World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Statement on Israel's obligations as occupying power

Issued by the CCIA on the occasion of the Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention.

05 December 2001

Issued by the CCIA on the occasion of the Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, Geneva, 5 December 2001.

The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches welcomes today's conference of the High Contracting Parties (hereinafter HCP) to the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention (hereinafter the Convention) "on measures to enforce the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and to ensure respect thereof in accordance with common Article 1" (UNGA RES/ES -10/3, July 1997; 10/4 November 1997; 10/5 March 1998; 10/6 February 1999).

While the CCIA believes that the reaffirmation by the HCP of the principles defined for the protection of civilian populations under occupation is an important step, the Declaration of 5 December 2001 falls short by failing to recommend concrete measures to ensure the respect of these same principles.

In view of the horrific escalation of the conflict, especially in these last weeks, the CCIA reaffirms once again its endorsement of the conclusions and recommendations of the Human Rights Inquiry Commission of 16 March 2001, which, inter alia, recommended that the reconvened "Conference should establish an effective international mechanism for taking urgent measures needed … to alleviate the daily suffering of the Palestinian people flowing from the severe breaches of international humanitarian law."

The CCIA notes that the Convention is a cornerstone of international humanitarian law and provides basic legal standards for the treatment of civilians during armed conflict or under occupation. It bans, among other things; indiscriminate use of force against civilians, wanton destruction of property, torture, collective punishment, the annexation of occupied territory, the establishment of settlements on occupied land and requires judicial accountability for those who commit war crimes.

Most importantly CCIA reiterates that the Convention requires that all HCP ensure that the Convention is respected in all circumstances. In this context the CCIA believes that there are immediate moves available to fulfill this obligation, and a meeting of the HCP is the first effective step towards achieving that goal.

The CCIA reaffirms previous statements of its governing bodies, where it highlighted grave breaches of the Convention by Israel against civilians, including repressive forms of collective punishments, restriction of freedom of movement including access to the Holy sites, the bombing and shelling of civilian neighborhoods and the destruction of property including tens of thousands of olive trees and the denial of access to timely medical assistance.

The CCIA once again calls upon Israel to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities as a signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention to put an end to the ongoing violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including the military occupation itself. In addition, it restates its position that Israel's repeated defiance of international law, its continuing occupation and the impunity it has so long enjoyed are the fundamental causes of the present violence and threaten peace and security of both peoples.

The CCIA appeals to the international community to fulfill its obligations under international humanitarian law. This it should do by ensuring that Israel complies with the requirements of international law so that the international community is not complicit in its violations of human rights but is instrumental in ensuring the protection of all civilians.

As people of faith we uphold and defend the sanctity of all life, both Palestinian and Israeli and cannot remain silent in the face of suffering, insecurity and fear of both peoples.

Therefore we reiterate the WCC Executive Committee resolution of September 14, 2001 which calls the WCC member churches, ecumenical partners and Christians around the world, in the context of the Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace (2001-2010), to focus attention in 2002 on intensive efforts to End the Illegal Occupation of Palestine, and to participate actively in coordinated ecumenical efforts, among others, to support the newly established Ecumenical Monitoring Programme in Palestine and Israel (EMPPI); to join in non-violent acts of resistance to the destruction of Palestinian properties and to forced evictions of people from their homes and lands; an international boycott of goods produced in the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories; and in international prayer vigils to strengthen the "chain of solidarity" with the Palestinian people, and for a just peace in the Middle East.