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Occupied territories: “Popular discontent could result in another round of violence” – UN Special Committee on Israeli Practices

CAIRO (27 June 2013) – The United Nations Special Committee* to investigate Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the occupied territories today warned that popular discontent could result in another round of violence in the occupied territories.

At the end of its latest fact-finding visit to Amman and Cairo (22-27 June 2013), the Committee also expressed serious concern at the wide range of Israeli practices that violate its obligations as the Occupying Power of the Palestinian and other Arab territories.

“Israel’s continued detention of an estimated 5,000 Palestinians should be of deep concern to the world,” said the Committee. “Especially 20 prisoners who are on hunger strikes to protest abuses such as arbitrary detention, poor prison conditions, denial of family visits, solitary confinement, lack of access to education and negligent medical treatment.”

“Witnesses informed the Committee that Israeli prison doctors have betrayed their Oath – the fundamental premise of the medical profession that their patients’ health comes first,” they said.

The Committee noted that several witnesses had raised the case Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, who died earlier this year from cancer after being misdiagnosed and mistreated - having had to wait for over four months before being sent to hospital. “Witnesses also discussed the death of Arafat Jaradat, citing clear evidence of torture while under Israeli interrogation,” they said.

“The most alarming testimony concerned the systematically abusive detention and interrogation by Israeli authorities of Palestinian children” noted the Committee. Witnesses reported that approximately 200 children are in Israeli detention at any given time, and that children are often taken away in the middle of the night, blindfolded and hands tied, after being shocked awake by Israeli soldiers busting in with sound grenades, smashed glass and instructions screamed at the entire family.

“Witnesses stated that Palestinian children are denied requests to be accompanied by a parent, denied access to a lawyer, and put at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment at the hands of Israeli security officials,” the Committee noted. Referring to a recent UNICEF report, the Special Committee stressed the urgent need for Israel to abide by international human rights law and practice, especially in relation to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“For over six years the lives of Palestinians in Gaza have been profoundly disrupted by Israel’s blockade,” the Committee stressed. “Under the Oslo Accords, Israel agreed to a 20 nautical mile area for Palestinian fishermen in Gaza, but the Israeli Government has militarily enforced a three nautical mile limit. The Committee was informed that Israel has extended access for fishermen up to six nautical miles, but was also informed that Israel had again reduced it to three nautical miles during the prime fishing season. “Gaza’s 4,000 fishermen used to catch four tons of fish each year, now they bring in only 1.5 tons,” the Committee members said.

Today 80 per cent of Palestinian fishermen live in poverty. In turn, Israel’s severe punishment of Palestinian fishermen, including by confiscating their motors, reduces access to health care and educational opportunities for their families,” they explained. “Again this year we received allegations of Palestinian fishermen being subjected to arrest, confiscation of their equipment and abusive treatment by Israeli security forces.”

“Gaza’s farmers find themselves in similar circumstances,” the Committee observed, “they aren’t maximizing the cultivation of their traditional crops of strawberries, carnations, herbs and sweet peppers, due to Israel’s near total restriction on exports and enforcement of a buffer zone inside of Gaza.”

The Committee expressed regret that testimony concerning the buffer zone mirrored what they have been told during previous visits, namely that a lack of clarity regarding the Israeli-enforced no-go area creates grave dangers for Palestinian farmers, since Israeli soldiers fire live ammunition at persons between 300 and 1000 metres from the fence.

“Farmers in Gaza can’t till all of their land and much of what they do produce can’t be exported,” the Committee noted. “The Committee was told that 5 persons have been killed and 92 injured near the buffer zone since the end of November 2012 alone.”

“The international community must pressure the Israeli Government to let Palestinians farm, fish and export. Otherwise Israel will entrench Gaza’s dependence on the international community,” they stressed.

The Committee also pointed out that six years of blockade is bifurcating Palestinian society. “We heard of many Palestinians in Gaza who haven’t seen family members in the West Bank for years, owing to Israeli restrictions on movement between Gaza and the rest of Palestine,” they said. “There is a sense that dividing the Palestinian population between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is an objective driving Israel’s blockade. This should be an urgent concern to the UN Security Council.”

Again this year the Committee heard disturbing testimony about the treatment of Palestinians who seek a permit to leave Gaza, including efforts by Israeli officials to pressure them in to becoming informants and force women to undergo humiliating strip searches. “The Committee deplores such treatment and strongly urges the Israeli Government to treat all Palestinians with respect and dignity,” they said.

Witnesses from Gaza further informed the Committee of the extremely limited educational opportunities open to their children, owing to Israel’s restrictions on travelling outside of Gaza to study in Palestinian schools in the West Bank.

The Committee members were extensively briefed on Israel’s attacks during its 14 to 21 November 2012 ‘Operation Pillar of Defense.’ “While we have a range of concerns regarding Israel’s compliance with the basic principles of international humanitarian law during Pillar of Defense, of particular worry were reports of Israeli attacks that targeted journalists covering the conflict,” the members stressed. “Such attacks, especially those that resulted in the death of journalists, wantonly reject the right to freedom of expression.”

The Committee heard extensive testimony on continuing settlement construction in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the widespread phenomenon of Israeli settler violence and Israel’s discriminatory planning and zoning regime that effectively prohibits Palestinians from building or even renovating their homes.

Witnesses told the Committee that even when Israel has, in the past, temporarily frozen settlement expansion, Israel has sped up the construction of its network of roads that link settlements and Israeli business interests in the occupied Palestinian territory.

One witness explained that the expansion of the settlements combined with the unilateral establishment of closed military zones and so-called nature reserves jeopardize the contiguity of the West Bank. Another witness described how Israeli settlements and the continued construction of the Wall are isolating Palestinian communities and forcing displacement. In this regard the Palestinian village of Al-Walaja was highlighted as a case requiring urgent intervention by the international community.

The Committee also heard that in the first five months of 2013, 42 Palestinian structures were demolished and 149 displaced in East Jerusalem. One witness reminded the Committee that not all demolitions are reported as some families are forced to demolish their own homes to avoid huge fees from the Israeli Government.

“Businesses have a responsibility to not be complicit in Israel’s policies and practices that openly violate Palestinian rights,” observed the Committee, which listened to reports of businesses, including multinational corporations, which are profiting from the Israeli settlement enterprise.

“It is inconceivable that any business could not be aware of the illegal nature of Israel’s settlement activities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” the Committee members said. “There is a need for scrupulous due diligence and a clear awareness of the potential legal and reputational consequences for businesses associated with the Israeli settlement enterprise.”

The Committee drew special attention to the on-going research mentioned by witnesses concerning non-profit groups, such as 501c3 organizations in the United States of America and similar organizations in Canada, which collect donations and transfer funds to Israeli organizations supporting the expansion of settlements. “If accurate, such organizations are perpetuating the occupation and likely aiding and abetting what is clearly a war crime,” they said.

“The Special Committee joins many of the witnesses in hoping that current efforts to re-start meaningful negotiations are successful. We were repeatedly told that the only way to end Israeli violations of Palestinian rights is to end the occupation. While we are deeply hopeful that such efforts advance quickly, we also note that Palestine’s new status as a non-Member Observer State opens the door to international mechanisms that can take up many of the Israeli policies and practices that have been violating Palestinian rights for so long,” the members concluded.

The Special Committee will present a full report on its mission and other activities to the UN General Assembly in November 2013.

The UN Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories was established by the UN General Assembly in December 1968 to examine the human rights situation in the occupied Syrian Arab Golan, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

(*) The Special Committee is composed of three Member States represented by Ambassador Palitha T.B. Kohona (Chairperson), Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN in New York; Ambassador Dato Hussein Hannif, Permanent Representative of Malaysia to the UN in New York; and Ambassador Fodé Seck, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the UN in Geneva.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Occupied Palestinian Territory: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/MENARegion/Pages/PSIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Israel: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/ILIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Kevin Turner (+41 79 201 0122/ kturner@ohchr.org) or Kiyohiko Hasegawa (+41 79 201 0124/ khasegawa@ohchr.org) or write to sropt@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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