WASHINGTON — Richard Falk, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, is no stranger to criticism for his harsh language on Israel, but his final report to the United Nations challenged previous records, going so far as to coin a Hebrew equivalent for the Afrikaans term “apartheid” to describe conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He also called for the UN to be more supportive of a “legitimacy war” against Israel.
The report, which was leaked by the non-governmental organization UN Watch, was the final missive by Falk, who will conclude his tenure in March. In it, he reiterated previous inflammatory statements, conducted a legalistic analysis of whether Israel is guilty of apartheid, offered enthusiastic support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, and issued a number of recommendations.
Three candidates are reportedly vying to replace Falk, who will present this final report before the United Nations Human Rights Council on March 24. One of the candidates, law professor Christine Chinkin, served previously as a co-author of the controversial Goldstone Report on the 2008 war in Gaza.
In the report Falk wrote that he conceptualizes the role of rapporteur as “bearing witness,” which he said “provides a record of violations by Israel and its defiant attitude, and challenges the United Nations to take steps to ensure compliance.”
The Jewish state, he noted, did everything that it could to prevent his “bearing witness.” Falk complained that Israel “refused even minimal cooperation” with his work, noting that he was expelled from Israel in December 2008 and “detained overnight in unpleasant prison conditions.” He added that he hoped the next rapporteur would receive enough backing from the UN to force Israel to cooperate with their investigations, as well as “better protection against defamatory attacks made by some non-governmental organizations than was the experience of the current mandate holder.”
The last charge was a sensitive point for Falk, a Jew who has been accused of anti-Semitism, an accusation echoed by – among others – State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. In his final recommendations, he expressed hope that “the Human Rights Council pay increased attention to the failure by Israel to cooperate with the normal functioning of the United Nations by way of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, and to the protection of Special Rapporteurs from defamatory attacks diverting attention from substantive issues integral to the mandate.”
The bulk of the 22-page report, however, dealt with alleged Israeli offenses against Palestinians – and Falk’s opinion of the appropriate response. He wrote that Israel has consistently failed to “comply with clear legal standards embodied in the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War” and in other humanitarian law.
Repeating a theme that had previously run him afoul of pro-Israel groups and Western governments alike, Falk argued that Israel’s “oppressive occupation… seems designed to encourage residents to leave Palestine, which is consistent with the apparent annexationist, colonialist and ethnic-cleansing goals of Israel.” In earlier interviews, Falk accused Israel and the complicit world of “slouching toward genocide,” an allegation that led to calls for his dismissal from Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird.
In this report, Falk suggested that the UN has a “crucial role to play” in what he termed a “legitimacy war” against Israel. Falk described this “war” as “a worldwide struggle to gain control over the debate about legal entitlements and moral properties in the conflict supported by a global solidarity movement that has begun to sway public opinion.” He encouraged the UN to replace the word “occupation” with “colonial ambitions” as well as “annexation” in order to reinforce the urgency of addressing the situation.
Warning repeatedly of the harm Israel’s policies in the West Bank caused the Palestinian population, Falk also spent a large portion of his report discussing campaigns to support corporate and governmental boycott and divestment from entities with ties to the West Bank.
The special rapporteur clarified that he views the Gaza Strip, from which Israel withdrew forces and settlers in 2005, as occupied and that he holds Israel responsible for failing to uphold the Geneva Convention in the coastal territory.
Falk complained that despite recommendations made by both him and his predecessor, the International Court of Justice has yet to issue an advisory opinion as to whether “the prolonged occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem possess elements of “colonialism,” “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing.” The rapporteur argued that since the court had not taken up the challenge, he would do so in his final report.
Falk went so far as to redefine the Hebrew word “hafrada” – separation – to assert an implied as well as literal usage as the translation of the Afrikaans word “apartheid,” literally the state of being apart. In his concluding paragraph of the section asking whether Israel is guilty of apartheid, Falk wrote that “the combined effect of the measures designed to ensure security for Israeli citizens, to facilitate and expand settlements, and, it would appear, to annex land, is hafrada, discrimination and systematic oppression of, and domination over, the Palestinian people.”
Recasting hafrada as apartheid rather than separation would recast the “separation fence” as the “apartheid fence,” a major score for a man who argues that terminology is important for influencing international sentiment against Israel, and who is fervently opposed to what Israel has insisted is a security barrier with no bearing on long-term borders.
In his recommendations, Falk called once again on the International Court of Justice to issue advisory opinions on the legal status of “the prolonged occupation of Palestine, as aggravated by prohibited transfers of large numbers of persons from the occupying Power and the imposition of a dual and discriminatory administrative and legal system in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”
He also recommended that “the international community” investigate business activities of local companies that “profit from the settlements of Israel and other unlawful Israeli activities,” and that UN member states “should consider imposing a ban on imports of settlement produce.”
Falk also suggested that Israel dismantle settlements, relocate settlers, and offer reparations to West Bank Palestinians, as well as “lift the unlawful blockade of Gaza, cease military incursions, allow Gazans to benefit fully from their natural resources situated within their borders or off the coast of Gaza, and take account of a deepening emergency in Gaza.”
Falk’s statements have a long history of engendering passionate response. In December Baird, the Canadian foreign minister, called for his immediate removal after an interview surfaced in which the Princeton professor emeritus accused Israel of “genocidal intents.”
In the past, US officials have condemned Falk for what Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, described as “his despicable and deeply offensive comments, particularly his anti-Semitic blog postings, his endorsement of 9/11 conspiracy theories, and more recently, his deplorable statements with regard to the terrorist attacks in Boston.”
In October 2012, then-US permanent representative to the UN Susan Rice slammed a report by Falk in which he called for boycotting private Israeli companies, calls that he reiterated in his most recent report. At the time, Rice labeled Falk’s call as “irresponsible and unacceptable” and accused Falk of being “highly biased.”
In January 2011, Rice said that she was “appalled” by a blog post written by Falk in which, she said, Falk “endorses the slurs of conspiracy theorists who allege that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were perpetrated and then covered up by the US government and media.”
At the time, Rice filed a “strong protest” with the UN, and described Falk’s comments as “despicable and deeply offensive.”