PHRC comments on MPs' replies
Wednesday, 14 May 2008

PHRC comments on MPs' replies to questions of principle

The Palestinian Human Rights Campaign wrote a letter on March 22 to twelve MPs seeking answers on matters of principle. One MP referred us to another party member and so altogether thirteen MPs were contacted. The letter read as follows:

“On March 18 this year, the Israeli Army issued a notice to Youssef Ali Badrawi condemning his house in the West Bank village of al-Ras to demolition because it lies in the path of Israel's advancing wall. In its July 2004 ruling, the International Court of Justice (World Court) in The Hague, Netherlands, held that construction of Israel's wall is "contrary to international law", in part because it "destroyed and confiscated" property, it greatly restricts Palestinian movement and it "severely impedes the exercise by the Palestinian people of [the] right to selfdetermination".

  1. Do you support the International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the illegality of Israel's wall, which is being built, not along the Green Line but upon Occupied Palestinian land?

  2. If you do not support the World Court ruling, what is your position regarding the World Court and international law in general, including the Geneva Conventions?

  3. Do you consider that the householder concerned or members of his family have a right to resist the destruction of their home by Israel ? If not, why not?”

    Taking each political party in turn, the PHRC looks at the responses of those MPs questioned in the sample:

ACT: Rodney Hide
    The only response was indirect, “On behalf of Rodney Hide MP for Epsom and leader of ACT New Zealand, I wish to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 22 March regarding the Israeli Army. Yours sincerely Sandy Grove, Executive Assistant.”

  • As Rodney Hide declined to answer the questions of principle it isn't possible to conclude whether he has any opinion regarding the World Court and international law. On the other hand, perhaps the response we received meant that he didn't understand the questions.

Greens: Keith Locke
    The answer was in person and it was unequivocal, 1. Yes, I support the ICJ opinion on the illegality of the wall. The Western countries have largely failed to condemn the Israeli government's wall, and to press publicly for Israel to abide by it. 3. Yes, the destruction of civilian homes is a crime against humanity when it is the predominant result of military assaults, as in the case in Gaza today. The use of destruction of civilian homes as a punishment (as Israel has openly done in the past) is also a crime. People have the right to oppose and resist illegal destruction of their property.”

  • Keith Locke was the only MP to say clearly that he supported the right of an occupied people to resist the occupier's aggression.

Labour: Ashraf Choudhary
    The answer was in person and it was positive,“Thank you for your letter of 22 March. I appreciate very much your concern regarding Palestinian people and their right to self-determination. I fully concur with you.”

  • We may suppose that Ashraf Choudhary's final sentence implies a 'yes' to all three questions.

Labour: Helen Clark
    The Prime Minister declined to give her personal position regarding these principles and delegated her reply in a statement of Government policy and action to her Foreign Affairs Minister, Winston Peters.

  • It is disappointing not to have Ms Clark's own position on these matters and we can only glean something of her views from the statement on Government policy provided by Peters. Our comments on the substance of her statement are therefore included in the section dealing with New Zealand First MPs' responses.

Labour: Phil Goff
    The opportunity to declare his position on the World Court and matters of international law was declined and in this respect Mr Goff finds himself in the same company as every National MP who was approached.

Maori: Dr Pita Sharples
    Dr Sharples did not respond.

  • It is surprising that this MP did not take the opportunity to declare his support for the rights of the indigenous Palestinian people or state his position regarding the World Court ruling.

National: Bill English – John Key
    Neither appeared willing to commit themselves on these important issues of principle.

  • In the run-up to the election it may be that National MPs would prefer to leave themselves as much room for expedient manoeuvring as they can get away with. It could also be that they support Israel, regardless of its lawlessness.

National: Murray McCully – Pansy Wong

  • We may never know whether Pansy Wong has any opinions on the importance of World Court rulings and the conflict in the Middle East. Was she silenced by the National Party machine? Murray McCully, we were informed, would answer on Pansy Wong's behalf. He did not. Moreover, he did not reply to the questionnaire, even on his own behalf.

  • Five months into this election year it is still difficult to ascertain what National stands for, apart from tax cuts, globalisation by transnational corporations and extreme caution regarding effective action over global warming. In a dangerous war-riven world National has a record of support for foreign wars and it should not come as a surprise, therefore, that the National Party appears to be embarrassed by being asked to declare itself in this PHRC poll.

New Zealand First: Ron Mark

  • Ron Mark seeks the advantages of being in Parliament, takes part in the legislative process and holds himself out as a suitable person to represent his constituents. He has chosen a public life but when asked important questions concerning international peace and stability, can only say: “. . . I have some views and opinions on a range of issues. They are personal, and remain so. I am not spokesperson for foreign affairs.” Thanks for letting us know.

New Zealand First: Winston Peters
    We should give Helen and Winston credit for answering our questions; at least they had the courtesy and the sense of responsibilty to do that. But it is difficult not to believe that Winston Peters wears two political hats. He was surely wearing his baubles-of-office Minister of Foreign Affairs headgear when he replied on behalf of the Prime Minister, outlining Government policy. What a contrast to Ron Mark! Did Peters really have his heart in what he was reporting?

The Prime Minister Helen Clark's statement, issued though Peters:

1. Forthrightly declares the New Zealand government's support for the ICJ ruling.

2. Recognises that Israel's wall tends to inflame the situation and complicates the search for peace.

3. States that “Israel must protect itself against acts of terror”,

  • but says nothing about protecting Palestinians against Israel's daily acts of occupation terror.

4. Makes the point that Israel could have built the wall on the 1948 Green Line, but instead has built extensive sections of it in occupied Palestinian territory.

5. Calls upon Israel to comply with its obligations as an occupying power and observes that dispossessed Palestinians have the right to seek legal redress for Israel's actions.

  • Directly addressing points raised in our questionnaire,

6. Reminds us that the New Zealand Government consistently votes in favour of UN General Assembly resolutions that affirm the rights of the Palestinian people.

7. Calls upon Israel to observe international humanitarian law.

What the above statement confirms is that our Government recognises that:

v Israel's actions inflame the situation and complicate the search for peace.

v Israel does not observe international humanitarian law.

v Israel does not comply with its obligations as an occupying power.

v Israel dispossesses the Palestinian people.

    In the light of all this, our Government declares that “New Zealand has a balanced policy on the Palestine-Israel conflict . . .“

  • We ask where is the balance between belligerent expansionist aggression on the one hand and dispossession and refugeehood on the other?

    The Clark/Peters response ends with the statement “we uphold Israel's right to exist within secure and recognised borders.”

  • This statement is meaningless so long as Israel is allowed to aggressively occupy and settle territory beyond its “recognised borders.”

  • The New Zealand Government's position is patently unbalanced and, without sanction of any kind, it positively encourages Israel to continue on its course. While Palestinians are required to “end the violence”, no such demand is made of Israel.

  • Palestinian resistance to occupation (whether armed or nonviolent) is met universally with collective punishment imposed by the occupier. In the case of the Gaza Strip, the collective punishment is imposed by both Israel and the international community.

  • Israel is accorded the status of a 'most favoured' friend of the West and it would be fair to say that Israel's occupation and dispossession of the Palestinian people is aided and abetted by the world community, including New Zealand.

  • One final word on the subject of balance: While Israelis are granted visa-free entry to New Zealand, Israel continues to discriminate against New Zealand passport holders who happen to be Palestinian refugees, making it almost impossible for them to visit their families.

United Future: Peter Dunne

  • Peter Dunne had the courtesy to reply to our poll and declared himself in support of the International Court of Justice's ruling. We thank him.