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May 2017

ISRAEL PERSISTENTLY VIOLATING HUMAN RIGHTS IN PALESTINE

Palestinians continue to suffer after 50 years under Israeli occupation.

By Kanaga Raja


Recurring and persistent human rights violations by Israel, including excessive use of force, collective punishment, forced displacement, and restrictions on the freedom of movement have been reported in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) throughout 2016, according to the latest report by a UN human rights expert.

According to the report by Mr Michael Lynk (from Canada), the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, the backdrop against which all of this occurred is one of what appears to be increasingly extreme rhetoric from Israeli political and government leaders.

"Legislation related to legalization of outposts suggests an ever-shrinking opportunity for Palestinians to realize their right to self-determination. The international community, while seeking to spur the peace process, continues to fail to place human rights at the center of its efforts," he said.

The Special Rapporteur also charged that the Israeli government has been significantly deficient in honouring its obligations under the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

On evidence gathered by the report, the Israeli government's treatment of human rights defenders Palestinians, Israelis and internationals who work on the vital issues arising from the occupation has been contrary to the basic guarantees of international human rights law. Nor is the situation improving.

"As the Israeli occupation entrenches, and as these human rights defenders persist with their intrepid activism to investigate and oppose the regime of human rights violations that is integral to the occupation, all indications are that they will continue to be among the prime targets of those who are intolerant of their criticisms yet alarmed by their effectiveness," Mr. Lynk said.

The Human Rights Council held its thirty-fourth session from 27 February to 24 March.

In presenting his report (via video message) at the Human Rights Council on Monday, Mr Lynk reminded the Council that this year 2017 marks 50 years since the start of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territory.

"The duration and the entrenchment of this now half century old occupation one that thickens by the day with no end even remotely in sight is profoundly corrosive of human rights and a dark stain on the efficacy of international law. How can it be otherwise?"

He said that to perpetuate an alien rule over almost five million people, against their fervent wishes, inevitably requires the repression of rights, and the erosion of the rule of law.

For the occupying power, it means the abrogation of international commitments, the denial of trends that are plainly evident, and the embrace of illiberal politics.

"In recent years, we have witnessed the scorning of those civil society organizations that raise the uncomfortable truths about the disfigured state of human rights under occupation. With this occupation, we have also seen the imposition of deeply discriminatory practices, the hollowing out of well-accepted standards of military behaviour, and the subjugation of the humanity of the people under occupation."

Fifty years of occupation is an intolerable length of time, Mr Lynk said.

"Can we acknowledge that the traditional methods of diplomacy that have been employed throughout this conflict resolutions, international conferences, political carrots and intensive monitoring have been important, but ultimately inadequate tools to bring this occupation to a resolute end?"

"Can we begin to consider whether more intensive political, diplomatic and legal tools that are available to the international community are now required to confront the occupation, and seek its speedy conclusion?"

The rights expert underlined that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory is the best-known, most thoroughly documented and the most malignant occupation in the world.

"Can we commit that this year will mark the last milestone anniversary of this occupation," he asked.

In his report, the Special Rapporteur recommended that the Government of Israel comply with international law and bring a complete end to its 50 years of occupation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.

ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS AND SITUATION IN GAZA

According to the report by the Special Rapporteur, on 23 December 2016, the United Nations Security Council reaffirmed that the establishment of settlements in the West Bank is a "flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace."

Less than a month after the passage of this resolution, the Israeli government announced plans for roughly 6,000 new settlement units in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Several of these units were proposed to be built outside of current settlement blocs.

Along with the announcement of new settlement construction have come reports of increasing incidents of demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

As of late January 2017, a total of 105 demolitions had been recorded in Area C (under Israeli control), and 14 in East Jerusalem in 2017.

Demolitions in 2016 in the entirety of the West Bank including East Jerusalem totaled 1,093, which is the largest figure recorded since the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) began collecting the data in 2009.

The 2016 demolitions displaced 1,593 Palestinians and negatively affected the livelihoods of 7,101 others.

"Demolitions, threats of demolition, and lack of protection from demolition all contribute to the creation of a coercive environment, in which people might feel that they have no choice but to leave their land and their homes," said the rights expert.

He also noted that February 2017 saw the passage of controversial legislation in the Knesset which legalizes the confiscation of private Palestinian land.

The so-called "Regularization Bill" legalizes roughly 3,000 housing units built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank, which were previously considered illegal even under Israeli law.

In 16 of those outposts affected, Palestinian landowners have successfully challenged the settlers' ownership of the land in Israeli courts, which have issued demolition orders against the settlers' homes.

However, these orders have yet to be implemented, and under the new law implementation of these orders will be frozen for a year.

Of the several thousand settlement homes announced in January 2017, 566 of those are to be built in East Jerusalem.

At the same time that the approval of this construction was announced, Jerusalem's deputy mayor announced plans for the approval of 11,000 additional units, although it is not clear when these might move forward. Of the home demolitions that took place in 2016, 88 occurred in East Jerusalem.

In addition to home demolitions, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are vulnerable to being forcibly evicted from their homes.

According to OCHA, Israeli settler organizations seeking control of parts of East Jerusalem, particularly the Muslim and Christian areas of the old city, have launched eviction proceedings against Palestinian families.

As of November 2016, this has affected 180 families (818 individuals including 372 children). At the same time, more than half of the individuals affected by demolitions were children (160 out of 295).

According to the report, Defense for Children International-Palestine has called 2016 the deadliest year in a decade for Palestinian children in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, with 32 children killed by Israeli forces.

"These situations not only put children at risk of arrest, detention, and abuse, but they also significantly limit access to basic services including education."

The report further said that Israel's blockade on Gaza is entering its tenth year in 2017. Despite repeated calls to end the blockade from the international community, the situation on the ground worsens.

The movement of people in and out of Gaza has in the past year become increasingly difficult, as the number of permits revoked or denied has steadily increased.

In addition, Gaza's infrastructure is under increasing strain, and while some import restrictions were lifted, this has not been enough to allow for adequate maintenance and development of needed public utilities that serve a densely populated area of nearly 2 million.

"Movement restrictions have been a permanent fixture of the blockade, with exit permits granted only to a small fraction of the population usually patients seeking medical treatment, business people, and staff of humanitarian agencies. Even among these groups, permits have often been arbitrarily denied."

Indeed, said Mr Lynk, a large majority of residents face the prospect of never being permitted to leave.

"Movement restrictions undermine the rights to healthcare, work, education and family life, and negatively affect Palestinians' right to self-determination."

The World Health Organization reported that as of October 2016, the approval rate for health permit applications had dropped to 44 percent. In 2012 it had been as high as 92 percent. Since then, there has been a steady decline, with the most dramatic drop between 2015 (77.5%) and 2016 (44%).

In December 2016, OCHA noted a "serious deterioration in access of humanitarian staff to and from Gaza," having documented an increase in permit denials from four percent in 2015 to 40 percent in the third quarter of 2016.

"Preventing humanitarian staff from entering and exiting Gaza may amount to a violation of the duty of the occupying Power to facilitate and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid, as provided for in the 4th Geneva Convention," said the rights expert.

While Gaza's citizens face increasing challenges in their attempts to move freely to other parts of the world, or even to the West Bank, the infrastructure of the densely populated area continues to crumble.

This was demonstrated most starkly during an electricity crisis at the start of 2017. During this crisis, residents of Gaza had access to as little as three hours of electricity per day, in the midst of a cold winter. Even when not in crisis, residents of Gaza have access to electricity only in 8-hour cycles.

"Electricity shortages have been a regular occurrence since 2007, and significantly impact the provision of basic services including access to healthcare, while also undermining livelihoods in an already precarious economic climate," said the report.

While Israeli authorities claim that Hamas was to blame for the crisis, this ignores the fact that Gaza's crumbling infrastructure is in large part a result of Israel's

10-year-long blockade of the territory.

"While the political divide between Gaza and the West Bank plays a role in the difficulties faced by Gaza residents, the largest challenge comes from the illegal blockade, and the fact that people and goods cannot move freely into and out of the territory."

SHRINKING SPACE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

According to the Special Rapporteur, through the instruments of international law and formal declarations, the international community has created a legal framework to protect the vital work of human rights defenders in advancing the cause of human rights globally and locally.

Human rights defenders "are the canaries in the social mine shaft, offering early warning alerts about rights in danger. They provide invaluable advocacy, independent and reliable analysis, effective protection, the courage to protest and oppose, and [offer] both a progressive interpretation of existing rights as well as a vision of new rights in embryo."

"The work of these human rights defenders animates and enlarges the enjoyment of human rights for the rest of us," said Mr Lynk.

The common observation of human rights organisations in Palestine and Israel was that the protections and respect accorded to them, which were already precarious by the end of 2008, declined precipitously after Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-09.

This hostile atmosphere for human rights defenders has since become even more overtly toxic and harsh since 2015, in the aftermath of Israel's Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014 and the subsequent initiation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of a preliminary investigation with the cooperation of a number of Palestinian human rights defenders into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the most recent Gaza conflict and by Israel's settlement project.

Palestinian human rights organizations report that they have endured a repressive working environment in recent years, with their day-to-day operations stymied by concerted efforts from the Government of Israel, the Israeli military, private Israeli organizations and unknown individuals or groups to discredit and sabotage their work.

"An escalation in threats and physical assaults, cyber-attacks, arrests and incarceration under military and administrative orders, bans and restrictions on movement is exacerbated by the absence of any effective means for remedies or protection," said the rights expert.

The report cited as an example, Al-Haq, a leading Palestinian human rights organization, which has endured a grievous pattern of threats, cyber-attacks and a campaign of attempted interference with their work by persons unknown.

Al-Mezan, based in Gaza, has received a series of anonymous email messages, Facebook posts and calls in 2015 and 2016 to staff, donors and partners which alleged institutional corruption and mismanagement, and contained explicit threats to the lives and safety of its employees.

Youth Against Settlements, a Hebron-based human rights organization, has had its centre raided several times by Israeli soldiers, and has been effectively closed on occasions after the Israeli military declared the neighbourhood surrounding the centre to be a closed military zone.

The report also cited a number of individual Palestinian human rights defenders who have encountered death threats, arrest and imprisonment, property damage, and substantive interference with their right to peacefully protest.

One highly illustrative and disturbing example of the current climate was the series of sophisticated death threats and menacing accusations issued to Ms. Nada Kiswanson, a human rights lawyer in The Hague, Netherlands, where she represents Al-Haq and other human rights defenders in Europe and before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

According to the report, this is the first known attack on Dutch soil against a human rights defender working on ICC issues.

Israeli human rights defenders that work on the many issues related to the Occupied Palestinian Territory are also experiencing an increasingly virulent environment, it said.

A moment that exemplifies this turning of the screw was in October 2016, when Hagai El-Ad, the Director- General of B'Tselem (together with Lara Friedman, the Director of Policy and Government Relations for Americans for Peace Now) delivered a presentation to the United Nations Security Council in New York.

He warned of the expanding settlement enterprise and the deteriorating human rights situation for Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and cited the need for an effective international intervention to bring the Israeli occupation to an end.

In response, many in the Israeli political leadership stridently denounced B'Tselem, casting it as unpatriotic, traitors and political outcasts.

Yet, notwithstanding these toxic attacks, and the Government's failure to provide the protections and the space for civil society to operate, several prominent Israeli intellectuals and advocates publicly defended B'Tselem and American Friends of Peace Now for their presentations at the Security Council.

Accompanying the mounting climate of threats and assaults on Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders has been an assertive campaign by the Israeli government to enact a series of restrictive statutes designed to circumscribe and publicly shame the work of human rights organizations in Israel who advocate for an end to the occupation.

The most prominent of these statutes is the Law Requiring Disclosure Supported by Foreign Governmental Entities ("NGO Disclosure Law"), adopted into law by the Israeli Knesset in July 2016.

The NGO Disclosure Law requires that any Israeli NGO that receives more than half of its funding from foreign state sources must declare this information in all communications with Israeli public officials, as well as in any media and internet communications and any advocacy literature and research reports.

The law was crafted so that it does not apply to Israeli NGOs which receive funding from foreign private sources, a number of whom have a nationalist orientation and support many of the features of the occupation, said the rights expert.

The Special Rapporteur called on the government of Israel to end the use of the criminal, legal and security tools to obstruct the legitimate work of human rights defenders, including the use of arbitrary arrests and detentions, and ensure fair and speedy trials for any human rights defenders charged with an offence.

It was also called upon to take all reasonable steps to demonstrate respect for the work of human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territory until the end of occupation. Third World Network Features.

-ends-

About the author: Kanaga Raja is the Editor of the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS).

The above article is reproduced from SUNS #8427, 22 March 2017.

When reproducing this feature, please credit Third World Network Features and (if applicable) the cooperating magazine or agency involved in the article, and give the byline. Please send us cuttings. And if reproduced on the internet, please send the web link where the article appears to twn@twnetwork.org.

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