Israel violates international law with impunity, says human rights lawyer
The historic conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is evolving not just on the streets of Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank. The author of a new book argues it is also a war of words that is being fought and won by Israel on the international stage.
Noura Erakat is a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey and the author of Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine. She argues that Israel repeatedly has violated international law without consequence on the world stage.
"[International law] has served Israel more because Israel, its lawyers and its judiciary have understood this dimension of the law better than have the Palestinians," she said in an interview with Michael Enright, host of The Sunday Edition.
Erakat gave the Israeli government's interpretation of occupation law as an example.
"Israel advances a legal argument about the non-applicability of occupation law to the territories," she said. "It basically says that occupation law cannot apply, as a matter of law, to the West Bank — including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip – because, they argue, Palestinians do not exist and there is no sovereign."
She described it as a legal argument that does not withstand judicial scrutiny.
The language Israel uses in describing its actions is contentious, too, Erakat maintained, such as its reference to what it calls the liberation of East Jerusalem, rather than its occupation.
They [Israelis] advance this idea that they are natives to the land. They are the natives and they are liberating that land from the Arab aggressors.- Noura Erakat
"This is the mythology that Israel is advancing, that it came to 'a land with a people for a people without a land,' as Golda Meir said in 1969. And the assertion there is that Palestinians are not a political community with the associated right to self-determination," said Erakat. '''They're a bunch of Arab refugees! They can go back to all these surrounding Arab states,' but then assert that Jews are a people with that right…. So based upon this legal fiction — what I term a colonial erasure of the juridical status of Palestinians — they advance this idea that they are natives to the land. They are the natives and they are liberating that land from the Arab aggressors."
When questioned about the way the de facto Hamas government in the Gaza Strip has treated its own citizens, Erakat acknowledged that the group is guilty of human rights abuses, but maintains that Israel's government uses that fact to justify its own policies.
"There is extensive documentation that [Hamas] practices torture against Palestinian prisoners," she said. "This is a colonial argument that has been used in order to perpetuate colonial dominance, and we've seen it over and over again: 'These brown and black people torture themselves, look how they oppress their women. They cannot govern themselves. We need to remain here in order to be the civilizer!'"
Erakat also acknowledged that Israel is far from alone in violating international law, but says "it is unique for overseeing the longest occupation."
What we're talking about here is not unique to Israel … Canada is no different in its relationship to the native populations in Canada.- Noura Erakat
"What we're talking about here is not unique to Israel," she said. "This is something that describes any settler sovereign and the settler-colonial mythology that settler-sovereign states create about themselves. Canada is no different in its relationship to the native populations in Canada, and the United States is absolutely worse."
Click 'listen' above to hear the interview.