'A State Cannot
Stand Against The World'
By John Dugard
& Victor Kattan
17 September, 2004
with John Dugard, UN Special Rapportuer for Human Rights in the Occupied
Palestinian Territories, by Victor Kattan
years ago you published an article entitled "Israel and the International
Community: The Legal Debate" in the South African Yearbook of International
Law after you had visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Has the legal landscape changed since you published this paper in 1984
and since you became Special Rapporteur in 2001? If so, how has it changed?
Strangely the legal issues have not changed much over the last 20 years.
Oslo has been and gone, and the same type of human rights violations
still occur, albeit with a new severity. The two major changes are,
first, that the need for Palestinian statehood has been recognised.
Second, the wall. The significance of the wall cannot overrated. It
shows convincingly that the issue is land and expansion. Of course,
it must be seen in the context of settler expansion.
commentators and political activists compare the situation in apartheid
South Africa to the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
How are these two unjust systems, apartheid in South Africa and prolonged
military occupation in Palestine, comparable, and how are they different?
Apartheid was a form of colonialism, but at the same time it had some
of the characteristics of occupation. Nevertheless, the similarities
between the two systems should not be exaggerated. Palestine is subject
to military occupation. The IDF [Israeli Defence Force] is an occupying
army. Israel is determined to assert control while at the same time
taking land. In South Africa, the issue was political control and how
to achieve this while at the same time pretending to comply with international
standards of self-determination. Of course, many of the human rights
violations were similar: suppression, torture, restrictions on freedom
of movement, denial of social and economic rights, population relocations
etc. So although different in character, many of the consequences were
In May 2004, you called on the international community to impose an
arms embargo on Israel in response to "Operation Rainbow"
which resulted in numerous deaths and the destruction of civilian infrastructure,
including a zoo and a number of refugee camps. You cited the 1977 arms
embargo imposed on South Africa in support of your statement. In the
end, Israel was condemned by the UN Security Council, which asked Israel
to desist from destroying civilian infrastructure, but no arms embargo
was imposed. What was the reaction to your statement in the international
arena and among the academic community, and why did the international
community not impose an arms embargo on Israel?
is no possibility of sanctions being imposed against Israel, at least
at present. South Africa alienated itself from all five of the veto
powers, and this allowed limited sanctions to be imposed. Israel will,
it seems, forever have the USA to veto any sanctions being imposed by
the Security Council. I raised the issue simply to get it into the debate
so that it is on the table. I have had no feedback whatsoever.
light of the International Court of Justice's 14-1 advisory opinion
on the illegality of the wall and the subsequent UN General Assembly
resolution, what must now be done to ensure that Israel abides by its
international commitments and responsibilities if, as is expected, the
US vetoes a planned Security Council resolution asking Israel to comply
with the court's opinion? What impact would that have on the integrity
of the court?
The Security Council will not enforce the ICJ opinion. The USA will
ensure this. I believe it is necessary to see the ICJ opinion on the
wall in the same light as the 1971 opinion on Namibia. It is a statement
on the law of the UN. The General Assembly must repeatedly remind Israel
of its obligations. Regular attempts should be made to get the Security
Council to act. It seriously deligitimizes Israel's policies, and I
believe it will have the desired effect, in time. However, already it
is being taken more seriously by Israel than I had anticipated. The
Israeli High Court has asked the government to clarify its position
on the opinion. A good start.
VK: As a
white South African who opposed apartheid, do you ever get a feeling
of déjà vu when your work is criticized by the government
of Israel, a government which does not hide its dislike for the UN,
ignores its resolutions, world public opinion and treats the ICJ with
I certainly have a sense of déjà vu. The sad thing is
that Israel is unwilling to learn from the South African precedent.
A state cannot indefinitely stand against the world.
Victor Kattan can be contacted at email@example.com