5 November 2003


NEW YORK, 5 November (UN Headquarters) -- Expressing grave concern over the deteriorating situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Chairman of the Special Committee established to investigate Israeli practices in those territories presented his annual report to the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this morning.

He stressed that road closures, curfews and the multiplication of mobile checkpoints had prevented thousands of ordinary Palestinians from going to work, cultivating their fields, getting access to health facilities or sending their children to school.  Another side effect of the increased military occupation was the renewed campaign of destruction of houses and property undertaken by Israeli forces, he added.

He said the economic crisis affecting the occupied territory left more than 50 per cent of the Palestinian workforce unemployed and 60 per cent of the population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip living under the poverty line.  The situation also had an impact on Israel, which had experienced an estimated decline of 9 per cent in its per capita gross domestic product in the last two years.

He pointed to a similar deteriorating pattern of the human rights situation in the Syrian Golan in terms of education and employment for the 50,000 Syrian Arabs living there and of the living conditions of 500,000 other Syrians, many of them refugees from the occupied Golan.

Noting that efforts undertaken to enhance the Middle East Road Map process had produced no positive results and that the truce agreed upon by armed Palestinian groups had been broken, leading to a devastating cycle of violence by both parties, he called on Israel to ensure that the current living conditions of the Palestinians and other Arabs in the occupied territories did not provoke a major and irreversible humanitarian and human rights disaster.

Several speakers deplored the disturbing view of life under the occupation, as detailed in the Special Committee’s report, and highlighted the negative effects of the Israeli settlements and of the construction of the wall of separation. The representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine said the repeated Israeli claims that the settlements and the wall were intended for “security purposes” were obscene and absurd. Apart from their immediate and long-term humanitarian consequences, those practices seriously undermined the contiguity of the Palestinian territory and threatened to make the two-State solution impossible to implement.  The representative of Iran said the separation wall marked the beginning of a new phase in the plight of the Palestinian people and would cause direct harm to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in dozens of villages and towns in the West Bank.

In light of the continued deterioration of the situation in the occupied territories, speakers reaffirmed the need for the Special Committee to continue its work.  The Syrian representative said that any attempt to weaken the Special Committee’s role would be giving Israel a cover to continue to deny the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

The representative of the United States, however, reiterated his country’s long-standing opposition to the Special Committee, which provided a biased mandate to investigate the actions of one Member State.  The United States goal was to see the Committee eliminated, he added.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Lebanon, Jordan, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Tunisia, Qatar and the Sudan.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 6 November, to continue its consideration of the Special Committee’s report.

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