Statement by Ms. Feda Abdelhady-Nasser, Ambassador, Deputy Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, before the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (4th Committee),
Agenda Item 52: Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, 68th Session UN General Assembly, 8 November 2013:
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I express the State of Palestine’s deep appreciation to the members of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories. We thank Ambassador Palitha T.B. Kohona of Sri Lanka, Chair of the Committee, Ambassador Hussein Haniff of Malaysia and Ambassador Fode` Seck of Senegal for the report on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the Occupied Syrian Golan and the serious recommendations made therein.
The Special Committee’s report, along with the recent reports of the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 and other UN bodies and agencies, including UNRWA, UNICEF, OCHA and ESCWA, portray with accuracy the critical human rights situation in Palestine as a result of the illegal, oppressive policies being pursued by Israel, the occupying Power.
Contrary to the repeated, baseless Israeli argument that these reports are one-sided or biased, the Committee’s examination is clearly based on the United Nations Charter and relevant human rights covenants – including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – and humanitarian law, including the 4th Geneva Convention and the Hague Regulations, all of which are applicable to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, as determined by the General Assembly, Security Council and International Court of Justice. Even a basic review reveals massive breaches, many amounting to war crimes, by Israel against the peoples under its 46-year military occupation of Palestine and the Syrian Golan.
We deplore Israel’s continuing refusal to cooperate with the Special Committee, violating its obligations to respect resolutions and cooperate with UN mechanisms. We echo the call made by the Special Committee for the General Assembly to consider Israel’s persistent refusal to respect its obligations as a Member State and to act accordingly to hold it accountable.
Israeli violations continue to affect every aspect of life and every human right of the Palestinian people. We recall the Special Committee’s conclusion that the “occupation itself is a violation of human rights”. The persistence of this situation for decades, without remedy, has inflicted immense suffering on the Palestinian people and has undermined all efforts to date for realizing a peace based on the two-State solution.
We reiterate our call on the international community to uphold its responsibilities for the protection of human rights and protection of civilians in armed conflict when addressing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. These matters cannot be set aside in the drive for peace. They are essential for ensuring the well-being of the civilian population under occupation and for ultimate attainment of a just, lasting and comprehensive solution. Israel, the occupying Power, has clear legal obligations in the contexts of its actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the international community must be firm in demanding respect for those obligations and hold Israel responsible if it fails to do so, acting to end impunity and serving the cause of peace.
We regret that, even as peace negotiations have resumed, pessimism is overtaking hope, as every passing day reaffirms that Israel is more interested in maintaining its control over the Palestinian land, rather than achieving a just peace. For this objective, the occupying Power has relied primarily on its settlement activities, perpetrated in grave breach of international humanitarian law, in addition to other unlawful practices aiming at the isolation, separation and subjugation of the Palestinian people and constituting gross human rights violations and collective punishment.
A review of any random day in the past year exposes a deplorable human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. Israel continues to systematically violate the Palestinian people’s rights to self-determination, to life, to property, to food, to housing, to water, to education, to healthcare, to livelihood, to development, to freedom of movement and to freedom of worship, inflicting hardship, impairing the fabric of our society, destroying the viability of our State, aggravating tensions, and undermining the trust required for advancing peace. In the past year, this has included, inter alia, the following illegal practices, most of which are cause of multiple other human rights violations:
- Israeli occupying forces continued to kill and injure Palestinian civilians. Military strikes against the Gaza Strip continued, as in November 2012, which claimed 168 Palestinian lives, including 33 children and 13 women, and injured more than 1,500 people. This included the killing of 11 members of one family, Al-Dalou family, including 4 women and 4 children, the youngest 1 year old, in an Israeli air strike on their home on 18 November 2012. Daily military raids have been carried out in the West Bank, including arrest operations in the middle of the night, where even children, some younger than 12 years old, are forcibly detained by the army, which also continues to use civilians as human shields. Israel also continued to use excessive force against Palestinians partaking in peaceful protests against the occupation, causing death and injury.
- The occupying forces continued damage and destroy Palestinian civilian properties civilian infrastructure during military operations. In the November 2012 attacks on Gaza alone, hundreds of homes were destroyed, as well as government offices, health clinics, water and sanitation networks, and UNRWA facilities.
- Israel continued the illegal construction of settlements and network of Israeli-only bypass roads linking the settlements, the confiscation of vast land areas, and the transfer of Israeli settlers to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as it has flagrantly pushed ahead with its plans to colonize and de facto annex more Palestinian land, even in the midst of a peace process. Moreover, construction of the Wall – a major part of this illegal colonization and 95% of which is built on Palestinian land in deviation from the 1967 border – continued unabated, further fragmenting the Territory, separating Palestinian towns and villages, completely isolating and sealing off some areas in walled enclaves, and resulting in the further exploitation of natural resources, particularly water, rock quarries and agricultural lands. Hundreds of checkpoints and obstacles to movement and the permit regime associated with the Wall also continued to severely restrict movement and impair normal social and economic life, violating numerous human rights.
- The provocative declarations made just this past week by Israeli Government officials about plans to construct thousands more settlement units, as well as a recent report by the Israeli NGO Peace Now revealing a 70% rise in settlement construction in the first half of this year, are further confirmation of Israel’s refusal to cease its settlement activities in flagrant disrespect of international law, UN resolutions, the 2004 ICJ Advisory Opinion, Roadmap obligations and the international consensus on this matter, which recognizes the destructive impact of settlement activities on the two-State solution and the prospects for peace.
- These Israeli actions, perpetrated willfully and systematically, constitute grave breaches – war crimes. In this regard, we recall the conclusion by the “Independent International Fact Finding Mission to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”, that, in persisting with this settlement campaign, “Israel is committing serious breaches of its obligations under international humanitarian law, including the obligation not to transfer its population into the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Rome Statute establishes the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over the deportation or transfer, directly or indirectly, by the occupying Power of parts of its own population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside that territory”. (Paragraph 104)
- In direct connection with this illegal campaign, Israel has also continued to destroy Palestinian property, forcibly displacing civilians, including hundreds of Bedouin families. “Area C”, including East Jerusalem and surrounding area and the Jordan Valley, is most acutely affected. As noted by the Fact-Finding Mission, “the volume of information received on dispossession, evictions, demolitions and displacement points to the magnitude of these practices.” (Paragraph 106) The majority of these illegal demolitions are carried out based on pretexts of a “lack of permit” or “security”, with over 460 Palestinian homes and structures demolished between May 2012 and April 2013, resulting in the forced displacement of more than 400 people, including 218 children. Hundreds of demolition orders remain pending, including in the southern hills area of Al-Khalil, where approximately 50,000 Palestinians live in fear of displacement. In this regard, the cynical role of NGOs petitioning Israel’s Supreme Court for demolition of Palestinian communities as a means of aiding and abetting the Israeli settlement enterprise is deplorable.
- Extremist Israeli settlers continued to terrorize Palestinians, particularly in the Nablus, Jenin, Al-Khalil, Bethlehem and Jerusalem areas. Settlers continued violently attacking civilians, including children, farmers and elderly, causing death and injury; destroying and vandalizing Palestinian homes and vehicles; uprooting and burning nearly 9,000 olive trees (2013), contaminating water supplies and agricultural lands, including with raw sewage, and attacking and desecrating mosques and churches, including in Occupied East Jerusalem, stoking high tensions, particularly at Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which houses Al-Aqsa Mosque, inflaming religious sensitivities, and all perpetrated under the watch and protection of the occupying forces and with support of the Israeli Government, which bears ultimate responsibility for these crimes.
- Israel has continued its arbitrary and abusive imprisonment and detention of thousands Palestinian civilians, including children, some as young as 12 years old, who are being subjected, inter alia, to forced interrogations, violent beatings, psychological harassment and humiliation, unhygienic conditions, solitary confinement, denial of access to medical care, education and family visits, denial of due process, and torture and medical neglect leading to death. Some of the most glaring recent cases are the killing by torture of Arafat Jaradat, 30 years old, in an Israeli prison in February of this year, the death of Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, 63 years old, in an Israeli prison from cancer due to medical negligence, and the death just three days ago of Hassan Al-Turabi, 22 years old, also in Israeli prison from leukemia due to medical negligence. As reported by the Special Committee, at least 25 Palestinian detainees with cancer remain in Israeli prisons, some confined to wheelchairs. We also recall the ordeals of prisoners who remain on hunger strike in protest against the deplorable conditions of their captivity.
- More than 5,000 Palestinian remain in Israeli prisons and detention centers, including 137 administrative detainees, held without charge, 180 children and 12 women. As reported, 80 Palestinians have been imprisoned by Israel for over 20 years. Israel also continues the near-daily arrest of Palestinians, despite the recent release of some pre-Oslo prisoners. 2,450 Palestinians were detained at some point in 2013, including 476 children – including 5 year-old Wadi’ Maswadeh on 9 July in Al-Khalil. We recall the UNICEF report earlier this year on the plight of Palestinian children in Israeli prisons and the finding that the ill-treatment of child prisoners “appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized”, in grave breach of the Convention on the Right of the Child and article 76 of the 4th Geneva Convention.
- In the Gaza Strip, the devastating impact of the illegal Israeli blockade and the repercussions of the trauma, destruction and displacement inflicted by Israeli military aggressions, particularly in 2008-2009 and 2012, have continued to impact every human right and to disrupt every aspect of life. This blockade constitutes collective punishment of the entire Palestinian civilian population in Gaza, in grave breach of the 4th Geneva Convention.
- Regrettably, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza deepened in the past year, with normal livelihoods and sustainable economic activity remaining impossible. This is reflected in alarming facts, such as that 80% of Palestinians in Gaza remain dependent on humanitarian aid; food insecurity has risen to 57% (up by 13% from just the previous year); 32.2% of the workforce is unemployed, with youth unemployment at a staggering 60%; nautical restrictions have plunged fishermen to an 80% poverty rate; and 90% of the water remains unsafe for human consumption. Were it not for the assistance provided by UN agencies on the ground in Gaza and other international aid organizations, the humanitarian situation would be untenable, and, as noted in the Special Committee’s report and other UN reports, if this situation persists, the human habitability of Gaza by 2020 would be in doubt.
Just these few facts reflect the critical human rights situation in Palestine as a result of Israel’s violations of international law, which persist even at this time of the international community’s concerted push for peace under the leadership of the United States, the Quartet and the Arab League and all other concerned States.
We reiterate the demand that Israel, the occupying Power, cease completely all of its illegal policies and practices, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it commit in word and deed to the two-State solution on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, in line with the relevant UN resolutions, Madrid principles, Arab Peace Initiative and Quartet Roadmap. Moreover, we urge all States to uphold their responsibilities under international law, including ensuring respect by Israel of its legal obligations under the 4th Geneva Convention, and we reiterate the call for a Conference of the High Contracting Parties. We also urge States and international organizations to actively pursue policies consistent with their obligations under international law in connection with all illegal Israeli policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including by undertaking measures to end any governmental or corporate support to the Israeli settlement enterprise with the aim of bringing this illegal situation to an end.
We continue to stress the need for international attention to the plight of the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners and detainees, including children, being held by Israel, stressing the urgency of monitoring the conditions of their captivity and reiterating our call for the release of all Palestinian prisoners and detainees.
We also reiterate our calls for a complete end to the inhumane Israeli blockade and collective punishment of the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip, stressing their right to free and sustained movement into and out of the Gaza Strip, including to and from the West Bank, and the need to ensure the regular movement of persons and goods, including for reconstruction and the commercial flows necessary for economic recovery. We further reiterate our calls, as demanded by the General Assembly in follow-up of the Goldstone Report, for accountability for the crimes perpetrated by Israel, the occupying Power, in the context of the military aggression of December 2008-2009, as well as of November 2012, underscoring the need to ensure justice for the victims.
A complete cessation of all Israeli violations is imperative for stemming the suffering being endured by the people living under this occupation and fostering an environment conducive for making peace. The Palestinian leadership remains committed to peace and to negotiations to solve all final status issues – refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, water, security, and prisoners – in order to bring an end to the occupation and achieve the two-State solution of the State of Palestine living side by side with Israel in peace and security on the basis of the pre-1967 borders. However, this cannot be realized as long as Israel remains defiant of the law, acting in total contradiction to the parameters and goals of the peace process.
If this situation persists, it is the collective duty of the international community, including the Security Council, to act to ensure Israel’s compliance with the 4th Geneva Convention, the human rights covenants, and relevant UN resolutions. This is fundamental for salvaging the prospects for peace at this critical juncture and for enabling the Palestinian people to finally realize their inalienable human rights and national aspirations to live in freedom, security, peace and dignity in their independent State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman.