UN expert Francesca Albanese's first Palestine report hailed by rights groups

UN expert Francesca Albanese's first Palestine report hailed by rights groups
Francesca Albanese's report says Israel is practising 'settler-colonialism', seeking to irreversibly take over Palestinian land by constructing Jewish settlements there.
5 min read
07 December, 2022
Israel has been widely criticised for its decades-long occupation of Palestine [Nasser Ishtayeh/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty-file photo]

A UN expert's first report in her role examining the human rights situation in Palestine has been hailed as "robust and principled" by rights groups.

Francesca Albanese, the special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, presented her report to the UN General Assembly in October.

Palestinian Ambassador to the UK Husam Zomlot said her report "clearly defines Israel's occupation of Palestinian land as illegal according to international law".

Ahmed Abofoul, legal research and advocacy officer at Palestinian rights group Al-Haq, said: "I think - and hope - that this report may pave the way for the UN special rapporteur Albanese to demand an expansion, rather a correction, of the scope of her mandate to include the Palestinian people as a whole, not only those in the occupied Palestinian territory."

Albanese's report says Israel is practising "settler-colonialism", meaning it seeks to irreversibly take over Palestinian land by constructing settlements there.

The report also looks at Palestinians' right to self-determination and was praised by Amnesty International UK's crisis response manager, Kristyan Benedict.

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"Albanese has delivered a robust and principled report which calls on states in the UN General Assembly to help end Israel's settler-colonial occupation and apartheid regime," he told The New Arab.

"The report also constructively challenges humanitarian and human rights NGOs to confront and overcome limitations in their current analysis and programmes.

"We at Amnesty have been engaging a number of humanitarian organisations to assess how they can join increasing global calls to end Israeli apartheid.

"It is also important that they urgently conduct assessments of all their projects and assistance for Palestinians to ensure they are implemented in a way that does not entrench, support or perpetuate discrimination and segregation of Palestinians."

Albanese's report raises potential issues with examining Israeli abuses against Palestinians through the lens of apartheid.

This understanding has become common among activists and civil society organisations worldwide, with Amnesty, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and top Israeli rights group B'Tselem all agreeing that Israel is engaging in apartheid.

"If considered alone and not as part of a holistic examination of the experience of the Palestinian people as a whole, the apartheid framework presents some limitations," Albanese's report reads.

It says most recent reports examining Israeli apartheid overlook Palestinian refugees, adding that a "focus on Israeli apartheid alone misses the inherent illegality of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory".

The apartheid framework also fails to "address the 'root causes' of the web of racially discriminatory laws, orders and policies that have regulated daily life in the occupied Palestinian territory since 1967" and Israel's intentions in "seizing land while subjugating and displacing" Palestinians and replacing them with Israelis.

"This is the hallmark of settler-colonialism, and a war crime under the Rome Statute," Albanese's report says, referring to the treaty that created the International Criminal Court.

Albanese, an affiliate scholar at Georgetown University and an international lawyer, instead advocates approaching the situation in Palestine through a self-determination framework.

"The right to self-determination constitutes the collective right par excellence" without which "many other rights" cannot be achieved, her report says.

It adds that this right is essentially a people's "right to live and grow as a people within a political community of its own" and "implies the right to resist alien domination, subjugation and exploitation" that might hinder the attainment of self-determination.

HRW Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir said: "Albanese is right to say that apartheid should not be viewed as a standalone independent narrative, indeed other crimes and abuses take place.

"And also, all crimes, including the crime against humanity of apartheid and persecution take place against the backdrop of a larger context," he added.

"It's also important to understand that much of the reporting around apartheid by human rights organisations has looked at the plight of Palestinian refugees in terms of showing the way in which Israel's system methodically seeks to privilege Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians."

Shakir added that apartheid can take place in the context of occupation, saying the finding of apartheid does not undo "the legal and factual reality… of occupation".

"So, when you put it all together, I think it's quite clear… that… Albanese's report reinforces that consensus," he said.

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Abofoul, the Al-Haq legal research officer, called Albanese's report a "significant recognition of the accuracy of the Palestinian human rights organisations' decades-long professional legal analysis of the situation in Palestine using the settler-colonialism framework".

He said this includes their analysis of apartheid, which they "accurately" consider as a "manifestation of Israel's settler-colonialism in Palestine".

This is in contrast to recent mainstream reports, which have viewed apartheid as a "matter of liberal equality merely entailing providing equal rights to the indigenous Palestinians between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea", Abofoul said.

He added that this understanding is "absent of engaging in any decolonisation process, including the right of refugees to return".

"I hope that the international community will someday bring all the war criminals, including the US and Israel, to the International Criminal Court, which was founded to ensure that justice prevails"

For Hani Al-Masri, director of the Palestinian research centre Masarat, there was "no doubt" Albanese's report was "fair to the Palestinians", especially given the abuses it "accused Israel clearly and explicitly" of perpetrating.

"But… all of this remains restricted in light of America's continued support," he said.

Gaza-based human rights expert Salah Abdul Ati said Palestinians are "for sure" happy with the issuing of such a report which "confirmed our rights of self-determination" and "accuses Israel of committing criminal actions against the people".

"However, the Palestinians all the time challenge the US position which violates our rights and supports Israel," he said.

"I hope that the international community will someday bring all the war criminals, including the US and Israel, to the International Criminal Court, which was founded to ensure that justice prevails."

The New Arab's correspondent in Gaza contributed to this report.