Statement by H.E. Mohan Pieris, Permanent Representative and the Chair of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting
the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories
Item 51: Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories
6 November 2023
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, I present the Committee’s 55th report with a sense of sadness.
For this year’s report, the Special Committee took a historical perspective. This report was finalized 30 years after Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the South Lawn of the White House in September 1993, launching the Oslo Peace Process. In accordance with its mandate, this historical overview focused on growing settler influence on Israeli policies and practices. Sadly, this 30-year overview is but a tragic prelude to October 2023 which provides the backdrop to the unfolding tragedy.
On October 7, the world witnessed an attack on Israeli civilians on a scale we have never seen. We mourn the Israeli civilians, foreign nationals and other civilians killed, injured, or taken hostage in southern Israel on that tragic day. Since October 8th we have been witnessing a constant bombing by Israel on Gaza.
On October 11, a strike by the Israeli Air Force on an UNRWA refugee camp in Gaza killed 13 members of the same family. By October 12, Palestinian fatalities already outnumbered the horrific toll of 1,400 Israeli fatalities on October 7. By mid-October, Palestinian mothers were writing their children’s names on their bodies, in the hope that if their children are killed in an Israeli air strike, their remains may be identified.
We grieve for United Nations colleagues. Since October 7, 88 UNRWA colleagues have been killed by Israeli airstrikes, along with their families. Despite catastrophic suffering and losses, UNRWA remains - one of the last remaining lifelines for survival in Gaza as water, food, medicine and fuel supplies are exhausted. We also take cognizance of the loss of life amongst media and medical personnel. The Special Committee reiterates its call for this Assembly and its Member States to provide UNRWA with predictable and sustainable funding, to ensure service provision to millions of Palestine refugees, and to preserve Palestinian rights, dignity, and hope, particularly for women and children.
Just as Israel’s occupation does not justify the attacks of Hamas on October 7, Hamas’s actions on October 7 do not justify Israel’s war since. On October 9, Israel’s defense minister ordered a “complete siege on the Gaza Strip.” Defense minister Gallant said Israel was fighting “human animals and will act accordingly.” The Israeli government’s dehumanization of Palestinians, and Israel’s consistent violations of international law, have led us to this point. Hate speech and incitement to violence by the most senior representatives of the State of Israel cannot find accommodation in this day and age. This March, settler leader Bezalel Smotrich, who is also Israel’s Finance Minister and an Additional Minister in the Ministry of Defence, called for the State of Israel to “wipe out” the Palestinian West Bank village of Huwwara. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who supports unlawful activity and incitement to racism, has spent the past fortnight handing out weapons to settlers in Hebron, and to other settlers across the occupied West Bank.
Minister Smotrich and Minister Ben-Gvir are not representative of all Israelis. Less than ten percent of Israelis are settlers. Likewise, Mohammad Deif, commander of Hamas’s military wing , does not represent all Palestinians in Gaza. It may be noted that Elections were last held in Gaza in January 2006.
By the end of October, Israeli Forces had killed more children in Gaza than other militaries had killed worldwide since 2019. 70 percent of the more than 10,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza over the past month are women and children. The civilians include humanitarian, medical, and media personnel. This statistic is almost unheard of in wars this century, and yet as I deliver this report, the aggression continues, unabated.
It is of concern that Israel has not granted the Special Committee access to the occupied territories since this Committee was established in 1968. This year the Committee travelled to Jordan, as it does every year. Jordan was the second Arab country to make peace with Israel, and King Abdullah is the custodian of Jerusalem’s Holy Sites, as recognized in this Assembly’s “Jerusalem” resolution, and Article 9 of the Jordan/Israel Peace Treaty.
At a Peace Summit in Cairo on 21 October, King Abdullah spoke hard truths to his friends in Europe. The King said - and I quote - “the message the Arab world is hearing is loud and clear. Palestinian lives matter less than Israeli lives. The application of international law is optional. And human rights have boundaries - they stop at borders, they stop at races, and they stop at religions.” This is not a world we can accept. We must do better than this. This year the Special Committee also travelled to Egypt, for the first time since 2014. Egypt was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, and the leader to do so - Anwar Sadat - died for it. President El-Sisi, who hosted the Peace Summit on 21 October, demanded a ceasefire and demanded a two-state solution, but was equally astonished at prevailing double-standards.
To quote from the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, human rights should be protected by the rule of law.” Israel’s continued occupation, oppression, and flagrant disregard for Palestinian human rights is at the heart of this conflict. Speaking at this podium almost half a century ago, Yasser Arafat said: “I come to you bearing an olive branch in one hand, and a freedom fighter’s gun in the other.” He then warned the world - to a standing ovation - “Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”
In the 49 years that have passed since this historic speech, Israeli settlers have thrown the olive branch to the ground, burned the olive tree, and neutralized the farmer.
In the words of Yitzhak Rabin, “You don’t make peace with friends. You make it with very unsavory enemies.” Such wisdom is the mark of a great leader. A block of Second Avenue between 42nd and 43rd streets has been known as “Yitzhak Rabin Way” since 1995, a testament to this man and the peace he died for.
75 years ago next month, this Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is indeed a remarkable document, drafted by a generation that endured the evils of the Second World War, including the Holocaust. One shudders to think what the drafters of this document would make of our world today, in which leaders of a State formed in the ashes of the Second World War, call for Palestinian villages to be “wiped out.”
“Never again” applies to all peoples. This war must end now. History is already judging us all.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman
Link to the Video : https://youtu.be/jVHjuuYmYZw