HAMILTON, ONT. – A United Nation human right expert accused Israel of planning the illegal annexation of Palestinian land, during a lecture in Hamilton, Ont., on Jan. 31.
Michael Lynk, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, told a pair of audiences that the Jewish state “is speeding past the last exit,” before it formally absorbs land in the West Bank.
“We have never been farther away from a fair and sustainable peace in this region than we are today,” he said. “We are drifting closer and closer to a formal annexation by Israel.”
Lynk’s appearances at McMaster University and a local United Church were sponsored by a who’s who of anti-Israel organizations. His previous reports on the human rights situation in the region have caused pro-Israel leaders to accuse him of bias, in violation of the UN’s code of conduct for special rapporteurs.
In an email to The CJN, Martin Sampson, vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), condemned Lynk’s history of engagement with “Canada’s most malicious anti-Israel activist groups.… His proximity to such actors raises reasonable questions about whether or not he is in violation of the code of conduct for special mandate holders.”
Hamilton-area Conservative MP David Sweet, vice-chair of the federal Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group, said Lynk’s history of anti-Israel bias has been well established over the years.
“Back in 2016, when he was initially appointed, organizations like UN Watch, CIJA and Honest Reporting strongly denounced his appointment, because of what they considered his bias against Israel,” said Sweet. “Everything I’ve seen so far has proved their point. There’s strong concern about his objectivity and I think those concerns are borne out in his own words.”
Indeed, during his speech in Hamilton, Lynk, a professor of law at Western University, accused Israel of violating international law on several fronts, including “express prohibitions” against annexing occupied land or allowing its citizens to settle on the territory.
“International law is clear: you cannot annex a single square inch of occupied territory,” he said.
Israel has also breached requirements that occupations be temporary, that occupying countries administer their subject regions in good faith and that occupied territory eventually be returned.
Lynk accused Israel of furthering its annexation plan by flooding the West Bank with settlers and of preventing it and the Gaza Strip from developing their own sustainable economies. While acknowledging Israel’s right to be safe from terrorism, he also accused the country of breaching international conventions against the collective punishment of civilian populations.
In the West Bank, the economic offensive is accomplished by dividing the area into isolated islands of Palestinians who cannot move from one town to another without passing through IDF check points. Without freedom of movement, he said, a proper economy cannot grow.
The security wall that separates the West Bank from Israel was also designed, he said, to isolate and break up Palestinian communities, turning them into “destitute slums that have become hotbeds of crime.”
The economic assault, he added, has fallen especially heavily on Gaza, where Israeli land, sea and air barriers hold the population as virtual prisoners.
The situation in Gaza is so poor now that I can’t think of it with anything but despair.
– Michael Lynk
Without the free flow of goods, Lynk continued, unemployment averages 40 per cent among the general population and as much as 70 per cent among people under 30.
United Nations studies of the situation have concluded that while Israel’s per capita GDP is around US$40,000 ($52,000), it is only US$1,000 in Gaza. That leaves up to 80 per cent of the population dependent on some form of international welfare – money that has been sharply reduced in recent years.
Infrastructure in the strip, he added, is so poor that two million residents generally only have electricity for three hours a day. (International aid has increased that window recently.)
“We take our power for granted, we don’t have to wonder if our stoves are going to work,” he said. “The situation in Gaza is so poor now that I can’t think of it with anything but despair.”
Lynk, who is set to issue a new report to the UN General Assembly in October dealing with third-party responsibility in the region, told his audiences that international pressure will be a critical factor in ending the occupation by making it too costly for Israel to continue.
That pressure could include requiring Israelis to obtain visas to enter foreign countries, trade boycotts and other efforts.
In addition to McMaster University’s political science department, Lynk’s appearance was sponsored by the local chapter of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, the Palestinian Association of Hamilton, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights – McMaster, the social justice committee of the Hamilton Presbytery of the United Church of Canada, the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War, the Jewish Liberation Theology Institute, McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice, Democracy Probe International and Independent Jewish Voices.
The events drew a combined audience of about 150 people.