Falk appointed to investigate Israeli actions in the Occupied Territories

As a Princeton alumna, I was pleased to hear that Princeton’s Richard Falk (Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice) has been appointed by the UN as a special investigator on Israeli actions in the Palestinian Territories. But it also ties in with some of the discussions on language that we’ve seen on the blog recently, since Falk is an American Jew who characterized Israeli actions in the Occupied Territories as “Slouching Towards a Palestinian Holocaust,” and in this appointment he replaces South African professor John Dugard, who characterized Israel’s occupation as apartheid. Falk has also written on the legality of the Vietnam war and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, characterizing the latter as a war of aggression that should be tried by a war crimes tribunal.

Here’s what the Jerusalem Post has to say about the UN’s appointment of Falk:

UNHRC appointment infuriates Israel
TOVAH LAZAROFF | JPost | Mar 27, 2008

The United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday appointed American Jewish law professor Richard A. Falk – who has compared Israel to the Nazis – as special investigator on Israeli actions in the territories for a six-year term.

Falk, who formerly taught international law at Princeton University, replaces South African professor John Dugard, who was an expert on apartheid. Dugard leaves his post in June after seven years. He made waves when he compared Israeli actions in the territories with apartheid and colonialism. Falk, in his academic writing, has already stated that a Palestinian holocaust was in the making.

Yitzhak Levanon, ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, spoke against Falk’s appointment in an address to the council on Wednesday. “In a recent article, [Falk] stated that he did not think it to be “an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with the criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity,” Levanon said. “He has taken part in a UN fact-finding mission which determined that suicide bombings were a valid method of ‘struggle,'” Levanon said. “He has disturbingly charged Israel with ‘genocidal tendencies,’ and accused it of trying to achieve security through ‘state terrorism,'” Levanon said. “Someone who has publicly and repeatedly stated such views cannot possibly be considered independent, impartial or objective,” Levanon said.

…but why not read what Falk himself has to say about the analogy? There is a full list of Falk’s online publications for the Swedish Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research at http://www.transnational.org/SAJT/tff/people/r_falk.html.

–L.L. Wynn

14 Responses to Falk appointed to investigate Israeli actions in the Occupied Territories

  1. Raffe says:

    So the UN has appointed a Special Investigator who has already come to the conclusion that Israeli actions are akin to the Nazi’s?
    Shouldn’t they at least try to make their anti-Israel platform just a little bit more subtle?

  2. llwynn says:

    Raffe, thanks for your comment. We love getting comments on this blog. The more dialogue the better. But in the interests of pursuing these topics in a thoughtful and scholarly fashion, it would be great if you would read some of Falk’s extensive writings and provide a more nuanced commentary than simply seeing the U.N.’s appointment as evidence of their “anti-Israel platform.”

  3. Raffe says:


    Apologies for a less than stellar comment and i’ll try to rectify that in all my future posting.

    Falk has stated that the Qassam rocket has killed only 12 (it’s now 16) over the past few years. What he’s failing to understand is that whilst the Qassam’s haven’t resulted in a large amount of casualties that has nothing to do with HAMAS’s intent. Rather with the Israel’s ability to protect its civilian populace. From 2002 to today more than 3,000 rockets have been fired from the Gaza civilian populace (breaking international law by conducting terrorism is urban areas) to the Israeli town of Sderot and, at times, Ashkelon (once again, breaking international law). That averages out to about 3 per day, with some as high as 40 per day, that force the entire city of Sderot to live within 15 seconds of a fortified bomb shelter.

  4. llwynn says:

    Hi Raffe,

    Can you provide a citation for where Falk gives his figure for the number of rockets that have killed Israelis? Sorry to pester you but we’re working hard to keep this blog scholarly instead of watching it turn into a mud-slinging contest (as you saw with some unhelpful comments in the past couple of weeks — and you should have seen some of the comments that I *didn’t* approve!), and we (my fellow bloggers, Noah, Maryam and Jumana, and I) thought that one way to do that would be to insist on pursuing every statement for a reference or citation. I hope I’m not overstepping my bounds in pressing our frequent commentators — and you are certainly one of them! — to give references; I would be very grateful if you would oblige me in this.


  5. Raffe says:

    No problem,

    Falk gives his figure:
    “The main weapon available to Hamas, and other Palestinian extremist elements, were Qassam missiles that resulted in producing no more than 12 Israeli deaths in six years. ”
    in http://www.transnational.org/Area_MiddleEast/2007/Falk_PalestineGenocide.html

    I misquoted a figure, saying that 16 had now been killed by Qassam’s, it’s actually 14 people that have died from that particular type of rocket. The 2 killed in Ashkelon several weeks ago were killed by the more advanced GRAD rocket which was imported from Iran.

    I’m all for keeping this scholarly, though the Middle East is sure to bring tempers out of even the most neutral academics.

  6. Raffe,

    The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs states since 2004 a total of ten Israelis have died from Qassam rockets (two people in 2004, one person in 2005, two people in 2006 and two people in 2007 and one in 2008). According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs the last person to die from a Qassam rocket was Roni Yihye, 47 on 27 February 2008 (after the Israeli incursion into Gaza – the previous death to this was in May 2007).

    This year alone (Jan-Apr 08) according to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society — 329 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and the West Bank.


    Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘Victims of Palestinian Violence and Terrorism since September 2000’, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Terrorism-%20Obstacle%20to%20Peace/Palestinian%20terror%20since%202000/Victims%20of%20Palestinian%20Violence%20and%20Terrorism%20sinc (Accesses 24 January 2008)

    Palestine Red Crescent Society

  7. Raffe says:

    Thank you for the correction.
    I believe that it is not how many that have died from rocket fire but rather that they are continuously being launched into Israel, paralyzing Sderot and at times Ashkelon. Over the last few years 6,910 rockets have been launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
    (cite http://www.matesderot.co.il/index_en.asp)
    Because of the lack of navigation system in these rockets (they’re often sewerage drains filled with explosives) there’s no telling where they can land. More often than not, thank god, they fall into a field and there are no injuries. However, whenever one is launched the siren Red Dawn is heard over the loud speaker and residents have 25 seconds to run for cover.
    Having had to run for cover myself I can assure you that it is no way that you want to spend your days. There are usually half a dozen or so rockets every day (some days they go up to 40) so you have to make sure that you’re always within range of a bomb shelter.

  8. Raffe may I agree with your original figure i.e. there have been 14 Israel fatalities from Qassam rockets since 2004 (not the ten as I originally suggested).

    Rechecking the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs site there were listed the names of 14 Israelis killed by Qassam rockets since 2004 (four people in 2004, five people in 2005, two people in 2006 and two people in 2007 and one in 2008).

    Falk’s point is still important – regardless of whether it is 10, 14 or 16 deaths – the number of Israeli fatalities is far less than the what is happening to Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society as cited on IsraeliPalestinianProCon.org 4398 Palestinians have been killed from the beginning of the Second Intifada (30 Sep 2000) until 9 January 2007. That is almost two Palestinians every day — which amounts to on average 14 Palestinians being killed every week. That is on average – the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers — every week –is the same number of Israelis that have been killed by Qassam rockets in the past four and a half years.

    Whilst I empathise with the trauma of an average citizen of Sderot living with the constant threat and actuality of rocket attack can you not also see the trauma for the average citizen of Gaza and the West Bank. The people of Gaza and West Bank have no air force to defend themselves if their citizens are subject to attack . The number of Palestinians killed every week is the total of Israelis killed by Qassam rocket attack in the past four and a half years. This is not a level playing field.

    Someone as esteemed as Richard Falk acknowledges this.

    Falk has a long experience with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He has made his personal opinion clear. Should that disqualify him from his role? You do raise an interesting point. But who else would you suggest? What a other prominent personalities who would have the qualifications to act in this role have not already made their positions clear on this conflict. Or are we denying Falk’s integrity and professionalism to conduct his role impartially. Are we showing prejudice to Falk because we disagree with his position on the conflict?

    On a separate issue Raffe, I thank you for your assertive response to the racist statements made by another contributor on this site. Thank you for your commitment to basing positions on reason rather than racial prejudice and bigotry.

    Sources for deaths

  9. Raffe says:

    I’ve never denied that the situation is a level playing field. The strongest and most technologically advanced army in the Middle East is facing a determined enemy. What I believe, and you are free to disagree with me, is that whilst Israel does share the blame for the situation it is not solely responsible for the suffering of the Palestinian people.

    An Arab state was supposed to be erected alongside Israel in 1948; rather several Arab armies chose to invade and wipe out the newly created Israel. I believe that the Palestinians have been exploited as political pawns by the Arab leaders who have promised them everything yet have given them nothing, all to spite Israel.

    In 2000 when Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a peace deal, however imperfect, it was rejected without even a counter offer.

    I disagree with the Falk as the UN investigator because he has already come to a biased opinion against Israel. What would your reaction be if the UN Special Investigator considered all Palestinians terrorists?

    On the separate issue you mentioned, you’re very welcome, i firmly believe that peace is possible in the region but it’s extremism on both sides that are muting the moderate voices.

  10. llwynn says:

    NOTE: Stewart Mills (http://palestineisraelsolutions.blogspot.com/) tried to post a comment but for some reason the blog software blocked it, so he sent it to me via e-mail and asked me to post it. Here it is.


    To get an insight into why dividing British-mandate Palestine into a Jewish State, an Arab State and an international city was an unjust proposition, consider the following.


    1. Thirty years before 87 percent of the region was not-Jewish.


    2. The region had not had a significant Jewish majority for over two millennia.

    3. The Jewish State had a slim majority of 498,000 Jews to 407,000 non-Jews. (4) The number of Arabs living in the Jewish state was potentially greater than the number of Jews considering:

    (a) Jaffa the largest Palestinian Arab town (with a population of 55,000 Muslims, 16,000 Christians and 30,000 Jews) was excised from the Jewish state and placed into the Arab state despite being geographically cut-off from the Arab state. To demonstrate the precariousness of such a decision Jaffa was a prime target for the Jewish military and was surrounded and defeated by Irgun (led by Menachem Begin) and Haganah on 12 May 1948 two days before the Jewish Agency declared the state of Israel (Lapidot).

    (b) 90,000 Bedouins were not included in the Jewish state despite being permitted to live in the Jewish State to graze during the dry season. This potentially underestimated the number of Arabs in the Jewish state (UNSCOP 1947).

    4. The decision to partition was undemocratically decided (from the point of view of the inhabitants)

    The citizens of the region (i.e. British-mandate Palestine) were not given a choice. They were left to the whim of western politicians and western domestic politics. There was no plebiscite for the region as had been initiated in Czechoslovakia, Greece, Kashmir and Korea.

    Noted personalities such as Sir Isaac Isaacs acknowledged this failure of democratic principles to operate on this question. Isaacs in the 1940’s was embroiled in a ferocious debate with Julius Stone about the proposal for creating a Jewish State in British-mandate Palestine (Stone 1944). Isaacs favoured a democratic approach. Isaacs argued it was unjust to impose Jewish nationalism on a region whose inhabitants had for millennia not had a Jewish majority (Isaacs 1946).

    Isaacs said let the human beings living in British-mandate Palestine decide their future. In contrast Stone favoured a Jewish nationalist approach which sought to turn back the clock two thousand years and recreate a Jewish state. Stone blinkered by the tragedy of the holocaust in Europe (like another legal giant Brandeis of the US and our own Dr Evatt a devotee of Brandeis) mistakingly believed that the creation of a Jewish state in historic Israel would help provide Jewish security for the Jewish people.

    5. Unfair pressure was placed on smaller nations to back the UN General Assembly Resolution

    A lot has been said about the United Nations creating Israel. Like many nation-state creation stories this is a partial truth. There were just 33 countries who voted in favour of creating a Jewish state, an Arab state and an international city of Jerusalem. 13 countries voted against partition and 10 countries including the United Kingdom abstained. The vote was only in the affirmative through heavy politiciking of the United States. The General Assembly Partition plan (29 Nov 1947) was initially to be voted on 26 August but the vote was postponed on two occasions until it was clear the necessary two-thirds majority (including abstentions) would be gained. The decisive votes were obtained from Haiti, Liberia and Philippines. Each of these three countries were pushed e.g. Haiti and Philippines in terms of aid and Liberia in terms of contracts for rubber exports to Firestone Tyre company. The Philippines itself had spoken against partition but when the
    vote came her delegates were told to vote in favour. (Smith 1947).

    3. The UN Security Council rejected the General Assembly Partition plan

    The General Assembly then charged the Security Council with final deliberation on the partition plan. The United Nations Security Council in March 1948 rejected the General Assembly partition plan as it endangered international peace and security. So they recalled the General assembly to meet in April and May 1948. By this time the US had proposed placing Palestine under UN trusteeship. The Jewish Agency was outraged and decided that they would create a Jewish state whether or not they had the United Nations support. They did this on 14 May 1948.


    History has shown that Stone was wrong and Isaacs was correct. Forcibly creating a Jewish state in a region which had not had a Jewish majority for over two thousand years was a disaster for world peace. Isaacs said in the 1940s:

    “the Zionist movement as a whole…makes demands that are arousing the antagonism of the Moslem world of nearly 400 millions, thereby menacing the safety of our Empire, endangering world peace and imperiling some of the most sacred associations of the Jewish, Christian, and Moslem faiths. Besides their inherent injustice to others these demands would, I believe, seriously and detrimentally affect the general position of Jews throughout the world” (Isaacs p. 8-9).

    Sir Isaac Isaacs was right. War was a consequence of trying to impose the Jewish nationalist ideology on peoples who were not Jewish. Sure, blame can be shared to include those within the Arab Palestinian and Arab neighbours who committed violence against the Jewish community from the 1920s until today. However, failure to acknowledge the basic injustice that forcibly establishing a state base on ethnicity to an ethnic group who had not had a majority in that region for over two thousand years was bound to lead to war.

    The region will continue to be at war whilst Jewish nationalist ideology is championed as opposed to acknowledging past injustices and basing statehood on it’s citizens.


    Isaacs, I. Palestine: Peace and Prosperity or War and Destruction? Political Zionism: Undemocratic, Unjust, Dangerous. Ramsay Ware Publishing, 1946.

    Lapidot Yehuda, ‘The Conquest of Jaffa’. http://www.etzel.org.il/english/ac18.htm

    Smith, Lawrence, US Congressional Record – House. pp.11652-11658, 18 December 1947.

    Stone, J, “Stand up and be counted!” An open letter to the Rt Hon Sir Isaac Isaacs on the occasion of the 26th anniversary of the Jewish National Home, 1944

    UNSCOP 1947, http://www.mideastweb.org/unscop1947.htm



  11. MS says:


    Fundementally, it is to a great extent a distraction to confront historic events and varying accounts. While I do not want this to seem like a cop out, and while there are many points on which I disagree with you, I would like to address what I view as the meat of the question at hand. I will focus on the conclusion:

    “The region will continue to be at war whilst Jewish nationalist ideology is championed as opposed to acknowledging past injustices and basing statehood on it’s citizens.”

    To an extent I agree. The paramount nature of maintaining and consolidating the democratic nature of Israel is clear. This is the fundemental problem with the occupation of the West Bank. What lies at the heart of your conclusion however, is that the driving factor behind the occupation of non-voting populaces (such as in West Bank, and previously in Gaza – Bedouins are perhaps more of an administrative issue rather than principles) is land grab for propogation of Jewish nationalism. This is false. Not only is this false in the historic roots of the occupation (that is, the territories being fruits of a war in which Israel was unambiguously and uncontentiously defending itself), but also in its subsequent actions. Israel has not only shown a strong propensity and desire for exchanging land for peace, but the withrawal from Gaza was also at a great cost to itself. The point is, that the motivation at large behind the continued occupation of the West Bank is clearly security. That may not be what fringes of Israeli society claim, but almost certainly the bulk of Israelis agree with that.

    And that concern is real. You belittle the Quassam attack on southern Israel, with relatively few dead (which does not even take into account the injured). But the number dead or injured are beside the point. Sderot and the south are entirely civilian targets, and have been living in ostensible fear and disruption. More to the point, should the equivalent have occurred anywhere else in the world – anywhere – the response form the target nation would have been far far more severe, and far far more accepted by the international community. Israel’s right to defend its citizens should not be so severely questioned, as no other country’s is.

    The attacks in Sderot emphasise the real threat to Jerusalem should the West Bank be left to turn into a second Gaza.

    While ideally, Israel would assist in the creation of democratic institutions in the West Bank, this is probably more fantasy than reality.

  12. Thank you for your response MS,

    My reflections are as follows:

    1. Historical perspectives are far from being a distraction to this conflict they lie at the heart of the conflict.

    It is dangerous to presume Israel’s security is limited to weapons of war and walls and security barriers. Israel’s security demands an economically and politically stable neighbour. Crucial to an improvement in relations is an honest reflection of the effect of using military force to create a Jewish state in a region in which had not had a Jewish majority for over two millenia.

    If Israel wants to ensure it’s security then Israel as a nation needs to come to terms with their historical past. If Israel wants to understand the anger from those who choose violence from the Palestinian community then they need to understand the the perceived sense of injustice given Arab Palestinian dispossession following the 1948 war. If you want to understand the anger it is not enough to go back to 1967, you have to at least go back to 1948. Historical perspectives are far from being a distraction to this conflict in many ways they lie at the heart of the conflict.

    How do you think an average Palestinian feels if someone says it is ok to remember realities occurring during ancient Hebrew history and then to gloss over recent history?

    My point of stating the following premises was to try and help contextualise why Arab Palestinians may have felt unjustly treated given:

    a. Thirty years before 87 percent of the region was not-Jewish.
    b. The region had not had a significant Jewish majority for over two millennia.
    c. The proposed Jewish State had a slim majority of 498,000 Jews to 407,000 non-Jews.
    d. The decision to partition was undemocratically decided (from the point of view of the inhabitants)
    e. The UN Security Council rejected the General Assembly Partition plan

    Is it not hypocritical to use ancient Hebrew history to support national aspirations of one group whilst ignore the modern history of the Arab-Palestinian people? Is this not what drives so much anger within the Arab Palestinian community, Arab neighbours (not ignoring how Palestinians are used as political pawns) and the Western community.

    2. What right to self-defence do the people of Gaza and West Bank have?

    14 Palestinians are killed every week due to Israeli soldiers or settlers (this average is based on the number of Palestinian deaths from 30 Sep 2000 until 9 January 2007). This does not include every week the number of Palestinians injured.

    I do not support violent reprisals towards Israeli soldiers or citizens. I feel sorrow for the families who have lost loved ones at Sderot. However, what rights do the people of West Bank and Gaza have for acts committed against them and their families since 1948.

    Israel cannot continue to hide behind the pretext of self-defence and imagine that acts of war will not be followed by a response from Palestinians.

    Here lies the conundrum – given it is not fair for Israelis to expect that Palestinians will not react to Israeli military violence; just as it is not fair for Palestinians not to expect a response from Palestinian initiated violence against Israeli. What can be done to end the violence? One step is not initiating violence in response to violence directed by another. This is politically and personally very challenging. But it is a key to breaking the cycle of violence. Alongside this national programs are required to educate communities to help each side to appreciate the grievances and dilemmas of each community. Empathy is a key to conflict resolution. And of course politically and economically sound states are a key.


    The events of 1948 still require reconciliation in order for their to be peace. The Jewish Agency knowingly declared on 14 May 1948 a Jewish State (i) against the wishes of the UN Security Council; (ii) against the wishes of the majority of the population and (iii) against the wishes of the surrounding neighbours.

    The Jewish Agency failed to appreciate the pain and hurt they would cause future citizens of the state. By using military means to create a Jewish state in a region which 30 years was 87% Arab Palestinian is still a source of pain for todays Palestinians, the wider Islamic community and members of the Western community. Reconciliation of these perceived historical injustices will be one further step towards peace and stability for Jewish and Palestinian people.

  13. Raffe says:

    Stewart Mills,

    I agree that there is a need for an economically viable Palestinian state, hence why I support a 2 state solution.

    You spoke about Israel not initiating a violent response when attacked by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups. How many people have to be killed or injured before Israel can respond to attacks on its citizens?

  14. Raffe,

    The question you ask is an important one but it does not occur in a vacuum. It is not a question of how many people have to be killed before Israel can respond but how should Israel respond. Invasion of another territory (including airspace) is a last resort. My concern is that Israel responds without appropriate recourse to international mechanisms.

    Other questions need to be asked to consider the underlying reasons for attacks on Israeli citizens, such as:

    When will Israel end the blockade of Gaza?
    When will Israel withdraw settlements from the West Bank?
    When will Palestinians receive recognition of the injustice of the 1948 war?
    When will Palestinians receive compensation for being dispossessed of their homes following the 1948 war?
    When will housing demolitions cease?
    When will Israel realise that creating a security fence and wall beyond the Green Line is offensive to future negotiations?
    The list of questions go on – not forgetting rights of return (or some amended form of a right or compensation), issue of water, Jerusalem, Israel’s military control of the eastern border etc.

    The relationship between attacks from Palestinians on Israel and Israel on Palestinians is multi-factorial. People will continue to die whilst there is an absence of genuine negotiations between the Israeli government, the Hamas Government and the Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank. Israel’s military response to Hamas is totally disproportionate and counter-productive.

    The importance of the question you ask will disappear once genuine negotiations occur (and something more reasonable than what occurred in 2000). Annapolis is a start but without engaging with Hamas the negotiations are meaningless.

    The final question is if Israel does use the last resort option of using military violence against another what rights do the other have to respond to the military violence acted against it. Herein lies the conundrum again – raised in my previous response. My point is stop the cycle of violence. This will mean initiate immediate, genuine, and remorseful negotiations. Don’t continue with an attitude of eternal victimhood and of being the greater victim, but act in a manner which shows empathy, compassion for the other, a desire to seek forgiveness for past wrongs and a hope that all human beings in this region can share resources in a way to ensure individual and collective meaning, security and justice.

    Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East

    Sadek, A & Davis K (2007) Annapolis negotiations can only fail

    Kuttab, D (2007) Toward Annapolis: Palestinians learned nothing and forgot nothing

    Disproportionate use of force

    Amnesty International (2008) Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories: Killings of Civilians must cease

    EU condemns “disproportionate” use of force by Israel in Gaza (2008)

    Israel used disproportionate force in Gaza, says UN humanitarian chief (2006)

    Why did Arafat reject Barak’s ‘generous’ offer at Camp David?

    Avnery U (2001) 12 Conventional Lies By Uri Avnery

    Avnery (2007) Stumbling Toward Another War

    Gush Shalom Archives

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