INTRODUCTION: According to a blog article published on January 13 2017 that has been getting circulated widely on social media, the High Court of Versailles has ruled that Israel has the right to ensure order and public life in “the West Bank”, which includes building infrastructure such as the light rail system and dwellings. This article examines the court records and exactly what the French Court ruled.
Claims According to a Blog Writer
According to a blog article published on January 13 2017, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) denounced the deportation of the Palestinian population and the destruction of properties in order to build the light rail system, in violation of international regulations and filed a case in French court, relying on both the Geneva Convention and Hague Convention.
According to the article, the PLO claimed that;
“the State of Israel was illegally occupying Palestinian territory and was pursuing illegal Jewish colonization”.
According to this blog, the Palestinians claimed that ‘the construction of the light rail itself was illegal as it resulted in the destruction of Palestinian buildings and houses, the almost-complete destruction of Highway 60 which they asserted was vital for the Palestinian population as well as for transport of their goods’ and has resulted in many “illegal dispossessions”.
The article states that the PLO’s case rested on several clauses of the annexed Regulations to the October 18, 1907 Fourth Hague Convention and alleged that Israel violated the provisions relating to the ‘protection of cultural property’ provided for in Article 4 of the Hague Convention of May 14, 1954, Article 27 of the Hague Convention of 1907, Article 5 of the Hague Convention of 1907, and Article 53 of Additional Protocol No. 1 to the Geneva Convention of 1949.
It maintains that according to the High Court, Israel is entitled to ensure order and public life in the West Bank including building a light rail system, infrastructure and dwellings in accordance with Article 43 of the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907 which states:
The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety.
Furthermore, the article states that the court ruled that the Palestinian Authority “misinterpreted the text” of the Hague and Geneva Conventions:
“The Palestinian Authority misread the documents, they do not apply to the occupation”
…and that the High Court of Versailles ruled that:
1. all the International Documents on which the PLO and the PA cases rested are acts signed between “States” i.e. Hague Convention of 1907 (Article 5, Article 27), Hague Convention of May 14, 1954 (Article 4), Geneva Convention (Article 53 of Additional Protocol No. 1).
…and the obligations or prohibitions contained in those International Documents are relevant only to “States” and since neither the PLO nor the Palestinian Authority are “States”, the Hague Convention of 1907, Hague Convention of 1954 and Geneva Convention (1949) do not apply.
2. the Hague Convention of 1907, Hague Convention of 1954 and Geneva Convention (1949) are binding only on those who signed them – namely the “contracting parties” and since neither the PLO nor the Palestinian Authority ever signed these texts, the Hague Convention of 1907 & 1954 and Geneva Convention of 1949 do not apply to them.
The French Case
The original lawsuit was brought against the French companies, Veolia Transport, Alstom and Alstom Transport that built Jerusalem’s light rail system and was filed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Association France Palestine Solidarité (AFPS) claimed that since the trains crossed into East Jerusalem which Israel ‘captured in 1967′ and ‘annexed in 1980′, the French firms were complicit in Israeli violations of international law.
On April 15, 2009, the Tribunal de Grande Instance Court ruled that the the PLO’s petition was inadmissible on the grounds that it had not been submitted that the PLO was competent to act in the case, and the action brought by AFPS was a wrongful third-party action brought on grounds of an improper clause in the contract, but ruled that the AFPS was admissible in terms of its capacity and interest in bringing proceedings. In other words, the case was dismissed on technicality. The court rejected the petition to compel the presentation of additional exhibits, referred investigation of the matter to the presiding magistrate’s preliminary hearing and deferred its ruling on all other petitions, including the counter-claims against the PLO. The parties could re-file.
In Appeal, the Versailles Court of Appeal upheld the April 15, 2009 ruling on December 17, 2009 on the basis that the Nanterre Tribunal de Grande Instance was competent to rule in the dispute.
On March 10, 2010, AFPS lodged a petition before the Paris Administrative Tribunal, claiming liability on the part of the French State due to its support for the French firms taking part in the construction and operation of the Jerusalem tramway, and was dismissed October 28, 2011. They appealed to the Cour de Cassation, the matter was heard in a public hearing on September 12, 2012 before the 2nd and 7th sub-sections of the Council of State and in a ruling handed down on October 3, 2012, they rejected the appeal.
In a ruling handed down on May 30, 2011, the Nanterre Tribunal de Grande Instance, the Court declared the PLO’s intervention dated March 1, 2010 inadmissible and rejected the petitions and counter-claims, declaring there were no grounds for provisional execution, nor for the application of the provisions of Article 700 of the French Code of Civil Procedure and ordered AFPS and the PLO jointly to pay costs. That is, the French Court could not rule on the basis of the PLO’s case as the Hague Conventions and Geneva Conventions, the basis for its case, did not fall under French Law.
The Court ruled that;
- the legislation invoked in article 49 (6) and 53 of the Fourth 1949 Geneva Convention, the Regulations of the 1907 Fourth Hague Convention, article 4 of the Hague Convention of 1954 and article 53 of Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, did not establish direct obligations on private-sector companies; In other words, these International Documents had no bearing on the obligations of private-sector companies, such as those that built the light rail train system in Jerusalem.
- even if it were assumed that conclusion by Israel of the disputed concession contract constituted a breach of its international commitments in the light of said conventions, it had not been proven that this breach had deprived this contract of purpose, the latter being subject to Israeli law and not the French Civil Code (more specifically articles 6, 1131 and 1133). That is, even if were assumed that the contract broke International Law, the case would be subject to Israeli law, not French Civil law.
- Construction of the tramway had not been proven to constitute a breach of human rights or humanitarian law in the broadest sense of the term. This was good news in that the court did not find that the building of the light rail system constituted a breach of Palestinian human rights or “humanitarian law”.
The magistrates did not find AFPS responsible for any wrongdoing and dismissed calls for compensation payment.
The AFPS and the PLO formally appealed this ruling on July 7, 2011, asking the Court of Appeal to overturn the decision and declare that the basis of the PLO’s case (Hague Convention and Geneva Convention) was admissible in French Court.
A third Appeal was brought and was filed in the Versailles Court of Appeal by the Association France Palestine Solidarité (AFPS) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) represented by Mr Mahmoud Abbas*, President of the Executive Committee, and represented by Mr Hael Al Fahoum, Head of the Palestinian Mission to France and of the PLO.
[*Mahmoud Abbas is head of the Palestinian Authority.]
Court of Appeal’s Ruling on Third Appeal – on March 22, 2013
The Court of Appeal in Versailles ruled that;
The evidence presented does not prove that the transport companies breached International Law;
“In the final analysis, the evidence heard does not prove that by taking part in construction of the tramway across the city of Jerusalem, the defending companies have breached international law“:
The transport companies that bid on the contract were not signatories to the concession contract and therefore cannot answer for it;
“The transport companies (Alstom, Alstom Transport and Veolia Transport) were not signatories to the concession contract signed on September 22, 2004 and cannot answer for its legitimacy in place of the State of Israel, which initiated and established this contract.”
The international humanitarian norms that the PLO and AFPS claimed were breached are not binding on the transport companies;
“The international humanitarian norms that it is claimed have been breached by the shareholder pact signed with CityPass by Alstom Transport and Veolia Transport, and the engineering, supply and construction contract signed with CityPass by Alstom Transport, are not binding on the companies on conventional or customary grounds, or in any capacity of international public order.”
The PLO nor the AFPS have not proven that the transport companies breached international law;
“It has not been proven that the companies have breached international law in the light of their commitments arising from their agreement to the Global Compact (2000) and the contents of their codes of ethics.”
The Appeal Court of Versailles rule that “there are no grounds to rule on the other aspects of liability”; the ruling of the initial magistrates who dismissed the petitions established against these companies is therefore upheld.
The case was dismissed and both the AFPS and the PLO were required to bear both the costs of the appeal and to pay the costs of the original case.
On 22 March 2013, judges Maître Emmanuel Jullien, Maître Fabrice Hongre-Boyeldieu, Maître Anne-Laure Dumea of the Court of Appeal, threw out the case and according to a 2013 Times of Israel article, ordered the two Palestinian groups to pay a total of 90,000 Euros to the French firms.
A Difference in Facts or Interpretation?
The Versailles Court of Appeal judge’s decisions centered around whether the transport companies were signatories on the concession contract to build the light rail system in Jerusalem and not on whether the PLO or the Palestinian Authority (PA) were “States” or “contracting parties” on the Hague Conventions (1907 and 1954) or the Geneva Convention (1949).
As well, a reading of the Versailles Court of Appeal transcript does not indicate that the court made any ruling with respect to whether Israel has the right to ensure order and public life in the West Bank including building a light rail system and other infrastructure and dwellings in the occupied territories of the West Bank.
The blog writer concludes that this case is the first in which a non-Israeli court has ruled on Israel’s right under the Hague and Geneva Conventions to build infrastructure and dwellings in East Jerusalem and “the West Bank”.
A review of the court transcripts does not indicate that any such ruling took place.
Checking facts and tracing references back to their original source is the only way to remain credible in writing articles or in sharing posts on social media.
If is sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
It is each person’s responsibility to find out.
Times of Israel, Raphael Ahren, April 29, 2013, http://www.timesofisrael.com/french-ruling-on-jerusalems-light-rail-adds-nothing-new-scholars-say/
The transcript of the Court Documents (Versailles Court of Appeals, ruling in English): http://www.intjewishlawyers.org/main/files/Versailles%20Court%20of%20Appeals%20ruling%20doc%20English%20.pdf