regarding the humanitarian situation of Palestinians made homeless in the Rafah area, and calling for the provision of emergency assistance. However, the world remains inactive regarding the need for an immediate cessation of Israel’s illegal practices in the Gaza Strip, and for those who have committed these acts to be held accountable.

Our documentation over the years has clearly indicated that Israel’s current practices in the Gaza Strip are not isolated incidents. Israeli authorities have repeatedly conducted mass demolition of Palestinian homes, including in Rafah in October 2003. More than 3,000 homes have been demolished since the outbreak of the current intifada in September 2000 and tens of thousands of Palestinians have been left homeless. This policy has been accompanied by other grave violations of international law, such as extrajudicial executions, severe restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, and the construction of the Annexation Wall. Despite the unquestionable illegality of all of these practices, the international community has taken no action to bring Israeli violations to a halt.

Such inaction cannot continue. States are abdicating their responsibility to ensure the respect of international human rights and humanitarian law, as well as the laws of humanity and the dictates of the public conscience, an abdication for which Palestinians are daily paying the price. The international community must pressure Israeli authorities to immediately cease their illegal actions using all means available under international law, if necessary by the imposition of a mandatory arms embargo as proposed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the OPT. The just and durable solution to the conflict which all of us are seeking cannot be achieved while the international community turns a blind eye to Israel’s ongoing violations.