UN rights expert paints dire picture of situation in Occupied Palestinian Territory

John Dugard, Special Rapporteur

22 June 2006 – The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) has substantially deteriorated since a cut-off of international funding after Hamas won elections earlier this year, unemployment and poverty are rising, critical health services are in jeopardy and some Israeli actions seem to be dictated by vindictiveness “to humiliate and harass,” according to the latest reports issued by United Nations human rights experts.

“In effect the Palestinian people have been subjected to economic sanctions - the first time that an occupied people have been so treated,” the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the OPT, John Dugard said, calling it “possibly the most rigorous form of international sanctions imposed in modern times.”

He called for intensified diplomatic action by the UN and European Union (EU) in view of the United States’ failure to play the needed role. “Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce violence will not be changed by isolation but by engagement and diplomacy. Unfortunately the United States is unprepared to play the role of peace facilitator,” he wrote in the report on a nine-day visit to the OPT earlier this month.

“This leaves the EU and the UN as the obvious honest brokers between Israelis and Palestinians. Whether either of these bodies can play this role while remaining part of the Quartet is questionable,” he added, referring to the diplomatic foursome – EU, Russia, UN and US, who have been seeking a two-state solution to the crisis.

Detailing a litany of hardships facing the Palestinians, Mr. Dugard said Gaza is under siege with Israel controlling its airspace, resuming sonic booms “which terrorize and traumatize its people,” increasing targeted killing of militants that have resulted in death and injury to innocent bystanders, and expanding the no-go border area to enable it to prevent the firing of Qassam rockets by Palestinian militants.

In the West Bank, the construction of Israel’s separation barrier continues to severely affect human rights, with farmers denied permits to farm their land and families separated.

“To aggravate matters there is a new mood of hostility towards Palestinians at checkpoints on the part of Israeli soldiers, probably in response to the Palestinian elections,” said Mr. Dugard who, as a Special Rapporteur, is unpaid and serves in an independent personal capacity, reporting to the new UN Human Rights Council.

He noted that checkpoints in the northern sector of the West Bank served no apparent security purpose, leading to “the inevitable conclusion that they are principally designed to humiliate and harass the Palestinian people,” while in the Jordan Valley “a spirit of vindictiveness prevails” with Israel refusing to supply villages with water and electricity.

He cited Israel’s withholding of $50-$60 million in monthly tax revenues, which it has not right to do, and said the cut-off in funding by the US and the EU, because they classify Hamas as a terrorist organization, directly affects 1 million of a total 3.5 million Palestinians through non-payment of salaries, while indirectly the whole population suffers economically.

He wrote that the recent Quartet decision to provide support to the Palestinian people will ameliorate the humanitarian situation but not alleviate the suffering, adding that attempts to persuade the Israeli Government to pay tax revenues due to the Palestinian Authority seem doomed to fail.

“The image of both the EU and the UN has suffered substantially among Palestinians as a result of the Quartet's apparent support for economic isolation, under the direction of the United States,” Mr. Dugard concludes.

“Their credibility and impartiality are seriously questioned by Palestinians. However, they remain the bodies most likely to achieve peace and promote human rights in the region. In these circumstances both bodies should seriously consider whether it is in the best interests of peace and human rights in the region for them to seek to find a peaceful solution through the medium of the Quartet.”

In a separate report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt, reminded the donor community that it has a responsibility to provide humanitarian aid.

“Donors’ actions have threatened the most vulnerable - the sick, infirm, elderly, children, and pregnant women. In short, some donors have acted in breach of their responsibility to provide international health assistance in the OPT,” he said.

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