13 January 2021 – Israeli Violations and the Need for Accountability

Excellency,

I must again draw your attention to the critical situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, due to the escalating illegal policies and practices of Israel, the occupying Power, against the Palestinian people.

In the absence of accountability, the systematic, deliberate, and provocative expansion of the occupying Power’s settlements in our land has regrettably carried into 2021. Yesterday, the Israeli Prime Minister announced plans for yet another 800 settlement units in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, shamefully boasting: “I am pleased to announce that we will build 800 new apartments in Judea & Samaria, including in Nofei Nehemiah & Tel Menashe, the late Esther Horgan’s community. We are here to stay. We continue to build the Land of Israel!”

Israeli occupation authorities also recently approved new settlement plans to seize more than 1,000 dunums of privately-owned Palestinian land in Qalqilya in the northern West Bank for settlement construction and expansion. As Israel enters yet another round of elections, the cynical connection between this grave breach of international law and the pandering for votes by Israeli politicians is patently clear. In Israel’s so-called “democracy”, settler colonialism and military occupation are apparently the keys for political victories.

In fact, although Israel allegedly “suspended” its de jure annexation scheme, its de facto annexation project continues unabated in grave breach of the law. Measures to acquire more Palestinian territory by force, home demolitions, forced displacement of Palestinian civilians, and other blatant violations of human rights and international law are being taken daily in plain sight. Undeterred, Israel is also seizing more Palestinian land for settler-only highways, tunnels, and overpasses to connect illegal settlements, while further fragmenting Palestinian cities, towns, and villages.

With the expansion of settlements of course has come expansion of the illegal settler population, which has grown four times faster than Israel’s population in less than three decades. The international community must realize that the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, is being heavily and aggressively altered in the absence of accountability for such illegal measures.

We reiterate that whether colonization and annexation are implemented partially or totally, gradually or en toto, de facto or de jure, the international community is obligated to respond with serious, tangible action based on international law and the relevant UN resolutions, including Security Council resolution 2334 (2016). Only consequences can bring a halt to such illegal and destructive behavior.

This includes the inhumane demolition of homes by which Palestinian civilians continue to be rendered homeless, even in a time of pandemic. Contravening the WHO’s guidance and health recommendations, such as social distancing and staying at home, and in grave breach of international humanitarian law, Israel demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes and displaced hundreds of Palestinians throughout Occupied Palestine, with East Jerusalem being a prime target, since the pandemic began.

In 2020 alone, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that Israeli occupation forces demolished 145 structures, including two donor-funded structures in East Jerusalem, displacing 361 Palestinians, including women and children. One week into 2021, OCHA reports that Israel has already demolished 22 structures in East Jerusalem, including four donor-funded structures, displacing 30 Palestinians, including women and children.

Occupying forces also continue to harass, intimidate and violently attack Palestinian civilians in attempts to drive them from their land. On 7 January, Israeli soldiers surrounded and invaded the village of Al-Mughayir, near Ramallah, banning its residents from entering and exiting. The village has been frequently attacked by occupation forces and colonial settlers, with much of the village’s land facing threat of confiscation to facilitate the expansion of nearby illegal settlements.

On the same day, Israeli occupation forces demolished eight residential structures in Beit Iksa, near Jerusalem, under the pretext of construction without a permit, which Palestinians have virtually no chance of obtaining from occupation authorities. According to the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence, Israel has rejected nearly 99 percent of Palestinian building permit applications over the years, stunting Palestinian development and housing needs while at the same supporting and serving the expansion of its illegal colonial settlements.

In addition to punitive home demolitions, holy sites and houses of worship remain in the crosshairs of Israel’s illegal policies and practices. Recent Israeli excavations near the Buraq Wall, also known as the Western Wall, further expose Israel’s provocations and illegal measures affecting Al-Haram Al-Sharif and the entire Old City through its ongoing Judaization projects and attempts to erase the City’s Muslim, Christian and Arab character and identity. Not only do such provocative actions violate international law and UN resolutions, they further inflame religious sensitivities and risk further destabilizing an already volatile and fragile situation.

Ranging from home demolitions to night raids, and occupation-backed settler violence to forced displacement, the occupying Power has intensified its repressive measures against Palestinian civilians during the pandemic. With the international community focused on overcoming COVID-19 and its severe impact on peoples, societies and economies everywhere, the occupation blatantly exploits the situation, reaffirming not only Israel’s rejection of international law, but also its callous disregard for the challenges collectively facing our world. Instead Israel repeatedly proves that it prefers to pursue its narrow, illegal self-interest to the grave detriment of the rights of the Palestinian people, the stability of our region, and the viability of international law globally.

Rejecting recent attempts to undermine international law and multilateralism, it is the Security Council’s duty to ensure that the law is safeguarded and applied. Continued inaction is politically dangerous and morally unacceptable. Israel must be demanded to cease its violations or bear the consequences. It is Israel that is in the wrong, not the Council for upholding its duties.

Moreover, Israel must be reminded of its legal obligations to ensure the health and safety of all civilians under its occupation, without discrimination, including access to proper medical care for Palestinian detainees and prisoners, including those afflicted with COVID-19, who face deliberate medical negligence as a cruel form of punishment. In this regard, we must refer to the tragic death of a young Palestinian man, 20-year old Mohammed Ayed Salaheldin, who had been imprisoned by Israel and died this week of cancer just months following his recent release. Moreover, to date, it has been reported that at least 191 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel have contracted the COVID-19 virus, that several are in serious condition, and that Israel continues to inoculate prison authorities while denying the vaccine to Palestinians they are holding captive. We reiterate our appeal to the international community to give this matter urgent attention and to act to ensure respect for obligations to save lives and to pursue immediate accountability in case of continued violations.

The impact of the pandemic has also made more dire the situation in the Gaza Strip, where the health care system has been crippled by Israel’s 13-year blockade and repeated military aggressions. That Israel maintains full control over Gaza’s crossings and borders, as well as airspace and maritime zones, is without question, imposing on it clear legal obligations as the occupying Power, including to ensure access to essential medicines and supplies.  The disrespect for these obligations is striking as we witness Israel boasting about its vaccination campaign even as it excludes Palestinians living under Israeli occupation while providing it to its settlers in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. As stated on 6 January by, Amnesty International as “millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will receive no vaccine or have to wait much longer – there could hardly be a better illustration of how Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian ones.”

Israel must be demanded to respect its legal obligations and specifically as proscribed by the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention specifically stipulates that an occupier has the duty of ensuring “the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.”          

Against a backdrop of inaction, Israel’s ongoing crimes and violations prove that the occupying Power has no regard for the well-being of the Palestinian civilian population under its control, no respect for international law, and no intentions whatsoever to actualize the two-State solution on the 1967 lines in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions, including Security Council resolution 2334 (2016). While Israel chooses occupation and oppression over peace and justice, the international community must choose responsibility and accountability. The Security Council in specific must be faithful to its principles by upholding its Charter duties to end this grave injustice and justly and finally end this illegal occupation and resolve this conflict. Continued inaction will reward immoral violators whose goal is to destroy any chance of a just peace.

I should be grateful if you would arrange to have the text of the present letter made available to the members of the Security Council for their immediate, valuable consideration and also distributed as an official document of the Security Council.

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.

Dr. Riyad Mansour

Minister, Permanent Observer