On 10 December, the world celebrates and commends the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1948, and the commitment of all States to adhere to their legal and moral obligations to promote and respect the fundamental and inalienable rights of all human beings.
The year 1948, marked the adoption of the UDHR and also saw the forcible expulsion of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, lands, and property during the Nakba or ‘catastrophe.’ Since then, the Palestinian people, living on both sides of the Green Line, and in the diaspora as refugees and exiles abroad, continue to live the ongoing reality of Israeli settler-colonialism, population transfer, apartheid, and dispossession.
As the world faces a global pandemic, the UN has, as the core theme for this year’s Human Rights Day, emphasised the need to ensure human rights as central to the recovery efforts of COVID-19. By doing so, the UN seeks to “address the failures exposed and exploited by COVID-19, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination.” For Palestinians, however, Israeli oppression, domination and the widespread and systematic violations of human rights have been long-established before, and have continued throughout, the current pandemic.
While the UDHR is a non-binding General Assembly resolution, its contents reflect norms of customary international law and is considered alongside the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as comprising an international bill of rights. Reflecting on some of the articles of the UDHR, Al-Haq puts forward a few long-established Israeli policies and practices which continue to be carried out with impunity and serve to further entrench and maintain Israel’s apartheid regime.
Article 3 “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person”
While Article 3 of the UDHR explicitly enshrines the need to protect the right to life, Israel, the Occupying Power, routinely and systematically resorts to lethal and excessive force, including a shoot-to-kill policy targeting Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line. As of 9 December, the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) has shot and killed 29 Palestinians, including eight children, and three persons with disabilities in 2020.
Most recently, on 4 December 2020, the IOF shot and killed Ali Ayman Abu Alia, a 15-year-old Palestinian child and a resident of the village of al-Mghayyer, east of Ramallah on his birthday, during a protest against the establishment of a new illegal Israeli settlement on the lands of the nearby Kufr Malik village.
According to Al-Haq’s initial field investigation, at the time Ali was shot, he was standing approximately 150 meters away from the nearest Israeli soldiers, was not taking part of the protest, and had relayed to his friends that he needed to get home for his birthday party. Instead of celebrating his fifteenth birthday, Ali was fatally shot and killed with live ammunition in his abdomen by Israeli soldiers.
Israel employs a shoot-to-kill policy to maintain its institutionalised regime of systematic racial oppression and domination and effective control over the Palestinian people, acts which constitute the crime of apartheid. In January 2017, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that the IOF “often use firearms against Palestinians on mere suspicion or as a precautionary measure, in violation of international standards.”
In February 2019, the UN Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) found that only two of the 189 Palestinians killed by the IOF during protests in Gaza may have justified the use of lethal force.
The Commission further found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities, knowing they were clearly recognizable as such.
Through their own laws and regulations, the Israeli occupying authorities have authorised the use of lethal force in response to so-called ‘life threatening’ events, which include, according to their understanding, acts such as stone-throwing and tire-burning during protests. This policy has long been reflected in the conduct of the IOF during protests, including at the Great Return March. In its investigation, the Commission of Inquiry found that Israel’s rules of engagement for the use of live fire violate international human rights law, while further recommending that the Israeli government ensure that these rules of engagement permit lethal force “only as a last resort, where the person targeted poses an imminent threat to life or directly participates in hostilities.”
Israel’s policy of shoot-to-kill has been roundly and consistently condemned by the international community, but Israel is yet to be held accountable. While Member States of the Human Rights Council have adopted the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry in accountability resolution 40/13 on 22 March 2019, these recommendations remain unimplemented, even after more than a year and a half since the adoption of the aforementioned resolution.
Israel’s unlawful rules of engagement remain in force. Israel’s pervasive impunity prevails. Israel’s apartheid regime remains a reality.
“Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had the guarantees necessary for his defence”
Stipulated by Article 11(1) of the UDHR, everyone has the right to a fair trial, where they have all the guarantees necessary for their defence. Israel, however, has implemented, since the start of its occupation in 1967, a policy of administrative detention, where Palestinians are held as prisoners indefinitely based on secret information without being charged or given trial.
Administrative detention can be renewed indefinitely, on a basis of between one to six months. Currently, 370 Palestinians are being held in Israeli prisons under administrative detention, deprived of their right to a fair trial and the right to defend themselves, in contravention of international law standards.
Recently, Maher Al-Akhras, a 49-year-old Palestinian administrative detainee in an Israeli jail, underwent an open hunger strike in a quest to seek justice against his unfair four-month administrative detention. After 103 days of consuming only water, refusing supplements, such as vitamins or salt, and any other liquids, which caused serious and imminent threat to his life, Maher Al-Akhras ended his hunger strike following reaching an arrangement with the Israeli occupying authorities.
The arrangement provided that Maher will be released on 26 November 2020, when his four-month administrative detention order ends, and that his current detention constitutes the last time he is administratively detained.
Administrative detention can only be used exceptionally in emergencies; yet, Israel systematically and arbitrarily utilises administrative detention, while proceeding on the basis of “secret evidence,” which can neither be accessed by the detainee nor their lawyer, undermining their right to a fair trial. As Palestinian administrative detainees find themselves hopeless in fighting this policy, they resort to sacrificing their bodies to demand their rights, in radical acts of self-deternination. Maher, and all Palestinian administrative detainees, should not have to resort to such extreme measures to demand their fundamental and inalienable rights.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State”
Since 1948, Israel has designed and implemented discriminatory laws and policies which seek to maintain a racialised regime of dispossession, domination, and systematic fragmentation of the Palestinian people. Strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people is used as the main tool of apartheid in an effort to frustrate the ability of the Palestinian people to demand and exercise their collective rights, in particular the right to self-determination.
Some of Israel’s measures of dispossession and fragmentation are more visible than others, including the separation of Palestinians in the OPT from Palestinian citizens of Israel, the Annexation Wall running along the occupied West Bank, Israel’s permit regime consisting of checkpoints and other physical barriers, and the 13-year-long closure of the Gaza Strip.
Since June 2007, Israel has imposed a comprehensive land, air and sea closure on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and a stringent permit regime that largely prohibits movement in and out of the Strip, denying freedom of movement and access for people and goods. For 13 years, which were also preceded by different movement restrictions since the 1990s, Israel has maintained its illegal closure of Gaza, imposing unlawful collective punishment over two million Palestinians.
All aspects of life in the Gaza Strip have been undermined by Israel’s prolonged closure, including profound levels of poverty, unemployment, aid-dependency and desperation, as well as the collapse of essential services, including healthcare. Since 2012, the UN has repeatedly warned that Gaza would become unliveable by 2020 should Israel fail to lift its illegal closure, which has severely deprived Palestinians of the ability to exercise their individual and collective rights. For eight years, the international community has failed to put an end to Israel’s closure of the Gaza Strip, despite the warnings by UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk that the closure constitutes an illegal act of collective punishment and urgent calls by UN Commissions of Inquiry for Israel to lift the blockade.
“Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”
72 years have passed since the Nakba. 72 years of denying Palestinians their inalienable right of return. The Nakba and its aftermath, including the question of refugees, were reflected upon during drafting of the UDHR, especially with regards to provisions on the right to freedom of movement and on the right to asylum. While Article 13(2) of the UDHR stipulates that everyone has the right to return to their country, immediately after the Nakba Israel adopted a series of laws, policies, and practices, which systematically denied the return of Palestinian refugees and other Palestinians who were abroad or displaced during the events of 1948.
In 1950, Israel implemented the Absentee Property Law, which was mainly used to confiscate the property of Palestinian refugees and displaced persons, who were deemed ‘absentees’ despite the State denying their return. Until this day, Israel continues to use the Absentee Property Law to advance the Judaisation of the city of Jerusalem and to obscure and erase its Palestinian character, demographic composition, and identity.
Further, and while denying Palestinians their right of return, Israel granted every Jew the exclusive right to enter the State as an immigrant and to obtain citizenship through the 1950 Law of Return and the 1952 Citizenship Law, thereby consolidating Israel its institutionalised domination, oppression and racial discrimination in law.
72 years after the Nakba, Israel continues to impose its apartheid regime by entrenching the erasure and dispossession of the Palestinian people, and denying Palestinian refugees their inalienable right of return.
Article 17“No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”
Embedded in its settler-colonial and apartheid regime, Israel has designed and created a coercive environment with the ultimate aim of erasing the Palestinian presence and forcing demographic manipulation in the OPT, especially in East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley. Manifested through illegal house demolitions, forced evictions, and displacement, Israel’s discriminatory planning and zoning policies result in the deprivation of Palestinian rights to freedom of movement and residence, adequate housing, permanent sovereignty over land and natural resources, as well as their right to own property. As of 9 December, Al-Haq had monitored and documented the destruction of 474 Palestinian structures, including 226 houses, in the occupied West Bank in 2020.
Since the start of its prolonged military occupation, Israel de-jure annexed East Jerusalem, which was soon followed by the de-facto annexation of vast swaths of the occupied West Bank, in violation of the prohibition on the acquisition of territory by force. Israel’s annexation is crucial to establishing and maintaining Israel’s settlement enterprise, which is fuelled by the forcible transfer of Palestinians, settler violence, and the appropriation of Palestinian property and natural resources, in return for direct economic benefit to Israel and businesses, including multinational corporate enterprises.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
To maintain its apartheid regime, Israel has pursued a policy of silencing civil society and human rights defenders standing in opposition to Israeli policies and seeking justice and accountability for violations committed against the Palestinian people. While the right to freedom of expression and opinion is enshrined in the UDHR, Israel instead systematically resorts to intimidation tactics, including death threats, arbitrary arrests, travel bans, residency revocation, and deportation, in an attempt to shrink civil society space, and delegitimise, oppress, and dominate civil society and human rights defenders.
Currently, Salah Hammouri, a 35-year-old Palestinian-French human rights defender and lawyer working with Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association is under the threat of having his residency status revoked, for his so-called ‘breach of allegiance’ to the State of Israel. Previously, Israel banned Salah from the West Bank for almost 16 months and deported his wife, Elsa Lefort, a French national, separating Salah from his wife and son.
Salah’s case represents yet another example of Israel’s protracted and systematic policies and practices intended to silence human rights defenders. By silencing opposition of its unlawful policies and practices, Israel’s settler-colonial and apartheid regime continues unabated, while denying the Palestinian people their inalienable rights, including their right to self-determination and right of return.
72 years on from the Nabka, International Human Rights Day is celebrated for being the first global enunciation of human rights, following the establishment of the UN. To Palestinians, it is yet another day of the ongoing oppression and racial domination.
To Palestinians, it is yet another day to call for effective legal and political measures to put an end to Israel’s impunity, and to bring perpetrators of suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice at the International Criminal Court.