GENEVA / AMMAN (24 June 2019) – A United Nations committee* notes with deep concern the continued degradation of the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory – Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as a result of Israeli policies and practices, and expresses particular alarm at a spike in settlement expansion and settler violence, including the targeting of children and schools.
During its annual mission to Amman, Jordan, the United Nations Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories received information about the killing and injury of Palestinians, resulting from the use of live ammunition, rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas by Israeli security forces, in what appears to be excessive and disproportionate use of force against people posing no direct threat to life.
Since the beginning of the “Great March of Return” in March 2018, Israeli forces have reportedly killed more than 270 Palestinians and injured nearly 30,000 along the Gaza fence. More than 40 of those killed were children. In the West Bank, the Committee heard about rising numbers of persons injured or killed in and around the cities of Hebron, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Nablus, and near Israeli settlements.
The Committee notes with strong concern the impact of Israeli policies and practices on children.
Several organisations told the Committee about the practice of night raids to arrest children in the West Bank, with serious consequences for children’s wellbeing and the enjoyment of their rights. Following such raids, children are often taken to unknown locations, held in military vehicles, and subjected to threats and verbal abuse during interrogations. In some instances, and without the presence of a lawyer, children face pressure to sign a confession in Hebrew, a language they often do not understand.
According to testimonies received, more than 300 children are detained at any given time in the Israeli military system. The majority are held for minor offences, such as related to stone-throwing and social media posts. Such practices contravene Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires States to use child detention as a measure of last resort.
In Gaza, children exhibit unusually high rates of psychological distress, fuelled by deteriorating living conditions and a high prevalence of violence, among other factors. A recent survey revealed that 49 per cent of children felt that there was no hope, and increased cases of substance abuse, child labour and early marriage were also reported.
The Committee expresses concern over the deteriorating human rights situation in the H2 area of Hebron, which is under the direct control of Israel. Due to a stark increase in settler violence and the proliferation of physical barriers, freedom of movement is severely restricted and Palestinians face serious hurdles in undertaking daily activities, including attending school and social gatherings, going to work and opening shops and businesses.
This rise in violence and the atmosphere of impunity have been further exacerbated by Israel’s decision in January 2019 not to renew the mandate of the protective Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), a civilian observer mission that had been in place since 1994.
The Committee also heard that Israeli authorities were increasingly speaking openly about annexation of territories in the West Bank. The massive expansion of Israeli settlements – with 2018 marking the highest approval rate for new settlement housing units since 2002 – contributes even more to violence and existing human rights violations, including lack of freedom of movement, appropriation of land, water and other key natural resources, as well as pollution and waste dumping. In the past two months alone, Israeli authorities advanced, approved or tendered nearly 6,000 housing units in the occupied West Bank, in a move that constitutes the largest settlement advancement in two years.
In addition, settlement expansion and recent legal developments are strongly linked to the acceleration of Palestinian house demolitions, in particular in East Jerusalem. The Committee noted with deep concern the continued threat of eviction of the Bedouin community in Khan al-Ahmar Abu al-Helu in Area C, which would amount to forcible transfer under international humanitarian law.
The Committee expresses its alarm at the dire humanitarian and human rights situation in the Gaza Strip, with the Israeli blockade entering its 13th year. It heard that the Gazan economy is in a deep recession, with an unemployment rate of over 50 per cent. The severe, arbitrary and punitive restrictions on the fishing zone and the lack of safe drinking water are cited as serious impediments to an adequate standard of living in Gaza.
The health system in Gaza is over-stretched and under-resourced, and the ability of people to receive adequate health care is seriously compromised. Addressing serious illnesses and complex surgeries is particularly challenging due to the lack of essential equipment, expertise and medicine. The Committee heard of the restrictions imposed on Palestinians referred to medical treatment outside of Gaza, in particular on those injured as a result of the demonstrations at the fence.
Reportedly, only 17 percent of the persons injured in the context of demonstrations receive the necessary permit to travel outside of Gaza for medical care, versus 60 percent of other persons living in Gaza requiring health care and applying for a permit. Delays in receiving permits, and occasional refusals to allow parents and immediate family members to accompany children, are additional challenges for Palestinian patients in Gaza requiring urgent medical assistance outside of the Strip.
Finally, the Committee expresses deep concern at the precarious financial situation of UNRWA, which plays a critical and unique role in assisting Palestinian refugees in accessing health, education and other services in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and in neighbouring countries.
In this context of increased Israeli discriminatory practices against Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and in order to cease the deterioration of their human rights situation, members of the Committee stress the importance of the peace process and of the two-State solution.
The delegates of the Special Committee held meetings with civil society organisations, Palestinian government officials and UN representatives during their visit to Amman from 17 to 20 June. They also visited UNRWA Baqa’a Palestine refugee camp, including a school and health centre, in north Amman area.
The committee will present its next report to the General Assembly in November 2019.
* The United Nations 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 Golan, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
The Special Committee is composed of three Member States: Malaysia, Senegal and Sri Lanka. For this mission, the Member States were represented by H.E. Mr. Syed Mohamad Hasrin Tengku Hussin (Acting chair), Permanent Representative Designate of Malaysia to the United Nations in New York, H.E. Mr. Abdoulaye Barro, Deputy Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations in New York, and H.E. Mr. Satya Rodrigo, Deputy Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York.