Letter: Israel in violation of Geneva Convention

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The Independent Online
Sir: Lionel Bloch's criticism of our 'legalistic strictures' (letters, 28 December) falls very wide of the mark. As a belligerent occupant of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel has a number of rights and duties under customary international law and under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.

Under these provisions, Israel is entitled to take certain proportionate measures against civilians to protect its armed forces, including where absolutely necessary assigned residence or internment (within the occupied territories), but it is prohibited from deporting the Palestinian residents of those territories.

The International Committee of the Red Cross reflects the view of world legal opinion when it states that this prohibition, contained in Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, 'is absolute and allows of no exceptions'. Justice Bach, a dissenting Israeli Supreme Court judge, has admitted that Article 49 is 'perfectly clear': it applies 'not only to mass deportations but also to deportations of individuals, and the prohibition was meant to be sweeping and unlimited - 'regardless of their motive' '. Also, as another Israeli Supreme Court judge, Justice Cohn, has argued: 'The prohibition of deportation in Article 49 . . . reiterates a rule of customary international law.'

Therefore, there is no legal justification for the deportations, even if they are 'temporary' and 'of selective supporters of terrorist organisations'.

As for the current plight of the deportees, Lebanon has its own territorial integrity to protect: it is under no legal obligation to become Israel's dumping ground for Palestinians illegally removed from their homeland. Rather, they remain the legal responsibility of Israel, which must first ensure their wellbeing and, in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 799, their 'safe and immediate return to the occupied territories'.

Israel's co-signatories to the Fourth Geneva Convention have a legal obligation to encourage Israel to respect the terms of that convention. As a first step in this direction, they should individually and collectively (eg, through the UN) remind Israel that all those who have participated in the removal of the deportees, and the wilful killings that have followed in recent days (including that of a 10-year-old girl), have committed grave breaches of the convention (ie, war crimes), placing them at risk of prosecution in any state that is party to the convention.

For example, our government should point out to Israel that anyone found guilty before a British court of committing the grave breach of unlawful deportation, contrary to Section 1 of the Geneva Conventions Act 1957, faces a maximum sentence of 14 years' imprisonment.

Yours faithfully,

DANIEL MACHOVER

STEPHEN CRAGG

PENNY MADDRELL

Lawyers for Palestinian

Human Rights

London, WC1

28 December

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