As part of the Village’s campaign against the construction of settlements on their lands, Bil’in has filed an unprecedented legal claim in Canada against two Canadian companies and their Canadian director. The claim arises from the construction of apartment buildings and the marketing and selling of residential units in the Modi’in Illit settlement which is built, in part, on the lands belonging to Bil’in. The lawsuit has been filed in the Canadian Province of Quebec where those companies and their director are registered and live.
The lawsuit is based on Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its own population into the territory occupied. That Article expressly forms part of Canadian law under its Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act and Geneva Conventions Act. Bil’in has strongly submitted that Canadian courts are an appropriate forum to adjudicate on the conduct of Canadian companies in the Occupied West Bank under International humanitarian Law, including Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In June 2009, the Green Park Companies brought Preliminary Dismissal Motions before the Quebec Superior Court sitting in Montreal. In Reasons released on September 18, 2009, Justice Louis-Paul Cullen decided that the Israeli High Court of Justice was a more appropriate court to hear the case against these Canadian companies and their Canadian director on a legal principle known as “forum non conveniens”. Judge Cullen dismissed the case. In so doing however, the Quebec Court affirmed, for the first time in Canadian law, the principle of corporate civil liability for breaches of International Humanitarian law.
An appeal to the Quebec Court of Appeal from the decision of the Quebec Superior Court declining jurisdiction on the basis of forum non conveniens will be filed in Montreal by Bil’in’s Canadian Legal Counsel, Mark Arnold, on October 19, 2009. The appeal alleges that the Quebec Superior Court made grievous legal and factual errors in declining jurisdiction because Israeli courts have consistently ruled that the question of the legality of settlements under the Fourth Geneva Convention to be a matter of politics that the Israeli High Court of Justice will not hear. The appeal also alleges numerous other factual errors.
The Bil’in case raises major issues about the use of the legal system in Israel and internationally to achieve justice within the reality of the Occupation. In addition, and in light of the recent Goldstone report, which raises the question of impunity within the Israeli legal system, and the country’s accountability in international forums to center stage, this case is extremely important for Israeli, Palestinian and world jurisprudence with respect to the application of International humanitarian Law to conflicts arising from war.
The Palestinian Village of Bil’in has filed an appeal to a Canadian Court against two Canadian companies involved in settlement construction on their land
B’Tselem conference room, 8 Hata’asiya St, Talpiyot Industrial Park, Jerusalem
Tuesday, October 20th 2:00 pm
Adv. Mark Arnold, Bil’in’s Canadian Legal Counsel will speak via video conference from Toronto about the case, its precedent-setting significance, and the recently submitted appeal.
Adv. Michael Sfard, Bil’in’s Israeli attorney will speak about the village’s cases in the Israeli court system, and the decision to pursue the course of universal jurisdiction.
Statements will also be given on behalf of the Bil’in Popular Committee and the Al Haq Palestinian human rights organization
MOHAMMED KHATIB’S STATEMENT
First, I would like to thank you for coming here today, even though I myself am barred from being here because of the Israeli policy of closure.
Recently, following the Goldstone report, there has been a lot of talk around Israel’s refusal or inability to adhere to, and implement international law, and the resulting impunity. For me, this is not an abstract matter. In February of 2005, Israel began building its so called separation wall on my village’s lands. Israel has done so despite the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion the previous year deeming the wall – in its entirety – illegal.
My village has exhausted every option we could possibly come up with in fighting this unjust evil. Together with our Israeli and international partners, we have launched an ongoing campaign of civic resistance, for which we have paid dearly: dozens were and are jailed – I myself saw the inside of a prison cell. Hundreds were injured, and one, my friend Bassem Abu Rahmah was killed. He was killed for nothing more than demonstrating peacefully.
In our search for justice we have also turned to the Israeli High Court, which despite refusing to take on the issue of settlements, was willing to take on the issue of the wall. In its ruling, the court has pronounced the path of the wall on our land illegal, and pointed to the fact that it was planned to allow the expansion of the neighboring settlement, Modi’in Illit. It had also ordered the rerouting of this wall in a less harmful way, that will return *some* of our lands back.
It has been two years now since this ruling, and even this very partial change, had not yet materialized. The wall remains on our land, in its original path. Meanwhile, the settlement behind this wall continues to grow, in clear Israeli contempt of international law. Obama or no Obama the construction of 84 new residential units was approved just last month by Ehud Bark, the Israeli minister of defense.
In turning abroad, to the Canadian court today, and to others in the future, we hope to find a way to breach Israeli impunity; to find a way to realize justice and our rights. It is a way for us to sustain our belief in civic and grassroots action, and hope that our sacrifices have not been in vain.
Thank you all for coming here today
* Mohammed Khatib Bil’in is the secretary of Bil’in’s Village Council and a leading member of Bil’in’s Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements
Al-Haq is disappointed that its representatives could not be here to join you in this press conference due to the policies of the Israeli occupation. While these policies impact us on a daily basis, we will never accept them, as the people of Bil’in will never accept the theft of their land.
Al-Haq is privileged to have the chance to fight for justice alongside the resilient villagers of Bil’in and the brave legal team of Mr. Sfard and Mr. Arnold. As long as we continue to pursue justice there will be hope for Bil’in, as well as all Palestinians struggling for their right to self-determination.
This case is another example of that pursuit for justice. We are confident in the appeal, as it is clear that the Israeli judicial system cannot serve as the forum for achieving justice for Palestinians.
We stand ready to raise the issue of corporate accountability and work with lawyers anywhere in the world to hold corporations accountable for their complicity in the policies of the Israeli occupation and the breaches of international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory.
* Al-Haq is a Palestinian human rights organization
Al-Haq is an independent Palestinian non-governmental human rights organisation based in Ramallah, West Bank, which holds a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. http://www.alhaq.org