8 November 2005
Despite Some Positive Changes, Human Rights Situation of Palestinians Still "Dire", Assembly's Special Political Committee Told
Debate Begins on Israeli Practices; Sharm el Sheikh Summit, Gaza Withdrawal Noted; Appeal for Trust, Restraint across Communities
NEW YORK, 7 November (UN Headquarters) -- Despite some positive developments this year in the aftermath of the Sharm el Sheikh summit and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip, witness testimony pointed to a dire human rights situation in the Occupied Territories, said the Chairman of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, as the General Assembly's Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to begin its consideration of the Special Committee's report.
He said it was therefore essential that Israel and the Palestinian Authority took all action possible to build trust among and across communities on the basis that the two-State solution of independent States of Israel and Palestine, existing side by side, would soon be a reality. In this context, he pointed out that once again the Special Committee had not been allowed by Israel to visit the Occupied Territories and assess, at first hand, the human rights situation in Palestine. After 37 years of denying access for the Special Committee to the Occupied Territories, Israel should revisit the reasons behind such a refusal.
The Permanent Observer for Palestine said the Special Committee's report presented a disturbing account of the grave human rights violations being committed by Israel, the occupying Power, against the Palestinian population. The occupation had denied the Palestinians of their most basic rights and freedoms. The lack of accountability on the part of Israel, she said, was a clear statement that the occupying Power had a "complete disregard for Palestinian life". On the issue of Gaza, she said that since the Israeli disengagement had been unilaterally planned and implemented, it had failed to recognize any Palestinian concerns and had left many critical issues unresolved.
The representative of Syria said Israel continued its occupation of the Golan, violating the rights of his people despite the international community's refusal to accept the annexation. Israel had proved its enmity to peace through its expansionist policy and the construction of further settlements.
Jordan's representative condemned the resurgence of suicide operations and the murder of civilians whatever the circumstances. He called on the parties to stop violence and show restraint, and said Israel must show the highest restraint while the Palestinian Authority was reforming the security section.
Other speakers said that the presence and continued construction of illegal settlements and the separation wall were seriously undermining the territorial integrity and contiguity of the Palestinian territory and were thus making the vision of a two-State solution nearly impossible.
Also speaking before the Committee this morning were the representatives of United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kuwait, Cuba, Malaysia and India.
The Committee will meet again tomorrow, 8 November, at 10 a.m. to continue its consideration of the Special Committee's report.
As the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to begin its consideration of Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, it had before it a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the thirty-seventh report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (document A/60/380).
The report reflects the substance of information gathered during the Special Committee's mission to Egypt, Jordan and the Syrian Arab Republic from 25 June to 9 July. The Special Committee met there with 46 witnesses representing Palestinian non-governmental organizations from the Occupied Territories and Israeli non-governmental organizations, as well as individuals from Syria. The report notes that, as in past years, the Special Committee was not authorized by Israel to visit the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Section V of the report, summarizing the human rights situation in the Occupied Territories, focuses on issues of particular concern in the light of the testimonies and material received: the right to self-determination; the right to freedom of movement; the right to an adequate standard of living; the right to just and favourable conditions of work; the right to health and to education; the right to life, to liberty and security of persons; the right to freedom of opinion and of association; and the right to worship.
According to the report, witnesses drew attention to the combined effects of military occupation, continued construction of the wall on substantial portions of Palestinian land and the impact of Jewish settlements, which deprived whole communities from means of livelihood and jobs, as well as of access to schools, universities, health and social facilities and families. The report states that the witnesses implied in their testimonies a common feeling that Palestine was suffocating and going through a kind of silent death, unnoticed by the world. The disengagement plan from the Gaza Strip was seen by many as an ambiguous unilateral gesture that had not been negotiated with the Palestinians or within the Quartet, and that might even strengthen the Israeli hold on other parts of the West Bank.
The report says that during the Special Committee's visit to Damascus, it received various documents from the Syrian authorities on Israeli practices affecting the human rights of Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Arab Golan. These included a statement from the Syrian Ministry for Foreign Affairs highlighting the deteriorating human rights situation affecting all aspects of the life of families and communities, caused, among other things, by expansion of Jewish settlements, diversion of water resources, high taxes on agricultural resources, landmines and destruction of the Arab cultural identity.
In conclusion, the Special Committee reports that the year was marked by hopes expressed by Palestinians in the aftermath of the Sharm el Sheikh summit in February, and the announcement of the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Although the Gaza withdrawal took place in a remarkably efficient way, hopes for progress in the Occupied Palestinian Territories tended to vanish in the face of persistent negative factors, such as the military occupation of the West Bank, the unabated construction of the separation wall, the severe infringements on freedom of movement, the steady expansion of Jewish settlements, and the relative silence and inaction of the international community regarding the implementation of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.
The report concludes with a number of recommendations to the General Assembly, the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It states that the Israeli Government should, among other things, recognize the de jure and de facto applicability of the Fourth Geneva convention to the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the occupied Syrian Golan, stop its policy of destroying houses and property, and the confiscation of large portions of land that affected the territorial integrity of a future Palestinian State, facilitate the reopening of the Gaza airport and seaport, and pursue the implementation of the Road Map.
The Palestinian Authority should, among other things, exert control over Palestinian armed groups, arrest and bring to justice those responsible for the planning of, or participation in, attacks against Israeli or Palestinian civilians and pursue implementation of the Road Map.
The Committee also had before it the report of the Secretary-General on the Work of the Special Committee (document A/60/294), submitted pursuant to Assembly resolution 59/121. The report gives an overview of meetings of the Special Committee and the activities of the Department of Public Information (DPI) on the issue.
According to the Secretary-General's report on Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (document A/60/295), no reply had been received to a note verbale from the Secretary-General, dated 14 July, to the Government of Israel, requesting information on any steps the Government had taken, or envisaged taking, concerning the implementation of Assembly resolution 59/124. Reacting to a note verbale sent by the Secretary-General on the same date to all permanent missions, the Permanent Mission of Cuba condemned the construction of a separation wall as one of the gravest breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It also condemned the expansion of Israeli settlements, the construction of new ones and the confiscation of Palestinian land, among other things, and it called for action by the Security Council and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Another report of the Secretary-General, on the applicability of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the other occupied Arab territories (document A/60/296), was submitted pursuant to Assembly resolution 59/122. The report states that on 14 July, the Secretary-General addressed a note verbale to the Government of Israel, requesting that it inform him of any steps the Government had taken or envisaged taking concerning the implementation of the resolution, to which no reply had been received. In reply to a 14 July note verbale sent by the Secretary-General to all permanent missions, the Government of Lebanon emphasized the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention and states that it had called for a meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention.
According to the Secretary-General's report on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan (document A/60/297), Israel had not replied to a note verbale, dated 14 July, in which the Secretary-General requested that the Government inform him of any steps it had taken, or envisaged taking, concerning the implementation of Assembly resolution 59/123.
As stated in the Secretary-General's report on The occupied Syrian Golan (document A/60/298), Israel had not replied to a similar note verbale, dated 15 July, regarding implementation of Assembly resolution 59/125. The Government of Lebanon sent a reply to the Secretary-General's note verbale of the same date sent to Member States.
Introduction of Reports
PRASAD KARIYAWASAM (Sri Lanka), Chairman of the Special Committee, said that once again the Special Committee had not been allowed by Israel to visit the Occupied Territories and assess, at first hand, the human rights situation in Palestine. This restriction also prevented any exchange of views with relevant Israeli authorities. The Committee was of the view that Israel, after 37 years of denying access for the Special Committee to the Occupied Territories, should revisit the reasons behind such a refusal. The Committee had been able, however, to meet witnesses from Occupied Territories at locations outside the Occupied Territories, and collect sufficient material and evidence regarding the human rights situation.
He said that despite some positive developments in the aftermath of the Sharm el Sheikh summit of February 2005, and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, testimonies by witnesses manifested a dire human rights situation in the Occupied Territories. The harshness of the military occupation, including the ill-effects of road closures, checkpoints and the isolation of Palestinian villages, were all negatively impacting on the human rights of Palestinians. The confiscation of land, exploitation of water resources, razing of land and crops, and the uprooting of trees, as well as destruction of infrastructure and demolition of houses, had led several Palestinian witnesses to use words such as "ethnic cleansing" and "rampant expulsions" to describe their situation.
Furthermore, he continued, the construction of the separation wall was violating the human rights of the Palestinians, not only in respect of freedom of movement, but also the rights related to housing, food, family life, education, and health. By all accounts, the wall was affecting the national identity of the Palestinians and their legitimate claims to territories, he said.
He said it was demoralising for the Special Committee to observe the deterioration of the human rights situation in Occupied Territories, especially since it was not possible to detect much trust among the witnesses on the prospect for peace in the region. It was therefore essential that Israel and the Palestinian Authority took all action possible to build trust among and across communities, on the basis that the two-State solution of independent States of Israel and Palestine, existing side by side, would soon be a reality. Such confidence building measures would no doubt contribute towards improving the human rights situation in the Occupied Territories.
It was time for the General Assembly to think of innovative ways as to how the United Nations could fulfil its responsibilities with respect to all aspects of the human rights of Palestinian people and Arabs in Occupied Territories, he said. In this context, it was crucial that the Special Committee be provided with a renewed mandate in line with current realities, taking into account the hopes and aspirations of those living in Occupied Territories.
NADYA RASHEED, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said the Special Committee's report presented "a disturbing account and assessment of the grave human rights violations being committed by Israel, the occupying Power, against the Palestinian population held hostage to its 38-year old occupation". In that regard, she drew attention to the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967 (document A/60/271). Throughout the occupation, the Palestinian people had endured constant threats to their national existence and systematic violations of their human rights. The occupation had denied them their most basic rights and freedoms, including their right to self-determination, and was the root cause of the immeasurable suffering and hardship faced by the Palestinian people.
She said that in the past five years, the human rights violations had increased dramatically, resulting in the killing of more than 3,750 Palestinians, including at least 800 children. The lack of accountability was a clear statement that the occupying Power had a "complete disregard for Palestinian life". Even more troubling, she continued, was the culture of absolute impunity being demonstrated by the occupying Power. Furthermore, violence perpetrated by illegal armed settlers had significantly increased, crimes still went unpunished because of the occupying Power's undeclared policy of leniency and compromise towards illegal settlers. Moreover, she added, every Palestinian was subject each day to systematic humiliation by the occupying Power in every aspect of life. Such humiliation was particularly evident at the more than 600 checkpoints throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem.
The occupying Power continued the illegal detention and imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails, she said. Today there were more than 8,500 of them, including more than 300 children and 120 women. More than 600 of those who were imprisoned were in administrative detention. The widespread destruction of hundreds of homes, shelters and properties continued unabated. Illegal settlement campaigns were being continued, especially in occupied East Jerusalem. She said that in flagrant disrespect for the July 2004 International Court of Justice ruling, and in direct violation of Assembly resolution ES-10/15 of July 2004, Israel had fervently continued its construction of the wall, especially in occupied East Jerusalem. The presence and continued construction, both of illegal settlements and of the wall, were seriously undermining the territorial integrity and contiguity of the Palestinian territory, thus making the vision of a two-State solution nearly impossible.
Addressing the issue of Gaza, she said that since the Israeli disengagement had been unilaterally planned and implemented, it had failed to recognize any Palestinian concerns and had left many critical issues unresolved, including the border crossings, the airport and seaport, the permanent link between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and the tons of rubble left behind. Moreover, the withdrawal of Jewish settlers from Gaza should be seen as the decolonization of Palestinian Territory, but did not change the legal status of Gaza as an Occupied Territory. Therefore, Israel would still remain bound by the Fourth Geneva Convention. The international community had a crucial role to play in ensuring that the disengagement was an opportunity to revive the peace process and should not be manipulated by Israel in order to complete its colonization and de facto annexation of huge areas of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
In conclusion, she said it was clear that the overall impact of the illegal Israeli policies and practices on the human rights situation had been disastrous. The time had come to reverse the human suffering that had been caused by the occupation and continuous Israeli military assaults, and to finally grant the Palestinian people their right to live in freedom, dignity and peace. Every effort must be undertaken by the international community to revive the peace process and bring the parties back to negotiations towards the implementation of the Road Map and the achievement of a final, peaceful two-State settlement, based on the pre-1967 borders.
FAYSAL MEKDAD (Syria) said he wanted to decry the grave deterioration of human rights in the Occupied Territories. The fact-finding committee should continue its work until all Occupied Territories were restored. Any attempt to belittle the work of the Special Committee gave Israel a pretext to persist in its violations of human rights, he said. The General Assembly should think of imaginative ways and means for the Committee to carry out its mandate.
Israel, he said, in the wake of occupying the Syrian Arab Golan had started to use all means to annex land, evicting people from their villages and farms.
It had channelled all its abilities to plant settlers in the territory, depriving the population of the Syrian Golan of their human rights. It had tried to annex the Golan and impose Israeli identity thereon. Despite the international community's refusal to accept that annexation, Israel still continued its occupation of the Golan, violating the rights of his people.
He said Israel had proved its enmity to peace through its expansionist policy and the construction of further settlements in a new campaign, under which 300 new residential units had been constructed in the Syrian Golan. Syria was of the view that such hostile actions constituted a dangerous escalation of the situation. Israel had made numerous attempts to weaken the resistance of those in the Golan Heights and to strangle them economically. It was time for the international community to adopt a firm stance against Israel.
HARON HASSAN (Jordan) said he supported the recommendations of the report, as well as the work done by the Special Committee, which should pursue that work until the end of the occupation of all territories occupied since 1967. He invited Israel to participate in its work. He recalled that a year ago, he had stated that a serious political process should be pursued to bring the peace process back on track. But every time there were efforts to do so, the two sides had fallen into the cycle of violence. Two months ago, he said, Israel had completed its withdrawal from Gaza, which should have been an important step in implementing the Road Map and an opportunity not to be missed. Unfortunately, many hopes were not fulfilled despite the efforts of all parties concerned.
He said the disproportionate force used by Israel, among other actions through bombings in Gaza and extrajudicial executions after a short period of calm, combined with constant violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, would not contribute to a resolution of the crisis. Without pointing fingers to any party, he said he condemned violence and violations of the Sharm el Sheikh agreements, the resurgence of suicide operations and the murder of civilians whatever the circumstances. He called on the parties to stop violence and show restraint.
He particularly called on Israel to show the highest restraint while the Palestinian Authority was reforming the security section.
The report showed the depth of the Israeli violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people, he said. Israel's decision to continue construction of the wall, despite the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice opinion or the impact it had on the political situation, was a flagrant violation of the resolutions regarding its international legality. The wall had done damage to thousands of Palestinians. Was it possible for an entire people to be kept under house arrest? he asked. Moreover, the wall jeopardized the national security of Jordan. Parallel commitments remained to be implemented by Israel and Palestine alike in line with the Road Map. He said Gaza remained under the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel must end all illegal practices in the occupied Syrian Golan. Security and stability could become a reality in the region only by means of the decolonization of territories on the basis of relevant Council resolutions, the Arab peace initiative, the Road Map and complete withdrawal from Gaza as part of the Road Map.
ABDULLA MANSOOR AL ABD (United Arab Emirates) said that since September 2000, the Israeli occupying forces had continued to systematically commit war crimes and State terrorism against Arab civilians in the occupied Arab territories. Even after its withdrawal from Gaza, and the evacuation of a number of Israeli settlements from the northern parts of the West Bank, Israel continued to kill civilians, apply collective punishment and extrajudicial execution, destroy thousands of houses and detain and displace tens of thousands of the population, in flagrant violation of all international and humanitarian laws.
The Israeli Government continued to build the separation wall, leading to the confiscation of more Palestinian land and water, the bulldozing of their farmland and the restriction of their movement, in a deliberate plan to aggravate their economic and social condition and force them to leave their homes. Israel's policies of expansionism, closure and restriction of movement, had led to heavy losses in the Palestinian economy, high rates of unemployment, a rise in the number of Palestinians living below the poverty line and deterioration in health and education services.
He said Israel also continued its occupation of the Arab Syrian Golan, violating the human rights of the Arab population there, including the right to work, education and freedom of movement, as well as subjecting them to arbitrary detention, torture and humiliation. Israel was intentionally expanding and building more settlements and imposing a Jewish culture in the region, in an attempt to erase the Arabic identity of its people, without any regard to international resolutions which had deplored its occupation of Arab lands.
TAREK ADEL (Egypt) said the Committee worked under difficult conditions because of the non-participation of Israel. Yet, the report was comprehensive and neutral; it reflected extremely serious facts, indicating that the occupying Power did not comply with the rights of the occupied Palestinian people. The hopes raised by the withdrawal from Gaza had been dashed because Gaza had been made into a huge prison, cut off from the outside world. Policies of road closures and collective punishments, as well as boycotting, continued. The construction of the wall and expansion of settlements in the West Bank were attempts to destroy the economic and political unity of the Palestinian people.
He said he supported the recommendations contained in the report, including those on the construction of the wall. The occupying Power was imposing restrictions on the Palestinian people, including on freedom of movement and on the right to education. On occasion, it had even impeded the religious expression of the Palestinian people. Since construction of the wall began, he added, Palestinians had lost control over vital resources, such as water and electricity. Lands were being confiscated, to be distributed to settlers and for military bases.
The continuation of Israel's policy to change the nature of the status of the occupied Syrian Golan in contravention of Council resolutions, by creating settlements and other measures, must be stopped, he said. The policy of violence and rights violations that Israel had pursued for so long had led to no positive result. Israel had not obtained the security it had hoped for, whereas the living conditions of Palestinians had worsened. The disengagement plan, albeit unilateral, was a step in the right direction, but required further initiatives to make the two-State vision a reality.
MANSOUR AL-OTAIBI (Kuwait) said the report of the Special Committee pointed out that Israeli occupation forces continued their inhuman practices through detentions, persecution, destroying homes, blockades and building further settlements. Israel's continuation of such practices and its insistence on building the separation wall constituted a grave violation of the provisions of international humanitarian law, he said.
While his delegation emphasised the need for continued international efforts to stem Israeli practices and attacks, it was regrettable that Israel refused to look into this question in a reasonable and civilized manner. The pull-out from the Gaza Strip was a first step that should lead to others, such as the removal of checkpoints and a pull-out from all territories that Israel had occupied in 1967. He reiterated his delegation's persistent support for the work of the Special Committee to investigate Israeli practices, and the conclusions and findings contained in its report. He called upon the international community to exercise more pressure on Israel to cease its blatant violation of international humanitarian law and abide by the relevant General Assembly resolutions.
ABEL LA ROSA DOMINGUEZ (Cuba) said that, in analyzing the report, it was obvious that "a whole people is being massacred in a blatant, massive and systematic manner". Meanwhile, the international community had its hands tied, as 30 vetoes and threats of veto had been the result of the work of the Security Council every time a draft resolution was presented that tried to reach a balanced approach. "The usual implementation of double standards and the aforementioned exercise of threat of veto by one of its permanent members has lead to the stagnation of the Council on this matter," he said.
In previous years, he continued, a delegation had delivered shameful statements, declaring the objective to eliminate the Special Committee; this year, dangerous statements had been delivered in "the heart of the Organization" on the alleged necessity of eliminating some of the entities created to contribute to the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. He said his delegation therefore expressed its full support to the work of the Committee.
Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip had brought about new expectations, he said. However, those expectations were fading with the continued military occupation of the West Bank, the construction of the wall, road closings and check points, the high number of Palestinians in Israeli jails, constant expansion of the Jewish settlements and the silence by the international community regarding the implementation of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice. The unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip should not be seen as the beginning of the end of the genocidal Israeli policy in the area; Israel continued to control the airspace and sea borders, and Israel continued to be the occupying Power in that area. The international community should therefore not rest in their efforts to reach a just and lasting peace in the Middle East region.
RADZI RAHMAN (Malaysia) said his delegation shared the disappointment of the United Nations over the persistent refusal of the Government of Israel to cooperate with the Special Committee in the fulfilment of its mandate. Of equal concern was the fact that Israel had deemed it fit to ignore the request made by the Secretary-General for information on steps it had taken concerning the implementation of General Assembly resolutions under this item. The negative attitude and posturing demonstrated by Israel, only further corroborated the suggestion that it intended purposely to continue to prevent the international community from having knowledge of the human rights situation in the Occupied Territories. He said Israel could not accuse the Special Committee of being biased in its reporting, considering the meticulous efforts carried out by the Committee to ensure the independence, impartiality and accuracy of its work.
The brutal and harsh policies and practices by Israel had gone beyond the appropriate use of means and methods employed in warfare, he continued. The international community must recognize with a sense of outrage that the wilful killing of Palestinians, destruction of Palestinian houses and property, confiscation of Arab lands and other forms of collective punishment, as well as Jewish settlement policies, had gone on unabated for too long. Collectively, the international community must explore ways to redress and reverse this situation without delay.
It was evident that the Palestinians and Arabs in the Occupied Territories were experiencing a devastatingly difficult life under Israeli occupation, he said. The sense of misery and helplessness, alienation and subjugation that they were experiencing was on the increase. The little hope they had of having their plight reversed by the implementation of the Road Map was now shattered, owing to the refusal by Israel to comply with its provisions. The international community could not and must not turn a blind eye to their plight. In this connection, the General Assembly should think of innovative ways to fulfil the responsibilities of the Special Committee, and provide it with a renewed mandate that was in line with current realities.
SITARAM YECHURY (India) said his country welcomed the disengagement by Israel from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. It deemed the withdrawal as a significant first step that would hopefully culminate in a mutually acceptable, negotiated settlement in accordance with the Road Map and relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. Despite this glimmer of hope for cooperation between the parties, the situation in the region remained fragile. India unequivocally condemned all acts of terrorism, as well as excessive and harsh retaliatory measures, in the strongest terms. Those who denied the right of self-determination of the Palestinians only strengthened those who denied the right to life of the Israelis, he said.
The lives of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories had become both a metaphor and a reality of unhappiness and injustice, he continued. The construction of the separation wall was encroaching on Palestinian land and interests, creating hardship. Of equal concern, he said, were the restrictions on the freedom of movement by the Palestinians. Those restrictions had led to a loss of access by the Palestinian population to employment and income, as well as access to essential goods and services.
He said Israel should show restraint and take no action that would aggravate the humanitarian and economic plight of the Palestinian people. Israel should take measures without delay, in accordance with the obligations of the Road Map, to improve the security, and the humanitarian and economic conditions of the Palestinian people. Within this context, the services provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) played an indispensable role.
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