[News] Israel has murdered more political opponents than apartheid South Africa

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Apr 6 16:17:50 EDT 2012

Israel has murdered more political opponents than apartheid South 
Africa ever judicially executed

Submitted by Adri Nieuwhof on Fri, 04/06/2012 - 17:25

This week the United Nations held an international meeting in Geneva 
on the question of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons 
and detention facilities. Professor John Dugard presented on the 
status of Palestinians who engage in resistance against Israeli 
oppression. Former Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation 
in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Professor Dugard draws a 
parallel with the treatment of militant political opponents by South 
Africa's apartheid regime and highlights the similarities between the 
two regimes. The below is a summary of Professor Dugard's analysis.

Delegitimizing political prisoners

Israel does not recognize Palestinians who engage in resistance 
activities against the repression as combatants, protesters or 
"political" prisoners. To avoid giving legitimacy to their cause, it 
treats them as "terrorists," ordinary criminals or security 
prisoners. The South African apartheid regime treated Nelson Mandela 
and his fellow political prisoners in a similar manner.

Moreover, Israel denies its political prisoners who qualify as 
combatants the status of prisoners of war (POW). It refuses to 
recognize that there is a conflict between the State of Israel and 
the Palestinian people who are exercising their right to 
self-determination and statehood. POWs cannot be prosecuted and 
punished as ordinary criminals. Instead they may be detained until 
the conclusion of hostilities, when they are to be released and repatriated.

POW status is applicable to members of an organized group fighting 
"against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist 
regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination", 
according to Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. 
The Palestinian people have a right to self-determination and are 
subject to alien occupation and possibly colonial domination. The 
struggle between the PLO, as a national liberation movement, and 
Israel should therefore be recognized as an international armed 
conflict to which the Geneva Conventions apply.

The Palestine Liberation Organization undertook to apply the Geneva 
Conventions and Protocol I in a declaration, just like the African 
National Congress in South Africa. Many combatants meet the 
requirements laid down in Protocol I. They are members of an 
organized force, under a responsible command structure that complies 
with the rules of international humanitarian law.

Palestinian freedom fighters are not criminals

Israel resembles apartheid South Africa in refusing to sign Protocol 
I to the Geneva Conventions. The Protocol's extension of the benefits 
of the Geneva Conventions to the PLO as a national liberation 
movement is therefore not binding on Israel. However, Dugard argues 
that Protocol I has become part of customary international law 
because some 170 states are party to it. Israel is therefore bound by 
the Protocol despite the fact that it is not a party.

Hence contrary to their obligations under international customary 
law, the Israeli courts have rejected the argument that Palestinian 
resistance fighters are engaged in a war of self-determination and 
are therefore entitled to POW status. In addition, the Israeli courts 
have used the excuse in recent years that Palestinian resistance 
fighters fail to comply with the laws of armed conflict and therefore 
are not entitled to POW status.

But if Palestinian combatants were held as prisoners of war, they 
would be held until the end of the occupation, which could be for 
many years. They would be released at the same time as those 
convicted by Israeli military courts and imprisoned by Israel as 
criminals. So the practical implications of prisoner of war status 
are not significant.

However, the symbolic or political implications of the POW status are 
important. Prisoners of war are not treated as criminals but as 
worthy opponents in a military conflict, as freedom fighters engaged 
in a war of self-determination whose rights are recognized and 
determined by international law.

Military courts

In apartheid South Africa combatants were tried under criminal law. 
Such a trial gave the militants the opportunity to confront their 
opponent and advocate their cause in a political trial. In apartheid 
South Africa and Namibia militants used the political trial to good 
effect. Ably defended by competent and sympathetic lawyers in 
non-military courts open to the public and attended by the press and 
foreign observers, they exploited the rules of procedure and evidence 
to the advantage of their political cause. The history of apartheid 
is replete with political trials that advanced the stature of the 
defendants and highlighted repression and discrimination.

Most Palestinian combatants are tried by military courts despite 
international humanitarian law's preference for impartial civilian 
courts. Military courts are intended to be the exception and not the 
rule, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention. Such courts are 
staffed by military judges lacking independence and sit in 
inaccessible places, sometimes behind closed doors, applying an 
inaccessible military law with little regard for the rules of due process.

In general, Palestinian militants are not given the opportunity to 
confront the occupying power in open court before impartial judges 
applying due process of law.

The Israeli regime murders political opponents

Those who refuse to accept the comparison of Israel's repressive 
regime in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to that of apartheid 
proudly proclaim that at least Palestinian political prisoners are 
not executed and that Israeli is a state that has de facto abolished 
the death penalty. It is true that apartheid South Africa executed 
political prisoners after trial before civilian, non-military courts 
applying proper legal procedures.

But more Palestinians have been killed in targeted assassinations of 
combatants than were judicially executed in South Africa. Israel is 
not an abolitionist state. It is a state that practices capital 
punishment in an arbitrary and capricious manner without a trial. 
However cruel and inhuman the conditions of Palestinian prisoners, 
however unfair the trials that sent them to prison, and however 
demeaning their characterization as "criminals" or "terrorists", we 
should not forget that Palestinian prisoners are the fortunate ones. 
For they were not murdered by a regime that murders political 
opponents under the euphemism of "targeted assassinations".

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