VK: Twenty years ago you published an article entitled "Israel and the International Community: The Legal Debate" in the South African Yearbook of International Law after you had visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Has the legal landscape changed since you published this paper in 1984 and since you became Special Rapporteur in 2001? If so, how has it changed?
JD: Strangely the legal issues have not changed much over the last 20 years. Oslo has been and gone, and the same type of human rights violations still occur, albeit with a new severity. The two major changes are, first, that the need for Palestinian statehood has been recognised. Second, the wall. The significance of the wall cannot overrated. It shows convincingly that the issue is land and expansion. Of course, it must be seen in the context of settler expansion.
VK: Many commentators and political activists compare the situation in apartheid South Africa to the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. How are these two unjust systems, apartheid in South Africa and prolonged military occupation in Palestine, comparable, and how are they different?
JD: Apartheid was a form of colonialism, but at the same time it had some of the characteristics of occupation. Nevertheless, the similarities between the two systems should not be exaggerated. Palestine is subject to military occupation. The IDF [Israeli Defence Force] is an occupying army. Israel is determined to assert control while at the same time taking land. In South Africa, the issue was political control and how to achieve this while at the same time pretending to comply with international standards of self-determination. Of course, many of the human rights violations were similar: suppression, torture, restrictions on freedom of movement, denial of social and economic rights, population relocations etc. So although different in character, many of the consequences were similar.
VK: In May 2004, you called on the international community to impose an arms embargo on Israel in response to "Operation Rainbow" which resulted in numerous deaths and the destruction of civilian infrastructure, including a zoo and a number of refugee camps. You cited the 1977 arms embargo imposed on South Africa in support of your statement. In the end, Israel was condemned by the UN Security Council, which asked Israel to desist from destroying civilian infrastructure, but no arms embargo was imposed. What was the reaction to your statement in the international arena and among the academic community, and why did the international community not impose an arms embargo on Israel?
JD: There is no possibility of sanctions being imposed against Israel, at least at present. South Africa alienated itself from all five of the veto powers, and this allowed limited sanctions to be imposed. Israel will, it seems, forever have the USA to veto any sanctions being imposed by the Security Council. I raised the issue simply to get it into the debate so that it is on the table. I have had no feedback whatsoever.
VK: In light of the International Court of Justice’s 14-1 advisory opinion on the illegality of the wall and the subsequent UN General Assembly resolution, what must now be done to ensure that Israel abides by its international commitments and responsibilities if, as is expected, the US vetoes a planned Security Council resolution asking Israel to comply with the court’s opinion? What impact would that have on the integrity of the court?
JD: The Security Council will not enforce the ICJ opinion. The USA will ensure this. I believe it is necessary to see the ICJ opinion on the wall in the same light as the 1971 opinion on Namibia. It is a statement on the law of the UN. The General Assembly must repeatedly remind Israel of its obligations. Regular attempts should be made to get the Security Council to act. It seriously deligitimizes Israel’s policies, and I believe it will have the desired effect, in time. However, already it is being taken more seriously by Israel than I had anticipated. The Israeli High Court has asked the government to clarify its position on the opinion. A good start.
VK: As a white South African who opposed apartheid, do you ever get a feeling of dÃ©jÃ vu when your work is criticized by the government of Israel, a government which does not hide its dislike for the UN, ignores its resolutions, world public opinion and treats the ICJ with disdain?
JD: I certainly have a sense of dÃ©jÃ vu. The sad thing is that Israel is unwilling to learn from the South African precedent. A state cannot indefinitely stand against the world.