How the International Community has Taught Israel that it is Above the Law

September 24, 2002 


Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant? …We want the resolutions of the world's most important multilateral body to be enforced.   – U.S. President George W. Bush, Address to the U.N. General Assembly, September 12, 2002

Double Standards contrasts international responses to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with those of other conflicts (including Iraq) thereby revealing the double standards that have been applied to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by the international community.  In similar conflicts such as Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Rwanda, the international community has both condemned violations of international law and has taken action to ensure that the violations cease.  In the case of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, however, while the same condemnations have been issued against Israel, absolutely no enforcement action has been taken.  Double Standards addresses the following four areas:


1.      Grave human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law;

2.      Colonies and demographic manipulation;

3.      Right of return for refugees and displaced persons; and

4.      Withdrawal of forces from territories subject to armed occupation.



1.       Grave Human Rights Violations and Violations of International Humanitarian Law


Violations of Palestinians’ human rights include torture, assassinations, arbitrary killings, deportations, destruction of houses and property and the systematic denial of fundamental freedoms (including freedom of movement).  In all of the compared cases, the U.N. Security Council adopted enforcement measures such as arms embargoes, economic sanctions, international tribunals for the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity and an international presence (from monitors all the way to coalition forces with the authority to ensure compliance with humanitarian law and the protection of civilian populations).  Not one of these remedies has been adopted with respect to the Palestinians.

 2.      Colonies and Demographic Manipulation

Israel has implemented a two-pronged strategy for minimizing the Palestinian presence while simultaneously maximizing the Israeli Jewish presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  First, Israel has encouraged “voluntary” Palestinian emigration by economically disenfranchising the Palestinian population through the disruption of economic activities, arbitrary land expropriations and deportations.  Second, Israel has vigorously built Jewish-only colonies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories on confiscated Palestinian land.  Since the signing of the Oslo Agreements in 1993, Israel has doubled the number of Israeli Jews living illegally in the Territories, from 200,000 to 400,000.  The international community, in stark contrast to the cases of Bosnia, Kosovo and Rwanda, has failed to take any action other than issuing condemnatory statements.  For example, efforts to settle Kosovo with ethnic Serbs while driving out large numbers of the majority ethnic Albanian population were denounced by the Security Council and were followed with strong Chapter VII action and an international coalition operation with the aim of protecting the majority population.


3.       Right of Return for Refugees and Displaced Persons

Palestinian refugees, like other refugees, have the right to return to their homes, whether their homes are in Israel or in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.   Despite repeated demands by the international community that Israel facilitate the return of Palestinian refugees, Israel continues to bar Palestinian refugees from returning, and the international community has failed to take action against Israel for its refusal.  In contrast with the compared cases where the right of return formed a key component of all peace settlements and was enforced by international operations, no attempts have been made to enforce the Palestinian right of return and there have been attempts to declare the Palestinian refugee return issue a “non-negotiable” one in the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.  Such action has not been taken in the case of Palestinian refugees.

 4.       Withdrawal of Forces from Territories Subjected to Armed Occupation


Israel’s armed occupation of the Palestinian territories has been ongoing for 35 years, in spite of the United Nations repeated calls for the unconditional withdrawal of Israeli armed forces.  Recently, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1402 calling for the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Palestinian cities it had reinvaded.  Israel again refused to withdraw.  In sharp contrast to other cases where unlawful occupation has triggered economic sanctions and at times even more decisive international action, (such as when Iraq occupied Kuwait) no action has ever been forthcoming to enforce demands placed on Israel.

As demonstrated in this study, Israel’s virtual immunity from measures that are routinely applied by the international community in parallel cases has thwarted attempts to abide by international law and to use international law as the framework for peace negotiations.  Israel continues to flauntingly disregard international law and has been taught by the international community that Israel is above the law, while the Palestinians are beneath it.


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