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Former U.N. Special Rapporteur Richard Falk on the Legitimacy of Hope in the Palestinian Struggle

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On Monday, the Israeli government made a rare appearance before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, but its delegation refused to acknowledge responsibility for the conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, occupied by Israel for nearly half a century. We speak to a legal expert who has just spent six years trying to hold Israel to account for its actions in the Occupied Territories. Richard Falk recently completed his term as special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights for the United Nations Human Rights Council. His writings about the Israel-Palestine issue and his experience as U.N. rapporteur are compiled in the new book, “Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AARON MATÉ: We turn now to Israel and the Occupied Territories. On Monday, the Israeli government made a rare appearance before the U.N. Human Rights Committee. Each member state is reviewed every four years for its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. That task was especially significant coming just weeks after Israel ended an assault on Gaza that killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 500 children. Emi Palmor, the director-general of Israel’s Justice Ministry, pledged her government’s “sincere approach” to the panel’s mandate.

EMI PALMOR: We decided to bring along the highest-ranking experts on the issues that we are supposed to answer. And indeed, you can see that for the first time the director-general, myself, is heading the delegation. The deputy attorney general, Dr. Schöndorf, is second on the delegation, and the others as were presented during the session. And we believe that this shows our seriousness, the sincere approach of Israel to these issues.

AARON MATÉ: That’s Emi Palmor, head of the Israeli delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Committee. But as the session got underway, a key problem emerged: Israel would not be answering for conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the territory it’s occupied for nearly half a century. While Israel provided a written report for human rights within its own borders, it did not agree the covenant applies to its actions in the Occupied Territories. In response, two U.N. panelists expressed their frustration.

CORNELIS FLINTERMAN: We have that information about the doubling, the recent announcement in Israel of further expansion of the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories and in East Jerusalem. So, that was the reason that I raised the question. It seemed that no attention had been given whatsoever to our earlier recommendation.

NIGEL RODLEY: Of course, they’re not responsible for the violations that may be committed by Hamas. Of course they’re not. But they are responsible for any violations that may be their own responsibility. It’s not an issue of legal jurisdiction one way or the other; it’s an issue of who has control.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Nigel Rodley from Britain and, before that, Cornelis Flinterman. As it turned out, the assault on Gaza did not receive the scrutiny that had been expected. As The Jerusalem Post reported at day’s end, Israel’s Emi Palmor, quote, “said she was relieved that the delegation had not been extensively quizzed about the IDF’s military actions in Gaza this summer under Operation Protective Edge. Israel had imagined that committee members would focus on that issue,” The Jerusalem Post said.

Well, we’re still joined by a legal expert who’s just spent six years trying to hold Israel to account for its actions in the Occupied Territories. Richard Falk has just completed his term as special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights for the United Nations Human Rights Council. His writings about the Israel-Palestine issue and his experience as U.N. rapporteur are compiled in a new book. It’s out today. It’s called Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope. Richard Falk is professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and research professor in the global studies department at UC Santa Barbara. He presented the Edward Said Memorial Lecture last night at Columbia University.

Can you talk about, well, just that, this latest news on what is happening right now with Israel and Gaza?

RICHARD FALK: Well, as far as their cooperation with the U.N. is concerned, this report that you just showed your audience is very misleading. They have refused to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry in—that the Human Rights Council appointed to look into the allegations of war crimes associated with the attack on Gaza in July and August. And they refused to cooperate with my successor, an Indonesian diplomat who they favored, actually, and they persuaded the president of the Human Rights Council to appoint, with the expectation that they would cooperate with him. But as I’ve said all along, you only have to be 10 percent objective to come to the same critical conclusions that I came to in relation to Israel’s violation of fundamental human rights in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, the three segments of occupied territory.

AMY GOODMAN: What is that conclusion that you came to?

RICHARD FALK: Well, the conclusion is flagrant violations that are official policy—it’s not deviations—from the extension of the settlements as a violation of international humanitarian law, not disallowing transfer of the occupying country’s population to the occupied society, the imposition of a regime of collective punishment on the whole civilian population of Gaza. And locking that civilian population into the combat zone during Protective Edge is a distinctive atrocity, where women and children were not allowed to become refugees, and there was no opportunity to be an internally displaced person. As horrible as things were for civilians in Syria and in Iraq in recent years, they always had—the civilian population always could leave the combat zone. Here, they’re literally locked into the combat zone, and only those Gazans with foreign passports were allowed to leave. That involved 800 people out of 1,800,000. So it is a very extreme situation that is not treated as an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe for geopolitical reasons. The U.S. has a geopolitical veto over what the U.N. can do in relation to a situation of this kind. We react to Kobani, as we spoke earlier, but we ignore what is happening day by day in Gaza, particularly, but to a lesser extent, in the West Bank.

AARON MATÉ: Well, you mentioned the U.S. Can you talk about the obstacles that you faced as you tried to raise these issues over these past six years as the top U.N. investigator in the territories?

RICHARD FALK: Well, there were two main kinds of obstacles. I was very much attacked in a kind of defamatory way by UN Watch and other very extreme Zionist organizations, which tried—wherever I went, anywhere in the world, they would try to prevent me from speaking and mounted a kind of defamatory campaign, called me an anti-Semite, a leading anti-Semite. The Wiesenthal Center in L.A. listed me as the third most dangerous anti-Semite in the world, which was—made me feel I must be doing something right in this role. And the only two people that were more dangerous than I was the supreme leader of Iran and the prime minister of Turkey, Erdogan. And other—

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power called you, as you were leaving your U.N. post, a—talked about your “relentless anti-Israeli bias.”

RICHARD FALK: Well, it certainly has been a consistent anti-Israeli critical narrative, because that’s what the reality is. I mean, if you take international law seriously and, as I said, you’re 10 percent objective, you have to come to these conclusions. And that’s why this Indonesian, who was determined to please Israel—he told me that—it turned out that they—

AMY GOODMAN: Makarim Wibisono.

RICHARD FALK: Yes. It turned he’s already angered Israel, because you can’t—you can’t look at these realities without coming to these conclusions, unless you completely somehow blindfold yourself.

AARON MATÉ: Well, let’s talk about what Palestinians are trying to do now—the Palestinian Authority, at least. The PA has drafted a U.N. Security Council measure that would impose a three-year deadline for Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Speaking at the U.N. last month, Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi dismissed the threat of losing U.S. government support.

HANAN ASHRAWI: We will be seeking a Security Council resolution on ending the occupation within that specified date. And any solution must be based on international law, cannot violate international law and U.N. conventions and agreements. If the U.S. wants to isolate itself as a reaction to Palestinians joining the international community, then they are welcome to do that. The American funding is not that essential to Palestinian survival. Quite often, joining the international community, having the protection of the law and so on is much more important than getting some funding from Congress that is conditional.

AARON MATÉ: Hanan Ashrawi went on to say, quote, “Enough is enough. What has the U.S. done for us?” And, in fact, there was a report last week that Secretary of State John Kerry has asked the PA to delay its U.N. Security Council bid measure here, proposal, until after the midterm elections. Is the PA actually distancing itself from this whole U.S. process? And is that important?

RICHARD FALK: Well, it’s caught between the militancy of its own people and this kind of pragmatic adaptation to the power situation, and its economic dependence on funding that is controlled by Israel and the U.S. And also, its security forces have been—the PA’s security forces have been trained under U.S. authority. So it’s a—they’re in a very compromised position. So the Palestinian Authority leadership, in order to retain some modicum of legitimacy, has to appear to be reflecting the will of the Palestinian people. And they’ve been trying to walk this tightrope all along, and it becomes more and more difficult. And the recent polls show that Hamas, even on the West Bank, would now win an election if an election was held. And that’s not because there’s a shift toward an Islamic orientation. It’s because Hamas, for all its problems and failures, resists and is resilient and has maintained the spirit of resistance that’s so important to the political morale of the Palestinian movement.

AARON MATÉ: On the issue of resistance, you talked last night about the importance of defending the right to resist, but advocating peaceful resistance. Can you talk more about this vis-à-vis the Palestinian struggle?

RICHARD FALK: Well, I don’t purport to speak for the Palestinians. And one of the tragedies of the Palestinians, ever since the Balfour Declaration, is that others have decided what’s good for Palestine. And so, what I was—I was partly being descriptive. The Palestinians have failed with armed struggle. They failed, with the Arab neighbors, trying to liberate Palestine from Israeli control. They failed with the Oslo-type intergovernmental diplomacy. So what they’ve tried in the last several years, increasingly, is a combination of nonviolent resistance in various forms within the occupied territory and this growing global solidarity movement that has centered on the BDS campaign.

I think that’s—and I don’t say—I wouldn’t judge their desire to or their feeling that the only effective form of resistance is to defend themselves violently. I mean, that’s a decision that I don’t think it’s appropriate for someone outside the context of oppression to make. Hamas, which is accused of being a terrorist organization, of course, has limited its violence since its political election in 2006 to responding to Israeli provocations. It hasn’t used violence as a way of promoting the empowerment of a Palestinian movement of liberation. In fact, its politics have been directed toward long-term peaceful coexistence with Israel, if Israel withdraws to the '67 borders. It's offered a 50-year plan of peaceful coexistence.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to end where you begin, and that’s the title of your book, Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope. Richard Falk, what do you mean by “the legitimacy of hope”?

RICHARD FALK: What I mean is that if you look at the way in which conflicts have been resolved since the end of World War II, particularly involving foreign domination or foreign rule in a Third World country, the decisive factor in their resolution has been gaining the high ground of international morality and international law. And not having—military superiority has not produced political outcomes favorable to the intervening or the more powerful side. And so, the hope comes from this pattern of gaining legitimacy, in what I call “legitimacy war,” being more significant politically than being able to control the results on a battlefield. And that’s a profound change in the whole structure of power in the world that hasn’t been absorbed by either Israel or the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Richard Falk, we want to thank you for being with us, just completed his six-year term as United Nations special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, a prolific writer. His book, Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope, has just been published today. Professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and research professor in the global studies department at UC Santa Barbara, he presented the Edward Said Memorial Lecture last night at Columbia University.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Mumia Abu-Jamal in his own words. Stay with us.

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