ICJ: Include SWIFT sanctions against Israeli banks – Terry Crawford-Browne

Retired international banker appeals to judges of ICJ to include extra provisional measures

Open letter to Judges of the International Court of Justice

8 January 2024 

Judge Joan Donaghue, President and the Panel of Judges

International Court of Justice (ICJ)

The Hague Netherlands

8 January 2024

Dear Madam President and Esteemed Panel of Judges

Provisional measure: SWIFT sanctions against Israeli banks  

My name is Terry Crawford-Browne and I am a South African citizen.  I am a retired international banker who in 1985, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Dr Beyers Naude of the South African Council of Churches, launched the New York banking sanctions campaign at the United Nations as a last nonviolent initiative to avert a civil war in South Africa.  Having for decades anticipated a racial bloodbath in South Africa, the international community hailed our relatively peaceful transition from apartheid to constitutional democracy as a “miracle”. Both Presidents FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela subsequently acknowledged that the New York banking sanctions campaign was the single-most effective strategy in toppling the apartheid system.

Although legally binding, the ICJ’s provisional measures are not always followed.  The Israeli response to South Africa’s application has been typically arrogant and dismissive. Israel has a long history of contempt for the United Nations and international law.  This history includes the Israeli refusal to comply with the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their properties and/or to compensation. An estimated 70 to 80 percent of Gaza residents are descendants of refugees going back to the 1948 Nakba.  

My proposal is that you should include SWIFT sanctions against Israeli banks amongst the “provisional measures” to be determined following your hearings on 11 and 12 January.  South Africa’s application has called upon the ICJ to order Israel to “immediately suspend its military operations in and against Gaza”. Should Israel defy such an instruction, you will need a means of holding Israel accountable, hence my suggestion of SWIFT sanctions against Israeli banks.  A computer programme could immediately suspend all SWIFT authentications of payments to and from Israeli banks.

Three decades after our transition, the pressure point for banking sanctions is with SWIFT in Belgium instead of New York. Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) is not a bank, but is essentially a giant computer that authenticates inter-bank payment instructions between 11 000 financial institutions in over 200 countries.  Every  bank has a SWIFT code, two letters of which identify the country of domicile – IL identifying Israeli banks.   SWIFT is supervised by the Belgian central bank, the National Bank of Belgium. 

I spent six months in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem in 2009/2010 on two assignments as a peace monitor for the World Council of Churches’ EAPPI programme.  Whilst our primary function was to monitor the checkpoints and to collate statistics for the United Nations, we also worked with Israeli peace activists in East Jerusalem and Palestinian peace activists in Bethlehem.  The United Nations Security Council in 1977 unanimously and rightly determined apartheid South Africa to be a threat to international peace and security, and imposed a mandatory arms embargo. The parallels of apartheid in Israel-Palestine with apartheid in South Africa are glaring, but are much, much worse.

As you will know, Archbishop Tutu was very passionate and vocal about Palestine.  He opened the Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) meeting at the District Six Museum in Cape Town in November 2011, at which Judge Siraj Desai was the chair and I was the local organising secretary.  27 witnesses testified how Israeli conduct towards Palestinians met the international legal criteria of apartheid as a crime against humanity, and following which the Archbishop wrote to me: 

One of the lessons of Jewish history is that God is always on the side of the oppressed.  Another is that those who dehumanise others, dehumanise themselves.  Israelis will pay a heavy price for their callous mistreatment of Palestinians”.

I also attended the subsequent RToP sessions in New York in 2012 and Brussels in 2014.  I believe that you will find the 41 page summary of the Brussels session, including para IV on Genocide to be of assistance.  The testimonies of Mohammed Omar, David Sheen, Max Blumenthal and Mads Gilbert were videoed and recorded by the Electronic Intifada. Mr Blumenthal has also thoroughly documented the present Israeli war on Gaza.



The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign during the RToP meeting in Brussels called for sanctions until Israel complies with international law.  Archbishop Tutu provided me with a letter of introduction to SWIFT, which is headquartered in La Hulpe outside Brussels.  SWIFT’s management refused to meet me, and a day or two later issued a press statement that SWIFT had rejected pro-Palestine calls for sanctions. I submit the directors of SWIFT, and also the National Bank of Belgium, could be charged with complicity should they again decline to impose SWIFT sanctions against Israeli banks.

Yours sincerely

Terry Crawford-Browne