Letter: Deportations breach international law

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Sir: Your leader ('Caught in the trap', 18 December) characterises the Israeli deportation of more than 400 Palestinian civilians from the occupied territories as 'an over-reaction', without even mentioning the fact that it constitutes a gross violation of international law.

The first paragraph of article 49 of the IV Geneva Convention specifically states that 'individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportation of protected persons . . . are prohibited, regardless of their motive'.

Article 147 goes on to list deportation as 'a grave breach' of the convention - that is, tantamount to a war crime - and article 146 of the convention obliges all states party to the convention (including Britain) to identify and prosecute in their domestic courts those guilty of such grave breaches.

Israel has in the past argued that its deportation policy does not contravene the IV Geneva Convention, as article 49 was drafted with mass deportations in mind, and that individual and selected deportations for security reasons were not contemplated by the convention's authors as being illegal. While the text of article 49 is too clear to allow this interpretation, nevertheless the mass nature of the current deportations is unlawful on the basis of Israel's own previous arguments.

Moreover, these deportations were carried out in a most brutal and inhumane manner. It is now clear that the deportees suffered wounds from handcuffs kept on them for over 24 hours. They were unceremoniously dumped in no man's land. It is reported that families only found out that their relatives had been deported some 16 hours after the event.

Israel is assuming that international law will not be enforced for fear of provoking a breakdown in the peace talks. The human rights of Palestinian residents of the occupied territories are therefore flouted with impunity as Israel holds the world to ransom. The international community should make it clear that it requires Israel to comply with its international obligations as a belligerent occupier, pending withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the meantime, Israel's co-signatories to the convention must fulfil their own obligations by taking enforcement measures against Israel.

Yours faithfully,

DANIEL MACHOVER

STEPHEN CRAGG

TERESA THORNHILL

Lawyers for Palestinian

Human Rights

London, WC1

18 December

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