ORAL PRESENTATION on 20 October 2011 of Report to the General Assembly by Special Rapporteur on “Situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967,” submitted in 13 September 2011
I am placing an edited and slightly modified version of my oral statement to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly on 21 October 2011. The main modification is to add a paragraph on the prisoner exchange. I found it disturbing that the single Israel soldier released received virtually all the attention in the Western press whereas the Palestinians released remained nameless except to call attention to the crimes that had led to their imprisonment. It is a rather vivid example of humanizing the suffering of the occupier while treating the far greater ordeal of the occupied population as a statistic. Furthermore, the soldier captured is treated as a hero of war, while the acts of Palestinian resistance are derided as crimes, or worse, as terrorism.
If you have read the complete report, the only new material here are the paragraphs devoted to recent developments.
1. It is troubling that I must again begin this latest report by noting my inability to fulfill my duties as Special Rapporteur due to the non-cooperation of the Government of Israel, which continues to deny me access in my UN role to assess the situation as it exists on the ground in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. I have continued to seek the cooperation of Israel in the hopes of working out a satisfactory arrangement, and would request the support of Members in helping me to carry out the duties associated my role as Special Rapporteur of this mandate. With new conditions existing in Egypt a mission to the Gaza Strip was arranged at the end of 25 April to 3 May, 2011, but the security situation in Gaza led the United Nations security division to recommend the deferral of the visit. Despite this disappointment, the mission adapted to the situation, and went forward. Many useful meetings were arranged in Cairo and Amman with representatives of Palestinian and UN NGOs and several notable personalities who traveled from the oPt to discuss the human rights situation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Helpful discussions were held bearing on the mandate with the Foreign Ministers in both Egypt and Jordan. The Special Rapporteur notes with gratitude the friendly cooperation of officials in both countries, as well as with officers of the Arab League. My latest report to the General Assembly has made use of the information provided by these meetings. Another mission to Gaza is planned for early 2012. The objective will be to get as much information from primary sources as possible to provide the most accurate and up to date information in relation to the human rights situation.
- 2. The present report, in addition to reporting on human rights and IHL violations associated with settlement expansion, the Gaza blockade, the separation wall, and interference with Palestinian residence rights in East Jerusalem gives special emphasis to two sets of concerns: abuse of children held in detention, especially in the West Bank; the upsurge of settler violence and the failure of the Occupying Power to accord adequate protection for Palestinians living under military administration.
- In the interim between the deadline for the submission of this report in September and today, several notable developments bearing on this mandate have taken place, and will be briefly commented upon so as to give a more accurate picture of the situation prevailing in the oPt at the present time. I will comment on four of these intervening developments.
- The Palmer Report. The Palmer Report, of the Panel of Inquiry appointed by the Secretary General to investigate the flotilla incident on 31 May 2010 in which nine passengers of the Turkish vessel, Mavi Marmara, were kllled, was released. The purpose of the Panel was to clarify the issues in contention under international law with the hope of bringing the dispute between Turkey and Israel to a conclusion. The Report as issued was adopted formally by Israel, and strongly criticized by the Government of Turkey, especially the claim that the blockade of Gaza was lawful, and that Israel enjoyed a right to enforce the blockade under international law. It should be pointed out that the Palmer Report disagreed on these central issues with the earlier report of an expert panel appointed by the Human Rights Council. This Special Rapporteur along with the Special Rapporteurs on the rights to food, mental and physical health, and extreme poverty and human rights issued a joint press release that took issue with these claims. Our statement was particularly critical of the treatment by the Palmer Report of the blockade of Gaza purely as an issue of security, thereby ignoring the adverse humanitarian impacts on food, water, health, and wellbeing in Gaza. The Palmer Report seems seriously deficient from an international humanitarian law standpoint due to its failure to assess the contention that this blockade that also applies to Israeli crossings has lasted for more than four years, and seems in its essence to be a form of collective punishment of the civilian population of Gaza prohibited by Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Unfortunately, the Palmer Report provided a formal justification for the continuing denial of fundamental human rights to the people of Gaza by a process of reasoning that is not consistent with the weight of expert opinion among international law specialists.
- The Palestinian Statehood Bid. The President of Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, formally requested in a letter to the Secretary General that Palestine be admitted as a member state of the United Nations. The rationale for this request was provided in a speech by President Abbas on the same day to the General Assembly. This effort to be recognized as a state by the UN and to become a member is directly relevant to the Palestinian struggle to realize the right of self-determination. Statehood, even without membership, would enlarge the potential institutional options for Palestine to fulfill their rights under international law, and to participate in peace negotiations on the basis of sovereign equality.
- Bedouin Forced Displacement. Serious concerns have been raised recently about an Israeli plan to forcibly displace Bedouin Communities in Area C of the West Bank. Area C, established by Oslo guidelines, is 59% of the territory in the West Bank, and is under the full control of Israeli occupying forces. It includes settlements and settler roads, military bases, the separation wall, closed military areas, and Israeli-designated nature preserves. The Bedouin community has been victimized by more than 62 years of occupation, in which has endured the status of being a double minority marginalized as indigenous and non-Palestinian. Its traditional pastoral way of life is under increasing threat from Israeli settlement plans, which have resulted in a disturbing increase in the number of house demolitions and related efforts to displace Bedouin communities against their will. Such policies are contrary to the human rights of the Bedouin community to maintain their way of life while living under occupation. During the mission to Jordan the Special Rapporteur was informed by UN civil servants and NGO representatives of their belief that the Bedouin people were subject to severe abuses associated with Israel’s occupation policies.
- Prisoner Exchange. A notable development was the agreed release of Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons in exchange for the release of an Israeli soldier who had been detained since his capture
five years ago. 477 of an agreed 1027 Palestinians were released on 18 October along with the Israeli soldier, with the remaining Palestinians to be released in a few months. In contrast to the media, which focused on the Israeli prisoners, leaving the Palestinians nameless, I deliberated refrain from naming the Israeli soldier. Although many more Palestinians than Israelis were released, three considerations should be kept in mind: it does not show as Israeli propaganda suggests a greater valuing of Israeli life; some of those released were deported from their places of residence to neighboring countries, which is generally considered a violation of international humanitarian law; it needs to be remembered that over 5,000 Palestinians remain in captivity under harsh conditions that fall far below international standards.
- Settler Violence. There has been an alarming increase in settler violence in 2011. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports more than a 50 per cent increase in incidents in the West Bank involving violence against Palestinians, documenting injuries to 178 Palestinians during the first half of 2011 as compared to 176 for the entire year of 2010. According to UNRWA, those injured in settler violence just in the first half of 2011 include twelve children. These specific injuries resulted from stone throwing, assaults, and shootings by Israeli settlers. Yet these incidents only tell part of the story. There are almost daily accounts of settler vandalism against Palestinian agricultural land and villages, with several incidents videotaped by individuals working with B’Tselem, the highly regarded Israeli human rights organization. Especially in the villages around Nablus there have been numerous reports of agricultural land and olive groves being destroyed. Also part of this disturbing set of developments is a pattern of passive support for settler activities exhibited by Israeli security forces and border police. It often takes the form of shooting tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinians while doing nothing to stop settler violence, and has also been documented on video. A further dimension of these activities is frequent settler harassment of Palestinian children on their way to school, also not prevented by Israeli forces, which has reportedly discouraged many children and their families from attending school, thereby obstructing their right to education. In some areas, most consistently in Hebron where settler violence is frequent and severe, international civil society organizations such as the Christian Peacemaker Team and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine/Israel have attempted to step into the breach, providing direct protection of schoolchildren when Israeli forces do not meet their obligation to prevent settler violence. Overall, the failure to prevent and punish settler violence remains a serious and on-going violation of Israel’s most fundamental obligation under international humanitarian law to protect a civilian population living under occupation.
- Violations of the Rights of Children. During the Special Rapporteur’s planned mission to Gaza, but redirected to Cairo and Amman, a series of meetings with representatives of the Palestinian Authority, UN agencies, and a range of human rights nongovernmental organizations, particular attention was paid to the impact of prolonged occupation on the rights of Palestinian children. The results of these inquiries are disturbing for three principal reasons:
a. Prolonged occupation exerts a constraining burden on civilians. Yet this impact is heavier on children, whose development is deformed by pervasive deprivations affecting health, education, and overall security. The insecurity of Palestinian children is aggravated in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, by settler violence and night time raids and detentions by Israeli occupation forces, house demolitions, threatened expulsions, and a host of other practices, and in Gaza by the blockade and by traumatizing periodic violent incursions and sonic booms resulting from over flights, as well as the still unrepaired destruction of refugee camps, residential communities, and public buildings by Israeli forces during “Operation Cast Lead;”
b. The available evidence suggests a pattern of increasing abuse, not just by the continued hardships of occupation, but by specific policies that entail more serious and systematic violations of the rights of children under international humanitarian law; and
c. The testimony of experts on child development agrees that children suffer more from violations than do adults, and the protection of their rights should be of urgent concern to the international community. Writing on the impact of home demolitions, an UNRWA report of 12 June 2011 notes that “The impact of home demolitions on children can be particularly devastating. Many children affected by demolitions show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.”
Arrest and detention procedures for Palestinian children
Many of the arrests of Palestinian children arise out of allegations of stone throwing aimed at settlers or Israeli security personnel in the West Bank.  Those accused are subject to Israeli military law, which offers far fewer protections for minors than are present in Israel criminal law. Most relevantly, in military law there is an absence of protective provisions regarding the presence of a parent during interrogation, the hours that the interrogation must be conducted, or respect for the dignity of the child during the arrest process. The arrest procedures documented by UN agencies and reliable human rights organizations include arrests in the middle of the night, removal of child from parents for questioning, abusive treatment in detention, and conviction procedures that appear to preclude findings of not guilty. During our mission we were frequently told that these arrest procedures seemed systematically intended to frighten and humiliate those arrested, and to force them to identify protest leaders in demonstrations and refrain from anti-occupation demonstrations in the future.
In the period between 2005 and 2010, 835 children were prosecuted for stone throwing, of which 34 were 12-13 years old, 255 were 14-15, and 546 were 16-17. Since 2007 the number prosecuted has risen each year.
There is abundant anecdotal evidence of child abuse associated with interrogations and arrests of children. The UNICEF oPt Child Protection Programme contains the following summary that confirms other reputable descriptions: “Reports of interrogations are widespread: fingerprinting, blood tests, humiliation, using dogs to frighten, forcing parents into the streets on their knees, and bringing elderly women and invalids for interrogation.” The same source tells of an instance in the village of Awarta in which a 3 year old girl was taken outside her home at 3 am and threatened at gun point; told she would be shot and her family home destroyed unless she reported on the whereabouts of her brother; andnow, her mother explained, she can’t sleep through the night and bedwets. It is little wonder in view of such incidents that both Médecins Sans Frontières and UNICEF recently said that the number of children suffering from stress disorder has greatly increased. Colonel Desmond Travers, a member of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict said in a recent interview: “[i]f the British had behaved toward children who threw stones at them in the manner that is the norm on the West Bank for Israeli security forces—whereby children are rounded up in the evening and taken to places of detention, hooded, beaten, and in some cases tortured—the Northern Ireland problem would not be resolved today..”
I. Immediately adopt in policy and practice B’Tselem’s guidelines for protection of Palestinian children living under occupation who are arrested or detained as minimum basis for compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights standards under international law;
II. Urgently allow entry to Gaza of materials needed for repair of water and electricity infrastructure so as, to avoid further deterioration in health of civilian population, especially children, which is currently in critical condition;
III. Develop and implement appropriate detention and imprisonment policies and practices for Palestinians, including fully observing the prohibition of transfer of prisoners to the occupying country of persons living under occupation who are convicted by Israeli military courts of security crimes.
IV. Immediately lift the unlawful blockade of Gaza, in view of its violative impact on all aspects of civilian life, its undermining of the basic rights of an occupied population, and its grave impact on children.
V. Request that the International Court of Justice issue an Advisory Opinion on the legal status of prolonged occupation, as aggravated by prohibited transfers of large numbers of persons from the Occupying Power and imposing a dual and discriminatory administrative and legal system in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.