|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on the Inalienable Rights
of the Palestinian People
344th Meeting (PM)
Palestinian Rights Committee Will Continue Calls on Security Council,
Others to Hold Israel Accountable for Its Actions, Chair Pledges
Palestine’s Permanent Observer Outlines Developments
As Secretariat Officials Detail Deteriorating Humanitarian, Legal Situations
Expressing serious concern over a deteriorating humanitarian situation, as well as evictions and demolitions of homes, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People would continue to call on the Security Council and the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to hold Israel accountable, its Chair said today.
Zahir Tanin ( Afghanistan) voiced particular concern over the plan recently announced by the Government of Israel to evict Palestinian residents from eight villages in the south Mount Hebron area to make way for army training zones. Israel continued its settlement announcements, publishing tenders for 171 new units in East Jerusalem, he said, condemning the continuing demolition of homes and violent attacks against Palestinians by Israeli settlers.
Summarizing developments in the region since the Committee’s 12 June meeting, Mr. Tanin recalled that violence had escalated around Gaza in June and July. Rockets and mortars had been fired into Israel, and the Israeli Army had conducted airstrikes and incursions into Gaza, killing nine Palestinians and injuring 54 more. Additionally, a committee led by retired Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy had published a Government-commissioned report which claimed that the Israeli presence in the West Bank was not a military occupation and recommending the legalization of existing settlement outposts.
He went on to note that the Palestinian Authority faced acute challenges to remain solvent. It had only been able to pay part of the June and July salaries of 150,000 employees, and expected a $1 billion budget shortfall for 2012, he said, adding that, during its 22 July meeting in Doha, the Arab League Follow-up Committee for the Arab Peace Initiative had supported Palestinian plans to seek further recognition at the United Nations without specifying a concrete timeline. During a briefing to the Council on 25 July, United Nations Special Coordinator Robert Serry had expressed concern that developments on the ground were undermining prospects for a two-State solution, as well as ongoing attempts to reach agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on a package of confidence-building measures to pave the way for a resumption of high-level contacts.
Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, said that an emergency meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement’s Committee on Palestine scheduled for 5 and 6 August in Ramallah had been scrapped after the Israeli Government’s banning of Foreign Ministers from Indonesia, Malaysia, Cuba, Nigeria and Bangladesh from entering the territory to attend the gathering. The Committee had condemned that action in a communiqué and decided to send the “Ramallah Declaration” of support for upgrading Palestinian United Nations membership to the Movement’s Tehran Summit, scheduled for later this month.
“This action by Israel is not going to weaken our collective resolve to continue to have more countries recognize the State of Palestine,” he stressed. Moreover, a League of Arab States ministerial meeting on 5 September would discuss the timetable for enhancing Palestine’s status in the United Nations system, including through the Security Council, the General Assembly and other agencies of the world body.
Mr. Mansour noted that Palestine had participated as a State in the just-concluded Tenth United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names, which was important considering that Israel was attempting to change the names of Palestinian sites that had been in existence for hundreds of years. During the United Nations Asian and Pacific Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, held in Bangkok on 10 and 11 July, Thailand’s Foreign Minister had announced that the Thai and Palestinian ambassadors would formally establish diplomatic relations and exchange credentials on 1 August, he added.
Afterwards, Saleumxay Kommasith (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) presented the Chair’s Summary of the Bangkok meeting, of which the Committee took note.
Today’s meeting also featured a detailed briefing on the humanitarian impact of settlement construction and of forced displacement in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, delivered in three parts.
Janique Thoele of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, delivered the first briefing, saying the impact of settlement activity could be seen in four areas: demolitions and evictions; forced displacement; restricted movement and access to services; and settler violence and harassment. All that amounted to a “protection crisis” with serious humanitarian consequences, she said, adding that the crisis had been occasioned by a failure to respect human rights and humanitarian law.
Presenting a brief slide show spotlighting the impacts of the occupation, she pointed out the effects of displacement, infrastructure demolition and ongoing settlement activity on the geography and physical character of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which was dotted with myriad restricted zones and physical obstacles to movement. Although settlements were illegal under international law, twice as many Israeli settlers as Palestinians lived in “Area C” today, she added.
Turning to the West Bank and Israel’s ongoing construction of the separation wall, she said that the structure, which the International Court of Justice had ruled should be torn down, continued to hamper Palestinian access to resources. While Israel had a right to protect its security, it must respect international law, she emphasized. The situation was also particularly dire for farmers who owned land located in the “seam zone” and required special permits allowing access to their land through special gates, only a few of which were open every day. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was also seriously concerned because the barrier prevented Palestinian citizens from seeking specialized health care, especially as some areas required them to obtain special permits.
In the last decade, more than 4,000 Palestinians, half of them children, had been displaced due to home demolitions, she said, adding that a total of 620 homes were demolished in 2001. Palestinians in Area C could build homes and other structures on only 1 per cent of the land, while construction was prohibited outright on 70 per cent. Meanwhile, Israeli settlements occupied 24.5 kilometres in East Jerusalem, while Palestinian construction took just 9.5 kilometres. Some 200,000 Palestinians were not connected to the water network and relied on tinkered water. They faced restricted movement, as well as access to education, health, water and sanitation services. In the West Bank, 20 per cent of the population lived in poverty, 55 per cent were food insecure and 28 per cent were malnourished.
Turning to the occupation’s humanitarian impact, she said almost 500 Palestinians had been killed and 9,000 injured since 2005. Settler violence, including physical attacks and damage to property, had increased by 165 per cent from 2009 to 2011, and 83 Palestinians communities were vulnerable to settler violence. Settlers largely acted with impunity, she said, adding that more than 90 per cent of complaints alleging settler violence were closed without indictment.
Noting also Israel’s new trend of confiscating external humanitarian aid intended for the Palestinians, she said that since 2011, Israeli authorities had destroyed more than 150 donor-funded structures such as water tanks and tents. Beginning in March 2012, it had impounded relief supplies even before they were delivered to the communities in need, she said, calling for effective law enforcement against settler violence, revision of an unfair zoning and planning regime, and enabling the humanitarian community to meet basic Palestinian needs.
Antonia Mulvey of the Norwegian Refugee Council, discussing legal matters, said the international community had resoundingly denounced Israel’s settlement construction, as evidenced by some 12 United Nations resolutions. For example, Security Council resolution 465 (1980) explicitly called on Israel to dismantle its settlements and cease all construction. Further, the International Court of Justice’s Advisory Opinion on the legal implications of the separation wall’s construction also stated that settlements were a “flagrant violation” of international law. The 2004 decision also noted that parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention were obliged to ensure Israel’s compliance with international law.
Spotlighting other legal precedents rejecting Israel’s settlement activity, she cited specific articles of The Hague Regulations and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Yet, Israel did not recognize the overall applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and did not view its destruction of Palestinian infrastructure and removal of Palestinians from their lands as a “forced population transfer”, proscribed under that treaty. She added that the Israeli Government provided tax and other incentives for settlers, thought to include housing infrastructure amounting to some $240 million, none of which was made available to Palestinians.
While international law was very clear that settlements were illegal, she continued, Israel had adopted national legislation that delineated the basis under which such construction could be legal: through political decision; State land only; lawfully designed building scheme; and boundaries decided by a military order. Moreover, there was a clear dual legal system in place, she said, explaining, for instance, that the case of a Palestinian alleged to have committed manslaughter in Area C would go through Israeli military courts, while allegations against an Israeli citizen, perhaps living right next door, would be handled by civilian courts. Settlers were increasingly not brought before the courts and impunity was growing, she warned, citing Susiya village in the southern Hebron hills. Home to 350 people, Israel’s High Court of Justice was considering it for demolition, she said, adding that advocacy could have a huge legal impact in preventing such injustices.
Amira Hassan of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) New York Office, said the West Bank was home to 771,000 registered Palestine refugees, a quarter of whom lived in one of 19 camps, and the rest in towns and villages. At least 2,300 Bedouins, particularly in Area C, were under threat of displacement due to settlement construction plans announced in July 2011. Much advocacy thus far had prevented plans to move one Bedouin community to a garbage dump, she said, adding that their inability to sell animal products threatened traditional Bedouins’ livelihoods.
She went on to state that the Israeli Government was moving rapidly forward with a plan to turn Al Walaja village, located nine kilometres south-west of the old city of Jerusalem, into a national park, which would force out its 2,000 Palestinian residents without any compensation. The authorities had posted a notice in Hebrew giving residents 60 days to file objections to the plan, but all objections made by a local committee had been rejected. Another case study pointed to the Burin cluster in Nablus, where Palestinians had no access to 7,500 dunums of land. In 2011, there had been 70 incidents of property damage, the highest number recorded during that year, she said, adding that, on 19 May, a group of settlers had set fire to four or five Palestinian homes in Burin.
During a brief question-and-answer period, Indonesia’s representative announced that his Government was planning for next year a meeting on the role of the media and civil society in dealing with the Palestinian question. He added that his delegation would be seeking advice from the Department of Public Information.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates said the briefings had starkly highlighted the “ugly picture” of Israel’s occupation. Stressing that other events in the region must not distract the international community’s focus from the truly dire situation faced by the Palestinian people, he said the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was bound to deteriorate as Israel’s illegal activities continued.
Deborah Seward, Director of the Strategic Communications Division in the Department of Public Information, reported on the United Nations Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East, held in Geneva on 12 and 13 June. The event had featured messages from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Wolfgang Amadeus Brulhart, Switzerland’s Assistant Secretary for the Middle East and North Africa, among other senior Government and United Nations officials, she said. All participants in the Seminar — from Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the wider Middle East, Europe and the United States — had been encouraged to make use of social media such as Twitter and Tumblr, including ahead of the event and during its five panel discussions.
She said the discussions had focused on: the prospects for peace approaching the twentieth anniversary of the Oslo Accords; how the Arab Spring had affected media coverage of the question of Palestine; the role of women’s activism and the media in promoting Israeli-Arab peace; civil society in media and film in the Middle East; and youth activism in the region, including evolving attitudes towards and tools for social change and democracy. One of the Seminar’s main aims had been to focus on the Arab uprising and to explore their implications for the Palestinian question, she said. Reflecting that theme, the Seminar’s organizers had made a specific effort to invite more women and youth to the event than in previous years, resulting in the youngest group of participants ever, as well as one all-female panel, another “first” for the Seminar.
Characterizing the discussions as “stimulating and challenging”, she went on to say that the panels had also benefited positively from the diverse experiences of the participants. “The feedback we have received, both from the participants and from observers present at the Seminar, has been extremely positive,” she continued, noting that many participants had expressed appreciation of the opportunity to meet others face to face. In at least one case known to the organizers, such opportunities had led to a group of journalists from different backgrounds and working in different areas to explore collaboration on a news story. “So, in sum, we are extremely pleased and very encouraged by this year’s event,” she concluded.
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