Israel: No-Show Yet Again at its Review
Before the Committee on the Elimination of
“But what did we do wrong? We were just at home.”(1)
These are the words of 14 year old Ghassan Ghabeen from Beit Lahia in Northern Gaza, spoken after his house was shelled by Israeli forces on April 10th, 2006 rendering Ghassan homeless
with his parents and six brothers and sisters. His sister Hadeel did not survive the attack.
But these words could have been uttered by one of the 400,000 alestinian refugees living in Lebanon, many of whom have been ade refugees or internally displaced yet again by Israel’s ombardment that is continuing in Lebanon as I write.(2)
The indigenous population of historic Palestine are still vulnerable to dispossession, and feel insecure about their personal safety and that of their family 58 years after the establishment of the State of IsraeThis fact serves to highlight the importance of addressing the underlying political and legal system in Israel which prevents Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons from returning home and living in security. Without confronting institutionalized discrimination in Israel and that country’s obsessive concern with maintaining itself as a “Jewish State,” there can be no meaningful compliance by Israel with its international legal obligations related to ending racial discrimination, no just resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and no lasting peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
This was the crux of the statement presented by Badil Resource Center on Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights and other NGOs at the 69th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of
Racial Discrimination (“CERD” or “Committee”). The Committee, a UN treaty body established to ensure the compliance of States signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (“ICERD” or “Convention”),(3) was scheduled to hold a hearing on Israel’s compliance with ICERD August 2nd and 3rd, 2006. CERD is mandated to compel States signatory to the Convention to adopt all necessary measures for speedily eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and manifestations, and to prevent and combat racist doctrines and practices in order to promote understanding between races and to build an international community free from all forms of racial segregation and racial discrimination…(4)
All states party to the Convention are required to submit reports on their compliance with the Convention biennially. Israel has not submitted a report to CERD since 1997.
Only days before twelve NGOs from around the world were to arrive in Geneva to speak at a prehearing briefing on Israel’s compliance with ICERD, Israel was able to convince the Chairman
of CERD, Mr. Régis de Gouttes, the French member of the 18 ember Committee, that due to Israel’s preoccupation with its military campaign in Lebanon and Gaza, Israel’s hearing should be
postponed.(5) The Chair’s agreement to postpone Israel’s review was made unilaterally and without either consultation with other members of the Committee or consideration of the investment of
resources and time NGOs expended in order to assist the Committee in its review of Israel’s record.
The indefinite postponement was especially controversial in that it was the second consecutive time Israel has been able to secure a delay of this nature. Israel was originally scheduled to appear
before the Committee in February 2006.
Undaunted by Israel’s attempt to escape from having its egregious record on racial discrimination aired before the international community, five NGOs(6) requested that CERD at minimum keep
its scheduled NGO briefing on Israel and consider holding a hearing in absentia under its “urgent procedures.” Under “urgent procedures” rules, the Committee is empowered to hold a hearing
regarding a State party’s compliance without the state’s appearing before the Committee. The urgent procedures are available in order “to respond to problems requiring immediate attention to prevent or limit the scale or number of serious violations of the Convention.”(7) In a statement presented to the Secretariat of CERD, NGOs argued that Israel’s military campaign against the civilian population and civilian infrastructure in Lebanon and Gaza, which is part and parcel of Israel’s policies to ensure a Jewish majority in Israel, calls for the urgent-action procedures to be
applied.(8) The criteria that CERD set out for such an extraordinary procedure includes the presence of a serious, massive or persistent pattern of racial discrimination, or a seriously grave situation
giving rise to a risk of further racial discrimination.The NGOs argued that Israel’s institutionalized discrimination inside Israel and its separation policies militate in favor of the invocation of urgent procedures. The most blatant manifestation of which is Israel’s construction of the Wall in the West Bank declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in July 2004. The NGOs stated that the linchpin of Israel’s racist laws and policies which have facilitated the dispossession of Palestinians and prevents restitution of their property and their return to their homes is Israel’s nationality law. Israel’s nationality law bestows nationality exclusively on Jews. Only those holding Jewish nationality—as opposed to Israeli citizenship—have access to certain benefits including the right to make “aliyah” and access to land and housing provided by the Israeli government and its parasitical organizations (e.g., theWorld Zionist Organization and the Jewish National Fund). Despite the credible reports that Israel may be committing war crimes against the Palestinian and Lebanese people(9) and Israel’s persistent and increasingly egregious discriminatory policies against its Palestinian citizens and Palestinians in the 1967 occupied territories, CERD refused to invoke its urgent procedures powers to review Israel.
During its 69th session on August 3rd, CERD did however set time aside to discuss Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and its attacks and siege against Gaza. Several comm ittee members including the U.S. member, Mr. Boyd, were reluctant for CERD to take any action on the matter, questioning whether the Committee had a mandate to intervene. A number of Committee members expressed their solidarity with the victims of the conflict, particularly the Lebanese civilians. The Brazilian
member, Mr. Lindgren-Alves, argued in favor of CERD taking action on Israel’s invasion of Lebanon questioning whether Israel would have reacted to the capture of Israeli soldiers with the same disproportionate force if there were no racism involved. He stated that “if the present case of massacre were not urgent, he did not know what was.”(10) The South African member, Ms. January-Bardill, expressed her belief that the killing taking place to the egree witnessedcan only occur when the victims have been inferiorized. Mr. Thornberry, the British committee member, noted that whatever the source of the present conflict, this one would likely generate new narratives to justify racial discrimination and hatred in the communities at issue.
The Committee concluded the discussion with the Chair requesting the bureau of CERD to consider what follow up should be taken.(11) Until August 11th, the bureau was unable to reach consensus
on what form a CERD action should take on Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon. Expressing his frustration with the weak statements proposed by some members of the bureau, one CERD delegate
confided to this writer that “if one cannot say something of any value, it is best that one not say anything at all.”(12) Ultimately, a statement was issued by CERD regarding the conflict between
Israel and Lebanon. The statement expressed the Committee’s deep concern that the continuation of the conflict may intensify racial discrimination and hatred in the region and the wider world. Play best Y8 Games at the website.
The Committee also affirmed its full support for the statement made by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights in this regard.(13) Of the Committee members, nine
voted in favor, none voted against, and six abstained. A number of the Committee members who had abstained in the voting expressed their regret that the Committee had not issued a statement earlier, following the debate on August 3rd.(14)
CERD will take up Israel’s compliance with ICERD again in March 2007 and promised to examine its nationality law. CERD also indicated that it would consider at that time the extent to which
Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon might be informed by racial animusZaha Hassan is a human rights lawyer based in Washington. She represented Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights and the International Association for Democratic Lawyers before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, 69th Session, during its NGO briefing on Israel’s compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Hassan, a former legal consultant to Badil, is also a civil rights lawyer in the U.S. and is one of the lead attorneys in Al Haramain v. Bush, challenging the Bush Administration’s program authorizing the warrantless domestic electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens.
(1) Mohammed Omer, “Then It Was Hell…”: Israel’s Bombardment of Settler-less Gaza, THE WASHINGTON REPORT ON MIDDLE EAST AFFAIRS, July 2006, Vol. XXV, No. 5 at 10.
(2) See, Lebanon: Israeli Military Operations Continue to Cause Large Scale Displacement, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Norwegian Refugee Council, July 26, 2006.
(3) The text of
ICERD is available at http://www.ohchr.org/english/law/cerd.htm.
ICERD was adopted on December 21st, 1965 and has been in force
since January 4th, 1969. Israel signed the Convention on March 7th,
1965 and ratified it on January 3rd, 1979.
(4) Preamble, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
(5) The other Committee members of the 69th Session of CERD hail from Egypt, Algeria, the RussianFederation, Guatamala, Burkino-Faso, Togo, South Africa, D enmark, Brazil, India, Pakistan, Greece,China, the United Kingdom, Ecuador and Argentina.
(6) The five NGOs appearing before CERD included Badil, the Housing and Land Rights Network, www.
hlrn.org, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, www.iadllaw.org, the Negev Co- Existence Forum for Civil Equality, http://dukium.org/index.php?newlang=english, and the National Lawyers Guild, www.nlg.org.
(7) Section B(8)(ii), CERD/A/48/18, Annex III, 48th Session, Sept. 1993.
(8) A copy of the statement submitted before the Secretariat of CERD may be obtained from the Housing and Land Rights Network, [email protected]
(9) See e.g., Fatal Strikes: Israel’s Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, Aug. 2006, Volume 18, No. 3(E), available at www.hrw.org.
(10) Office of the
High Commissioner for Human Rights, Committee on the Elimination of
Racial Discrimination Discusses Lebanon, PRESS RELEASE, Aug. 3rd,
2006, available at: http://www.unhchr.
(11) See id.
(12) Statement by
committee member of CERD to Zaha Hassan on August 9th, 2006 in
(13) The UN Human Rights Council held a special session to consider the situation in Lebanon on August 11th. For a report on the second special session, see PRESS RELEASE, Second Special Session of Human Rights Council Decides to Establish High Level Inquiry Commission on Lebanon: Council Strongly Condemns Grave Violations of Human Rights in Lebanon, UNOG Media Office, August 11th, 2006, available at http://www.unog.ch/unog/website/news_media.nsf/(httpNewsByYear_en)/F16C6E9AE9 8880A0C12571C700379F8C?OpenDocument. The Council’s special session is only the second such session held since the creation of the Human Rights Council, a reformed version of the discredited Human Rights Commission. The first special session dealt with Israel’s siege over and bombardment of Gaza and its abduction of Palestinian cabinet ministers. For the first special session, see Report of the First Special Session of the Human Rights Council, A/HRC/S-1/3, July 5th-6th, 2006, available athttp://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/specialsession/index.htm.
(1 4) See, PRESS RELEASE, Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Issues Statement on Lebanon, UNOG Media Office, August 11th, 2006, available at http://www.unog.ch/unog/website/news_ media.nsf/(httpNewsByYear_en)/EC844D5598EE5C0DC12571C700378ECE?OpenDocument.