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Israel's 'enormous web of unlawful practices' devastating Palestinian society, Palestine's observer says, as Fourth Committee debates situation in territory

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GA/SPD/415

Sixty-third General Assembly
Fourth Committee
21st Meeting (PM)

Chairman of Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Underlines Interlocking, Reinforcing Relationship between Human Rights, Potential for Peace

Through an "enormous web of unlawful practices" that entailed systematic human rights violations, Israel was causing severe devastation and damage to Palestinian society, the observer for Palestine said today as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) launched its annual discussion of Israeli practices affecting the human rights of Arabs in the occupied territories.

Opening the Fourth Committee's general debate, she said that despite the Special Committee's inability to conduct a field mission -- due to lack of cooperation by Israel -- it had nevertheless carried out an objective examination of the critical human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the Syrian Golan.

For its report, the Special Committee, which was established by the General Assembly in 1968 to investigate Israeli practices affecting Palestinian human rights in the occupied territories, had visited Egypt, Jordan and Syria and heard from 33 witnesses, as well as different Government officials and non-governmental organization representatives on the situation of human rights in the occupied territories.

"Even under the aegis of a peace process, Israel continued to breach all human rights standards," the observer for Palestine said, referring to the numerous examples provided in the Special Committee's report of Palestinian civilians being killed, injured, imprisoned, displaced and collectively punished.

She stressed that Israel had, for decades, relentlessly pursued a two-dimensional policy, namely the brutalization and oppression of the Palestinian people, and the confiscation and colonization of the land. Every sector of life had been disrupted, and poverty, hunger, disease and unemployment continued to rise. Further, these illegal actions undermined the peace process.

Underlining the interlocking and reinforcing relationship between the protection of human rights and the potential for the peace process to succeed, Special Committee Chairperson H.M.G.S Palihakkara of Sri Lanka, who introduced the report, said it was noteworthy that the human rights situation on the ground had continued to deteriorate, despite ongoing political negotiations -- especially those emanating from the Annapolis Conference of 2007, which had declared the intention to reach a two-State solution by the end of 2008.

The Special Committee was particularly concerned, he said, about the long-term impact of Israeli policies and practices infringing on Palestinians' human rights. Israel's closure of Gaza had had a serious impact on economic and social rights, disabling the economy and posing a wider threat to the environment. Meanwhile, within the West Bank, three separate entities -- described by witnesses as "enclaves", "cantons" and " Bantustans" -- had been created. Family ties had been severed, as had the Palestinians' links to their land. It was feared that the situation would have a significant impact on the whole society and, particularly, on Palestinian children, who made up half of Gaza's population.

Against that backdrop, he reiterated the Special Committee's belief that protection of human rights was an essential element for ongoing peace efforts, and emphasized its request for the General Assembly to encourage the Quartet ( United Nations, Russian Federation, United States, European Union) to fully implement the Road Map and move towards a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement.

During the general debate, a number of speakers expressed cautious optimism that the fragile ceasefire in Gaza would bring real humanitarian relief and provide firmer ground for the ongoing peace process. The representative of France, speaking on behalf of the European Union, welcomed the Palestinian and Israeli parties' efforts, and encouraged them "to take bold steps within the framework of the dialogue initiated in Annapolis" in November 2007.

In that, he underscored the parties' need to renounce all initiatives that would threaten the viability of a fair and comprehensive solution, and expressed hope that the continuing calm between Gaza and southern Israel would persist and result in further relief for Gaza's civilian population.

Lebanon's representative, stressing that several international resolutions, together with peace initiatives, had been unable to end the many years of tragedy, blood and tears experienced by the Palestinians, said that Israel's commitment to peace should be translated into confidence-building measures on the ground, including the withdrawal of Israeli troops. If, however, Israeli actions could not create a favourable climate for a solution to be found, it was incumbent on the international community to ensure that Israel met its obligations under the framework of international and military occupation law.

Also speaking were the representatives of Cuba (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Syria, Morocco, Algeria, Yemen, Pakistan, South Africa and Senegal.

The Fourth Committee will continue its general debate on Israeli practices affecting the human rights of Arabs in the occupied territories at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 5 November. It is also expected to take action on several draft texts related to information.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to begin its consideration of Israeli practices affecting the human rights of Arab peoples in occupied lands.

The Committee had before it a note of the Secretary-General transmitting the thirty-ninth 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/63/273). The Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories is composed of three Member States: Sri Lanka (Chairman), Malaysia and Senegal.

The report to the General Assembly reflects the substance of the information gathered during the mission of the Special Committee to Egypt, Jordan and Syria from 23 June to 5 July. In those three countries, the Special Committee met with 33 witnesses representing Palestinian non-governmental organizations from the occupied territories, Israeli non-governmental organizations and individuals from Syria.

Section V of the report provides information on the human rights situation in the occupied territories, while section VI gives a review of Israeli practices affecting the human rights of Syrian Arab citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan. Section VII presents the conclusions and recommendations of the Special Committee to the General Assembly.

Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General's report on the work 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/63/483), which gives an overview of that body's activities and mission, as well as the activities of the Department of Public Information on the issue and the Special Committee's work during the period from August 2007 to July 2008.

Another report of the Secretary-General, on 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/63/484), states that, on 4 September, the Secretary-General addressed a note verbale to the Government of Israel, requesting information on steps taken or envisaged concerning the implementation of the relevant resolution (62/107). No reply has been received, to that request. Replies to similar notes verbale, sent to all permanent missions, were received from the Permanent Mission of Lebanon on 17 September and the Permanent Mission of Colombia on 22 September.

The Secretary-General's report on the occupied Syrian Golan (document A/63/482) notes that Israel had not replied to a similar note verbale, also dated 4 September, regarding implementation of Assembly resolution 62/110 of 17 December 2007. No reply has been received to that request. Replies to similar notes verbale, sent to all permanent missions, were received from the Permanent Mission of Lebanon on 17 September and the Permanent Mission of Colombia on 22 September.

Presentation of Report

Presenting the fortieth 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/63/273), Special Committee Chairman H.M.G.S. PALIHAKKARA of Sri Lanka noted Israel's continued refusal to provide access to the occupied territories to the Special Committee, which had, instead, travelled to Egypt, Jordan and Syria to examine the human rights situation. There, the Special Committee members had met with several witnesses and representatives from Palestinian and Israeli organizations and civil society entities, and with individuals from Syria and the occupied Syrian Golan. It had also made use of a variety of information sources -- written material, United Nations actors and academics, among them.

He said that the report dealt with such important issues as the right to self-determination; the right to life; the right to freedom of movement; the right to liberty and security of person, the separation wall, settlements; the right to an adequate standard of living, including subsistence, clothing and housing; the right to food and water, as well as the rights to work, education and health; settler violence; and the situation of human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan.

The Special Committee had found it particularly noteworthy that, despite the continuation of the political negotiations -- namely those emanating from the Annapolis Conference of 2007, which had declared the intention to reach a two-State solution by the end of 2008 -- the human rights situation on the ground had deteriorated, and the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people had remained elusive. As a result, the Special Committee reiterated that the protection of human rights was an essential element for peace efforts to succeed.

The report further highlighted the deterioration of human rights and of the humanitarian situation in the occupied territories and, specifically, in Gaza, he said. Civilians lacked protection in the face of escalating violence, significantly affecting the overall human rights situation there. Israel had continued rocket and artillery attacks, air strikes and military incursions into Gaza. Meanwhile, Qassam rockets continued to be fired by Palestinian militants, from Gaza into Israel. All crossings into Gaza had essentially been closed since June 2007, despite the current ceasefire. The severe restrictions on the movement of goods and people entering and leaving Gaza had resulted in shortages of food, medical and relief items, spare parts for critical health and sanitation installations, material for humanitarian projects, and raw materials for commerce and industry. Fuel shortages translated into electricity cuts of 8 to 10 hours a day. Water distribution, sewage treatment and health-care services were also disrupted.

The movement of Palestinians remained restricted between and within the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, severely damaging the social and economic structures, and increasing unemployment and poverty and the reliance on humanitarian assistance, he said. The separation wall, the steady expansion of settlements, curfews, and the closure regime had fragmented communities and seriously infringed, not only on the freedom of movement, but on virtually every other human right.

According to the report, the Special Committee was particularly concerned about the long-term impact of Israeli policies and practices infringing on Palestinians' human rights. The closure of Gaza had had a serious impact on economic and social rights. It had disabled the economy and would have a detrimental impact on the environment. Within the West Bank, three separate entities -- described by witnesses as "enclaves", "cantons" and " Bantustans" -- had been created. Access to East Jerusalem had also become much more difficult, and family ties had been severed, as had the Palestinians' links to their land. It was feared this situation would have a significant impact on the whole society and, particularly, Palestinian children, who made up half of Gaza's population.

In the occupied Syrian Golan, the human rights situation had also deteriorated, he went on. The number of settlers had increased, and existing settlements had expanded. Syrian citizens were reportedly denied access to water resources, and prisoners, who were held in unacceptable conditions, were subjected to harsh forms of torture.

Summarizing the Special Committee's recommendations, he said the General Assembly should urgently consider all means at its disposal to fulfill its responsibilities, regarding all aspects of the question of Palestine, until it was resolved in conformity with relevant United Nations resolutions and international law, and until the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people were brought to fruition. Towards that goal, the Special Committee's mandate should be renewed. The Security Council was also urged to ensure implementation of the International Court of Justice's advisory opinion on the construction of the separation wall. The Assembly was requested to encourage the Quartet to fully implement the Road Map, leading to a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement.

The Special Committee further recommended that the Government of Israel focus on the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied territories, and distinguish between military objectives and civilians. The Special Committee called for international law to be respected, the appropriate use of means and methods of warfare, and for a cessation of the excessive use of force and extrajudicial executions and destruction of property. It also called for the cessation of the confiscation of Palestinian land and the expansion of Israeli settlements, which violated international law and damaged the territorial integrity of a future Palestinian State. Additionally, it called for the protection of Palestinian civilians and property from violence.

The freedom of movement for Palestinians should be restored, said the Special Committee, also urging steps to end the current man-made crisis and suffering of the people of Gaza, he said. The construction of the separation wall should be stopped, in compliance with the International Court of Justice's advisory opinion. Mass and arbitrary detentions should cease, and proper treatment of detainees should be ensured. The Road Map should be implemented.

The Special Committee also recommended that the Palestinian Authority abide by the provisions of human rights law and international humanitarian law. The Authority should also aim to resolve the urgent human rights and humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and fully restore the rule of law in areas under its control, and comply with the Road Map's requirements.

The Special Committee hoped that its report would be taken account of in the same spirit in which it was addressed: namely, to ascertain the facts without rancor, and take action to ease the suffering of the people in the territories, and facilitate the process of ensuring security and making peace sustainable.