“Operation Cast Lead and the Distortion of International Law”
An Al-Haq position paper, released on 6 April 2009 (Al-Haq is the West Bank affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists)
Israel’s claim to ‘self-defence’ as the legal pretext for ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ the latest and most destructive in a string of regular large-scale military offensives against the Gaza Strip since 2006, received widespread and often unconditional acceptance from the international diplomatic community as justification for the Israeli attacks. ‘Operation Cast Lead’ was not the first time that Israel has cited Article 51 of the UN Charter as justification for military operations or unlawful acts within or against the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT); nor, in fact, the last.
In October 2003, Israel attempted to invoke self-defence as the basis for the construction of its Annexation Wall within the West Bank; asserting to the UN General Assembly that “the fence is a measure wholly consistent with the right of States to self‑defence enshrined in Article 51 of the Charter.” The International Court of Justice, however, concluded that “Article 51 of the UN Charter has no relevance in this case” and could not be invoked. In March 2009, two months after the end of ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, sent a letter to the UN Security Council, similar to the letter dispatched immediately prior to the launching of ‘Operation Cast Lead’, to inform the international community that Israel “will not tolerate, and will respond accordingly to attacks against its citizens” and that Israel “has the inherent duty to exercise its right to self-defence enshrined in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.”
Taking into account Israel’s belligerent and repeatedly unlawful conduct during ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ Al-Haq deplores and condemns Israel’s continuous invocation of Article 51 of the UN Charter as legal justification for disproportionate and often indiscriminate military operations in or against the OPT. Furthermore, Al-Haq is alarmed at the seemingly uncontested acceptance of Israel’s claim to self-defence by the international diplomatic community, and would like to make it emphatically clear that Article 51 of the UN Charter cannot be invoked as justification for military operations within or against the OPT.