UPDATE: Princeton Professor Emeritus of International Law Richard Falk, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian Territory,HAS NOW BEEN DEPORTED FROM ISRAEL ON MONDAY after being barred from entry on Sunday, according to an Israeli human rights organization, ADALAH.
The first alert came on Sunday from WAFA, the Palestinian News Agency reporting from Geneva that Falk was denied entry into Israel on Sunday upon his arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport, and that Falk was detained overnight pending deportation.
WAFA, the Palestinian News Agency, said Sunday night that the “Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations in Geneva said in a press release issued few hours ago, that the Israeli Occupation Authorities have denied the UN Special Rapporteur into the Palestinian Territory and Israel. The press release explained that Falk was coming to detect Israel ‘s violations of the International and the International Humanitarian Laws in the OPT. At his arrival, Israeli Authorities denied his access into Israel and held him in the immigration section in Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Israeli Occupation Authorities are to deport him to Geneva Monday morning. This is Falk’s first official visit to the OPT and Israel , after he was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). He is currently working on a report about the human rights conditions in the OPT to raise it to the UNHRC tenth session in March 2009”.
This WAFA report was picked up and published here [which is not the website of the global satellite television channel] — and this link was circulated by Palestinian-American businessman and activist in Ramallah, Sam Bahour.
This development comes just after Falk stated on Tuesday of last week in Geneva, according to the website of Al-Jazeera television, that “it would seem ‘mandatory’ that the UN’s International Criminal Court investigate Israel’s policies in regard to the Palestinians. ‘[The court could] determine whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law’, he said. The Israeli government has faced a level of criticism by ‘normally cautious UN officials’ not seen since the ‘the heyday of South African apartheid’, Falk said. ‘And still Israel maintains its Gaza siege in its full fury, allowing only barely enough food and fuel to enter to stave off mass famine and disease’ … [T]he UN must “implement the agreed norm of a responsibility to protect a civilian population being collectively punished by policies that amount to a crime against humanity’.” This report can be read in full here.
Falk took over as the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the oPt in mid-2008 from South African law professor and anti-apartheid activist John Dugard, who was one of the few UN human rights rapporteurs, if not the only one, who was willing to travel to Israel on his national passport, after having been refused (or after not having received an answer approving) an Israeli entry visa on his UN laissez-passer.
The spokesperson of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Yigal Palmor, said in a phone interview on Monday afternoon in Jerusalem that Falk “was not allowed to enter, and (if Falk has not been deported already, as I’m not following the case on an hour-to-hour basis) the authorities are waiting for the earliest possible returning flight” to take him back to Geneva — because international rule require that a person whose entry into the country is barred must be returned to his port of departure.
It appears that Falk did not appeal the deportation order — if so, he would probably have had to remain in detention several days, until the deportation hearing.
The U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Tel Aviv has been unavailable to explain what efforts were made to assist Falk, who is American and who presented his U.S. passport at the Ben Gurion Airport border control, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson.
Asked why Falk’s entry was barred, Palmor stated that “He came as rapporteur for the UN Human Rights Council, and we find the mandate of the rapporteur is completely distorted … and it has been instrumentalized for Israel-bashing”.
Palmor stressed several times that the problem was the mandate, repeatedly stating that it was “distorted and flawed … and directed as a propaganda instrument against Israel”.
However, as noted above, Falk’s predecessor as the UN HRC’s Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights situation in the oPt, John Dugard, had no trouble entering Israel on several occasions — using his national passport (South African) — despite Israel’s clearly-stated disagreement with the Special Rapporteur’s Mandate, which has not changed for some 15 years.
Palmor said that the fact that both Falk and his predecessor Dugard have asked the Human Rights Council to change and broaden the mandate to include Palestinian violations of human rights was “meaningless — they could do something about it, not just say so”, Palmor said. “They bear responsibility”.
Palmor also said that both Special Rapporteurs had made extreme comments about Israel, which. he said, went well beyond professional and fact-based criticism. Dugard had made some extremely shocking statements which were inexcusable, Palmor said, but because his computer was down, he was at the moment unable to cite examples. As for Falk, Palmor said, “the fact that he believes in conspiracy theories” is enough to discredit him. Palmor was referring to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City and on the Pentagon building outside Washington D.C. — and Palmor acknowledged that Falk has not been accused of backing all the conspiracy theories that have been developed around this attack (particularly the more anti-Semitic versions). But, Palmor said, “the fact that he believes that the CIA is directly responsible is enough”.
[In an interview published in the American periodical, The Nation, in June 2008, Falk said this: “I think that there is a great deal of suspicion directed at anyone who is skeptical about the official explanation for 9/11. I have not, in fact, been very much involved with the so-called 9/11 truth movement. By coincidence, I happen to be a longtime friend of a man named David Ray Griffin, a much-respected philosopher of religion, who has become convinced that the official explanation is false. I have a lot of respect for him, and I wrote the foreword to his original book, The New Pearl Harbor. But that’s really the extent of my involvement. I don’t have an independent view on how best to understand the 9/11 attacks. I haven’t looked at the evidence sufficiently to say more than that the 9/11 Commission didn’t do a good job of dispelling the several plausible grounds for suspicions that exist. There are unanswered questions that deserve to be answered, and the public should have the benefit of that kind of clarification. The left particularly is nervous about being seen as supportive of conspiracy theory. And to the extent that there is an incentive to discredit my role–partly because of the Israel/Palestine context– there’s also a tendency to exaggerate my involvement with this set of issues. But if you look carefully at what I’ve been writing and what I’ve been doing, you’ll see that I’ve really had very minimal contact, and I’ve not been involved in the 9/11 movement at all. Some people have tried to get me involved, and I’ve resisted, not because I don’t think it’s important to raise these issues but because they’re not my own priorities … As far as Afghanistan is concerned, I wrote some articles after the 9/11 attacks that supported the belief that the Al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan posed a continuing threat. In my opinion, this provided the United States with a reasonably convincing rationale under international law for attacking Afghanistan, particularly given the very limited legitimacy that the Taliban government possessed. It was only recognized by three governments in the world, and two of them withdrew their recognition after the 9/11 attacks. The one country that maintained a diplomatic connection, and that only for the sake of convenience, was Pakistan. Other Islamic states had no diplomatic relations with Afghanistan, including Iran. That said, I think the way the war was prosecuted was very disturbing–legally, morally and politically. And I now think that the quick embrace of a war paradigm by the US government in response to 9/11 was a very fundamental mistake in responding to the threats posed by the attacks. In a broader sense, Afghanistan launched the neoconservative post-9/11 grand strategy. It’s important to appreciate that this strategy was not focused on counterterrorist objectives but seemed to focus on establishing American control over the Middle East for reasons of oil, nonproliferation policies, long-term protection of Israel and containment of political Islam. These goals depended on victory in Iraq, which now seems unlikely. Future policy should promote a regional security framework that includes Israel and Iran, and should be based on a prohibition of all weapons of mass destruction, including those currently possessed by Israel. The policy should move toward a far more balanced approach to peace between Israel and Palestine, an approach that either envisages a single democratic state for both peoples or two equally sovereign states that could come into being only after the Israeli settlements were substantially dismantled and the Israeli security wall totally removed from Palestinian territory.” This interview can be read in full here].
Earlier this year, the then-Israeli Ambassador to Geneva, Itzhak Levanon, took issue with words I wrote in another article in June about the UN and Israel’s human rights records, in which I said that “Israel has consistently not replied to visa requests to most UN Special Rapporteurs, or special investigative missions, whose mandates it does not like”. In a letter to the editor, Ambassador Levanon stated that “It is true that Israel has consistently registered its dismay at the United Nations´ institutional bias in consideration of the Palestinian issue…However, it is false to state that Israel has ‘consistently not replied to visa requests to most UN Special Rapporteurs’.”[n.b., please note that here, Ambassador Levanon shortens — omits, in fact — the final qualifying phrase of my sentence.]
Ambassador Levanon then goes on to note that “In October 2005, Israel hosted Ms. Hina Jilani, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders. In September 2006, Israel hosted a joint visit by four Special Procedures: the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Internally Displaced Persons, the Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions, the Special Rapporteur on Health and the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing. In April 2007, Israel hosted Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict. In July 2007, Israel hosted Mr. Martin Scheinin, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism. And in January 2008, Israel hosted Ms. Asma Jahangir, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Additionally, Israel hosted a visit by Ms. Louise Arbour, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, in November 2006. Of course, all of these missions were interspersed with regular, twice-yearly visits from the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, who was always provided with special documentation to facilitate his movements in our region. The hosting of eight Special Rapporteurs and the High Commissioner in less than three years demonstrates a far greater cooperative record than many other states can claim”.
Neither Ambassador Levanon, nor spokespersons for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, replied to queries about how many visa requests from UN human rights experts and officials were either denied or ignored. These same UN officials in Geneva did not reply to my emails — and were all artfully unavailable on the phone today.
Asked Monday if Falk had requested a visa for the mission he was planning to undertake to Israel at this time, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Yigal Palmor, replied that “We knew he would try to come, and he tried to bypass us by using his national (American) passport”.
Palmor said that both Dugard and Falk had “lied to us, saying they were coming into the country to do one thing, then doing another. Of Falk, he said, “on one occasion did pay us a visit, and said he was not going to do anything political, but was coming as a private person, and not as an envoy — and then he went to a political event, where he presented himself as an envoy”.
Adalah — the Haifa-based Legal center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel — has just announced that it sent an urgent letter to the Israeli Minister of Interior, Meir Shitreet and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, demanding that they lift the ban imposed on Professor Richard Falk the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories, from entering these areas. At the order of the Ministry of the Interior, the Border Police denied Prof. Falk entry into Israel yesterday, 14 December 2008, on his way to the West Bank to carry out his official functions. He was deported from Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv this morning, 15 December 2008 … In the letter, Adalah Attorney Abeer Baker argued that it is Israel’s obligation as a member of the UN and a signatory to various international human rights conventions to respect the work of UN representatives, to enable their human rights missions and to assist them in fulfilling their responsibilities without fear of repercussions. Further, it is Israel’s responsibility to grant entry to Prof. Falk as part of its obligation to adhere to the principles of international law protecting the Palestinian residents of the OPT”.
Adalah added that “In March 2008, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted to appoint Prof. Falk to this position as UN Special Rapporteur for a six-year term. Prof. Falk’s duties include preparing reports on human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), informing the UN about his work and conclusions, and suggesting ways of alleviating these violations. Prof. Falk is an eminent expert in international law and works as a lecturer at several prominent universities in the US, including the University of California at Santa Barbara and Princeton University. He has published several seminal books on the subject of international law and human rights. Prof. Falk’s arbitrary denial of entry into Israel is a severe blow to the rights of the Palestinian civilian population living under occupation, a population which must be afforded protection by the occupier under international humanitarian law. Denying Prof. Falk’s entry also impairs the work of numerous human rights organizations and human rights defenders working in Israel and the OPT to protect and advance the human rights of Palestinians … Prof. Falk last entered Israel in June 2008 in his capacity as a scholar to attend an academic conference. On the eve of his visit, the press reported that it was the intention of the Ministry of the Interior to prevent him from entering the country because of his sharp criticisms of Israel’s human rights record in the OPT. Adalah sent a letter to the ministry at that time requesting clarification, following which Prof. Falk was permitted to enter Israel. It is therefore apparent that the reason for the denial of his entry on this occasion is due to the purpose of his visit, which is to prepare a report on the situation of human rights in the OPT. Refusing entry on these grounds is an illegitimate reason”.
UPDATE: While the U.S. Embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv did not return my calls, a staff member told this journalist that “There is a Privacy Act, and we cannot speak about this matter unless Mr. Falk would agree that we speak”.