In a historical trial carefully « forgotten » by the media, the 3rd Chamber of the Court of Appeal of Versailles declares that Israel is the legal occupant of the West Bank*.
When I first learned that the Court of Appeal of Versailles ruled that West bank settlements and occupation of Judea Samaria by Israel is unequivocally legal under international law, in a suit brought by the Palestinian Authority against Jerusalem’s light rail built by French companies Alstom and Veolia, that received no media coverage, I decided to put to work my years of Law Studies in France, and I meticulously analyzed the Court ruling.
To my astonishment, pro-Israeli media did not cover it either. The few who mentioned the case did not have any legal background in French law to understand the mega-importance of the ruling, and, as a few lefty English speaking Israeli websites reported it, they thought that it was a decision strictly pertinent to the Jerusalem light rail. It’s not.
To make sure I did not overestimate my legal abilities and that I wasn’t over optimistic – as usual-, I submitted my analysis and the Court papers to one of the most prominent French lawyer, Gilles-William Goldnadel, President of Lawyers without borders, to receive his legal opinion. He indeed validated my finding. Then I decided to translate it to English, and it will soon be submitted to Benjamin Netanyahu thru a mutual friend.
First and foremost, the Versailles Court of Appeals had to determine the legal rights of Palestinians and Israelis in West Bank. Their conclusion: Palestinians have no right – in the international legal sense – to the region, unlike Israel, who is legitimately entitled to occupy all land beyond the 67 line.
The context :
In the 90s, Israel bid for the construction of the Jerusalem light rail. The tender was won by French companies Veolia and Alstom. The light rail was completed in 2011, and it cross Jerusalem all the way to the east side and the « occupied territories » (more about this term later).
Following this, the PLO filed a complaint with the High Court (Tribunal de Grande Instance) of Versailles France, against Alstom and Veolia, because according to PLO, « the construction of the tram is illegal since the UN, the EU, many NGOs and governments consider that « Israel illegally occupy Palestinian territories ».
The quest for the International Legislation to establish the rights of each party.
In order to rule whether the light rail construction was legal or not, the court had to seek the texts of international law, to examine international treaties, in order to establish the respective rights of the Palestinians and the Israelis.
And to my knowledge, this is the first time that a non-Israeli court has been led to rule on the status of the West Bank.
Why is this an historical ruling: it is the first international case since the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948
It is the first time since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 that an independent, non-Israeli court has been called upon to examine the legal status of West bank territories under international law, beyond the political claims of the parties.
Keep in mind though, that the Court’s findings have no effect in international law. What they do, and it’s of the utmost importance, is to clarify the legal reality.
The Versailles Court of Appeal conclusions are as resounding as the silence in which they were received in the media: Israel has real rights in the territories, its decision to build a light rail in the West Bank or anything else in the area is legal, and the judges have rejected all the arguments presented by the Palestinians.
The Palestinian arguments
- The PLO denounces the deportation of the Palestinian population, and the destruction of properties in violation of international regulations. Relying on the Geneva and Hague Conventions and the UN resolutions, it considers that the State of Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian territory and is pursuing illegal Jewish colonization. Thus, construction of the light rail is itself illegal (1).
- The PLO adds that the light rail construction has resulted in the destruction of Palestinian buildings and houses, the almost total destruction of Highway 60, which is vital for Palestinians and their goods, and has conducted many illegal dispossessions. Therefore, several clauses from the annexed Regulations to the October 18, 1907 Fourth Hague Convention were violated (2).
- Finally, the PLO alleges that Israel violates the provisions relating to the « protection of cultural property » provided for in Article 4 of the Hague Convention of May 14, 1954, Article 27 of the Hague Regulations of 1907, Article 5 of the Hague Convention IX of 1907, and Article 53 of Additional Protocol No. 1 to the Geneva Conventions.
The Court of Appeal does not deny the occupation, but it destroys one after another all the Palestinian arguments
Referring to the texts on which the PLO claim is based, the Court of Appeal considers that Israel is entitled to ensure order and public life in the West Bank, therefore Israel has the right to build a light rail, infrastructure and dwellings.
Article 43 of the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907 stipulates that « The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety ».
Israeli occupation does not violate any international law
« The Palestinian Authority misread the documents, they do not apply to the occupation »
The Court explains that the Palestinian Authority misinterprets the texts and they do not apply to the occupation:
- First of all, all the international instruments put forward by the PLO are acts signed between States, and the obligations or prohibitions contained therein are relevant to States. Neither the Palestinian Authority nor the PLO are States, therefore, none of these legal documents apply.
- Secondly, said the Court, these texts are binding only on those who signed them, namely the « contracting parties ». But neither the PLO nor the Palestinian Authority have ever signed these texts.
Propaganda is not international law
The Court, quite irritated by the presented arguments, boldly asserted that the law « cannot be based solely on the PLO’s assessment of a political or social situation.«
Humanitarian law was not violated
The PLO mistakenly refers to the wrong legal document because the Hague Convention applies in case of bombing. And … « Jerusalem is not bombed. »
The PLO invokes the violation of humanitarian law contained in the Geneva and Hague Conventions.
- But on the one hand, says the judges of the Court of Appeal, international conventions apply between States and the PLO is not a State: « the International Court of Justice has indicated that [the Conventions] only contain obligations for the States, and that individual have no rights to claim the benefit of those obligation for themselves ».
- Then the Court says that only the contracting parties are bound by international conventions, and neither the PLO nor the Palestinian Authority have ever signed any of them.
- The Court draw the conclusion that the PLO is mistakenly referring to the wrong legal document because the Hague Convention applies in case of bombing. And … « Jerusalem is not bombed.«
The PLO and the Palestinians were dismissed
The PLO cannot invoke any of these international conventions, said the Court.
« These international norms and treaties » does not give the « Palestinian people that the PLO says he represents, the right to invoke them before a court.«
The Court of Appeal therefore sentenced the PLO (and Association France Palestine Solidarité AFPS who was co-appellant) to pay 30,000 euros ($32,000) to Alstom, 30,000 euros to Alstom Transport and 30,000 euros to Veolia Transport.
Neither the PLO nor the Palestinian Authority nor the AFPS appealed to the Supreme Court, therefore the judgment has become final.
This is the first time that a Court has legally destroyed all Palestinian legal claim that Israel’s occupation is illegal.
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- (1) The PLO relies on article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949, which states that « the occupant power may not deport or transfer part of its own civilian population in the Territory he occupies », and article 53, which states that « the occupant Power is prohibited from destroying movable or immovable properties belonging individually or collectively to private people, to the State or to public authorities or social or cooperative organizations, except in cases where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary for military operations ».
- (2) The PLO refers to the Fourth Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949:
- Article 23 (g), which prohibits « the destruction or seizure of enemy properties except in cases where such destruction or seizure are imperatively ordered for the necessities of war. »
- Article 27 according to which « in the sieges and bombardments, all necessary measures must be taken to spare as much as possible the buildings devoted to worship, the arts, sciences, charitable institutions, historical monuments, and hospitals … »
- Article 46 which states that « private property can not be confiscated ».