The ICRC and ‘the occupied territories’
The ICRC’s bias against Israel disgraces its humanitarian mission and its claims of impartiality.
The Hamas men in front of J'lem Red Cross compound Photo: Melanie Lidman
The International Committee of the Red Cross does good humanitarian work around
the world, but it is not just a well-meaning NGO. With a political agenda against
Israel and with its unique role, it has determined the way that the
international community thinks about Judea, Samaria, Gaza, eastern Jerusalem
(the West Bank) and the Golan Heights.
For several decades the ICRC has
promoted through the UN and other international bodies a conceptual
straitjacket: “the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).”
ICRC is the “official guardian” of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) (GC IV),
its interpretation is considered authoritative.
Using its exclusive
position, it turned GC IV – which was intended to ensure the protection of
civilians threatened by war and other conflicts – into a political sledgehammer
The ICRC contrived the term OPT, promoted it in every
forum and unilaterally designated what is at best a disputed area as (1)
illegally occupied by Israel, (2) belonging to Palestinian Arabs and (3) an
unnamed and undefined territory without a history.
GC IV, however, is
concerned with humanitarian issues, the rights of “protected persons.” It is not
mandated to designate new countries.
The ICRC unilaterally shifted the
focus and intent of GC IV, distorting its raison d’être, and uses it to condemn
Israel’s acquisition of land in 1967 as “illegal occupation.”
perpetuated this verbal sophistry not based on demography – since Arab
Palestinians live in many countries, including in Israel, nor on recognized
boundaries – since Arab Palestinians consider all of historical Palestine their
national homeland, nor on any historical or legal claims – since
“Palestinianism” as a national identity did not appear until recently and did
not coalesce until after the Six Day War in 1967.
Until 1999, however,
the term OPT was not used by the international community. It became part of the
UN’s lexicon meant to create a virtual Palestinian state following a conference
(in 1999) of the High Contracting Parties of GC IV meeting at the UN
headquarters in Geneva where the ICRC has its headquarters.
It ruled that
the GC IV applied to the “Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem.”
Reaffirmed in 2001 at a similar conference, thanks to the ICRC, the term “OPT”
Thus, OPT was adopted by UN organizations such as the
Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) which lists “the
occupied Palestinian territory” as a country which it serves.
Council Resolution 242 (1967), however, refers to “territories occupied in the
recent conflict,” but does not specify what those territories are. Nowhere in
this resolution is the term “Palestinian” used.
It also stipulates the
“termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for the right
of every state in the area to live in peace within secure and recognized
Based on ICRC interpretations, Security Council Resolutions
446 (1979) and 478 (1980), for example, refer to “the Palestinian and other Arab
territories occupied since June 1967, including Jerusalem.”
The term OPT,
however, begs two questions: What is occupation, and to whom do these areas
belong? “Occupation” applies to areas which were previously the sovereign
territory of another state. In the case of Judea, Samaria (the West Bank) and
Gaza, however, this was not the case.
The Hague Convention of 1907 (Art.
43) defines occupation as “the authority of the legitimate power having in fact
passed into the hands of the occupant...” The convention does not use the term
“occupying power,” but instead refers to “occupants” and
The first step in the ICRC’s crusade against Israel was to
“expand the concept of international armed conflict to cover essentially
internal conflicts in which national liberation movements are engaged in a
struggle against colonial domination, alien occupation or racist regimes.” (John
Dugard, “Bridging the gap between human rights and humanitarian law,” ICRC,
September 30, 1998) The next step was to define the PLO as a “national
liberation movement,” and Israel as a “colonial, alien and racist
The last step was to define Israeli actions as “war crimes,”
“crimes against humanity,” and in "violation of international humanitarian law”
as determined by the ICRC.
Although Dugard, who has accused Israel of
“racism” and practicing “Apartheid,” and headed a UN Human Rights Commission to
condemn Israel, does not mention Israel in this document, the semantics are all
in place and the application easy. Distorting and misquoting GC IV, the ICRC
arms itself and Israel-bashers with the mask of law and morality.
Pedro Schaerer, head of ICRC’s “delegation for Israel and the Occupied
Territories,” wrote recently (The New York Times, November 4, 2012) that Israel
had no claim to be “the rightful sovereign of the territory [the West Bank] when
it seized control over it.”
He ignores the fact that there was no
legitimate sovereign of the territory at the time, and that Israel’s claims are
unique, legitimate and based on legally binding international agreements, such
as the San Remo Accords, League of Nations instruments including the British
Mandate, and Article 80 of the UN Charter.
Then, in a fanciful
interpretation of GC IV, he concludes: “International humanitarian law prohibits
any action by an occupying power aimed at altering the intrinsic characteristics
of the occupied territory, including any measures that affect its demographic,
cultural or social composition.”
Having accused Israel of violating this
“law,” the ICRC then condemns Israel as a criminal colonial, alien and racist
In 2002, the ICRC was part of the international community which
falsely accused Israel of committing a massacre in Jenin during Operation
Defensive Wall. Cornelio Sommaruga, former president of the ICRC and a foe of
Israel, was part of a biased UN commission that was appointed to investigate the
charges. He called the Star of David, symbol of Magen David Adom, “a
In 2009, the ICRC accused Israel of killing 1,380 people and
wounding 5,640 others – including attacking medical staff and ambulances –
during the IDF’s incursion into Gaza to stop the ceaseless rocket attacks based
on Hamas reports. (ICRC magazine, #1, 2009).
The ICRC made no distinction
between terrorists and civilians, nor did it mention Hamas’s use of civilians as
human shields, or recognize Israel’s right to self-defense.
bias against Israel disgraces its humanitarian mission and its claims of
The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist living