The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has pointed to an important and little-reported finding by France’s Court of Appeals last week that has held that construction and development undertaken by Jews in Judea and Samaria is legal and does not violate international law. This landmark legal decision is completely contrary to the position taken by Palestinians and their supporters internationally that Jewish settlement and construction in these territories is a violation of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention and thus illegal and indeed a war crime.
The French Court of Appeals ruled last week that construction of a light rail system in the Israeli-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria by a French company does not violate international law. In doing so, the court sided with arguments Israel has long made in defense of the legality of Jewish communities in the territories.
Distinguished international legal scholar, Eugene Kontorovich, a Professor at Northwestern University School of Law, stated “This is an extraordinarily important holding in light of the decades old-debate about the meaning of [Article] 49(6) in the context of Israeli civilian migration into the West Bank … One clear consequence of the French ruling is that newspapers can no longer say with any pretense of honesty that apart from Israel, ‘everyone agrees’ that settlement construction violates international law.”
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, prohibits “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not.” It also ordains that “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “It is an important milestone that the French Court of Appeal has made this legal ruling regarding Jewish residence and construction in Judea and Samaria. The ZOA has been making this argument for years in articles, opinion pieces, lectures and media appearances.
“Only last week, in a lecture I delivered at a conference on the Mass Media and the Law at Ariel University in Samaria, Israel, I spoke at length on the legality of the Jewish residence and construction in Judea and Samaria. In fact, the Oslo Accords signed by Yasser Arafat contain no prohibition on continued Israeli residence and construction in the territories.
“The French court ruling thus concurs with the findings of the report issued last year by former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Edmund Levy, which affirmed the legality under international law of the Jewish presence there.
“In fact, the law on this question has always been clear and would be understood generally but for the political manipulation of the discussion that has predominated for the past few decades.
“As the ZOA has repeatedly pointed out, Judea and Samaria were part of the territory earmarked for Jewish settlement in 1920 at the San Remo Conference that drafted the League of Nations Charter. This decision, enshrined in the British Mandate for Palestine that shortly followed, has never been superseded by an internationally binding agreement. The Director of the ZOA’s Center for Middle East Policy, Dr. Daniel Mandel, dealt with the falsity of contrary legal claims in an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post earlier this year.
“It is clear that Palestinians are not being deported or forcibly transferred from Judea and Samaria to another territory; nor are Jews being deported or transferred from Israel to the West Bank. They are moving there freely of their own will.
“The Fourth Geneva Convention deals only with territories belonging to a sovereign power. In contrast, the Arabs rejected the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (partition) in 1947, thus preventing Palestinian Arabs from taking legal possession of Judea and Samaria. In fact, only two countries recognized Jordan’s illegal annexation of these territories after it seized them in 1948 in an aggressive war on Israel’s establishment. Israel subsequently captured these territories following a further Jordanian attack in 1967. At that time, Judea/Samaria was restored to its status as territory designated for Jewish settlement and the Jewish homeland under international law.
Accordingly, Article 49 has no bearing on the situation. Moreover, the former President of the International Court of Justice, Stephen Schwebel, noted already years ago that, as Israel had taken these territories in a defensive war, its own claims to it were superior to any others. Former State Department official and former Yale Law School Dean, Eugene Rostow, has also affirmed the legality of Israel’s presence in these territories.
“War crimes have always referred to such things as murdering enemy civilians or putting them to forced labor in camps, not Jews moving into homes in their biblical and legal homeland. It is important that the law be authoritatively stated and restated to counter the decades-long campaign of Palestinians and their supporters who have sought to pervert international law so that a Jew moving to or building in Judea and Samaria can be labeled a war criminal.”