Israeli settlement expansion ‘root cause’ of growing violence in Occupied Palestinian Territories – UN experts

Suffering displacement, injury and even death, children continue to bear unacceptable consequences of the recent escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2014-1012/D'Aki

10 August 2015 – A United Nations human rights committee has completed its annual evaluation of the situation affecting millions of people living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and has cited Israel's policy of settlement expansion as a primary driver of the escalating violence in the area.

In a press release issued today to mark the end of its five-day fact-finding visit to Amman, Jordan, the UN Special Committee to investigate Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the occupied territories, said that a series of meetings with civil society groups and Palestinian officials had revealed that the “root cause” of the escalating violence in the Territories is “the continuing policy of settlement expansion and the climate of impunity relating to the activities of the settlers.”

Indeed, over the past weeks, tensions in the Territories between Israeli settlers and Palestinians have been further enflamed following a series of deadly incidents between the two groups. Most recently, in the village of Duma, an 18-month-old Palestinian baby died following the fire-bombing of the house by Israeli settlers. The father of the baby, who had sustained serious injuries in the attack, subsequently died on 8 August.

In addition to the violence, the Committee – represented by Amrith Rohan Perera, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN in New York; Ramlan bin Ibrahim, Permanent Representative of Malaysia to the UN in New York; and Aboubacar Sadikh Barry, Minister Counselor, Permanent Mission of Senegal to the UN in Geneva – was also briefed “extensively” on what it described as “increasing human rights violations” on women and children through the repeated use of night raids and police dogs by Israeli authorities. The UN experts were told that many women were subjected to “humiliating treatment in the presence of their families” during these operations.

The situation regarding the pace of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip was also brought to the UN Committee's attention by civil society representatives who lamented the slow pace of developments following the destruction of the enclave during last summer's war.

In fact, after more than a year, not a single housing unit completely destroyed during the conflict, last summer, has been fully reconstructed. According to the UN, some 100,000 people remain internally displaced as a result of the widespread structural devastation across the Strip and continue to be hosted in temporary accommodation or in make-shift shelters. Close to a 120,000 people are still waiting to be reconnected to the city water supply. Work has yet to begin on a number of key health facilities.

At the same time, the experts addressed the persistent funding shortfall affecting the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) which is currently facing its most severe financial crisis ever. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions, and financial support has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees and deepening poverty.

The Committee said it shared the view that unless UNRWA is sufficiently funded, its role in the Occupied Territories would be “seriously undermined,” and urged the international community to ensure timely and adequate funding to sustain UNRWA activities.

As things currently stand, UNRWA has enough money to maintain its services essential to protect public health which include immunizations for children, primary health care, relief and sanitation and some emergency programmes through to the end of 2015, but the funding is insufficient to guarantee the stable provision of its education services from September onwards.

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