Palestine, Palestinians, and International Law

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By Francis A. Boyle, Clarity Press, Inc., 2003, 205 pp.
Reviewed by Michael Gillespie
For Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Most observers know very well that Israeli Zionists displaced and dispossessed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 and again in 1967, creating the world's largest, most problematic, and longest running refugee crisis. Many understand, as well, that Israel's continuing illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and brutal oppression of the Palestinian people is aided and abetted by the U.S. government. But few have a comprehensive understanding of the relationship of Palestine and Israel in international law, and even among those who consider themselves knowledgeable about the Palestinian cause, questions about the legal status of Palestine and Palestinians abound.

In a compelling new work, Palestine, Palestinians, and International Law, renowned international jurist, author, and human rights champion Francis A. Boyle provides a comprehensive history of the legal wrangling over Palestine and Palestinian rights while setting out bold new legal strategies for ending Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and oppression of the Palestinian people.

Palestine, Palestinians, and International Law arrives at a critical moment. As the extremist right-wing Sharon regime tightens it grip, the humanitarian crisis in Palestine grows dangerously acute, and the Bush administration's so-called war against international terrorism expands, few are able to predict with any confidence the future of the heroic Palestinian struggle for liberty, justice, and national sovereignty. Boyle clarifies the confusing legal complexity of the crisis in Palestine, proposes creative new approaches to Israeli intransigence and deceit, and argues persuasively for the preservation of the established norms of international law at a time when the rule of law itself is seriously threatened.

Boyle, who teaches international law at the University of Illinois, Champaign, is a seasoned participant in the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, human rights, and an independent state. Drawing on his experience as legal advisor to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) on the Palestinian Declaration of Independence beginning in 1987, and later as legal advisor to the Palestinian Delegation of the Middle East peace negotiations from 1991 to 1993, Boyle brings a wealth of knowledge to the public discussion of the crucial issue at the heart of the crisis in the Middle East. But Palestine, Palestinians, and International Law was not written exclusively for the edification of legal scholars. A master of the history of international mandates, protocols, conventions, and resolutions that address directly or are relevant to Palestinian aspirations and rights, Boyle decisively charts a course through the legal labyrinth with a lucid and inviting style the layperson will appreciate as much for its vitality as for its clarity.

One key to Boyle's success is his ability to convey the intensely personal aspects of a legal drama played out on the world stage. In an introduction that explains how, as a university student in the late 1960s and 1970s, he first came to appreciate the plight of the Palestinian people despite 'The Big Lie,' Boyle candidly recalls events, encounters, and challenges that have informed his perspective as an advocate for Palestine and Palestinians. Boyle's reminiscences and trenchant observations, which serve to lay bare the ingrained institutional biases against Palestinians and the systemic obstacles that frequently impede their quest for justice, will resonate with experienced proponents of the Palestinian cause as they inspire and empower a new generation of activists.

'I have been accused of being everything but a child molester because of my support for the Palestinian people,' writes Boyle. 'I have witnessed the violation of every known principle of academic integrity and freedom . . . in order that basic fundamental truths in relation to this longstanding conflict in the Middle East might be suppressed.'

Boyle's experience and academic accomplishments (J.D., magna cum laude, 1976, A.M., 1978, and Ph.D., Political Science, 1983, at Harvard, where he served as a member of the executive committee of the Harvard Center for International Affairs and as a teaching fellow in Harvard College) have provided him with a keen sense of appreciation for the integrity of educators, journalists, authors, administrators, jurists, and other leaders who struggle to find ways to champion truth, justice, and freedom within institutions and systems that too often undermine the noble principles and thwart the very purposes they were designed to uphold and advance. His admiration for principled educators and jurists is undisguised, while his criticism of institutional bias is fearless and scathing, as is evident in his comparison of two nationally recognized Middle Eastern Studies programs: '. . . the University of Chicago has always had a first rate Center for Middle Eastern Studies that I have heartily recommended over the years to many prospective students all over the world seeking my advice on where to study that subject. By comparison, Harvard's center for Middle Eastern Studies could be viewed as effectively operating as a front organization for the C.I.A. and probably the Mossad as well.'

Citing the fundamental precepts of international human rights law, Boyle illuminates the contradictions inherent in Israeli and American policies regarding Palestine and Palestinian rights and aspirations: 'It is a basic principle of public international law as well as of all civilized legal systems in the world today that ex iniuria non oritur ius: Right does not arise from injury! No legal consequences whatsoever can ensure to the benefit of Israel from its murder of Palestinian civilians in violation of international humanitarian law.'

'As is true of any other state in the world today, the newly-proclaimed state of Palestine possesses the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense recognized by customary international law and article 51 of the United Nations Charter. . . . the Palestinian people actually living under this criminal occupation have the perfect right under international law to resist the Israeli army by the use of force, just as the French Resistance did against Nazi forces occupying France during the Second World War,' writes Boyle.

At the moment of this writing, hours before the expiration of President Bush's 48-hour deadline for Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq or face the wrath of America's military might, mainstream media commentators here in the USA are praising for his moral clarity a 'deeply religious' president, one clearly impatient to begin his 'crusade' for 'infinite justice' in the Middle East. Of course, no crisis better exemplifies the catastrophic failure of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East than the festering wound in Palestine, and Palestine, Palestinians, and International Law reminds readers that it has been decades since U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East rested upon the foundation of sound moral and legal principles necessary to support viable and enduring international relationships in the region.

Emphasizing the weight of history and the gravity of the worsening crisis in Palestine, which U.S. policy makers have been tempted to discount, Boyle writes: 'The American people cannot even begin to comprehend how to deal with the problem of international terrorism in the Middle East unless they first come to grips with the fact that the Regan/Bush Sr. administration was directly responsible for the perpetuation of one of the great international crimes in the post World War II era against the Palestinians and Muslim people in Lebanon. . . . Until that time, Americans will continue to become targets of attack by these frustrated and aggrieved individuals throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean.'

Boyle's penetrating analyses of Israeli and American roles in the crisis that has destabilized the Middle East for over fifty years are as cogent as his criticisms are fearless and his warnings prescient. In his December 1, 1992, Memorandum of Law, Boyle advised the Palestinian leadership against what he perceived as a fatally flawed interim agreement, writing, '. . . because of Israeli stalling and because of American presidential election politics, there could be a twelve-year, sixteen-year, or even twenty-year interval between the Interim Agreement and the so-called Final Settlement no matter what the documents might say about some 'interconnection.' Indeed, if the Israelis have their way with their supporters in the Democratic and Republican parties and in the United States Congress, you will never see that Final Settlement. The Israelis, with American help, will simply stall, drag out, and indefinitely postpone and delay a Final Settlement while they continue to kill your people, steal your land, and drive the rest of you out of your homes.'

Two chapters, titled 'Preserving the Rule of Law in the War Against International Terrorism' and 'What Is To Be Done?' are of special interest. The latter offers insight and guidance regarding the future of global opposition to state terrorism, including Boyle's observations on the establishment of a comprehensive campaign for divestment and disinvestment in Israel. It was Boyle, who, in a November 30, 2000, speech at Illinois State University in Bloomington-Normal, urged into existence the divestment campaign against Israel that is now in progress on college and university campuses across the USA (See:

In Palestine, Palestinians, and International Law readers will find the texts of several helpful and inspiring documents, including The Geneva Declaration on Terrorism (1987), The Palestinian Declaration of Independence (1988), and Boyle's own Memorandum of Law known as the Palestinian Alternative to Oslo (1992), as well as relevant sections of The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973). Appendices include a comprehensive 'Bibliography of Genocidal/Apartheid Acts Inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians During the Al Aqsa Intifada,' as well as Boyle's partial 'Bibliography on the Middle East and International Law,' both of which will prove invaluable to serious students of the crises in Palestine and the Middle East.

Palestine, Palestinians, and International Law is a book that readers and activists will take great pleasure and find encouragement in, a book that scholars, researchers, and other truth seekers will turn to for years to come.

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