Protecting Human Rights in Occupied Palestine: Working Through the United Nations

Richard Falk

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by Richard Falk, John Dugard, Michael Lynk

This book is the first comprehensive examination of UN efforts to protect Palestinian human rights in the territories occupied by Israel more than 50 years ago in the 1967 War. Working through the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, three top international legal experts served for six consecutive years as unpaid Special Rapporteurs with a UN mandate to report on Israeli violations of international humanitarian law and human rights standards. Being outside the discipline that controls UN bureaucrats, they enjoyed a high measure of political independence in carrying out their fact-finding and reporting missions. Strikingly, despite their differences in background and political outlook, they came to a unanimous consensus confirming the routine and various Israeli violations of Palestinian basic rights. This book recounts their frustrations, their trials, their experiences, and their conclusions.

This joint effort breaks new ground in studies by the UN in several respects. It demonstrates both the positive role played by the UN in a politically controversial area and its blockage by geopolitical forces preventing it from securing the implementation of international law.

However, the intense reactions of Israel and pro-Israeli NGOs to this UN work, most notably by UN Watch, attest to the significance of a reliable accounting of Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights Their consistent evasion of the substantive charges made by careful reporting, and recourse by Israeli supporters to discrediting, defamatory attacks on the persons of these Special Rapporteurs, with charges of anti-Semitism, the core of which is subtly shifted from its proper usage as hatred of Jews to justifiable criticism of the state of Israel.

While some might argue that the UN inability to enforce international law as futile, or worse, view the UN as merely a vehicle of power politics, this book proves that international public opinion and international solidarity politics are influenced by persuasive expert findings as to international law. Such well-evidenced conclusions encourage transnational activism, as is evident from increased worldwide support for the BDS Campaign and other nonviolent external pressures.

This brilliant and authoritative account of the manner in which Israel has administered the Occupied Palestinian Territory during the past 20 years should be regarded as the definitive assessment of that situation.

Richard Falk, John Dugard, Michael Lynk


"It is one of the supreme ironies of contemporary international relations that the very state created by the United Nations has become the principal suppressor of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people that the UN today seeks to protect. It shows that in the ultimate analysis it is power politics that determines how the UN acts. In spite of this reality, the UN through various instruments, channels, and committees has tried to do what little it can to defend the position of the Palestinians. This book is a tribute to those efforts which is why it deserves to be read by the world at large." -DR. CHANDRA MUZAFFAR, President, International Movement for a Just World

"No one is better qualified than these three eminent authors, models of integrity and professionalism, to evaluate the facts and give the world an objective assessment of the legal and political conundrum surrounding the tragedy of the Palestinians, enumerate the gross violations of international law and human rights law committed against them, and address issues of Apartheid, war crimes and crimes against humanity." 
-ALFRED DE ZAYAS, Former UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a democratic and equitable international order

"This book harnesses the remarkable collective experiences and wisdom of three authors, whose contributions served as the backbone of discussions on Palestine in leading international legal and political institutions. The edifice of their collective work is proof that, despite the skewed power dynamics at the United Nations, a morally driven international law is still possible. This book is a historical document that reflects on the troubled and challenging past, but also offers a roadmap towards a future in which just peace is an achievable goal." 
-RAMZY BAROUD, Author and Editor, Palestine Chronicle

"This powerful book brings together the experiences and conclusions of three outstanding scholars of international law and activists in the field of human rights as they sought to document and combat Israeli violations of human rights. The book not only highlights the failure of the UN to act on the recommendations of their reports, it also offers hope by concluding that ultimately international opinion will prevail, and states will have no alternative but to conclude that Israel, like South Africa, is guilty of instituting an apartheid system. The book makes a strong and unique contribution to furthering that hope." 
-RAJA SHEHADEH, Palestinian Lawyer, Writer, Co-Founder Al-Haq, and winner of Britain's 2008 Orwell Prize.

"This is a unique and essential book. It is a devastating record of two decades of dramatically deteriorating Palestinian reality while these three lawyers in succession were the United Nations’ eyes and ears on the state of affairs of fundamental rights. Highly readable, meticulously researched, the details of illegality and unspeakable cruelty on every page are an unanswerable indictment not only of Israel’s politicians, judiciary and military leaders, but of every member of the United Nations who had these reports year after year. With a few honourable exceptions they utterly failed to stand up to the implacable determination of the United States and its Western allies to blank this disgrace out of current consciousness. This remarkable history book cannot so easily be ignored." 
-VICTORIA BRITTAIN, Former Associate Editor, The Guardian

"A ground-breaking and timely contribution from three eminent UN Special Rapporteurs on the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), forging deep critical insights into the regulatory complexities of Israel’s administration of the OPT. As such, the book offers important new insights into the UN geopolitical landscape from the perspective of the rapporteurs, where both the struggles and opportunities of the UN institutional system are explored in detail. The book highlights the importance of the Special Rapporteurs as front-line defenders pushing for the justice they believe in, against systems that do not always work as promised. The support of the Special Rapporteurs to the Palestinian people and Palestinian civil society throughout the years has been pivotal, and continues in the product of this excellent text." 
-SHAWAN JABARIN, General Director of Al-Haq

"This fascinating rare account of the inner working of one of the UN’s most prestigious mandates is a must-have resource and guide for anyone interested and those involved in the struggle to bring a just end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." 
-MICHAEL SFARD, Israeli Human Rights lawyer and author of The Wall and the Gate: Israel, Palestine and the Legal Battle for Human Rights

About the Authors

Richard Falk is a leading international law professor, prominent activist, prolific author, and a pioneer thinker dedicated to peace and justice. During forty years at Princeton University Falk was active in seeking an end to the Vietnam War, a better understanding of Iran, a just solution for Israel/Palestine, and improved democracy elsewhere. He also served as UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine.

John Dugard is a South African who lives in The Hague, Netherlands. He holds law degrees from the Universities of Stellenbosch and Cambridge. In South Africa he directed the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, attached to the University of the Witwatersrand, which engaged in human rights advocacy, research and litigation during the apartheid years. More recently he has taught at the Universities of Cambridge and Leiden. He served as a member of the UN International Law Commission from 1997 to 2011, and as a judge ad hoc of the International Court of Justice from 2000 to 2018.

Michael Lynk is a law professor at Western University in London, Ontario, where he teaches labour law, domestic and international human rights law and constitutional law. He has law degrees from Dalhousie University and Queen's University in Canada. He started his legal career as a labour lawyer, acting primarily for trade unions. Later, he became a labour arbitrator and mediator, and presently serves as an arbitrator for the Ontario Grievance Settlement Board. He has published extensively on Canadian labour law and human rights law.

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