In February 1996, Israel and Turkey concluded a Military Training and Cooperation Agreement which marked growing cooperation between the Turkish and Israeli armed forces. The agreement provides i.a. facilities and exercise opportunities for Israeli forces in Turkey, its sea and airspace, upgrading by Israel of Turkish military equipments and exchange of information.
Turkey and Israel are both non-Arab, Western-oriented with important allied relationships to the United States and call themselves democracies, even though both countries have a well-documented history of gross violations of human rights, involving the displacement and dispossession of thousands of refugees.
It is therefore not surprising that Turkish president Suleyman Demirel has been a member of the Mitchell Commission, the fact-finding commission which was established under the Sharm al-Sheikh agreement in November last year. Amnesty International entitled a 1996 report on human rights violations in Turkey as “No Security without Human Rights”, a title which would be appropriate for any human rights report on Israeli violations of human rights. The report noted that “internal and external threats, real or imagined, are used to legitimize human rights violations by the security forces”, something which sounds familiar in official Israeli responses to Israel’s human rights record.
Under their international treaty obligations the Turkish and Israeli governments are required to take effective steps to prevent human rights violations, as well as prosecute the perpetrators and compensate the victims. The fact that both Israeli and Turkish authorities have not taken even the most basic steps necessary to comply with treaty obligations suggests that there is a deliberate policy of acquiescence to widespread and gross human rights violations at the highest level.
Relating this to how both Israel and Turkey deal with refugees and internally displaced they caused due to their campaigns of ethnic cleansing, displacement and dispossession one finds too many similarities.
The nearly 200.000 Greek Cypriots (40 percent of the total number of Greek Cypriots in 1974) who were forcibly expelled from their homes by the Turkish armed forces in 1974 are still being prevented from returning there and are refugees in their own country. They continue to be arbitrarily deprived of their homes and property in the occupied area, which are gradually being illegally distributed by the Denktash regime to other persons, such as members of the Turkish occupation army and settlers form mainland Turkey.
The United Nations, in Security Council Resolution 361 (1974) and General Assembly Resolution 3395 (1975), have called for urgent measures to facilitate the voluntary return of all refugees to their homes in safety. Twenty-six years have elapsed since then and Turkey refuses to implement these Resolutions. Likewise, Israel is has refused to allow Palestinian refugees and internally displaced to exercise their right of return for more than 50 years, even though the international community has consistently and formally recognized the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, their right to their property and to the income derived from their property.
However, one difference between both refugee issues, is a court-case in December 1996, when the European Court of Human Rights, after examining an application against Turkey by Mrs T. Loizidou, a refugee from Kyrenia in Turkey-occupied Cyprus, ruled that Mrs Loizidou remains the legal owner of her property in Kyrenia and that Turkey has been carrying out a continuing violation of Article 1 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights by not allowing her access to her property.
Even though Israel is currently not a member of the European Union or the Council of Europe, Israel has close economic ties with the European Union. The inclusion of human rights clauses prominently in the European Union cooperation agreements with Israel implements a declared intention of the European Union to incorporate respect for human rights as a goal and as a material condition of EU external relations.
The case of Louzidou vs. Turkey established a precedent for restitution claims to be made after the conclusion of an agreement between disputed states. The European Court of Human Rights took jurisdiction over the claim even though Turkey was not a member of the European Union (Louzidou was a citizen of an EU Member State, Greece). The Court’s decision invalidated Turkey’s expropriation laws and the Court not only ordered Turkey to return Mrs. Louzidou’s property, it also awarded her compensation for Turkey’s interference with her right to full enjoyment of her property.
The right of return and restitution, being an individual right, cannot be overridden by intergovernmental agreement. According to the UN Mediator’s report, it was an “unconditional right” of the refugees “to make a free choice [which] should be fully respected.” Based on the guiding principle of refugee choice, i.e. voluntary participation by the refugee community, Palestinian refugees should be free to reject any deal negotiated that does not meet the parameters set forth in Resolution 194. Neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority, nor the two in concert, have the legal capacity to extinguish claims of individuals. If a PLO-Israel agreement makes inadequate provision for repatriation and compensation, the claims of individuals will survive.
The author is a Dutch-Palestinian political scientist, human rights activist and is affiliated to the the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (Al-Awda).