Serious human rights concerns over Israeli practices in Palestine
A United Nations Special Committee tasked with investigating Israeli practices in the Occupied Territories has expressed serious concerns over a wide range of practices ranging from detention of Palestinian children and the Israeli blockade of Gaza to continuing settlement construction in the West Bank including East Jerusalem.
ACCORDING to a UN news release, following its latest fact-finding visit to Amman and Cairo on 22-27 June, the UN Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories has warned that 'popular discontent could result in another round of violence' in the Occupied Territories.
(The Committee was not allowed by Israel to visit the Occupied Territories.)
The Committee, established by the UN General Assembly in 1968, comprises three UN member states currently represented by Ambassador Palitha TB Kohona of Sri Lanka (Chairperson), Ambassador Dato Hussein Haniff of Malaysia and Ambassador Fode Seck of Senegal.
'Israel's continued detention of an estimated 5,000 Palestinians should be of deep concern to the world,' said Ambassador Kohona, highlighting 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,' he further said in the news release.
The Sri Lankan envoy pointed out that several witnesses had raised the case of 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,' Ambassador Kohona said.
'The most alarming testimony concerned the systematically abusive detention and interrogation by Israeli authorities of Palestinian children,' he stressed.
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 Special Committee Chair said.
On Israel's blockade of Gaza, Ambassador Kohona said: 'For over six years, the lives of Palestinians in Gaza have been profoundly disrupted by Israel's blockade.'
According to the UN news release, 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 noted, adding that today 80% of Palestinian fishermen live in poverty.
In turn, said the Committee members, Israel's severe punishment of Palestinian fishermen, including by confiscating their motors, reduces access to health care and educational opportunities for their families.
'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 noted, stressing that 'they aren't maximising 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.'
According to the UN news release, 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 1,000 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,' Ambassador Kohona said. 'The Committee was told that five 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,' the Sri Lankan envoy underscored.
The Committee also stressed 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,' Ambassador Kohona 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.'
The Committee said it heard disturbing testimony about the treatment of Palestinians who seek a permit to leave Gaza, including efforts by Israeli officials to pressure them into 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,' Ambassador Kohona said.
According to the UN news release, 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.
On Israel's attacks during the 14-21 November 2012 'Operation Pillar of Defence', the Committee, which was briefed extensively on this operation, said: 'While we have a range of concerns regarding Israel's compliance with the basic principles of international humanitarian law during Pillar of Defence, of particular worry were reports of Israeli attacks that targeted journalists covering the conflict.'
'Such attacks, especially those that resulted in the death of journalists, wantonly reject the right to freedom of expression,' the Committee underlined.
The Committee also 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.
According to the UN news release, witnesses told the Committee that even when Israel has, in the past, temporarily frozen settlement expansion, it 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 jeopardise 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.'
In the first five months of this year, the Committee heard, 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.
Listening to reports of businesses, including multinational corporations, which are profiting from the Israeli settlement enterprise, the Committee stressed: 'Businesses have a responsibility to not be complicit in Israel's policies and practices that openly violate Palestinian rights.'
'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,' Ambassador Kohona 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 also highlighted the ongoing research mentioned by witnesses concerning non-profit groups, such as 501(c)(3) organisations in the United States and similar organisations in Canada, which collect donations and transfer funds to Israeli organisations supporting the expansion of settlements.
[According to Wikipedia, a 501(c) organisation is an American tax-exempt non-profit organisation, under Section 501(c) of the US Internal Revenue Code.]
'If accurate, such organisations are perpetuating the occupation and likely aiding and abetting what is clearly a war crime,' the Committee members 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 Committee stressed.
According to the UN news release, the Special Committee will be presenting a full report on its mission and other activities to the UN General Assembly in November 2013.
Kanaga Raja is the Editor of the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS), from which this article is reproduced (No. 7616, 1 July 2013). SUNS is published by the Third World Network.
*Third World Resurgence No. 274, June 2013, pp 35-36