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Letter on Article 51 - Self-Defense

Letter on Article 51 - Self-Defense

21 May 2021 in 2021
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"Letter on Article 51 – Self-Defense" by Palestine at the UN


I write to you in response to a letter by the Permanent Representative to Israel to the United Nations Security Council on 12 May 2021 (S/2021/463), invoking Israel’s so-called ‘right and duty to defend its people and sovereignty’ and urging the international community to support its ‘fundamental right to self-defense’.

Israel’s invocation of the principle of self-defense as an occupying Power, is illegitimate and must be countered with a clear response rooted in international law, the same international law that it systematically breaches with contempt yet has the audacity to invoke when it deems beneficial to itself.

Israel’s continued illegal and 54-year occupation of the State of Palestine, including East Jerusalem, is an act of aggression and cannot be retroactively justified by reference to the right of self-defense. Indeed, the principle of self-defense cannot be applied by Israel for itself in the occupied territory of the State of Palestine. The occupying Power has no sovereignty rights whatsoever in the occupied territory, to which international law, including humanitarian law, fully applies.

Israel, the occupying Power, cannot invoke the so-called right to self-defense to justify the use of excessive military force against the besieged Palestinian civilian population in the occupied Gaza Strip. As reaffirmed by the United Nations Security Council in its resolution 1860 (2009), the Gaza Strip is an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel since 1967. Israel remains the occupying Power and is thus bound by the relevant provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention and all other relevant provisions of international law, including United Nations resolutions.

The aforementioned letter by the Permanent Representative to Israel to the United Nations Security Council makes an impermissible conflation between Israel’s obligations, as an occupying Power, within the territory under its occupation, and the general principle of self-defense, as guaranteed under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. In this regard, it is imperative to recall that the International Court of Justice, in its 2004 Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall, clearly established the non-applicability and irrelevance of this ‘self-defense’ argument to the territory under Israel’s occupation.

As of 20 May 2021, Israel, the occupying Power, has killed over 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, 39 women, and 17 elderly, and injured over 1900 people, many critically wounded, and displaced over 60,000 Palestinians as a result of its most recent military aggression against Gaza. Entire families have been killed and wanton destruction has been caused as Israel deliberately and systematically targeted and caused damage and destruction to vital civilian infrastructure, including health facilities, schools, electricity networks, a desalination plant providing clean water to 250,000 people, commercial and media towers, and residential buildings, totally 450 buildings and structures. It is to be recalled that Gaza has also been under Israel’s blockade, by air, land and sea, for 14 years, in a massive collective punishment of the Palestinian civilian population.

Israeli officials are committing grave and serious breaches against a besieged population, before the eyes and ears of the entire world, and yet deign to frame their crimes and violations as ‘self-defense’. Israel’s willful violations against the protected population and unjustified destruction of civilian property are war crimes, not self-defense, and violate its obligations, as an occupying Power, under international humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, and international human rights law.

As per the law, Israel, as the occupying Power, is strictly prohibited, from both imposing collective punishment and conducting or threatening to conduct, acts of violence and destruction, of which the primary purpose is to spread terror among the protected population under its occupation. None of the rights of protected persons derived from the Fourth Geneva Convention may be terminated by Israel in any case or in any manner whatsoever.

Therefore, we reiterate that its invocation of the ‘right to self-defense’ to justify these systematic violations and crimes it is committing against the Palestinian people must not be appeased. Israel must be demanded to respect its obligations under international law, including humanitarian and human rights law, as has been repeatedly demanded by the Security Council and the General Assembly of in countless resolutions that not only remain unimplemented but are being breached every single day with utter contempt and with grave repercussions on the lives of the Palestinian people who continue to gravely suffer under this illegal, colonial occupation.

This letter is in follow-up to our 720 letters regarding the ongoing crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, which constitutes the territory of the State of Palestine. These letters, dated from 29 September 2000 (A/55/432-S/2000/921) to 18 May 2021 (A/ES-10/xxx-S/2021/xxx) constitute a basic record of the crimes being committed by Israel, the occupying Power, against the Palestinian people since September 2000. For all of these war crimes, acts of State terrorism and systematic human rights violations being committed against the Palestinian people, Israel, the occupying Power, must be held accountable and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

I should be grateful if you would arrange to have this letter distributed as an official document of the 10th emergency special session of the General Assembly, under agenda item 5, and of the Security Council.

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.

Dr. Riyad Mansour

Minister, Permanent Observer

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