Talk of Israeli reoccupation of Gaza raises questions of legal obligations and responsibilities

Special An Israeli tank crossing the border into the Gaza strip amid ongoing battles between Israeli forces and Hamas. Gaza’s possible return to Israeli control raises questions about what responsibilities occupying power would have. (AFP)
An Israeli tank crossing the border into the Gaza strip amid ongoing battles between Israeli forces and Hamas. Gaza’s possible return to Israeli control raises questions about what responsibilities occupying power would have. (AFP)
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Updated 19 November 2023
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Talk of Israeli reoccupation of Gaza raises questions of legal obligations and responsibilities

Talk of Israeli reoccupation of Gaza raises questions of legal obligations and responsibilities
  • More than a month since it launched military offensive, Israel seen to be lacking coherent postwar policy
  • Under international humanitarian law, an occupying power is obligated to intervene in civilian governance

LONDON: Israel has left open the prospect of its reoccupation of the Gaza Strip after the anticipated defeat of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, claiming it will be responsible for finding a civilian administration to take over the Palestinian territory.

The prospect of a return to direct Israeli administration, however, raises a host of questions about what obligations and responsibilities it would have as an occupying power, given Gaza’s unique characteristics in relation to international law.

More than a month since the fighting began, Israel still lacks a coherent post-conflict policy for Gaza, with the government facing down far-right politicians’ provocations for Palestinian expulsion while flip-flopping on its own intentions.

Having early in the conflict told ABC News that Israel would have “overall security responsibility … for an indefinite period” over the Palestinian enclave, a strong reproach from the US caused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to flip, telling Fox News just days later that occupation was, in fact, not the intention.

Rather, he said the plan was to “demilitarize, deradicalize, and rebuild” the Gaza Strip while holding responsibility for finding a “civilian government” to manage the territory, leaving the door ajar for an interim occupation.

Certainly, this is where experts see the situation heading.




Palestinians with their belongings flee to safer areas in Gaza City after Israeli air strikes, on October 13, 2023. (AFP)

Writing in The Conversation earlier this month, Durham University peace and security studies lecturer Rob Geist Pinfold said he expects a replay of Israel’s previous “diverse occupations to date.”

In practice, he said, Israel would likely move to “indefinitely” occupy parts of Gaza and seek “to eschew responsibility for civilian governance elsewhere in the territory.”

While it may seek to avoid responsibility, under international humanitarian law, Israel could nonetheless find itself obligated to intervene in civilian governance.

Eugenie Duss, a research fellow at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, told Arab News the law of belligerent occupation is designed to allow civilians to continue their lives “as normally as possible.”

As such, she said, the existing local system must ensure provision of food, health services, hygiene, spiritual assistance and education.

“However, if the needs of the local population cannot be thus satisfied, the occupying power must itself provide goods and services while respecting local traditions and sensitivities,” she said.

“If it still cannot satisfy the needs of the local population, the occupying power must agree to and facilitate external humanitarian assistance.”

Occupation, though, is nothing new for Gaza.




sraeli soldiers shoot at stone-throwing Palestinian teenagers in Khan Younes in the Gaza Strip during clashes in October 2000. (File Photo/AFP)

Israel may have dismantled and removed its 21 settlements from the Strip in 2005 as part of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s policy of disengagement, but there is something approaching consensus within the international legal community that the government retained effective control over the territory as an occupying force.

Duss said this “majority view” stems largely from Israel having retained control over Gaza’s airspace, territorial waters, land border crossings, supply of civilian infrastructure, and key governmental functions such as management of the Palestinian population registry.

When pushed on this, Israel has long maintained that Gaza was not, and is not, occupied. As justification, it says the territory had not been recognized as a “high contracting party” vested with rights and obligations under international law at the time of its initial occupation in 1967.

“The International Court of Justice rejected Israel’s argument, stating that it was sufficient that Jordan and Israel (the ICJ only had to address the West Bank’s status) were, at the relevant time, parties to the conventions and engaged in an armed conflict that led to the West Bank’s occupation,” said Duss.

“It is therefore irrelevant whether occupied territory belongs to another state.”

Concurring, Emily Crawford, professor of international law at the University of Sydney, told Arab News that recognition of Palestinian statehood was immaterial. Indeed, of the 193 UN states, 138 have acknowledged Palestine as a sovereign state.

For Crawford, Palestinian accession to the Geneva and Hague conventions between 2014 and 2018 provided it with protections under international humanitarian law and rendered Israel obligated to occupy Palestinian territory per the conventions’ edicts.

Those rules are “pretty expansive and cover some fundamental principles,” said Duss.

INNUMBERS

* 12,000+ Palestinians killed in Gaza in Israeli military offensive, according to Palestinian health authorities.

* 1,200 Israelis and foreigners killed in Hamas attack on Oct. 7, according to Israeli authorities.

* 230+ People held hostage by Hamas and allied groups, according to Israeli authorities.

“Protected persons may neither be forcibly transferred or otherwise deported out of the occupied territory nor forcibly transferred within the occupied territory.

“Also, the occupying power may not transfer parts of its own population, even if they consent, into the occupied territory.”

Furthermore, protected persons in an occupied territory may only be deprived of their liberty as civilian internees for imperative security reasons, in view of a criminal trial or to serve a criminal sentence.

And for those who are detained, the law provides guarantees that they are to be treated humanely and within their own territory.

Local legislation remains applicable and local institutions must be allowed to continue to function, said Duss, with the occupying power only allowed to amend local laws in four scenarios: to protect the security of its forces; to comply with international humanitarian law; to respect its obligations under international human rights law; and where explicitly authorized by the UN Security Council.

Even private property has protections under the law. This includes property dedicated to religion, charity, education, the arts, and sciences, none of which may be confiscated, although Duss said it may be requisitioned for the needs of the occupying army.




A Palestinian woman shouts as her children search 15 April 2001 through the remains of their home destroyed by the Israeli army in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP/File Photo)

“It may be argued that the concept of property also covers both tangible and intangible interests,” said Duss.

“The destruction of private property is only permitted when rendered absolutely necessary by military operations. Movable enemy public property, including cash, that can be used for military operations may be seized as war booty.”

One question left lingering, though, concerns whether an occupation is in itself legal.

Both Crawford and Duss note that an occupation’s legality is essentially dependent upon whether it has received authorization from the UN Security Council.

If so, then an occupation can be deemed legal. As an example, Crawford noted the interim occupation of Kosovo that ran from 1999 to its declaration of independence in 2008.

Given there is widespread support for the claim that Israel has in fact occupied Palestine for more than 50 years, one is left questioning the effectiveness of this body of law.

“Is the law fit for purpose? Sort of — but only in situations where it is not a prolonged occupation,” said Crawford.

“The entirety of the law of occupation is geared toward occupation being temporary, so in situations where it is less than temporary … the system starts to strain.”

As with a lot of things in international law, she said, policing behavior is dependent upon how much the state in question plans to follow the rules. Nonetheless, she stressed there are mechanisms that third parties can use to force the occupier’s hand.




“The lesson we are taking away from the Gaza crisis is the need to go back to the two-state solution,” said Anwar Gargash, foreign policy adviser to the UAE president. (AFP)

“There is always the option of non-judicial enforcement mechanisms, like sanctions, embargoes, diplomatic pressure, as well as postbellum criminal trials or taking the question to the International Court of Justice,” said Crawford.

Many non-legal factors also contribute to respect of international humanitarian law, including routine, military interest in discipline and efficiency, public opinion, ethical and religious factors, positive reciprocity, and a desire to re-establish a durable peace, said Duss.

While the media “all too often” spotlights violations, the reality is that international humanitarian law is more often than not “respected rather than violated,” she added.

Some may scoff at the latter suggestion, with the court in the past having proved powerless, particularly if one looks at its 1986 Contras entanglement with the US, which, when ruled against, simply denied the court’s jurisdiction.

But what makes things different in the case of Gaza is the “unprecedented public attention being focused on it,” said Crawford.

“For the first time in my memory, we’re seeing widespread protests not just from Palestinian groups but from concerned Israelis and Jewish groups both in and outside Israel regarding what is taking place,” she said.

“There seems a huge groundswell against Netanyahu and the response by the Israeli government, which has been described as disproportionate, and perhaps driven by other motives than self-defense.

“In time, that may prove to be a powerful force in controlling and even ending what is taking place.”


Once fruitful, Libyan village suffers climate crisis

Once fruitful, Libyan village suffers climate crisis
Updated 17 June 2024
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Once fruitful, Libyan village suffers climate crisis

Once fruitful, Libyan village suffers climate crisis

KABAW, Libya: In the Libyan village of Kabaw in the Nafusa Mountains, M’hamed Maakaf waters an ailing fig tree as climate change pushes villagers to forsake lands and livestock.
Once flourishing and known for its figs, olives, and almonds, fields around Kabaw, located some 200 kilometers (124 miles) southwest of Tripoli, are now mostly barren and battered by climate change-induced drought.
The area was once “green and prosperous until the beginning of the millennium,” Maakaf recalled. “People loved to come here and take walks but today it has become so dry that it’s unbearable.”
“We no longer see the green meadows we knew in the 1960s and ‘70s,” added the 65-year-old, wearing a traditional white tunic and sirwal trousers.
Kabaw, like many villages in the Nafusa Mountains, is primarily inhabited by Amazigh people, a non-Arab minority.

The old and abandoned village of Kabaw stands on arid land not far from the newer constructions in the Nafusa mountains on May 26, 2024. (AFP)

Pounded by the sun and dry winds, the mountainous area now struggles to bear fruit, facing a lack of rainfall and temperatures high above seasonal norms.
Libya — where around 95 percent of land is desert — is one of the world’s most water-scarce countries, according to the United Nations.
Its annual precipitation in coastal areas has fallen from 400 millimeters in 2019 to 200 millimeters today, with water demand higher than what is available.
The Nafusa Mountains, sitting at an altitude of almost 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) in western Libya, are home to around half a million people out of Libya’s population of seven million.
Driven out by increasing water stress, local villagers and their livestock have been gradually moving out of the Nafusa Mountains and surrounding plains.

‘How can we be patient?’

Mourad Makhlouf, mayor of Kabaw, says that drought in the last decade has pushed hundreds of families to leave for the capital Tripoli and other coastal cities, where water is easier to access.
“It’s not just about water scarcity or crops dying due to drought,” said Makhlouf. “There is a demographic and human dimension with the exodus of hundreds of families toward the capital and coastal towns.”

Sheep and goats gather in the shade under trees in an arid field in the Libyan village of Kabaw in the Nafusa mountains on May 26, 2024. (Photo by Mahmud Turkia/AFP)

Suleiman Mohammed, a local farmer, fears that climate change will soon cause everyone to leave, as “living without water is certain death.”
“How can we be patient?” he said. “It has gotten to the point where breeders sell their livestock because keeping them costs twice their value.”
Standing by a cluster of dead tree trunks, Maakaf decries the loss of “thousands of olive trees.”
“Some were 200 years old and inherited from our grandfathers,” he said.
Hoping to alleviate the burden, local authorities began selling subsidized water for 25 Libyan dinars (about $5) per 12,000 liters.
Tanker trucks make the trip between the water stations and the village, traveling up to 50 kilometers and allowing some of those in need to hold on.
“We manage to water our fields two to three times a week but water is expensive,” Maakaf said, adding that they also rely on private tanker trucks selling the same amount for up to 160 dinars.

Relief plan needed
The hydrocarbon-rich country hosts the world’s largest irrigation project, the Great Man-Made River, its main source of water supply built in the 1980s under the rule of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Drawing fossil water from aquifers in the heart of the southern desert, the network of pipes supplies about 60 percent of the national need.
But the supplies remain insufficient amid increasing drought.

A road leading to the Libyan village of Kabaw in the Nafusa mountains, winds between arid hills on May 26, 2024.(AFP)

According to the World Resources Institute, an environmental research organization, Libya will face “extremely high” water stress by 2050.
The World Bank predicts that by 2030, the Middle East and North Africa region will fall below the “absolute water scarcity” threshold.
“Water scarcity is one of the greatest emerging threats facing Libya,” the UN Development Programme said in a study.
“The country needs to ensure equitable access to water for domestic and economic purposes.”
“Climate smart agricultural methods should reduce the overuse of water resources and... practices that contribute to soil erosion and desertification, which further impact productive sectors and food security.”
Libya signed the 2015 United Nations framework convention on climate change and ratified the Paris Climate Accord in 2021.
Yet the North African country has shown little progress toward the development of disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation strategies, as it continues to grapple with divisions and conflict after the fall of Qaddafi in 2011.
“The drought does not only concern the Nafusa Mountains, but the entire country,” said Mayor Makhlouf.
“Libya needs a relief plan, which will not be the solution to everything, but will allow us to adapt.”


Biden adviser will be in Israel on Monday to avoid escalation between Israel, Lebanon

US Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein. (AFP)
US Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein. (AFP)
Updated 17 June 2024
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Biden adviser will be in Israel on Monday to avoid escalation between Israel, Lebanon

US Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein. (AFP)

WASHINGTON: A senior Biden adviser will travel to Israel on Monday for meetings to avoid further escalation between Israel and Lebanon, a White House official said.
Amos Hochstein will advance efforts to avoid further escalation along the “Blue Line” between Israel and Lebanon, said the official, who did not wish to be identified.
Attacks between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon have led to worries of a deeper war across the Middle East.


Israel warns of escalation from cross-border fire from Hezbollah

Israel warns of escalation from cross-border fire from Hezbollah
Updated 17 June 2024
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Israel warns of escalation from cross-border fire from Hezbollah

Israel warns of escalation from cross-border fire from Hezbollah
  • Hezbollah says it will not halt fire unless Israel stops its military offensive on Gaza

JERUSALEM: Intensified cross-border fire from Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement into Israel could trigger serious escalation, the Israeli military said on Sunday.
“Hezbollah’s increasing aggression is bringing us to the brink of what could be a wider escalation, one that could have devastating consequences for Lebanon and the entire region,” Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said in a video statement in English.
Iran-backed Hezbollah last week launched the largest volleys of rockets and drones yet in the eight months it has been exchanging fire with the Israeli military, in parallel with the Gaza war.
After the relatively heavy exchanges over the past week, Sunday saw a marked drop in Hezbollah fire, while the Israeli military said that it had carried out several air strikes against the group in southern Lebanon.
The US and France are working on a negotiated settlement to the hostilities along Lebanon’s southern border. Hezbollah says it will not halt fire unless Israel stops its military offensive on Gaza.
“Israel will take the necessary measures to protect its civilians — until security along our border with Lebanon is restored,” Hagari said.


‘No joy’: Gazans mark somber Eid in shadow of war

‘No joy’: Gazans mark somber Eid in shadow  of war
Updated 17 June 2024
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‘No joy’: Gazans mark somber Eid in shadow of war

‘No joy’: Gazans mark somber Eid in shadow  of war
  • Many Palestinians forced to spend holiday without their loved ones
  • I hope the world will put pressure to end the war on us because we are truly dying, and our children are broken

GAZA STRIP: In tents in the stifling heat and bombed-out mosques, Gazans on Sunday marked the start of the Eid Al-Adha holiday, devoid of the usual cheer as the Israel-Hamas war raged on.

“There is no joy. We have been robbed of it,” said Malakiya Salman, a 57-year-old displaced woman now living in a tent in Khan Younis City in the southern Gaza Strip.
Gazans, like Muslims the world over, would usually slaughter sheep for the holiday — whose Arabic name means “feast of the sacrifice” — and share the meat with the needy.
Parents would also give their children new clothes and money for the celebration.
But this year, after more than eight months of a devastating Israeli campaign that has flattened much of Gaza, displaced most of the besieged territory’s 2.4 million people, and sparked repeated warnings of famine, the Eid is a day of misery for many.
“I hope the world will put pressure to end the war on us because we are truly dying, and our children are broken,” said Salman.
Her family was displaced from the far-southern city of Rafah, a recent focus of the fighting which began after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel.
The military on Sunday morning announced a “tactical pause of military activity” around a Rafah-area route to facilitate the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid to Gazans.
AFP correspondents said there were no reports of strikes or shelling since dawn, though the Israeli military stressed there was “no cessation of hostilities in the southern Gaza Strip.”
The brief respite in fighting allowed worshippers a rare moment of calm on holiday.
Many gathered for the Eid Al-Adha morning prayer in the courtyard of Gaza City’s historic Omari Mosque, which was heavily damaged in Israeli bombardment, placing down their frayed prayer mats next to mounds of rubble.
The sound of prayers traveled down some of the city’s destroyed and abandoned streets.
“Since this morning, we’ve felt a sudden calm with no gunfire or bombings ... It’s strange,” said 30-year-old Haitham Al-Ghura from Gaza City.
He hoped the pause meant a permanent ceasefire was near, though truce mediation efforts have stalled for months.
In several areas of the war-battered territory, especially in Gaza City, young boys were seen manning roadside shops selling perfumes, lotions, and other items against the backdrop of piles of rubble from destroyed buildings and homes.
Many vendors used umbrellas to protect themselves from the scorching sun as they sold household items on Gaza City’s main market street. But there were few buyers.
Food and other goods can reach four or five times their usual price, but those who cling to the holiday traditions can still afford them.
In Khan Younis, displaced man Majdi Abdul Raouf spent 4,500 shekels ($1,200) — a small fortune for most Gazans — on a sheep to sacrifice.
“I was determined to buy it despite the high prices, to perform these rituals and bring some joy and happiness to the children in the displacement camp,” said the 60-year-old, who fled his home in Rafah.
“There is sadness, severe pain, and suffering, but I insisted on having a different kind of day.”
The deadliest-ever Gaza war began after Hamas’s unprecedented Oct. 7 attack.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,337 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Health Ministry in the territory.
For many, a halt in fighting can never bring back what has been lost.
“We’ve lost many people, there’s a lot of destruction,” said Umm Mohammed Al-Katri from Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza.
“This Eid is completely different,” she said, with many Gazans forced to spend the holiday without their loved ones killed or displaced during the war.
Grieving families on Sunday flocked to cemeteries and other makeshift burial sites, where wooden planks marked the graves.
“I feel comfort here,” said Khalil Diab Essbiah at the cemetery where his two children are buried.
Even with the constant buzzing of Israeli drones overhead, visitors at the cemetery “can feel relieved of the genocide we are in and the death and destruction,” he said.
Hanaa Abu Jazar, 11, also displaced from Rafah to the tent city in Khan Yunis, said: “We see the (Israeli) occupation killing children, women and the elderly.”
“How can we celebrate?” asked the girl.

 


Jordan conducts three airdrops in southern Gaza

Jordan conducts three airdrops in southern Gaza
Updated 17 June 2024
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Jordan conducts three airdrops in southern Gaza

Jordan conducts three airdrops in southern Gaza
  • Aid packages containing food, clothing, and sweets were delivered to various locations in the southern Gaza

AMMAN: Jordan’s armed forces conducted three airdrops to the southern part of Gaza on Sunday, in collaboration with Egypt, to mark the first day of Eid Al-Adha, Jordan News Agency reported.
Aid packages containing food, clothing, and sweets were delivered to various locations in the southern Gaza Strip by two planes from the Royal Jordanian Air Force and an aircraft from Egypt.
Earlier on Saturday, a 45-truck humanitarian aid convoy arrived in Gaza, sent by the JAF and the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization (JHCO).
In cooperation with its regional and international allies, the Jordanian armed forces have carried out 261 airdrops and delivered 1,970 trucks of aid since the beginning of Israel’s onslaught on Gaza.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “a significant proportion of Gaza’s population is now facing catastrophic hunger and famine-like conditions,” as Israel continues to impose severe restrictions on the supply of food, water, medicine, and fuel to the Strip.