26 OCTOBER 2020
A lack of ventilators and hospital beds to address COVID-19 has pushed Gaza’s overstretched medical system to the brink, the expert tasked with monitoring human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, stressing that Israel’s 53‑year blockade of the area amounts to a collective punishment banned under the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
Mr. LYNK said he has received no cooperation from Israel, the occupying Power, in the conduct of his mandate. Since his first appointment in May 2016, Israel has never granted permission for him to travel to the Occupied Palestinian Territory or replied to any of his many communications. Stressing that COVID‑19 has widened the existing inequalities inherent in the occupation, straining the already overstretched health care systems serving the Palestinians, he said that by mid-October, the number of confirmed cases had reached more than 52,000 in the West Bank and more than 4,000 in Gaza. Palestinians in the West Bank’s Area C — which is under Israel’s full security and civil control — and in occupied East Jerusalem face innumerable barriers to accessing decent health care. In Gaza, he expressed concern over the lack of ventilators and hospital beds to address COVID‑19, calling on Israel to end its air, sea and land blockade of the area — a siege that “amounts to collective punishment, a prohibited activity under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention”.
To be sure, he said international accountability is the missing key needed to address the 53-year blockade, yet the United Nations and other authoritative international institutions have rarely taken steps to hold Israel accountable through effective counter-measures and sanctions. To this end, he recalled that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies in full, and that Israel is required to uphold all its related obligations. Stressing that “the acquisition of territory by force or war is inadmissible” and that “the creation and expansion of the Israeli settlements is a serious violation of the absolute prohibition under international law”, he pointed to Israel’s refusal to accept any of these principles. At least six Security Council resolutions since 1979 state that these measures have “no legal validity” and are a “flagrant violation of international law”. Yet, Israel has taken no steps to satisfy its obligations. Among other things, he called for a complete prohibition on the import of all goods and services originating from Israel’s settlements into the international marketplace.
In the ensuing virtual dialogue, delegates condemned violations of human rights and international law in the context of Israel’s occupation, raising concern over Palestinian weakened capacity to withstand the impact of COVID‑19.
The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine denounced the countless human rights violations being perpetrated by Israel against innocent children, women and men under a 53-year military occupation. The Special Rapporteur’s report provides just a minimal snapshot of the widespread humanitarian suffering and humiliation being endured by Palestinians. “Their very existence in their homeland is at stake,” she said, as they suffer collective punishment and “relentless attempts to forcibly displace them through acts of colonization and annexation in a five-decade long campaign to replace them with Israeli settlers, attempting to erase their national presence and their right to self-determination and freedom.” All such acts violate international law and Security Council resolutions, she said, objecting to Israel’s “absolute contempt for the rule of law”. She asked Mr. Lynk how his recommendations can change the situation on the ground and finally bring the longest occupation in modern history to an end.
Addressing the issue of settlements, Ireland’s representative expressed deep concern over the demolition of Palestinian communities and the forced transfer of residents, particularly during a global pandemic. He called the deliberate policy of clearing Palestinian residents off their land to make way for settlers “a clear breach of international law”. Referring to the torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees, she asked Mr. Lynk how COVID-19 has impacted their situation — and that of detained minors. She also asked for an assessment of the current ground conditions and what the international community can do to improve them.
The representative of Azerbaijan, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, condemned Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territory in breach of international law and United Nations resolutions, as well as the brutal military campaign against defenceless Palestinians. He called on the international community, including the Security Council, to ensure serious follow-up efforts to help end Israel’s impunity and realize justice for the victims.
The representative of Senegal said his country has been working for 53 years to realize the rights of Palestinians, expressing support for a two-State solution, a cornerstone for lasting peace. Prospects for the region are not promising, he said, urging States to help address the negative impact of COVID-19 on Palestinians who are suffering under disastrous economic conditions and a dire health and humanitarian situation. The spread of COVID-19 is aggravated by the humanitarian blockade and lack of health infrastructure, he added.
The representative of Turkey echoed Special Rapporteur’s concerns over accountability, stressing that the impact of COVID-19 has been particularly devastating for the Palestinian people due to structural weakness and inequalities that Palestine suffered under decades of illegal occupation. “Reduce access to health care during a global pandemic is particularly worrying,” she said, raising concern over the fact that the de facto annexations of Palestinian territory are ongoing.
Mr. LYNK, responding to questions and comments, said his recommendations are often drawn from the Security Council’s recommendations on Namibia, a conflict that has many striking similarities with Palestine. Similar to what the Council stated about conditions in Namibia, he considers Israel’s presence in the Palestinian territory to be illegal. He called on all corporate enterprises regulated by the international community to cease any trade relationships with Israeli settlements. He also called on all States, as was done in the 1970s, not to permit the entry of any goods and services produced in Israeli settlements in the occupied territory. “These recommendations should not be perceived as fantastical,” he said, recalling their precedent. On improving ground conditions, he said there should be firm opposition to Israel’s demolition of homes and properties in the West Bank built by the European Union, non-governmental organizations or international institutions. He called for an end to the Gaza blockade and enactment of international accountability measures, pointing to Israel’s approval of 12,000 housing units and stressing that as long as this is allowed to continue with impunity, the international community should expect no change on the ground.
Also speaking were representatives of the Russian Federation, Cuba, United Kingdom, Norway, Iran, Ireland, Malaysia, Syria, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Venezuela, Qatar, Malta, China and an observer for the European Union.
For information media. Not an official record.
Document Sources: General Assembly, General Assembly Third Committee (Social Humanitarian and Cultural), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the OPT
Subject: Access and movement, Closures/Curfews/Blockades, Fourth Geneva Convention, Gaza Strip, Health, House demolitions, Living conditions, Occupation
Publication Date: 26/10/2020