Better future for Israel demands adherence to international law

I yearn for a day when Israel will appoint an ambassador to the UN who will use the international arena to advance Israel’s interests by promoting human rights.

By MICHAEL SFARD
May 16, 2016 20:47
3 minute read.
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‘WE AT Yesh Din believe that the moral and proper thing to do today is to continue to urge and remind the government and the people of Israel that the occupation must end – and that millions of people denied civil rights for decades must be allowed to exercise their natural rights,’ writes the autho. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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 Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, has labeled my recent speech before the UN Security Council’s “Arria-formula Meeting” on the Protection of Palestinian Civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, on behalf of Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din, as “an attack from within,” suggesting I was motivated by ill will toward my country (Jerusalem Post, May 10, 2016). It’s a pity Danon did not attend the session or, apparently, read his staff’s report, because it might have helped him avoid some of the misrepresentations he has made about the words and sentiments I expressed there.

His characterization of an Israeli human rights organization as being disloyal to Israel shows just how far the Israeli government will go to silence critics of its distressing human rights record.

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In his piece, Danon states that I “accused the IDF of repeatedly violating international law” and “spread lies about IDF soldiers.” In fact, my presentation contained very little on the IDF’s use of force against Palestinian civilians and almost exclusively focused on settler violence and the colossal failure of Israel’s law enforcement agencies to defend Palestinian victims or provide them with post facto judicial remedies. Yesh Din’s legal work and research over the past decade shows that there is less than a two percent chance that Israeli authorities will investigate, charge and convict an Israeli civilian who attacks Palestinians or their property, creating a dangerous climate of impunity for settlers. And with a government settlement policy that retroactively authorizes outposts often located partially or fully on land illegally grabbed from Palestinians (32 such outposts either have been authorized or are in the process of authorization), this disgraceful phenomenon receives significant official tailwind.

Those who are interested in what I actually uttered can find my speech in full on Yesh Din’s Facebook page. One segment that might have interested Danon had he listened to the recording is the following: “I am an Israeli national. I was born in Israel; I was raised in Israel; I went to law school in Israel, and I raise my children in Israel.

It is not easy for me or the organization that I represent to stand before you and list my country’s violations of international law.

But we are concerned about the future of our country. And we want the best for Israeli society.”

I went on to explain that concern for the future of Israel entails reminding our government of its obligations under international law and insisting that it live up not only to its legal obligations but also to the values upon which it was founded.

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We at Yesh Din believe that the moral and proper thing to do today is to continue to urge and remind the government and the people of Israel that the occupation must end – and that millions of people denied civil rights for decades must be allowed to exercise their natural rights; that settlements are illegal and a source of massive and widespread human rights abuses of their neighboring Palestinian communities, and that all settlement activity must stop; that Israel as the occupying power has a legal obligation to prevent assaults on Palestinians, bring attackers to justice and protect Palestinian property.

I ended my speech at the UNSC by stating what I firmly believe: that Israelis and Palestinians are destined to live together. Palestinians will not evaporate into thin air; Israelis will not disappear.

And adherence to international law and Jewish morality is a main ingredient in the recipe for peace.

We accepted the invitation to appear before the central UN organ because we understand that the worst thing that could happen to Israel is for the international community to lose interest in the conflict. Israel is already slipping away from its democratic values, and we need the help of the international community to climb out of the moral pit into which we are sinking.

I yearn for a day when Israel will appoint an ambassador to the UN who will use the international arena to advance Israel’s interests by promoting human rights, rather than labeling critics as “attackers from within” and questioning human rights defenders’ motivations.

Or who, at the very least, will be a bit more accurate in his op-eds.

The author is an Israeli human rights lawyer and serves as the legal adviser to the Israeli NGO Yesh Din.

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