First published by the Middle East Monitor on 20/3/2017
Professor Richard Falk, former UN special rapporteur for Palestine, was hosted in London by the Middle East Monitor yesterday as part of his book launch tour. He introduced his book “Palestine’s Horizon Toward a Just Peace” eloquently to a packed hall. He had earlier been met with a barrage of hate by a Zionist mob at the London School of Economics. Thankfully, this particular session was not interrupted by the yobs.
However, the real interest of the audience seemed to be in a more recent publication which he co-authored with Virginia Tilley for the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). The report entitled “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” was launched on 15 March concluded that
“Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law.”
Rather than prompting a debate in the UN and the Security Council, its publication and conclusion was met with outrage by Israel and its ally the United States. Pressure was exerted on the recently appointed United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to quash the report. This he did by directing ESCWA to withdraw the report because it did not have his approval. The demand was rejected. ESCWA’s Executive Secretary, Dr Rima Khalaf, eventually resigned from her role and the report was taken down form ESCWA’s website. A spokesman for the UN Chief confirmed “that Guterres had ordered that the report to be taken down but sought to make clear that the request was ‘not about content’ but about ‘process’.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman likened the report to Der Sturmer – a Nazi propaganda publication that was strongly anti-Semitic. Both US and Israel envoys to the UN welcomed the secretary-general’s action with Danny Dannon claiming “anti-Israel activists do not belong in the UN. It is time to put an end to the practice in which UN officials use their position to advance their anti-Israel agenda. Her removal from the UN is long overdue.”
Palestinians who had initially welcomed the report condemned Guterres’ actions. Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee member Dr Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement:
“Instead of succumbing to political blackmail or allowing itself to be censured or intimidated by external parties, the UN should condemn the acts described in the report and hold Israel responsible.”
She explained, according to WAFA, that the report constitutes
“a step in the right direction and highlights the true reality on the ground, which is one of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and military occupation.”
She called on Guterres to do what is right, reinstate the ESCWA report and “undertake serious and concrete measures to hold Israel accountable for its persistent violations of international law and human rights.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced he would be bestowing Palestine’s Medal of the Highest Honour in recognition of Khalaf’s “courage and support” for Palestinians.
The rigorous report, authored by two highly respected academic experts said it had established on the “basis of scholarly inquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid.” But also stated that “only a ruling by an international tribunal in that sense would make such an assessment truly authoritative.”
Speaking in London, Falk suggested the key addition the report makes to the discussion about the impact of Israeli policies on Palestinians is that it looks at the impact on a people as a whole. The report said the “strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people” was the main method through which Israel imposes apartheid, with Palestinians divided into four groups oppressed through “distinct laws, policies and practices”. It identified the four sets of Palestinians as: Palestinian citizens of Israel; Palestinians in East Jerusalem; Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and Palestinians living as refugees or in exile.
This somewhat contradicts Guterres’ claim that due process was not followed. In reality though, the secretary-general must have been expecting the knocks on the door and the endless phone calls from US and Israeli representatives and decided he had ultimate say about what report is produced in the UN’s name regardless of its rigour and scholarly review. It is no secret to say that the new Trump Administration signalled – even before taking office – that what it judged to be unfair treatment of Israel by UN bodies would end, regardless of Israel’s flagrant breaches of countless UN Security Council resolutions and international humanitarian law.
When asked how to make the report more effective within the UN system following its removal, Falk said the best strategy would be “to raise the visibility of this issue at this time and shame the UN into taking seriously its own study”.
“I am confident enough that if the study is examined by intellectual sources around the world, they will, even if they don’t agree with its conclusions they will regard it as a serious objective undertaking.”
Falk went on to reveal that after submitting the report, ESCWA anonymously sent it for evaluation to three of the most distinguished international jurists around the world and that “each of them acting separately submitted very positive reports”. Only one submitted suggested changes which the authors duly made.
Reflecting on the way the UN had dealt with the ESCWA report, Falk likened its treatment to what happened to the Goldstone report on Israel’s 2008/9 war on Gaza which Goldstone later regretted. Falk assured his audience “I am not Goldstone fortunately” referring to the request that he and Tilley repudiate their own report, which he confirmed “was of course a little bit unrealistic”.
When asked what advice he has for the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas, Falk recognised the difficult position the Palestinian leadership is in admitting they are “between a rock and a hard place”. He acknowledged that “it is easy to criticise them but hard to be them”. However, he suggested the Palestinian leadership has an opportunity here “to take this path of emphasising the moral and legal high ground, which they have started to do.” He suggested this would be building on the 2012 upgrade in Palestine’s UN status to a non- member observer state which he described as a “ghost state”, and initiating proceedings in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in relation to the 2014 attack on Gaza and the illegal settlements. He acknowledged that the ICC itself is under tremendous political pressure and it is not clear “whether anything tangible would emerge out of this”.
Falk suggested that “[for the Palestinians] taking this report seriously would be another way of advancing their campaign to say international law is on our side. Israel’s administration of the Palestinian people is an international crime and generates the collective responsibility of international society.”
The challenge for them, he argued, would be “either you refute the finding of apartheid or you act upon it. If you act upon it you have a responsibility to do whatever is possible to end the commission of that crime or be complicit in its effects.”
It is now up to supporters of justice to shame the UN and for the Palestinian leadership to seize the opportunity the report presents to garner further support for their cause but more importantly action against Apartheid Israel.