Francis A Boyle, Palestine, Palestinians and International Law

IssueDecember 2003 - February 2004
Review by Iain Byrne

The recent death of Edward Said robbed the Palestinians of their most eloquent advocate in the West. One of the most committed and articulate of Palestinian allies still with us however, is the Professor of International Law at Illinois University, Francis A Boyle. Boyle has produced a tool for the reader “to go out and work for peace with justice for all peoples and states in the Middle East”.

While eschewing polemic for an analysis that is rooted in international legal principles this is no dry legal tome - law is only used to the extent that it backs up the author's political thesis. Some of the material is reproduced from previous speeches and papers whilst other, most notably the analysis of recent events post 11 September where Boyle widens his analysis to look at the war on terror, is new. It includes an invaluable internet bibliography of the “Genocidal/Apartheid Acts” committed by Israel against Palestine during the Al-Aqsa Intifada.

The book opens with a cri de coeur - “create the state of Palestine!” - contained in a research paper from 1987 charting the different histories of two post WWI League of Nation mandates - Palestine and Namibia. Boyle correctly predicts that Namibia, at the time also illegally occupied by South Africa in contravention of UN resolutions, would soon become independent and that on the same grounds Palestinians should declare their own independence. The exiled Palestinian National Council drafted such a document a year later with the author's assistance.

Reading this and other chapters on self-determination can be a depressing experience with so many stillborn initiatives strangled at birth by Israeli and US intransigence. The reader turns inevitably to the last chapter which asks, “What is to be done ?” It is here that one can conclude that Boyle is stronger on analysis than solution. Some of his ideas appear to be pie in the sky, eg, suspension of Israel from the UN or the establishment of a war crimes tribunal. However, the call to establish a dis-investment campaign is achievable and could have a significant impact provided it is concerted and has a global reach: something which the Palestinian cause has never managed to achieve. Yet these are minor quibbles with a profound work which is essential reading for everyone - lawyer and non-lawyer - who seeks justice for the Palestinians.

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