Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories**
Note by the Secretary-General
The Secretary-General has the honour to transmit to the members of the General Assembly the forty-eighth report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, submitted pursuant to Assembly resolution 70/87.
**The present report was submitted after the deadline owing to the delayed nomination of the new members of the Special Committee and the consequent late annual mission undertaken to the region.
Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories
The present report contains information regarding the efforts of the Special Committee to implement its mandate and on the human rights situation in the occupied Arab territories over the past year. The report includes information on consultations with Member States in Geneva in March 2016, followed by a mission to Jordan in May 2016. It addresses the situation of Palestinian detainees, including children in Israeli detention facilities. The report also focuses on the escalation of violence in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which began in September 2015, and related concerns of use of excessive force by the Israeli security forces; Israeli policies and practices related to settlement expansion and settler violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the occupied Syrian Golan; demolition of homes and forcible transfer of Palestinians; interference by Israel with international humanitarian assistance; the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, and the lack of accountability of and lack of faith in the Israeli justice system. The Special Committee further examines issues relating to the exploitation of natural resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the occupied Syrian Golan.
1. The Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories was established in 1968 by the General Assembly in its resolution 2443 (XXIII). The Special Committee is currently composed of three Member States: Sri Lanka (Chair), Malaysia and Senegal. In 2016, the Special Committee was represented by three members: the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York, Amrith Rohan Perera; the Permanent Representative of Malaysia to the United Nations in New York, Ramlan Bin Ibrahim; and the Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations Office at Geneva, Mame Baba Cisse.
2. The mandate of the Special Committee, as set out in General Assembly resolution 2443 (XXIII) and subsequent resolutions, is to investigate Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the occupied territories. The occupied territories are considered those remaining under Israeli occupation since 1967, namely, the occupied Syrian Golan and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which comprises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.
3. The present report is submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 70/87, in which the Assembly requested the Special Committee pending complete termination of the Israeli occupation, to continue to investigate Israeli policies and practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and other Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, especially Israeli violations of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, and to consult, as appropriate, with the International Committee of the Red Cross according to its regulations in order to ensure that the welfare and human rights of the peoples of the territories, including prisoners and detainees, are safeguarded and to report to the Secretary-General as soon as possible and whenever the need arises thereafter. The present report covers the period from 11 August 2015 to 29 July 2016.
III. Activities of the Special Committee
A. Consultations with Member States in Geneva
4. The Special Committee held its annual consultations in Geneva on 21-22 March 2016 with Member States concerned with the implementation of General Assembly resolution 70/87. The consultations were held with a view to discussing the most pressing matters to be addressed in the Special Committee’s report to the Assembly, and to gather information on recent developments on the political and human rights front. The Special Committee met with the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, the Permanent Representatives of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic and Turkey and the Permanent Observer of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The Special Committee also met with the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the outgoing Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. A request to meet with the Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva received no response. The Special Committee also followed the discussions under agenda item 7 of the Human Rights Council, entitled “Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories”.
5. During the discussions, representatives of Member States expressed support for the work of the Special Committee, but also expressed concern about the worsening situation in the occupied territories, particularly in relation to the escalation of violence that started in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in September 2015. Member States also addressed, as a matter of concern, the lack of cooperation by Israel with human rights mechanisms established by the Human Rights Council, such as the work of the Special Rapporteur, and fact-finding missions or commissions of inquiry on the situation of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including those of the Special Committee itself. The Permanent Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic reiterated the Government’s invitation to the Special Committee to visit Damascus in 2016.
6. Key concerns raised by Member States included: settlement expansion; settler violence; exploitation of natural resources from settlements in the West Bank and Gaza and from the occupied Syrian Golan; the situation of detainees and deplorable conditions in detention centres; the refusal by Israeli security forces to release the dead bodies of Palestinians; administrative detention, including detention of children; excessive use of force and, in many cases, extrajudicial executions; punitive legislation adopted by Israel, for instance that which proposes that Palestinian families of alleged attackers should be deported to Gaza; the demolition of Palestinian homes and the forcible transfer of Bedouin and herder communities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; the blockade and lack of reconstruction in Gaza; and the general lack of accountability and remedies that accompanied all these violations.
7. The Special Committee was briefed on the main findings of the reports of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights and settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which were presented at the thirty-first session of the Human Rights Council in March 2016. The Special Committee was also briefed about the conclusions of the addendum on implementation of the recommendations contained in the reports of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict and of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict in 2009.
8. Concerns raised during the consultations helped to inform the Special Committee’s annual field mission and were taken into consideration for the present report.
B. Field mission to investigate Israeli practices
9. The Special Committee wrote to the Government of Israel on 28 March 2016 requesting access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and other Arab territories occupied since 1967. As in previous years, no response to the letter was received from Israel. The Special Committee was therefore unable to hold consultations with the relevant Israeli authorities, or to gain access to the occupied territories within its mandate.
10. Because of increased insecurity in the region, the Special Committee was unable to visit either the Syrian Arab Republic or Gaza through the Rafah crossing. Instead, it convened meetings with civil society representatives, witnesses, representatives of Bedouin and refugee communities, Palestinian officials and United Nations representatives in Amman between 2 and 5 May 2016. In a few instances, where witnesses were unable to travel to Amman, especially from Gaza because they had been denied travel permits from Israel or from the occupied Syrian Golan, the Special Committee gathered testimony and received briefings by teleconference. The Special Committee expresses its sincere appreciation to all those who provided testimony and briefings on a wide range of issues related to human rights and humanitarian law.
11. On 6 May, at the end of its annual mission, the Special Committee released a press statement.1 Documentation and other materials submitted to the Committee were carefully examined prior to the preparation of the present report and were archived by the Secretariat. Information contained in the report is primarily based on testimony and submissions received by the Special Committee in May 2016.
IV. Situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
12. Representatives of the United Nations and civil society based in the Occupied Palestinian Territory all expressed concern about the continuing Israeli policy of settlement expansion. The Special Committee was also informed that a combination of State-sanctioned land seizures, retroactive legalization of outposts,2 demolition of Palestinian homes and livelihood structures, denial of Palestinian building permits, restrictions of movement and access to livelihoods, settler violence and the lack of accountability have all contributed to creating a coercive environment leading to the forcible transfer of Palestinian communities. Testimonies about the facts on the ground heard by the Special Committee in May have subsequently been confirmed by the report of the Middle East Quartet in July 2016, which identified these factors, among others, and raised questions about Israel’s long-term intentions.3 The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has called the settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory a key driver of humanitarian vulnerability. In general, there is a growing perception that the settlement expansion could undermine the prospects for a “two-State solution”.
A. Settlement expansion
13. Many examples of continuing illegal settlement expansion and activity in contravention of international law were highlighted in submissions to the Special Committee, particularly in the vicinity of the fast-growing Gush Etzion settlement bloc. In the nearby Palestinian community of Wadi Fukin, Israeli authorities have in recent years reportedly confiscated almost half the village land, including land used for agricultural purposes. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the Wadi Fukin community witnessed last year the bulldozing of their land, the destruction of two water wells and the issuance of a stop-work order on a donor-funded football field.
14. The Special Committee was also informed that work began in early 2015 on the first phase of a project to build 218 new settlement units for the expansion of Beitar Illit, an ultra-Orthodox settlement within the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. UNRWA also recorded several incidents of intrusions by armed settlers to the irrigation pools to intimidate Palestinian farmers working on private land. The Special Committee notes a persistent failure by the Israeli authorities to prevent or respond to settler attacks or to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.
15. It was also emphasized in the submissions that, in early 2016, the Israeli Ministry of Defence announced the resumption of the construction of the separation wall in the part of Al Walaja village located in the Jerusalem municipality area unilaterally declared by Israel. The completion of the separation wall across Al Walaja would completely block off access to Palestinian farmland. Just two weeks before this announcement, it was reported that a tender had been issued by the Israeli Antiquities Authority for the construction of a visitor centre for the recently designated national park, on confiscated land belonging to the Al Walaja community. The Special Committee notes that residents living in the “Jerusalem section” of Al Walaja village have been subjected to multiple demolitions of residential structures and issuance of stop-work orders in 2016.
16. The Special Committee denounces the ongoing expansion of illegal settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. At the time of writing the present report, in July 2016, Israel had issued tenders for 1,093 units in occupied East Jerusalem and the Gilo settlements. This was in addition to the recent advancement of plans for 531 units in Maale Adumim, 19 in Har Homa, 120 in Ramot, and 30 in Pisgat Ze’ev and the advancement of a plan to legalize retroactively an outpost near Ramallah. Israel also announced the issuance of tenders for 42 units in Kiryat Arba. The renewed and accelerated settlement activity has been denounced by the international community as systematically undermining the prospects for a two-State solution.
B. Demolitions and the obstruction of humanitarian assistance
17. Representatives from the United Nations and civil society also gave a comprehensive presentation to the Special Committee on the current trends of demolitions and evictions under Israel’s restrictive and discriminatory planning and zoning regime in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The unprecedented increase in obstruction of humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable communities in Area C of the occupied West Bank, often based on their location in strategic priority areas for Israeli settlement expansion, was emphasized.
18. The Special Committee was informed that demolitions and confiscation across the occupied West Bank, including Area C, affected hundreds of Palestinian structures, including shelter, water and sanitation facilities, livelihood-related structures and community assets, in many cases provided by the international donor community, including the European Union.
19. The Special Committee was further informed that, in the first quarter of 2016, Israeli authorities demolished at least 871 homes or livelihood structures in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. This was reported as an unprecedented number of demolitions in such a short time, and the displacement figures by July 2016 had already exceeded the total number of displaced persons for the whole of 2015.4 The monthly average number of structures demolished in 2016 in Area C of the occupied West Bank was almost three times higher than in 2015.5 By July 2016, 981 Palestinians had been displaced from their homes in East Jerusalem and Area C in the occupied West Bank. This figure already exceeded the figure of 688 Palestinians displaced during 2015.
20. In the submissions, it was stressed that the humanitarian impact of these demolitions extended beyond the displacement of the Palestinian communities deprived of their shelter. It frequently destroyed their livelihood, increasing poverty and dependence on humanitarian aid. Children are at particular risk of a severe impact on their psychological well-being, resulting in emotional and behavioural problems that may last for months, with consequences for their educational achievement and school attendance.
21. The Special Committee recalls in this regard that Israel, as the occupying Power, has obligations to administer the Palestinian territory for the benefit of the protected Palestinian population,6 in compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights treaties applicable to the State of Israel, including the requirement to treat the protected population humanely at all times.7 International humanitarian law sets out strict conditions under which the destruction of private property and relocation of the protected population may be lawful, related exclusively to military necessity or the security of the population. 8
C. Forcible transfer in a coercive environment
22. UNRWA representatives highlighted the plight of some 46 Bedouin communities residing in rural areas of Area C in the occupied West Bank, who are at risk of forcible transfer by the Israeli authorities to three planned “townships” of Al Jabal West, Nweima and Fasayil.
23. The Special Committee heard that these sites were being developed with the express purpose of “regulating Bedouin” and finding a “solution to the population residing in the area of the Adumim Bloc — Western Road No. 1”, and “the aim of settling, permanently, those Bedouin who are there”. The overwhelming majority of some 7,500 Bedouin at risk of being transferred are Palestinian refugees. The Special Committee noted that the relocation of Bedouin communities would pave the way for an expansion of illegal settlement construction in the Maale Adumim area on the Jerusalem periphery.
24. The Special Committee was informed that this process of forcible transfer would see pastoralist families forced into an urban environment, leading to a breakdown of their traditional economies and irreversibly damaging their distinct social fabric. The expectation was strongly expressed that the recent finalization of one of the alternative sites would accelerate the execution of pending demolition orders and the gradual relocation of Palestinian Bedouin communities.
25. Recent examples of the actions taken by Israeli authorities over the past year were listed in the submissions, such as multiple demolition and stop-work orders,9 confiscations, the appointment of a retired brigadier-general of the Israeli Defence Force to act as “liaison” with the Bed