Gilles Devers

Kourosh Ziabari – Fars News Agency: Prominent international lawyer Gilles Devers says that Israel is an occupying power and according to the principles of international law, it has a responsibility to protect the civilian population under its rule.

Gilles Devers believes that Israel’s blockade against the Gaza Strip constitutes a form of collective punishment and should be lifted as part of its obligations to ensure the protection and safety of the besieged people of the tiny coastal enclave.

In an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency, the French lawyer stated that Israel is not only failing to do enough to help the people of Gaza, but is also exacerbating the conditions of their daily lives. Expressing his surprise that Israel is not taking any action to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians kept in the Gaza Strip as the world’s largest open-air prison, Devers says, “Even exports are banned from Gaza [and] this means that the purpose is not the protection of Israel, but the destruction of the Palestinian population. In law, it is a war crime under two qualifications: collective punishment, and exceptional hardship, which constitutes inhuman treatment.”

As said by Mr. Devers, international law has become a tool in the hands of great powers and that is why Israel has been so far immune to any kind of accountability over its war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Gilles Devers is a French lawyer who teaches at the University of Lyon. In 2009, he was asked by the Palestinian Authority to file a lawsuit against the Israeli regime over its criminal conduct during the Gaza Massacre and killing about 1,400 Palestinians. During the recent Israeli aggression into the Gaza Strip, he was again commissioned by the Palestinian Authority to sue Israel at the International Criminal Court. Devers is a member of the International Solidarity Movement, an organization dedicated to the championing of the cause of the Palestinian nation.

On the legal aspects of Israel’s 51-days-long onslaught on the Gaza Strip which claimed over 2,150 lives, FNA did an interview with Mr. Gilles Devers. What follows is the text of the interview.

Q: Mr. Devers; during its incursion into the Gaza Strip, Israel committed numerous war crimes and violated several internationally-recognized  conventions and treaties. It carried out a campaign of collective punishment and violated the principles of proportionality and distinction. However, no international court has so far opened an investigation into these crimes, and it seems that Israel continues to enjoy immunity before the international law. What do you think is the source for Israel’s impunity and the ICC’s inability to hold it accountable?

A: The impunity of Israel has three main reasons. Historically, international law is a tool in the hands of the great powers. It plays as a civilized way for pursuing military or economic domination. The West is leader in this field, and unfortunately, the other countries have not sufficiently invested [on] these issues. There are great jurists in all countries, and everyone knows that Iran’s law school has a very high level. These lawyers must organize themselves in groups of influence.

We talk about the impunity of Israel. Yes, but everyone can note the scarcity of proceedings against Israeli leaders. Palestinian leaders have not used legal weapon. It is a very serious problem. Where are the legal procedures conducted by the Palestinians? Many legal actions are possible, but nothing was done. So while the Palestinians are the victims of human rights violations over all the past century, they are always the ones accused. Today, armed resistance has clearly opted to use the legal weapon, and that is excellent. This raises the question: in fact, who respects law?

Finally, an important part of international law depends on the Security Council, which has always been unfavorable vis-à-vis Palestine. As consequence, Palestinians must use legal areas that do not directly depend on the Security Council, in particular, the International Criminal Court and the available legal means within Europe.

Q: As you mention in your recent article, some of the crimes which have been committed by Israel during the so-called Operation Protective Edge include the crime of apartheid, deliberate targeting of civilian population, destruction and appropriation of property and the violation of the rules of fair trial. Is there any proportionate penalty for such crimes when they are happening in a broad extent?

A: These crimes correspond to the qualification of crimes against humanity, as defined in the ICC Statute, Article 7. Crimes against humanity mean war crimes committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, and specially: murder (a), deportation or forcible transfer of population (d), torture (f) and apartheid (j). The crime of apartheid means grave violations of law, committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime. Legal qualifications exist. We now need to seize courts.

Q: Palestinian Minister of Justice Saleem al-Saqqa has given you the mandate to obtain the opening of an investigation into the criminal conducts of the Israeli regime during the Operation Protective Edge which led to the killing of about 2,000 Palestinians. What kind of political support does this litigation need in order to be proceeded successfully? Is it true that any ruling against Israel by ICC will not be binding because Tel Aviv has not ratified the ICC’s Rome Statute? What has been the reaction of the ICC Prosecutor?

A: Israel has not ratified the ICC Statute, but that does not matter. The crimes were committed in the occupied territories, and the jurisdiction of the ICC is determined by the location of the crime. Therefore, it entirely depends on the Palestine’s decision to give competence to the ICC.

Regarding the competence of the Court, the complaint of the minister acting on the behalf of Palestine is based on the declaration of competence made by Palestine on 22th January 2009 according to the article 12.3 of the Statute. It must be emphasized that the 2009 Declaration is amply sufficient to satisfy the requirement of the ICC’s jurisdiction.

This is very important, as there is a huge pressure from the West to discourage Palestine to sign and ratify the statute. Even though the signature and the ratification would be an important step, there is already a basis for the competence of the Court and it is already possible for the ICC Prosecutor to apply before the preliminary chamber for the opening of an investigation. The situation is very comparable to Ivory Coast and everybody sees the result: Gbagbo is currently judged by the Court and the ICC prosecutor rejects Palestine’s complaint. This is double standard.

Q: Will Israel be able to survive, maintain its colonial policies and continue its oppression of the Palestinian people without the financial and military support of the United States government? The US statesmen are not afraid of publicly announcing that they continue strengthening Israel’s killing machine through their unrestrained financial and military assistance. What’s your take on that?

A: Israel needs assistance. Israel still needs the US help. During the last part of the military operation, Israel has requested an emergency shipment of arms from the United States.

The problem is that it is very difficult to act against the United States … while there is much to do under European law.

On one hand, the Israeli illegal settlements need European investments and European market to be sustainable. It is a condition of their economic life. The Court of Justice of the European Union (Brita, February 15, 2010) ruled that Israel could not deliver certificates of origin for products from the settlements. This judgment allowed to initiate many procedures. The PNA did not.

On the other hand, Europe has signed an economic cooperation agreement with Palestine. This agreement is not respected, due to the illegal blockade imposed by Israel. Again, many legal actions can be made, but the PNA did not.

Now, times are changing, and we undertake legal action on behalf of the government of national unity. This is not easy, because the Palestinians have to face the difficulties of the procedures, and international pressure. But we are moving.

Q: Is the killing of Palestinians, which the Israeli army claims takes place because Hamas uses the civilians as a human shield, because Israel is pursuing a racial agenda and the ethnic cleansing of Gaza Strip and West Bank to wipe out the race of Arab-Palestinians?

A: The alleged use of human shields, a recurrent accusation, in Lebanon and Gaza, has never been proven and constitutes propaganda.

The key is that the Palestinian resistance has clearly chosen to accept international justice, and Israel did not. Who fears the judge? The one who violates the law. I cannot do better than quote Mr. Sami Abou Zouhri, the spokesman of Hamas: “Some people say that Hamas or other resistant people could be victims of such an approach, but it is not true. It is only propaganda. Nothing that we do not scare us. We are under occupation and it is our right, by law, to resist. And it is also the right of our people to be defended.”

“In meetings with Abbas we asked him to join the International Criminal Court to prosecute criminals for their crimes. We have no problem and we ask that the facts are the subject of investigations by the International Criminal Court.”

The complaint before the ICC means that political leaders, including the Palestinian Resistance, assume necessary choices to defend their people, even to expose themselves to legal proceedings. In fact, they call for justice, while Israel rejects it, because the occupier is well aware of the illegality of its actions.

Legal risk for the leaders of the Palestinian Resistance is put forward by those who fear an investigation against Israeli military commanders and political leaders. However, the investigation will take place on both sides, which is essential because it is the Israeli illegal use of violence that legitimates the Palestinian Resistance. As the legal risk for Resistance is rather limited, it is quite fallacious to invoke this argument in order not to initiate proceedings against Israel.

Q: According to the UN agency for humanitarian coordination, OCHA, around 700 children and women were killed by the Israeli army during the deadly onslaught into the Gaza Strip that started on July 8. Do the international human rights organizations find the killing of children and women in such a massive extent acceptable and condonable?

A: The reactions of the international community are not at the right level of expectations, and it is deplorable. This is double standard, and it is this double standard that we must fight: the law is the same for all.

Q: Some legal experts have argued that the continuation of the siege of the Gaza Strip runs counter to the principles of international and is a form of war crime. What’s your perspective on that? Is there any guarantee that Israel can be forced to lift the blockade and allow the humanitarian goods, medicine and foodstuff to be imported into the densely-populated region?

A: Israel is the occupying power. Under international law, the occupying power must ensure the protection of the civilian population. Here is exactly the opposite. I want to emphasize an important point; even exports are banned from Gaza. This means that the purpose is not the protection of Israel, but the destruction of the Palestinian population. In law, it is a war crime under two qualifications: collective punishment, and exceptional hardship, which constitutes inhuman treatment.

Q: The UN has established a fact-finding mission to investigate the war crimes committed during Israel’s military aggression against the Gaza Strip. Why has Israel expressed its opposition to the fact-finding team so early, even before it announces the results of its investigations? Is it because it’s sure that it would be condemned at the end?

A: Its mission is to establish evidence of fact. It is composed of prominent lawyers, and there is no doubt about [their] honesty. This is not the time for polemics; it will be judged on their work, which should start as soon as possible.

This interview was originally published on Fars News Agency.