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Statement by Mr. Satya Rodrigo, Deputy Permanent Representative, on the Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, delivered before the Fourth Committee on 13 Nov 2018

Tuesday, 13 November 2018


Statement by Satya Rodrigo,

Deputy Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations

General Assembly Fourth Committee (73 rd Session)

13 November 2018

Item 55: Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories

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 am pleased to present its 50 th report pursuant to General Assembly resolution 72/84. This report examines the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the occupied Syrian Golan.

This year, the Special Committee members were H.E. Mr. Amrith Rohan Perera, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York, H.E. Mr. Shahrul Ikram Yaakob, Permanent Representative of Malaysia to the United Nations in New York, and H.E. Mr. Coly Seck, Permanent Representative of Senegal to the United Nations in Geneva.

As in previous years, the Government of Israel did not respond to the Committee’s request to access the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the occupied Syrian Golan. As a result, the Committee visited Amman from 17 to 19 July 2018 to meet with the Palestinian authorities, UN officials, as well as Israeli, Palestinian and Syrian civil society representatives, victims and witnesses. The Committee would like to thank them for travelling to Jordan in order to share their testimonies and provide high quality briefings to the Committee.

The information contained in the report is based on these briefings and testimonies, as well as on documentation and other materials submitted to the Committee throughout the year.

Mr. Chairman,

The report provides an update on several issues of concern, including the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories; the exploitation of natural resources; the blockade and closure of Gaza; the lack of accountability; the detention of children and the use of administrative detention; as well as the hostile environment to human rights organizations that work to document human rights violations in the occupied territories.

Mr. Chairman,

The Committee heard that Israeli settlement expansion and development are continuing in both the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the occupied Syrian Golan. Settlements amount to the transfer of parts of an Occupying Power’s civilian population into the territory it occupies, which is prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention. Settlements have a profound impact on the daily life of Palestinians and Syrians and the enjoyment of their basic human rights, including freedom of movement and access to their livelihoods, education and healthcare.

Demolition of homes and private property of Palestinians by Israeli security forces was one of the most frequently cited issues of concern in the Committee’s meetings this year. According to the information received by the Committee, between July 2017 and July 2018, Israeli security forces demolished 213 structures owned by Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, leading to the displacement of 579 people, of whom 290 were children. Demolitions are largely carried out by the Israeli authorities on the pretext of lack of building permits. However, building permits are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain. Demolitions are also carried out for punitive reasons.

Information was also provided that Property provided as humanitarian assistance by States had also been demolished by Israeli security forces. For example, two classrooms built with donor funding in the Bedouin community of Abu Nuwar, located in Area C, were demolished in February 2018. The Committee recalls that Israel, as the Occupying Power, is obligated to provide for the humanitarian needs of the protected population, as well as to agree to relief schemes on behalf of said population and to facilitate those relief schemes by all the means at its disposal.

The Committee was also briefed on the situation of the Bedouin community of Khan-al-Ahmar in the Jerusalem periphery, which is at risk of demolition. The Special Committee recalls that the demolition of the community’s homes and other structures would amount to a forced eviction, and would increase the risk of forcible transfer of the 181 inhabitants of Khan al Ahmar. Forcible transfer in the context of an occupation, undertaken without the free, prior and informed consent of the affected individuals, is prohibited and a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Mr. Chairman,

With regard to the situation in Gaza, the Committee was especially concerned to hear about the excessive use of force by Israeli security forces in the context of the demonstrations near the fence between Gaza and Israel, which began on 30 March 2018 and are still continuing today. According to information placed before the Committee, as of 31 October 2018, 228 Palestinians, including 43 children, have been killed, the majority with live ammunition in the back, head or 3 chest. Many victims were shot as they were running away from the fence or up to 300 meters from the fence.

Over 24,362 others have been injured, including 5,866 by live ammunition. One Israeli soldier was also killed by gunfire near the fence. The demonstrations have been mostly peaceful, although incidents in which Palestinians in Gaza burned tires, threw stones and Molotov cocktails, as well as flown burning kites over the fence into Israel have occurred. While the Committee views the commission of violent acts by some demonstrators as unacceptable, it strongly condemns the excessive use of force by the Israeli security forces. In cases reviewed by the Committee, the threat posed by demonstrators, did not seem to present a threat to life or serious injury that justified the use of lethal force by Israeli security forces.

The Special Committee recalls that in the context of policing demonstrations, the Israeli forces must respect international instruments pertaining to law enforcement. According to the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, firearms may only be used against persons if there is an imminent threat of death or serious injury. Killing in the absence of such threat may amount to arbitrary deprivation of life. In the context of an occupation, the killings resulting from the unlawful use of force may also constitute willful killings, which constitutes a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Special Committee expresses serious concern at the prevalence of a culture of impunity, in particular in cases that pertain to excessive use of force by Israeli security forces and calls for accountability for the victims. Organizations briefing the Committee highlighted that the confidence in the Israeli military justice system is undermined by the fact that investigations, when they take place, rarely result in prosecutions, and sentences frequently do not match the gravity of the violations committed by the Israeli security forces. In this context, the Committee welcomes the decision of the Human Rights Council in May 2018 to create an independent commission of inquiry to investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international law in the context of the military assaults on the demonstrations that began on 30 March 2018 as an important means of seeking effective justice and redress for victims.

Mr. Chairman,

The blockade and closure in Gaza is now entering its twelfth year and remains the most significant obstacle to sustainable recovery and economic development. The restrictions on freedom of movement of people and goods to and from Gaza have a significant negative impact on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, including the rights to an adequate standard of living, health, education, work and family life.

The Committee heard with concern that Israeli authorities significantly tightened the restrictions on imports to Gaza, including the entry of fuel, and banned the exit of all goods, during several days in the past few months, in response to the launching of incendiary kites from Gaza into Israel. With the current electricity crisis, these restrictions on imports, including of emergency fuel to Gaza, have severely threatened the maintenance of life-saving services, such as 250 critical hospitals and health clinics, water and sewage treatment sites and solid waste collection services.

The nearly two million Palestinian residents of Gaza, over half of whom are children, face daily power cuts of up to 20 hours and have limited access to water supplies and sanitation services. More than 70% of the population in Gaza relies on humanitarian assistance, the bulk of which is food assistance. This situation is compounded by UNRWA’s unprecedented funding crisis. UNRWA had to scale down some of its emergency programmes for the second half of 2018 in order to be able to continue other programmes such as food security support to nearly one million refugees.

Of serious concern to the Committee is the lack of access for Palestinians in Gaza to adequate health care because of shortages of medicines and supplies, as well as hospitals and health centres being forced to reduce essential services due to electricity cuts. As of 31 July 2018, 40% of the essential medicines were completely depleted. Patients seeking permits to leave Gaza for treatment outside of Gaza are facing delays and denials of their permit requests.

The situation of access to health care for Gazans had further deteriorated after the demonstrations began on 30 March 2018 because of a spike in needs associated with the large numbers of injuries. The Special Committee was informed that Israeli authorities regularly deny or delay exit permits to access health care for Palestinians injured in the demonstrations. According to the World Health Organization, by 27 August 2018, 270 patients injured in the demonstrations had been referred for medical treatment outside Gaza and had applied for exit permits. Only 23 per cent were approved. The denial of permits has had a severe impact on the life and health of injured demonstrators. The Committee was briefed on the case of a 14-year-old boy who was injured with live ammunition in his chest on 30 May 2018 and was referred for a medical appointment in East Jerusalem. His permit request was denied on the day of his appointment on 4 June 2018 and he was pronounced dead on 18 June 2018. Denial of medical treatment is a violation of Israel’s obligations under international law.

Mr. Chairman,

The Committee was also briefed extensively on the situation of Palestinian detainees in Israeli custody. According to the information received by the 5 Committee, as of July 2018, there were at least 5,820 Palestinian detainees held by Israel.

The Committee expresses serious concern at the use of arbitrary administrative detention, often on the basis of secret information to which the detainee is neither given access, nor the opportunity to challenge. Administrative detainees are held without trial or charge on indefinitely renewable 6-month orders. As of July 2018, around 446 Palestinians, including two children and seven Members of Parliament, were held by Israel under administrative detention orders.

The Committee notes with deep regret reports that arrests of children are on the rise and that children continue to suffer from ill-treatment during arrest and detention. As of July 2018, there were 270 children in detention, and nearly half of them were transferred from the Occupied Palestinian Territory to prisons in Israel, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Committee heard testimony that the medical needs of Palestinian detainees within the Israeli prisons continue to be neglected, in several cases leading to deaths which might have been avoided with proper care and timely diagnosis. According to the information received by the Committee, in 2018 so far two detainees have died as a result of medical neglect.

Mr. Chairman,

The Committee once again heard about the difficulties faced by human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organizations working on issues related to the occupation. Worrying testimony described cases of harassment and intimidation, including recurrent arrest and interrogation for social media postings and peaceful demonstrations.

Mr. Chairman,

With regard to the situation in the occupied Syrian Golan, the Committee was briefed about the expansion of Israeli settlements, in violation of international law; the restrictions imposed on the development of the only five remaining Syrian villages, as well as the unequal access to resources such as land and water that disadvantages Syrians. According to the information received by the Committee, the Israeli authorities have diverted water for Israel’s development in the occupied Syrian Golan, leaving Syrians unable to compete with Israeli settlers in agriculture and tourism.

Organizations briefing the Committee have expressed concern that local elections, which were held on 30 October 2018 in Syrian villages for the first time since the beginning of the occupation in 1967, are a manifestation of Israel’s desire to impose its sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan.

The Committee recalls Security Council resolution 497, which determined that the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the occupied Syrian Golan was null and void and without international legal effect, and that the Fourth Geneva Convention continued to apply in the occupied Syrian Golan.

Distinguished Delegates,

The testimonies heard by the Special Committee this year indicated that Israeli discriminatory practices against the Palestinians and Syrians are increasing; resulting in a rapid deterioration of the human rights and humanitarian situation across the occupied territories. In this context, the Committee emphasizes the urgency of reviving the peace process and reiterates its strong support for the two-State solution.

The Committee calls upon the Government of Israel to end its occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the occupied Syrian Golan in compliance with Security Council resolutions 242 and 497; to cease all settlement activity in the West Bank and the occupied Syrian Golan; to lift the land and sea blockade and closure imposed on Gaza; and to take all necessary precautions to ensure that Israeli security forces act in accordance with the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

The Committee also calls upon the international community to use its influence to end Israel’s occupation of the occupied territories, to cease all settlement activity and to end the blockage and closure of Gaza.

Israelis, Palestinians and Syrians deserve to live in peace and security in a state of their own and it is the responsibility of all of us to help them achieve this goal.

I thank you Mr. Chairman.