Human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem 

 
Report by the Secretary-General*

Summary

The present report is submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 22/28 on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. It highlights human rights issues in Gaza, including the firing of rockets into civilian areas in Israel, the blockade and access restricted areas. It examines the situation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, including limitations on freedom of movement, forcible transfers, violence by some settlers and lack of accountability, excessive use of force by Israeli security forces and violations by the Palestinian Authority. In addition, the report addresses the situation of Palestinians detained by Israel. 

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*Late submission.



I.  Introduction   

1.  The present report examines progress made in the implementation of Human Rights Council resolution 22/28 of 22 March 2013, entitled “Human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”. The resolution demanded, among other things, that Israel respect its obligations under international law, including with regard to practices and actions that violate the human rights of the Palestinian people. The report covers the period of 30 November 2012 to 25 May 2013. The information contained in the report is based primarily on monitoring and other information-gathering activities carried out by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and other United Nations entities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It also contains information obtained from Israeli, Palestinian and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), human rights defenders and media sources.

2.  The report highlights selected human rights issues related to Gaza, including the firing of rockets and mortars into Israel, the blockade and the access restricted areas (ARAs) and their enforcement mechanisms. It examines the situation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, including limitations on freedom of movement, forcible transfers, settler violence and lack of accountability, excessive use of force by Israeli security forces and violations of human rights by the Palestinian Authority. The report also addresses the situation of Palestinian detainees in Israeli prison facilities. 

3.  Several issues identified in resolution 22/28 are addressed in reports of the Secretary-General submitted to the General Assembly for its sixty-eighth session, including Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is also reviewed in the recent report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the implementation of Human Rights Council resolutions S-9/1 and S-12/1 (A/HRC/22/35 and A/HRC/22/35/Add. 1).

4.  The applicable international legal framework has been set out in previous reports of the Secretary-General and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The High Commissioner’s first periodic report on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory contains a detailed analysis of the legal framework applicable and the basis for the obligations of the different duty-bearers in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, namely the State of Israel as the occupying Power, the Palestinian Authority and the de facto authorities in Gaza (A/HRC/12/37, paras. 5–9). This analysis remains valid. 

 II.  The situation in Gaza 

 A.  Killing and injuries in the course of hostilities

5.  The escalation in hostilities between Israel, the de facto authorities in Gaza and armed groups in Gaza 3 ended with a ceasefire understanding between Israel and the de facto authorities on 21 November 2012. The understanding was generally observed by the parties despite a number of incidents that occurred during the reporting period, especially since March 2013. According to the United Nations Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS), 27 home-made rockets, four grad rockets and nine mortar shells were fired from Gaza towards Israel, while an additional two rockets and five mortar shells fell short and landed in Gaza, and three rockets exploded at the launching site. Based on the information available, the majority of projectiles fired into Israel struck empty land. No injuries were reported, although the rocket fire had an impact on Israeli civilians living near Gaza. A Salafist jihadist armed group called the Mojahideen Shura Council claimed responsibility for a number of rockets fired towards Israel. 4 The de facto authorities reportedly arrested at least two persons alleged to have been involved in rocket firing following the 21 November agreement. 5 Israel conducted five air strikes in Gaza. On 30 April, the Israeli air force targeted and killed one person and injured another, both allegedly members of an armed group. 6 In addition, at least 23 incursions 7 up to 300 metres within the fence were conducted by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

6.  Six months after the end of the escalation in hostilities, 8 there are serious concerns that neither Israel nor the de facto authorities have taken adequate measures to investigate credible allegations of violations of international law and to provide an effective remedy to victims. There is no information available in the public domain on investigations conducted into violations of international law committed by the de facto authorities and Palestinian armed groups. This is of particular concern following the findings of the recent report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/22/35/Add.1), especially with regard to the direct targeting of civilians and the indiscriminate nature of rockets fired towards Israel, as well as the summary execution of alleged collaborators. 

7.  Human rights organizations in Gaza filed 96 complaints with the Israeli military justice regarding alleged violations, calling for investigations. The Israeli Military Advocate General (MAG) is responsible for investigating offences that occur during military operations, including allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law. Complaints filed do not automatically trigger a criminal investigation. On 11 April 2013, the MAG issued a public document indicating that it found no basis to open criminal investigations in relation to approximately 65 incidents during Operation “Pillar of Defence”. 9   

8.  While it is positive that the MAG issued this update to outline steps taken by Israel to ensure accountability, it failed to provide sufficient information on the basis for deciding not to open criminal investigations. For example, according to information gathered by OHCHR in the case of the Al-Dalou family (A/HRC/22/35/Add.1, para. 17), on 18 November 2012, 12 people, including five children and four women, were killed in an Israeli air strike that hit a three-storey house in a heavily populated area in Gaza City without prior warning. The MAG claimed that the casualties were caused by “an attack aimed against a senior terrorist operative and several other terrorists” and had the aim “to reduce the scope of missile and rocket launchings towards Israel”. Various precautions were reportedly taken in the attack, and it was stated that operations staff had not foreseen the civilian harm that resulted. However, even if one member of the Al-Dalou family was affiliated with an armed group, it would appear that the attack would not have met the legal requirement of proportionality in light of the fact that the other 11 persons killed were civilians. Given that the house, located in a residential area of Gaza City, totally collapsed, and numerous adjacent houses sustained damage, it is difficult to understand how the extent of civilian harm could not have been foreseen. If it could not have been foreseen for lack of sufficient information on the extent of civilian presence, the attack should not have been carried out. The lack of clarity regarding the compliance of the attack with international law would appear to require that an investigation be carried out.

9.  There are concerns regarding the ability of Palestinians to seek redress for harm suffered as a result of Israeli military operations. Palestinians face a myriad of procedural requirements and legal obstacles that are effectively insurmountable, including unreasonable time limits imposed on accessing the civil court system for compensation, high fees for court guarantees and impracticable procedural requirements related to power of attorney from Gazan clients to Israeli lawyers. Further, recent legislative developments have widely expanded an exemption in liability afforded to the State of Israel for “an act done in the course of a military operation by the IDF”. 10   

 B.  Restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on the civilian population in Gaza

 1.  Blockade 

10.  The movement of Palestinians out of Gaza and access to basic utilities, housing, education, work, health and an adequate standard of living continued to be severely restricted due to Israel’s blockade. The unemployment rate remained one of the highest in the world, with 32.2 per cent of Gaza’s workforce unemployed. 11 Despite the easing of the blockade following the ceasefire understanding, 12 Gaza’s imports remained significantly short of pre-2007 levels. In February 2013, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) 13 announced measures regarding the movement of goods to Gaza, 14 and in December 2012, Israel and Egypt lessened certain restrictions on importing construction materials. 15 Israel allowed a daily quota of 20 truckloads of aggregates for use by the commercial sector. This amounts to about 15 per cent of the estimated need. Egypt permitted the entry of construction materials for Qatar-funded projects through the Rafah crossing. Although important, these measures remained insufficient given the limited volumes and materials allowed through the crossings. 16 

11.  These improvements were negatively affected by the decision of Israeli authorities, following rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, to close Kerem Shalom, the only commercial crossing between Gaza and Israel, for several days between 27 February and 30 April 2013, and to restrict movement of people at the Erez crossing to humanitarian cases. 17 As a result, the level of Gaza’s imports during February, March and April decreased by 17.5 per cent compared to the previous three months, 18 and to around 36 per cent of the pre-closure level. The blockade also continued to severely restrict Gaza’s exports, preventing the population from maintaining their livelihoods. During the reporting period, Gaza exports equalled less than 2 per cent of the pre-blockade level. 19   

12.  The United Nations and other international organizations continued to report significant delays and costs associated with the Israeli project approval process and the importation of materials for humanitarian purposes. 20   

 2.  Access restricted areas

13.  The November 2012 understanding included the easing of restrictions to the ARAs imposed by Israel on land and at sea. At sea, access for Palestinians was extended from 3 to 6 nautical miles. 21 Regarding the ARA on land, a lack of clarity regarding the restrictions in place heightened concern regarding the protection of civilians. 

14.  On 25 February 2013, COGAT reported on its website that Palestinian farmers were permitted to access land up to 100 metres from the fence. Previously, it had verbally informed various international organizations about this decision. On 20 February and 10 March, the IDF spokesperson, in written responses to an Israeli human rights organization, provided different information, stating that the residents of Gaza were prohibited from getting closer than 300 metres from the fence. COGAT subsequently removed its 25 February statement from its website. Exacerbating the lack of clarity, media reports, attributed to the then-Deputy Head of Hamas’ political bureau, claimed a complete lifting of the ARA on land. 22 

15.  Prior to the November 2012 escalation, in practice, the ARA on land was enforced by the Israeli military up to several hundred metres and often more than the officially declared 300 metres from the fence. 23 Following the November understanding, farmers and non-farmers started to access land that they had not been able to access for years. Farmers reported to OHCHR that they were able to cultivate land up to 300 metres from the fence, although in some cases restrictions were perceived to be enforced beyond 300 metres. Some farmers noted that access had not changed after the November understanding. Despite the apparent increase in access, some farmers were not prepared to risk cultivating anything other than low-yielding rain-fed crops, due to the lack of clarity and unpredictability of the situation.

16.  During the reporting period, three Palestinians were killed and 56 were injured in Gaza, including 16 children. Thirty-seven were injured in the context of demonstrations or other civilian activities in the areas up to, and at times beyond, 300 metres from the fence. 24 Several such incidents occurred on Fridays and, on some occasions, demonstrators threw stones at Israeli soldiers and their vehicles positioned across the fence. 25 In two separate cases, two 20-year-old men were killed close to the fence, one on 30 November 2012 east of the village of Al-Shouka, 26 and the other one on 11 January 2013, in Jabalia, in the context of demonstrations. The latter was shot in his abdomen about 50 to 60 metres from the fence, which he continued to approach notwithstanding tear gas and warning shots fired by the IDF. He was reportedly unarmed and did not pose any apparent threat to Israeli soldiers. No rockets were being fired from Gaza around the time of the incident. 27  &