October has only just begun but already, in the first two days of this month, the Israeli Army has shot dead a 78-year-old farmer, Ahmad Nassar Al-Arqawi, as he tried to eke out a living on blockaded Gaza farmland. In those same two days Israeli forces also wounded 60 people in Gaza and the West Bank. The farmer may have been a victim of Israeli Army sniper fire or alternatively his death resulted from a refusal to be cowed by the almost daily Israeli Army fire directed at Gaza’s agricultural land.
In the Israeli-Occupied West Bank, the villagers of Khan al-Ahmar await, every day, the arrival of bulldozers for the promised destruction of their village and their forced transferral to what amounts to waste ground. But there is more about Khan al-Ahmar below. On 4 October, Radio New Zealand reported New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, as follows “As an international community, New Zealand would ‘call out” those not adhering to the international rule book.”
The ever-at-risk international rule book
A fortnight or so earlier, on 25 September, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, addressed the UN General Assembly, observing that trust in rules-based global order is at breaking point and lamenting what he described as the “dark” divisions within the Security Council. The Secretary-General warned of the growing danger of impunity being afforded those who were presently committing gross violations of international human rights law. He reminded the Assembly that, as “guardians of the common good”, the United Nations had a duty to “promote and support a reformed, reinvigorated and strengthened multilateral system.” This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and yet, as Guterres pointed out in his address, “the human rights agenda is losing ground and authoritarianism is on the rise.”
António Guterres referred in his speech to “seven challenges”, one of which was that “Palestinians and Israelis are still locked in endless conflict, with the two-state solution more and more distant.” This over-simplified observation at least recognised the tragedy. But it should also serve as a reminder that Israel enjoys an impunity that, in part, results from those “dark” divisions within the Security Council, to which the Secretary-General had already referred. Israel’s major ally at the Security Council is the United States of America.
US and the International Criminal Court
On 10 September, in a speech to the Federalist Society, the US National Security Adviser, John Bolton, outlined the Trump Administration’s clear commitment to undermine the efforts of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to provide justice for those who are victims of alleged serious international crimes. Mr Bolton made specific reference to Israel in the speech, criticising the possibility of an ICC investigation into alleged international crimes committed by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza, including a possible investigation into the construction of illegal settlements, which he referred to as ‘housing projects’. John Bolton’s speech also spoke of the United States’ decision to close the Palestinian Liberation Office in Washington DC as being partly due to the PLO’s intention to engage the ICC in a criminal investigation.
Particularly alarming were the following threats made by Mr Bolton as he reached the conclusion of his speech:
“This afternoon, we also make a new pledge to the American people. If the court comes after us, Israel or other US allies we will not sit quietly. We will take the following steps, among others, in accordance with the American Service Members Protection Act and other legal authorities.
“We will negotiate even more binding bilateral legal agreements to prohibit nations from surrendering US persons to the ICC and we will ensure those we already have entered are honoured by our counterpart governments.
“We will respond against the ICC and its personnel to the extent permitted by US law.
“We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States.
“We will sanction their funds in the US financial system and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system.
“We will do the same for any company or State that assists an ICC investigation of Americans. We will take note if any countries co-operate with ICC investigations of the US and its allies and we will remember that co-operation when setting US foreign assistance, military assistance and intelligence sharing levels . . .”
Such language expressed towards independent prosecutors, members of the judiciary, sovereign states and a legitimately-constituted international court, dedicated to justice and the rule of law, calls into question whether the United States remains committed to the demand for accountability for crimes that violate international law. The New Zealand Government has a clear duty to disassociate this country from such destabilising views.
Jacinda Ardern’s statement to the UN General Assembly
On 28 September, our Prime Minister addressed the United Nations General Assembly for the first time, making a principled stand against racism and in support of international human rights and justice. She remembered with pride this country’s challenge to South African apartheid. Jacinda also declared her pride in the charters and rules, accepted international norms and human rights provisions that were collectively established through internationally-agreed conventions. Our PM also observed that “. . . governments do have obligations to their people and each other, and that our actions have a global effect.”
Jacinda Ardern noted before the General Assembly that “the debate and dialogue we hear globally is not centred on the relevance and importance of our international institutions. Instead, we find ourselves having to defend their very existence. That surely leaves us all with the question, how did we get here, and how do we get out?” The answer to that question came partly from our Prime Minister herself when she said “as politicians and governments, we all have choices in how we respond to these challenges.” She spoke of the need to reform the Security Council, saying “if we want the Council to fulfil its purpose of maintaining international peace and security, its practices need to be updated so it is not hamstrung by the use of the veto.” Jacinda also urged the General Assembly to “remember the core values on which the UN was built. That all people are equal. That everyone is entitled to have their dignity and human rights respected.”
International law versus ideology
International law and human rights conventions, such as the Fourth Geneva Convention, resulted from the world community’s determination that, with the defeat of Nazism, never again would any racist ideology be permitted to inflict the barbaric cruelties and injustices that the Nazis and their fascist supporters had unleashed upon the world. Just as it would compound the racism, to blame the German people for Nazi atrocities, so would it be racist to blame the Jewish people for Zionism’s barbaric injustices. Throughout history, there have been times when people have been taken in, even made fearful, by the propaganda of self-serving political leaders. Non-Zionist Jews repudiate Israel’s founding ideology. In Britain, the home of the Balfour Declaration, the peace group, Jews for Justice for Palestine (jfjfp) stand by a number of principles that are in total harmony with international humanitarian law. Here are some examples:
■ Lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians requires justice, mutual recognition and respect.
■ Peace requires ending Israel’s illegal Occupation and settlement of Palestinian land, including its illegal blockade of Gaza.
■ The humanitarian values of Judaism have been corrupted by the Israeli state’s abuses of human rights.
■ Britain, the EU, the USA, Russia and the UN must be persuaded to implement UN resolutions on Palestine.
On 22 September, the Palestine Human Rights Campaign, Aotearoa/New Zealand, asked our Foreign Affairs Minister, Winston Peters, to respond to the speech made by US National Security Adviser, John Bolton. Specifically he was asked the following questions:
■ will the New Zealand Government provide a public statement reaffirming our robust and unwavering commitment to securing justice for victims and survivors of suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity?
■ will the New Zealand Government publicly express opposition to the steps announced by the US Government National Security Adviser, Mr John Bolton, that the US will prosecute and place other sanctions against ICC personnel, including prosecutors and Judges, and also nations or companies who support ICC investigative efforts?
■ is the New Zealand Government willing to urge, both directly and at international fora, that the US reverse its opposition to the ICC and abandon the threat of punitive measures?
■ will the New Zealand Government declare that it supports the work of the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC in examining alleged serious international crimes committed in the Occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza? We also ask the Government to further affirm that such support would also extend, in principle, to a possible decision to open any full criminal investigation.
UK and NZ Labour leaders
The Times of Israel reported, on 26 September, that the UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has announced the Party’s unity in “condemning the shooting of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza by Israeli forces and the passing of Israel’s discriminatory Nation-State Law.” Corbyn also publicly deplored “the ongoing denial of justice and rights to the Palestinian people”.
In her address to the UN General Assembly, Jacinda Ardern affirmed that “New Zealand remains committed to continue to do our part to building and sustaining international peace and security. To promoting and defending an open, inclusive, and rules-based international order based on universal values.”
The world still awaits clear statements and action from the New Zealand Government, specifically aimed at calling Israel to account. Generalised support for rules-based agreements will not suffice so long as the silence regarding Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law continues.
With the expiry of an Israeli Occupation military deadline, Israeli Army bulldozers may arrive at any time to destroy the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar and commence the removal (ethnic cleansing) of the population. The nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Mishor Adumim has already begun directing its sewage towards Khan al-Ahmar, while over 500 peace activists are gathering, determined to oppose the violation of international law. Last month Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain renewed their call for Israel not to demolish the village, warning of the consequences for residents, as well as “the prospects of the two-state solution”. If this is news to you, thank our mainstream news media for not reporting it!
New Zealand must demand an end to Israel’s impunity. Such a demand would demonstrate that this country’s government really means what our Prime Minister has outlined to the UN General Assembly – as would a response from Winston Peters, or Jacinda Ardern, to the questions we raised over the speech made by US National Security Adviser, John Bolton. Will Jacinda and Winston have the courage to “call out” Israel for undermining the international rule book? Or will they continue to guarantee its impunity by obediently criticising only those whom our ‘traditional allies’ wish us to? Speaking out and appropriate action in defence of international law, justice and human rights would earn the gratitude and respect of all supporters of human rights. Those who make law are best placed to uphold it. Will our leaders step up? Watch this space.