Statement by Special Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights in Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967RICHARD FALK, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said that, to date, the Special Rapporteur had been unable to arrange a visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and, as such, he would take all necessary steps to secure entry in the near future. The report before the Committee (document A/63/326) relied on the best available open sources, as well as on observations gathered during a private visit to Israel in July 2008, which included a short trip to Ramallah, as well as nearby Israeli settlements.
He drew the Committee's attention to two sets of developments that bore directly on the protection of human rights in the territories in question. First, the objectives of the Annapolis Joint Statement of 27 November 2007 -- to reinvigorate the peace process and to commit Israel to easing restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and to freeze settlement activity -- had not been met. In fact, additional checkpoints and blockages on the West Bank had been added and those actions seriously violated the rights of Palestinians and diminished their prospects for the future. Second, the June 2008 ceasefire between Gaza and Israel had yet to deliver on Israeli assurances of an easing of the entry and exit of goods and persons. Though the ceasefire had been generally effective in reducing the level of political violence, existing evidence showed a harsher regime of confinement and siege imposed on the population of Gaza.
Such delays and denials of permission had resulted in a growing number of deaths, severe mental and physical suffering, and constituted a violation of the duty of the occupying Power to take all reasonable steps to protect the health and well-being of the population under occupation, he said. The situation created a particular challenge for members of the General Assembly, such as the challenge to States parties to the Geneva Convention to carry out their legal obligation as stated in article 1 "to respect and ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances". Indeed, given the long duration of occupation, as well as the severe hardships associated with the unlawful features of the occupation, it was a matter of urgency that the United Nations act decisively. A call for action seemed like a highly appropriate opportunity to exercise a "responsibility to protect" a vulnerable population enduring an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe.
The deepening health crisis that was afflicting Palestinians living under occupation was also of great concern, he said. The evidence of the crisis was overwhelming, particularly concerning the serious deterioration of the mental and physical health of Palestinians and the extreme precariousness of the health system. Denials or long delays prior to the issuance of exit permits for Palestinians seeking medical treatment had also resulted in several deaths. The continued expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank was also adding to the burdens carried by Palestinians and was complicating any eventual realization of Palestinian rights to self-determination.
Against that backdrop, the Special Rapporteur offered a series of recommendations to the United Nations, in addition to those already mentioned. Those included: recommending the General Assembly to ask the International Court of Justice for a legal assessment of the Israeli occupation; Security Council assistance in the implementation of the 2004 International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the construction of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory; an examination of the responsibility of the United Nations to ensure respect for the well-being of the Palestinians living under unlawful conditions of occupation; and, in view of the health crisis, for the international community, including the United Nations, to resume economic assistance as a matter of the highest priority.
Questions and Answers
The representative of Israel said the report by the Rapporteur had been cause for hope of a more insightful, balanced and constructive approach with regard to the situation in the region. The latest report was, instead, another prefabricated "uniform", designed to conform to the partisan, political position that had taken root in the Human Rights Council. Its unbalanced nature was no surprise, given that it was the product of a mandate that prejudged its outcome. Further, that mandate had not been reviewed or scrutinized; it was scheduled to be reviewed in March, but was overlooked due to the pressure exerted by certain States and was again ignored in September. That undermined the report and integrity of the Council. Beyond the imbalance inherent in the mandate, the one-sidedness of the report was exacerbated by the highly-politicized views of the Rapporteur himself. The report claimed to be based on information gathered by civil society organizations, including the United Nations. But, it should be noted that, with the exception of certain Israeli sources, the report was silent as to the identity of those sources, making it hard to verify their reliability.
The report was troubling for providing legitimacy to Hamas, recognized throughout the whole as a terrorist organization, but which was presented as a positive and legitimate actor as the "government entity currently administering the Gaza Strip". The suggestion that Israel alone introduced certain conditions that Hamas must fulfil, before it would cease to be considered a terrorist organization, was misleading. It should be clarified that such conditions had been imposed by the Quartet, comprising the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and the Russian Federation, and subsequently embraced by the international community. The report also ignored the fact that the Hamas leadership had repeatedly continued to call for Israel's destruction, as well as to reject the two-State solution, to reject the Annapolis process, and to declare their active support for terrorism.
She said the report dealt at length with Israel's defensive measures, but failed to mention, even once, Palestinian terrorism faced by Israel. The word "terrorism" itself was never even used in the report, but, instead, the report supported a "right to resist". For example, it said that, in March, eight Israeli high school students were murdered in Jerusalem as part of the right to resist, and three Israelis were killed in a suicidal car attack, also in exercise of such a "right".
The Special Rapporteur discussed unsubstantiated claims of harassment by a Palestinian journalist at a border crossing, but ignored the fact that official records and follow-up reports showed that the incident was incorrect and misleading. The report was also highly critical of Israeli roadblocks, but failed to note the compelling security reasons for placing them. Not mentioned was the removal of roadblocks in the West Bank, and the opening of intersections adjacent to Hebron and Shavei Shomron to Palestinian traffic.
She said the report had been critical of Israeli Defense Force closures of Palestinian charity organizations and other seemingly legitimate institutions and businesses, but turned a blind eye to the true nature of such institutions, which served as a cover for terrorist fundraising and other activities. It criticized the state of health in the West Bank and Gaza, but failed to note that Israel had granted tens of thousands of entrance permits into Israel to Palestinians for medical treatment annually. It was silent with respect to Israel trauma, resulting from unceasing firing of missiles and suicide attacks. The report tried to argue that the Gaza Strip was occupied territory and that Israel exercised control over it, but ignored the fact that Israel would have been able to act against the attacks launched from there against Israel, if that were truly the case.
She said the report described restrictions on access of goods to Gaza, but ignored the fact that Israel ensured that humanitarian needs in Gaza were met, and that Palestinians freely petitioned Israel's Supreme Court to ensure that such policies conformed to international standards. It also failed to mention that humanitarian assistance channels were often abused, and crossing between Israel and Palestinian territories were regularly attacked by terrorists.
She said that, overall, the report did not account for the context in which Israel's operations had become necessary ever since the outbreak of violence in 2000. Most terrorist attacks had been directed towards civilians and carried out from within civilian-populated areas. The report failed to mention "human guided bombs" and suicide terrorism, and that those attacks were designed to take human lives and sow fear in over a quarter of a million of Israelis.
She said Israel supported self-determination for the Palestinian people, leading it to make far-reaching compromises, and to engage in negotiations with moderate Palestinian partners and to embrace a two-State vision. The report presented a skewed reality, where the rights of Israeli citizens were completely ignored, as were the binding obligations of the Palestinians. The polemic submitted in the form of this latest report had nothing to contribute to the debate regarding humanitarian protection on all sides to the conflict.
Following those remarks, the representative of the Observer Mission of Palestine spoke, saying his Government would continue to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, in an effort to tell the truth about the plight of the Palestinian people. He expressed his delegation's hope that the Special Rapporteur would be able to visit the region in the near future, to allow him to submit objective reports on the situation as he saw it.
Responding specifically to the comments made by the representative of Israel, he asked, if Israel was unhappy with the Special Rapporteur's report and felt it was not objective, whether they had been any happier with the comments made by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who had made a similar statement to the Security Council the day before. Indeed, numerous international authorities and entities had released reports or spoken out against Israeli violations of international law. He asked, therefore, if Israel would abide by the statements made by the Quartet -- composed of the United States, Russian Federation, European Union, and the United Nations -- or the statements made by the Council of the European Union. It was "high time" for Palestine's partners in the peace process to "wake up" and to fulfil their international obligations and allow the peace process to move forward. A peace treaty providing for an independent Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a just solution for refugees, would require a change of behaviour on Israel's part, but would lead to greater peace and stability in the end.
Regarding the recommendation made by the Special Rapporteur for a legal assessment of the Israeli occupation by the International Court of Justice, the representative of Lebanon asked how it would be possible to ensure Israeli compliance with the assessment, if one were given. He also asked whether the indiscriminate attacks on Palestinian civilians constituted a gross violation by the occupying Power and whether it was legally correct to say that the Gaza strip was still under occupation. In addition, he asked if Member States were legally obliged, under humanitarian and human rights law, to break the illegitimate siege of Gaza.
The representative of France, speaking on behalf of the European Union, called on the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur in regards to a visit on the ground, and asked how the international community could contribute to the Special Rapporteur's efforts to obtain access. He also asked more specifics on the contributions that United Nations agencies could make to improve the overall situation of human rights in the Palestinian occupied territories.
The representative of Indonesia asked what emergency efforts the international community could take to address the deepening health crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories, and other humanitarian issues in the area. He also informed the Committee of a conference, held in Jakarta in July 2008, that had led to an Asian and African joint effort to support capacity-building for Palestine. He invited other Member States to support that initiative and said more information could be found in document A/62/946-S/2008/58.
South Africa's delegate aligned himself with those comments and also asked what additional support the Special Rapporteur needed from the international community, over and above the recommendations made in the report.
The representative of Syria underscored the importance of the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur, since they addressed the issue of how to hold Israel accountable for their actions. He asked a question to all Member States, not just the Special Rapporteur, on how to translate those recommendations into reality, specifically, how to create mechanisms that would lead to implementation, by holding Israel legally and politically accountable for their violations of international law.
The representative of Cuba condemned those violations, including Israel's failure to comply with the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian territories. As such, his delegation was particularly interested in the recommendation of the Special Rapporteur to seek Security Council assistance to implement that advisory opinion, and he asked for further information on the details of the recommendation.
Like the representative of Indonesia, Sudan's delegate asked what role the international community should have in providing assistance, in light of the health crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories. He also asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on the treatment of journalists by Israeli forces -- such as the killing of a Reuters journalist by an Israeli tank and the torture of Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer -- and what the international community could do to help in those situations.
Responding, Mr. FALK said he regretted the personal attack by the representative of Israel, which misrepresented his true position, including as reflected in the report and also throughout his career as a scholar and someone concerned with issues of peace and justice. He had never supported deliberate political violence against civilians and would never do so. To associate the "right to resist" with violence against civilians was in opposition to what he had written over many years, including in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He had always been deeply committed to non-violent solutions. His commitment on the mandate of his office was based on the hope that peace would come to the two peoples. He was also committed to international justice, which could only be achieved through serious implementation of international law and human rights standards, which he felt was central to his mandate.
He said it had been his hope and wish to have had a constructive dialogue on the issues covered in the report, but the Government of Israel had made such dialogue impossible by threatening drastic measures against him if he ever entered the country without its prior authorization. He believed that was a big mistake. His purpose was that of a bearer of truth, and to stand witness to the realities of the occupation. To the extent that Israel was prepared to live with such exposure, he was ready to take full account of their arguments, positions and facts. Indeed, the report was his best effort to convey the truth as he discerned it.
He said the focus by Israel on his alleged bias amounted to an attempt to deflect attention from the real ordeal of the Palestinian people. The conclusions reached in the report would be reached by any unbiased person who was exposed to the realities of the occupation. Even if the person was 60 per cent favourable to Israeli contentions, that person would still come to those conclusions, which were overwhelmingly supported by impartial journalists and observers from around the world, over many decades.
He said an important issue had been raised by several speakers: the intrinsic importance of Israel's refusal to carry out the understanding reached at Annapolis to freeze settlement activities. Settlements on occupied territories were a serious violation of the Geneva Conventions. More than that, it sent a message to Palestinians, and the rest of the world, that the search for peace was not a serious undertaking. A minimal demonstration of good faith on Israel's part would be to freeze such activity, and certainly not to continue it at an accelerated pace. The reason that he felt it was important for the International Court of Justice to pronounce on the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people was because the Annapolis approach would seem to be "sterile"; it was not able to induce the Government of Israel to comply with undertakings it had agreed to with respect to settlements, the easing of the movement of people, and other minimal expressions of good faith.
Even though the Court's opinions were called "advisories", he said they were nevertheless an authoritative view on binding legal obligations, written by the most distinguished jurists in the world, who were deserving of respect. They represented a challenge to all Member States and the Secretary-General, to seek a means of achieving some implementation. He welcomed the Syrian delegate's call to move beyond rhetoric and towards finding methods of accountability to translate the international community's perceptions into "some kind of meaningful political reality".
The treatment at the border of Mohamad Omar had a temporary happy ending, but the fact remained that Israel had made it difficult for those who had direct experience of the occupation to leave the country, and for those that had a competence to report on those realities to enter the country. That amounted to a policy of avoiding transparency. It placed a tremendous responsibility on all to seek as much access as possible, so as to enable people to uncover the truth of the occupation.
Kicking off a second round of questions, the representative of Egypt expressed his delegation's concern over the deteriorating health situation in the occupied territories and asked what the international community could do to alleviate that situation. He also questioned how it would be possible to ensure that the occupying Power met its obligations and commitments under international humanitarian and human rights law, a question that was echoed by the representative of Iran.
The delegate from the United States said her delegation remained committed to efforts to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians. However, she said the report before the Committee was one-sided and, as such, could damage the sensitive bilateral negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. It mischaracterized the Annapolis Conference and failed to mention concerns regarding acts of terrorism against Israel. She also said the report raised serious concerns regarding the use of the Security Council to make International Court of Justice advisory opinions binding, as such an act would interfere with established procedures and could damage processes already under way. She called for the one-sided and biased mandate of the Special Rapporteur to be broadened, so as not to concentrate only on one side of a two-party conflict.
The representatives of Malaysia and Switzerland asked what the international community could do to alleviate the suffering and hardship, taking into account restrictions on the movement of goods and funds. Switzerland's delegate also asked whether the Special Rapporteur on health might also be included in any future visit by Mr. Falk to the region.
Mr. FALK, taking the floor once more, referred to the comments made by the delegate from France, who had emphasized the importance of inducing and persuading Israel to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur's mandate. It was important that all Member States cooperated with the United Nations when it was trying to carry out its authorized undertakings.
Turning to the comments made by the delegate from the United States, he said it was unfortunate that the delegate attacked his capacity for an objective assessment of the reality on the ground. Further, he said it was difficult to take Israel's commitment to the peace process seriously, when it continued to expand its occupation with additional checkpoints, in violation of international law. The ceasefire that had been established between Gaza and Israel had generally reduced the levels of violence in the region. It was no longer the case that there were repeated rocket attacks by one party and repeated responses by the other. Instead, the border had been relatively calm. As such, his analysis in the report stressed the excessive use of force by Israel. No one questioned Israel's right to exercise force in self-defence, but it was necessary to question the excessive use of force when that was not the case.
On the claim made by the United States on alternatives to established procedures, he said such a claim overlooked the fact that established procedures had failed to end the occupation. After 40 years of occupation, there still seemed to be no signs of an end. It was now up to the United Nations to demonstrate its seriousness in dealing with the conflict and to seek alternative procedures that would bring greater relief to the Palestinian people.
In response to numerous questions about what the international community could do to relieve the suffering of Palestinians, he gave three specific proposals. The first was for Member States, individually or as a group, to begin to investigate how to apply the "responsibility to protect" norm to the civilian population of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Only political pressures could explain the failure to investigate the relevance of that norm prior to now. Second, recognizing that the "great Powers" had not achieved success in resolving the conflict, he urged Member States to take seriously a proposal presented by the President of Brazil to hold a broad United Nations-sponsored conference, which would include a wide range of concerned participants. Finally, he suggested that Member States should urge Israel to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and allow him access to the country. The United Nations relationship to the future of Palestine's self-determination would be judged and assessed by the degree to which it could translate rhetoric into concrete acts, and the degree to which it would ensure respect for international humanitarian and human rights law.
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