A new UN study has concluded that Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories is illegal. “The Legality of the Israeli Occupation” looked at Israel’s extended control over the Palestinian Territories to see if it breaches international law. The report analysed the applicable rules and principles, including the UN Charter, Geneva Conventions and relevant resolutions, in presenting compelling arguments that Israel’s 56-year occupation has long exceeded any temporary military necessity and violates the Palestinian people’s collective right to self-determination.
The laws of occupation establish important principles, including its temporary nature. Prolonged occupations historically have not exceeded ten years, and yet Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza has lasted for over half a century since 1967. The June 1967 Six Day War has been declared a “war of aggression” by the UN, not the war of “self-defence” claimed by Israel. The war led to Israel capturing the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. One of the basic principles of international law is the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.”
Beginning with the events leading up to the occupation itself, the study presented clear and compelling evidence that Israel attacked Egypt first, in an act of aggression, making the consequent occupation illegal from the outset. At the Security Council meeting on the subject in 1967, the argument of anticipatory self-defence presented by Israel was rejected on the grounds that it is inconsistent with the UN Charter. Israel’s self-defence arguments — that Egypt’s blockade of the Strait of Tiran amounted to an act of aggression and that its actions were in response to cross-border attacks by Egyptian armoured columns — were rejected outright. Egypt’s blockade of the Strait of Tiran, as explained in the study, was essentially a blockade ordered by Cairo on its own sea in response to a threatened attack from Israel. It is distinct from “the blockade of the ports or coasts” of Israel, the study argued, restating the historical facts. Article 51 of the UN Charter permits preparation for self-defence including special precautionary measures in a state’s territorial waters, which Egypt was undertaking in fear of Israeli aggression.
The UN report highlighted past examples where occupations were declared illegal due to unlawful use of force. Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait from 1990-1991 was condemned promptly and unequivocally by the UN Security Council through Resolution 660, calling for Iraq’s immediate withdrawal. This occupation was deemed illegal not only because it was an acquisition of territory by force but also due to human rights abuses. Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara has also been declared illegal. Since 1975, the UN has called for the self-determination of the Sahrawi people and has not recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, despite its administrative control over the region. Other well-known examples include Uganda’s occupation of the DRC’s Ituri province, which was declared illegal, and South Africa’s administration of Namibia which was condemned as an illegal occupation.