TWN Info Service on Health Issues (September 06/1)

30 September 2006

Collective Punishment on the Palestinians

The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Occupied Territories in his report to the Human Rights Council presented a searing indictment against Israel, the US and the EU (E/CN.4/2006/29). According to the report, the indiscriminate killing of civilians; the destruction of homes, agricultural land and power cuts; restrictions on the freedom of movement; and the resulting humanitarian crisis; cannot be justified in law whereas Israel which violates international law goes unpunished.

Palestinians have been subjected to sanctions by the US, Canada and the EU – the first time an occupied people have been so treated.

The following report highlights the Special Rapporteur’s report and the responses from member states. It is reproduced with permission from the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) # 6108, 28 September 2006.

With best wishes
Evelyne Hong

Appalling human rights situation in Palestine
By Kanaga Raja, Geneva, 27 September 2006

The situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) has deteriorated since 2001, and is "intolerable, appalling, and tragic" for the ordinary Palestinian, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the OPT.

Mr John Dugard, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, made this assessment on Tuesday during discussions at the Human Rights Council on country-specific reports of experts.

In presenting his report, Dugard said that political militants had rights, under both human rights law and international humanitarian law. Today, this obvious truth was rejected by Israel and some Western States that should know better. Such States, and their leaders, took the view that all acts, however brutal, were permissible in the so-called war against terror.

He added that this was why he was not going to speak about Israeli actions against Palestinian militants and politicians. Instead, he wished to speak only about Israeli actions against ordinary, non-militant, non-activist Palestinians who simply wanted to lead a good life with their families and friends, who wished to educate their children for a better life, and who wished to enjoy the basic amenities of life.

The Council had before it his report (E/CN.4/2006/29), which said that human rights violations continue in the OPT.

Some 9,000 prisoners remain in Israeli jails. Movement is seriously restricted by the Wall, elaborate terminals through the Wall and by checkpoints. Although the number of permanent checkpoints has decreased, "flying" or temporary checkpoints are on the increase.

According to the report, restrictions on the freedom of movement are in large measure responsible for the prevailing humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory. Unemployment is high and over half the population lives below the official poverty line. Health and education services also suffer as a result of restrictions on movement.

Israel's successful evacuation of settlers and withdrawal of the Israeli Defense Forces from Gaza constituted an important step in the direction of the resolution of the conflict in the region. However, its withdrawal from Gaza did not mean that the occupation of the territory has come to an end.

The report said that Israel still retains effective control over the territory through its control of airspace, territorial sea and external land boundaries. It has continued to assert military control by means of sonic booms and repeated air strikes into the territory aimed at targeted militants. Inevitably, such strikes have killed and injured innocent bystanders.

In his presentation, Dugard described some of the Israeli actions, practices and laws that the ordinary Palestinian faced.

In Gaza, since the capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit on 25 June, the people have been subjected to continuous bombardment and military incursions in which over 100 civilians have been killed and many hundred wounded. What Israel chooses to describe as ''collateral damage'' to the civilian population, Dugard said, is in fact indiscriminate killing prohibited by international law.

In June, Israel bombed and destroyed the only domestic power plant in Gaza. Consequently, more than half the electricity supply has been cut off and Gazans will remain without adequate power for at least another year. Hospitals are forced to use generators to power life-saving equipment because of power cuts.

Dugard also said that houses have been destroyed by tanks and bulldozers and schools have likewise been damaged. Citrus trees and olive trees have been uprooted and agricultural land flattened by bulldozers. Three quarters of the population is unable to feed itself and is dependant on food aid.

The rights expert noted that both the Rafah crossing for persons and the Karni crossing for goods are continuously closed - not for security reasons, but to bring pressure on the Palestinians to release Corporal Shalit. ''Gaza is a prison; and Israel seems to have thrown away the key.''

Dugard also described the severe humanitarian impact of the Wall in the West Bank.

He said that Palestinians living between the Green Line and the Wall, in the so-called closed zone, cannot freely access schools, hospitals and places of employment in the West Bank. Those living along the Wall in the West Bank cannot access their farms in the closed zone without a permit - and permits are frequently refused for specious reasons by Israeli bureaucrats determined to humiliate Palestinian farmers. In despair, many Palestinian farmers have abandoned their lands.

This has resulted in a new category of internally displaced persons. ''In other countries, this process might be described as ethnic cleansing, but political correctness forbids such langauge where Israel is concerned,'' Dugard said.

House demolitions continue for a variety of reasons - failure to obtain a permit to build, police operations, proximity of the Wall. The Caterpillar bulldozer has become a symbol of the occupation.

Dugard also said that a serious humanitarian crisis prevails in the West Bank, albeit not as extreme as in the case of Gaza. Some 40% are below the poverty line, dependant on food aid. Unemployment stands at 40% while civil servants numbering 23% of the Palestinian population are employed, but unpaid.

In large measure, the humanitarian crisis is the result of termination of the funding of the Palestinian Authority since Hamas was elected to office. Israel is unlawfully witholding VAT duties and customs revenue amounting to $50-60 million per month, and the US, Canada and the European Union have discontinued funding of projects associated with the Palestinian Authority, the rights expert said.

In effect, he added, the Palestinian people have been subjected to economic sanctions - the first time an occupied people has been so treated. Israel violates international law as expounded by both the Security Council and the International Court of Justice and goes unpunished. But the Palestinian people are punished for having democratically elected a regime unacceptable to Israel, the US and the EU.

The onslaught against Gaza with its attendant loss of life and injury, the construction of the Wall, the system of checkpoints, the destruction of houses and lands, and the resulting imposed humanitarian crisis cannot be justified in law. As security measures they are grossly disproportionate and indiscriminate. They constitute collective punishment, not of a Government, but of a people - in clear violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Dugard said.

He added that Israel is largely to blame for the situation. Its actions, practices and laws deal harshly with Palestinians. But other states and institutions are not blameless. The United States, Canada and the EU have contributed substantially to the humanitarian crisis by withdrawing funding not only from the Palestinian Authority but also from the Palestinian people.

Sadly, Dugard said, the United Nations as a member of the Quartet has condoned such action. All Member States of this Council are members of the United Nations and accordingly bear some responsibility for the present situation.

Speaking as a concerned country, Israel said that the report, like its predecessors, was characterized by errors of omissions as well as distortions of both fact and law, while advancing a one-sided political agenda. Particularly regretful was the report's depiction of the complex situation in the territories in an oversimplified manner without providing essential contextual background.

Palestine, also speaking as a concerned country, thanked the Special Rapporteur for his report which it said contained a comprehensive text on the extent of the Israeli violations of human rights. The situation in the Gaza Strip continued to be desperate, and was deteriorating so severely as to have been described by Jan Egeland (the UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs) as a ticking bomb.

Recently, Palestine added, the Quartet had stressed the need to move towards a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. However, this could not happen if Israel continued to build the Separation Wall, and to build and enlarge settlements, all of which constituted hindrances to the Two-State Solution.

Several countries also spoke on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Ambassador Masood Khan of Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said that the Special Rapporteur had provided an objective report on the situation in the Palestinian occupied territories. The territories were shrinking every day with the construction of the wall and settlements. The Special Rapporteur had depicted the real situation of the territories in his report. The human rights violations should be stopped and peace and security should be established in the region.

Tunisia said that the Special Rapporteur's report showed clearly that Israel continued to violate the human rights of Palestinians in total disregard of international human rights norms, including the Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts. Israel had total control on the movement of people in Gaza, and persisted in building the dividing wall in defiance of the ruling of the International Court of Justice, seeking in addition to change the demographic composition of East Jerusalem.

Malaysia expressed deep concern about the deterioration of the human rights situation in the Palestinian occupied territories, as Palestinians continued to suffer hardship at the hands of the occupying power. There was a sense of urgency and commitment by the international community to bring an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian occupied territories. The Special Rapporteur should continue with his independent and objective work until there was an end to the Israeli occupation.

Finland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the situation between Israel and the Palestinians had been and continued to be of great concern. How would the Special Rapporteur comment on the human rights situation in the Palestinian Territories since his last report, and what were the most meaningful measures for both sides to take to remedy the situation, Finland asked. What role could be envisaged for Palestinian NGOs to play in efforts to improve the human rights situation?

Cuba said that the Special Rapporteur's report was of high quality. It was no random event that an extraordinary session of the Council was devoted to the lamented and painful situation in Palestine. Cuba expressed its solidarity for the ongoing fight of the Palestinian people, and intended to contribute to the presence and importance of the mandate.

The US thanked the Special Rapporteur for his report. Nevertheless, it disagreed with the Special Rapporteur on his remark that the Road Map was out of date. The US believed that the Road Map was the only international plan that counted with the endorsement of both parties. It also considered the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice to be not useful.

Indonesia associated itself with the statement of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and urged the Council to exert its full influence to ensure that respect for the fundamental freedoms and human rights of the Palestinian people was exercised in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It was up to the members of the Council to act cohesively to protect the rights of the Palestinian people.