An inspiring initiative

June 18, 2009

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict

By Jonny Paul

Britain’s High Court of Justice is set to consider a charge presented by a Palestinian human rights group on Thursday accusing the UK government of
failing to meet its obligations under international law following Operation Cast Lead.

Representing Ramallah-based organization Al-Haq, Birmingham lawyers Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) is calling on the UK to comply with all of its obligations under international law.

“The British government has not only failed to take any effective measures in preventing Israel’s ongoing unlawful behavior, it has positively aided it by continuing to supply arms to it,” Al-Haq and PIL contend.

Calling for the British government to “fulfill its international legal obligations in respect of Israel’s actions since the launch of its devastating attack on Gaza at the end of 2008,” PIL said in statement: “In light of the terrible and ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people, Al-Haq hopes that the High Court will now act decisively to hold the UK government to its purported commitment to international law.”

Calling it a landmark case, Al-Haq accuses Israel of “a massive violation of human rights.”

According to the charge sheet, Israel is in “flagrant breach” of international humanitarian law for “interfering with the Palestinian right to self-determination” and “acquiring territory by force,” and has committed serious breaches of the Geneva Conventions in Gaza including “war crimes” committed during Operation Cast Lead.

In light of these charges, referred to by PIL as “massive violations of human rights by the Israeli state,” Al-Haq and PIL contend that the British government has the legal obligation to denounce Israel actions, not recognize the “situation” created by Israel as lawful and refrain from giving assistance to Israel “or [to] be complicit in Israel’s actions in Gaza.”

They also call on the British government to cooperate with other states to “bring Israel’s breaches to an end” and to take all possible steps to ensure Israel respects its obligations under the Geneva Convention.

Al-Haq said the UK should cease arms trading, and commercial trading on preferential terms, with Israel and to do everything in its power to bring to account those responsible for the “horrific human rights violations” that have occurred.

The Foreign Office said it would mount a determined fight against the charges.

“The UK takes its domestic and international legal obligations very seriously, and will vigorously defend proceedings commenced by PIL on behalf of their client, the NGO Al-Haq,” a Foreign Office representative said.

“As a matter of policy, the government continue to work hard in an effort to secure peace in the Middle East. From the outset of the recent conflict it worked around the clock to achieve an immediate cease-fire. The Foreign Secretary [David Miliband] took the initiative in breaking the deadlock at the UN Security Council with a British-sponsored draft that secured UN Security Council Resolution 1860, producing a framework for ending the fighting,” the representative added.

The Foreign Office said it had made its feelings known to both sides: “The Foreign Office has been pushing hard for urgent action to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the reopening of crossings into Gaza. We have made clear that credible allegations of war crimes and serious violations of international obligations by either side in the conflict should be investigated.”

In November, the Court of Appeal of England and Wales dismissed a case brought by Al-Haq and PIL calling for the government to clarify its position
on arms licensing agreements with Israel. The case was rejected by the High Court of Justice a year earlier.

According to Jerusalem-based research organization NGO Monitor, Al-Haq is one of the leaders of Palestinian “lawfare” – a strategy NGO Monitor
described as exploiting legal processes in democratic societies in order to promote the political attacks against Israel.

“Al-Haq’s director, Sharwan Jabarin, has been linked to the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] and the Israeli Supreme Court has found that “material pointing to [Jabarin’s] involvement in the activity of
terrorist entities is concrete and reliable…,” said Prof. Gerald Steinberg, NGO Monitor’s executive director.

The court also declared that Jabarin was “apparently active as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in part of his hours of activity he is the director of a human rights organization and in another part he is an activist in a terrorist
organization,” he said.

Steinberg accused Al-Haq of abusing the British legal system to attack Israel.

“Al-Haq’s campaign in the UK is another example of the cynical abuse of the legal system in which Israeli defense against terror is being attacked under the label of human rights. A similar case was brought by Al-Haq in the UK in 2006, and eventually dismissed by the courts, and another case is about to heard in Canada. Indeed, Al-Haq’s funders – including Christian Aid, the Dutch and Norwegian governments and Irish Aid – share responsibility for funding this abuse of public resources and for clogging the court’s calendar
with anti-Israel propaganda exercises,” Steinberg said.

PIL has also represented Iraqi citizens in cases of alleged human rights abuses by British soldiers in Iraq. Since 2005, the lawyers group has acted in more than 40 suspected cases of torture and killings by British military personnel.