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The Fourth Geneva Convention

The Fourth Geneva Convention on Rules of War was adopted in 1949 by the international community in response to Nazi atrocities during World War II. The international treaty governs the treatment of civilians during wartime, including hostages, diplomats, spies, bystanders and civilians in territory under military occupation. The convention outlaws torture, collective punishment and the resettlement by an occupying power of its own civilians on territory under its military control. In the fifty years since its adoption, the Fourth Geneva Convention has never been used to condemn world atrocities including those in Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, Tibet, etc.

Since 1997 the Arab group at the United Nations has been trying to invoke the Fourth Geneva Convention against Israel, in regard to its settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and in particular at Har Homa in Jerusalem. The UN General Assembly has adopted a number of non-binding resolutions condemning Israeli settlements, and calling for a convening of the signatory nations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In February 1999, the GA adopted a resolution calling for a special UN session to be held on July 15, 1999, in Geneva to examine "persistent violations" by Israel.

Israel rejects the interpretation of the Fourth Geneva Convention applying it to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, stating that those territories were captured in 1967 as a result of a defensive war against countries which had illegally occupied them since 1948.

Switzerland is the Depository for the Fourth Geneva Convention. This means that the Swiss are technically responsible for organizing and convening a meeting of the signatory nations. However, the Swiss may only convene the meeting if a majority of the signatory nations agree to do so.

ADL [and other organizations] have vigorously opposed convening the Fourth Geneva Convention in regard to Israeli settlements arguing that it could dangerously politicize the international legitimacy and high standings of the Geneva Conventions. It could open a Pandora’s box across the globe haphazardly applying the convention to a plethora of nations. Furthermore, it would give credence to the Palestinian tactic of using the international community to air grievances regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and thereby threatens the peace process itself.

International efforts led by the United States were successful in scaling down the July 15th special UN meeting in Geneva. The closed-door meeting lasted a mere 45 minutes. However, a resolution was unanimously passed stating that the Fourth Geneva Convention does apply to Israeli settlements in the "occupied territories."


Source: Copyright Anti-Defamation League (ADL). All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.