Archives for 16 February 2021

16 February 2021 – Illegal Colonization and Human Rights Abuses by Israel

Excellency,

The critical situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, continues to worsen due to the escalating illegal policies and practices of Israel, the occupying Power, against the Palestinian people.

The month of January witnessed grave Israeli violations of international law, with February regrettably following the same trajectory of unabated, systematic colonization and human rights abuses, entrenching the occupation and further damaging the prospects for a just solution. As illegal settlement and annexation activities escalate, so do the oppression and collective punishment of the Palestinian people, with at least 456 Palestinians, including at least 93 children and 8 women, arrested and detained in January alone.

Home demolitions have also continued to rise. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the year 2020 witnessed the highest number of demolitions of Palestinian homes and structures by Israeli occupation forces since the documentation of this inhumane practice began. Considering the levels of demolition and dispossession in January, it is clear that Israel is insistent on its path of impunity, portending a new violation’s record in 2021. Since the start of 2021, Israeli occupation forces have already demolished, seized or forced Palestinians to demolish at least 178 structures, displacing over 259 people, including at least 140 children.

As highlighted in previous letters, in two major demolition campaigns on 1 and 3 February, Israeli occupation forces demolished over 45 structures in Khirbet Humsa (also known as Humsa al-Bqai’a) in the Jordan Valley, repeatedly displacing and rendering homeless the 60 people, including 35 children, that comprise the nine families in that part of the community, who are now threatened with the risk of forcible transfer. This vulnerable Bedouin community has now been subject to four mass demolitions by Israeli occupation forces, including the destruction of homes, livestock shelters and water facilities, many of which had been funded by the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Despite Israeli movement restrictions, the Palestinian Government and international organizations mobilized to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the displaced families. However, according to OCHA and the Norwegian Refugee Council, Israeli occupation forces have confiscated a significant proportion of the assistance, including tents, leaving the displaced families to the mercy of the harsh elements of winter and violating innumerable human rights, including the right to education, with over 50 schools indiscriminately targeted with demolition orders. We refer in this regard to the 5 February joint statement by UN agencies (OCHA, OHCHR, and UNICEF) drawing the international community’s attention to the Israeli demolition campaign against Humsa al-Bqai’a and deeming such actions by the occupying Power to constitute direct breaches of international law.

The impact of these illegal and immoral actions on children is especially severe. According to documentation by Save the Children, in 2020 over 840 structures were demolished by the occupation, displacing more than 500 children, leaving them and their families homeless, devastating their communities, and disrupting every aspect of their lives. As stressed by Jason Lee, Save the Children’s country director, “Children are paying the highest price. Tearing down a house, a school or other vital infrastructure, especially during a pandemic, destroys their right to an education, to have a home. It targets their future, their health, their safety and well-being”.

Simultaneous to the uprooting and traumatizing of our people, Israel also continues to raze and confiscate Palestinian land and uproot trees, thieving Palestinian property and destroying livelihoods. In the period between 19 January and 1 February, Israeli occupation forces uprooted thousands of trees near the city of Tubas that had been planted eight years ago as part of a project supervised by the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture. In a separate assault, Israeli forces bulldozed nearly 1,000 trees in Bethlehem. Both incidents took place on the grounds that the land had been declared ‘state land,’ which is a baseless claim used to justify Israel’s annexationist intentions.

Israel’s demolition campaign is designed to uproot Palestinians from their land through state-sponsored dispossession. The objective is clear: maximal territory minus the presence of Palestinians, i.e. ethnic cleansing. The methodical implementation of this plan has been especially intense in and around areas critical to realization of the two-State solution and preservation of the contiguity of the State of Palestine, both of which the occupying Power seeks to destroy.

Although the international community has explicitly called for the cessation of home demolitions, forced evictions, land confiscation and all settlement activities, as reflected in relevant UN resolutions, and while governments, parliamentarians, human rights groups, and other international organizations have equally called for an end to these illegal actions, Israel continues to violate international law with absolute impunity. The consequences for the Palestinian people have been dire and the prospects for a just peace have been suffocated.

As of today, hundreds of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem are in danger of being dispossessed of their homes and properties following baseless legal battles waged by settler organizations closely linked to the Israeli government. Adding to the misery of the vulnerable families, who have lived in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan long before Israel’s establishment and the start of the occupation, Israeli courts, where no justice can be found, actually aim to handover their homes and properties to settlers.

Given the urgency of the matter, over 80 British parliamentarians recently sent a letter to the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Raab, writing that Israel’s looming dispossession of Palestinian families in Jerusalem must be prevented, and that such dispossession and forcible transfer is a grave violation of the 4th Geneva Convention. Moreover, the parliamentarians called for the necessary legal and political measures to address Israel’s mass dispossession of the Palestinian people and settlement campaign. They stressed that: “All measures should be on the table, including reducing diplomatic engagement and banning trade in settlement products in full conformity with international law obligations in order to challenge the settler economy that profits from the occupation.”

Similarly, humanitarian organizations have raised concerns and issued warnings over Israel’s dispossession campaign against the Palestinian people. On 9 February, the Norwegian Refugee Council underscored the urgency of the matter, warning that the international community “has once again witnessed attacks on some of the poorest families on occupied Palestinian land. Empty words of ‘concern’ are not enough for these families who find themselves homeless and deprived of the most basic needs. The international community, including European governments, must do more to stop forced displacement and demand that Israel provide reparations to Palestinian victims.”

Regrettably, the failure to hold Israel accountable thus far has greatly emboldened these crimes, including acts of violence, destruction and terror by Israeli settlers across Occupied Palestine. Under the protection of Israeli soldiers, extremist settlers continue to kill, assault and abduct Palestinian civilians and to damage homes, uproot trees, desecrate houses of worship, and routinely incite against, harass and intimidate the Palestinian population, including children.

On 5 February, Israeli settlers shot and killed a Palestinian man in Ras Karkar, north of Ramallah. Khaled Nofal, 34, was killed by settlers near the illegal outpost of “Sde Efraim”, which was erected on privately-owned Palestinian land seized for settlement expansion. Israeli occupation forces prevented Palestinian medics from accessing the site, and have yet to bring the perpetrators to justice.

On 10 February, an Israeli settler from the infamous settlement of “Ariel” ran over a Palestinian man near Salfit, killing him instantly. On 12 February, another settler car attack took place near Tubas, killing one Palestinian and injuring two others. While on a hike, Bilal Bawatneh, 52, was killed instantly as the criminal settler escaped using settler-only roads leading to nearby settlements. Had the perpetrators been Palestinian, it is well known that Israeli forces would have demolished their families’ homes and restricted movement across the West Bank, imposing collective punishment on the entire civilian population, in order to punish the perpetrator and in complete disregard for international law.

Also last week, video footage emerged showing an Israeli settler carrying out an attack against the Romanian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, causing damage to the church property. A statement by the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem warned that “Israeli extremists’ attacks against churches and mosques in Jerusalem are alarmingly on the rise, and the failure of Israeli official authorities to deal with them and their tolerance towards such terrorist acts will definitely lead to more fueling of the conflict in the Holy City, and will keep it further away from achieving peace and stability.”

On 10 February, the mayor of Al-Khalil (Hebron), Mr. Taysir Abu Senineh, received numerous death threats from the leader of the so-called “Kiryat Arba” settlement, along with threats from Israeli parliamentarian Moshe Abutbul. Both the settler leader and politician have intensified their collaborative campaign of anti-Palestinian incitement aimed at intimidating the population and consolidating Israel’s “eternal occupation” of Al-Khalil, including in the southern hills of the area where Palestinian communities, including in Masafer Yatta, are under grave threat of displacement.

Even in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, Israeli attacks and military raids have escalated. During an overnight raid on 10 February, Israeli occupation forces launched multiple incursions across the occupied West Bank and detained over 30 Palestinians, most of them children, adding to the thousands of Palestinian civilians being illegally held captive by the occupation.

It is beyond disturbing to imagine the experience and trauma endured by Palestinian children as they are detained, blindfolded, and taken away from their parents and homes in the middle of the night only to be victims of Israel’s systematic practices of arbitrary detention and torture. We reiterate the call for the immediate release of all Palestinian children being held by the occupying Power and for Israel’s respect for its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Turning to the situation in the Gaza Strip, we again sound the alarm about the deplorable humanitarian and socioeconomic conditions there due to the illegal Israeli blockade that has caused such severe deprivation, hunger and misery on its two million inhabitants, the majority Palestine refugees, who continue to bear the hardships of the original dispossession and displacement inflicted on them by Israel. Today, in yet another act of inhumanity, the occupying Power blocked the entry to Gaza of 2,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines intended for frontline health workers, including personnel in ICU units treating patients with the virus. This constitutes yet another grave breach of Israel’s obligations under the 4th Geneva Convention.

Israeli occupation forces continue to infiltrate Gaza’s shores and agricultural lands with military boats and earth-moving machinery, indiscriminately attacking civilians and causing significant damage to Gaza’s already devastated economy and infrastructure. Just two days ago, occupation forces opened on fire at Palestinian farmers working in their land near the border, depriving them of their source of sustenance and livelihood. This was preceded by yet another attack on Palestinian fishermen, who were fired at with live ammunition and water cannons on 7 February.

The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) recent decision affirming jurisdiction as to the situation Palestine brings hope that long-overdue accountability and justice are possible. The deterrent capacity of the Court is also undoubted as the perpetrators of war crimes against the Palestinian people have been put on notice. Despite Israel’s threats and false accusations of anti-Semitism against the ICC, the Court has recognized that the legitimacy and necessity of impartially investigating the situation in Palestine for the cause of justice, a central element for the realization of peace.

Since the onset of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory in 1967, Israel has yet to bear an ounce of accountability for decades of impunity and oppression. The result has been devastating for the Palestinian people and for the goal of a just and lasting peace and security between Palestine and Israel, making the applicability of international law, including UN resolutions, more imperative than ever. The Security Council in particular must uphold its Charter duty for the maintenance of international peace and security. This too surely requires preventive measures, including measures of accountability. We therefore again appeal for action by the Council to uphold the law and implement its resolutions on the Palestine question. The Council must overcome its paralysis and act forthwith towards ending the Israeli occupation in all its manifestations, including the colonial settlement regime, and supporting the realization of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.

In closing, we recall, when asked about the Israeli occupation in late 2016, then Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, stated: “The lack of any significant movement towards a political resolution and ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law are exacerbated by the lack of accountability for previous violations… Tackling impunity must be the highest priority.” Nearly five years later, the occupation is entrenching by the minute while accountability remains absent. We must seize this opportunity to prevent the passing of yet another year of inaction and raging impunity at the expense of more Palestinian suffering and yet another lost generation.

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