UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) has responded to the recent open letter by legal professionals with outrage at its “inflammatory tone” and a strong rebuttal of the allegations that Israel is in breach of international law.
An open letter published by legal professionals, including solicitors, legal executives and barristers, protested against what it saw as the failure of professional bodies to condemn “multiple breaches of international law” by Israel in its military offensive in Gaza.
UKLFI’s letter points out, in particular, that Israel is acting in “self-defence and has the right to do so, as recognised by Article 51 of the UN Charter”, against a terrorist organisation that has vowed to eradicate it.
The three professional bodies to whom the letter was addressed; the Law Society, the Bar Council and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives each responded that they would not issue a public statement at this stage.
UKLFI’s letter observes that “under well-established International Humanitarian Law, civilian facilities used for military purposes lose their protected status and become legitimate military targets. As Hamas combatants use civilian facilities (in particular hospitals) as bases for attack, these facilities lose their protected status and may be targeted under international law, provided that the strikes follow the rules of proportionality and precaution.”
The letter also notes that the Israeli Defence Force complies with these rules. As has been well documented in the media, the Israel Defence Forces go to great lengths to issue evacuation warnings prior to military strikes. Legal advisers sitting outside the military chain of command assess on a target-by-target basis whether any expected civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects are excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage.
The letter also points out that the reference to “years of occupation” is inaccurate, given that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Similarly, it notes that the accusation of genocide ignores that the fundamental component of genocide is intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part, and that such intent is contradicted, not only by the conduct of the Israeli Defence Force on the ground (and the issue of evacuation warnings) but also by statements made by Israeli high-ranking officials on the future of Gaza once Hamas is defeated.
UKLFI accuses the signatories of the open letter of “making a mockery of International Law by misusing legally defined terms such as “occupation” and “genocide””.
Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UKLFI said “We urge professional lawyers and legal bodies to exercise their judgment by applying principles and rules of international law to the facts, without being influenced by an emotional and inflammatory narrative that distorts reality and without invoking special “rules” that apply only to Israel.”