UN Condemns ‘Israeli Practice Of Collective Punishment’

Water main in the Palestinian West Bank  burst by an Israeli army tank
Water main in the Palestinian West Bank burst by an Israeli army tank

The 6th Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council ‘on human rights violations emanating from Israeli military incursions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the recent ones in occupied Gaza and West Bank town of Nablus’ took place in Geneva on 23-24 January 2008.

A written statement submitted by Nord Sud XXI, a non-governmental organisation in special consultative status, said it ‘condemns the continuing international crimes being perpetrated by the government of Israel against the people of Palestine in the West Bank and in Gaza.

‘This naked aggression is indiscriminate and intended to kill innocent persons.

‘No reasonable person can believe it to have any other result.

‘In recent days, Israel enhanced its deadly grip on the Gaza Strip imposing a collective punishment on all Palestinians living there.

‘Basic humanitarian relief is being denied to the Palestinian people. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and even more injured by attacks that are indiscriminate and disproportionate.

‘Elderly women and small children are the victims of this continuing Israeli violence.

‘Israel’s violence against Palestinians is part of an ongoing and intentional policy aimed at destroying the Palestinian people.

‘Since 2000, almost a thousand Palestinian children have been killed by violence together with over a hundred Israel children.

‘Since 2000 over 4,500 Palestinians have been killed together with over 1,000 Israelis. And since 2000 almost 32,000 Palestinians have been injured together with almost 7,000 Israelis.

‘But while both Israelis and Palestinians have suffered there is no comparison between their suffering.

‘While the Palestinians, a recognised National Liberation Movement fighting for their self-determination, have captured one of the soldiers of foreign and oppressive occupiers of their land, the Israelis have detained almost 11,000 Palestinians, many arbitrarily and often subjecting them to torture, cruel, or inhumane treatment.

‘While no Israeli homes have been intentionally destroyed, more than 4,100 Palestinian homes have been intentionally destroyed by Israel.

‘And while Palestinian homes are being destroyed, Israel has built more than 220 settlements on Palestinian land. Palestine has built none on Israeli land.

‘Let there be no mistake, there is no equality of suffering, there is occupation, oppression and violence mainly by Israel.

‘All the suffering in Palestine is mainly the consequence of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

‘Israel has carried out its killing and destruction in violation of no less than sixty-five United Nations Resolutions, but still the UN has failed to take effective action to stop the carnage and suffering visited upon the Palestinian people.

‘This suffering must be ended.

‘We again plead with the states present at this Special Session to take effective action.

‘We again demand that Israel comply with its international legal obligations.

‘Will you, the states of the Human Rights Council, the governments with the power and authority to make Israel respect the law, will you finally act to end the sixty years of Palestinian suffering.

‘It has been sixty years since you stated your first universal commitment to achieving human rights in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

‘Nowhere in the world have these aspirations been denied so long, so consciously, and so seriously as they have been in Palestine. We urge you to finally make these aspirations a reality for Palestinians.’

In her opening statement to the Human Rights Council UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour said: ‘Since the beginning of the year and until midday on 22 January, as hostilities continue unabated, around 70 Palestinians have been reported killed; 23 of them on 15-16 January alone.

‘Israeli military operations continue also in the West Bank and in particular in the city of Nablus where Palestinian security forces had been attempting to restore law and order.

‘Although differing in scope and proportions, operations which have failed to respect international humanitarian law have resulted in the loss of lives of Palestinian and Israeli civilians.

‘The Israeli practice of collective punishment, disproportionate use of force, and targeted killings continues, as does the Palestinian militants’ practice of indiscriminate firing of mortars and rockets into Israel.

‘Since the beginning of the year and until midday 22 January 2008, Palestinian militants fired around 230 mortar shells and 110 rockets into the northern Negev including the cities of Sderot and Ashqelon.

‘According to Israeli and Palestinian civil society organisations, last year, more than a third of the total number of Palestinians killed are civilians.

‘The same organizations report that during 2007, seven Israelis and 131 Palestinian civilians were killed.

‘In the two incidents that took place on 15-16 January, five Palestinian civilians were killed during the operation of the Israeli army and another three died when an Israeli aircraft allegedly mistakenly fired a missile at their car.

‘On 18 January, a Palestinian woman was killed and around 30 civilians injured, among them several children, when an Israeli air strike targeted an empty building of the Ministry of Interior.

‘An Ecuadorian volunteer worker was killed by Palestinian gunfire in the south of Israel.

The escalating violence has added to the already critical situation in the Gaza strip, which results from the restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from the territory imposed by Israel, the breakdown in law and order, and abuses committed by local authorities and armed groups.

‘As recently stated by the Secretary-General, the 1.4 million people of Gaza live under the most abhorrent conditions.

‘With few exceptions, all legitimate trade with Gaza has come virtually to a halt as a result of the closure of the crossings into Gaza, with devastating effects on the economy and on livelihoods.

‘The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that 80 per cent of Gazans live under the poverty line and depend on food and direct assistance provided by aid agencies.

‘As regards the right to food, the World Food Programme estimates that only 56 per cent of basic commercial food import needs were met during the period of mid November to mid December 2007.

‘The level of desperation became even more starkly apparent this morning when thousands of Palestinians poured out of Gaza and into Egypt rushing to buy food, fuel, medicines and other supplies that have become scarce in Gaza.

‘Masked gunmen had blown dozens of holes in the wall on the border to facilitate passage.

‘In relation to the right to health, the World Health Organisation highlights a serious shortage of essential drugs, as well as increasing difficulties for patients requiring emergency care to exit Gaza, sometimes resulting in the death of the patients concerned.

‘Access to essential services and utilities, such as water, waste-water systems and energy, is becoming more uncertain.

‘Electricity is essential to ensure adequate provision of health services.

‘On Sunday 20 January, Gaza’s main power plant shut down. The power plant can resume working properly only when the provision of fuel is regularly allowed within the territory.

‘On Tuesday, Israel allowed fuel and medical supplies into Gaza and signalled that it is considering further easing restrictions.

‘I exhort the Government of Israel to completely lift all restrictions to the free-flow of desperately needed aid and essential supplies into Gaza.

‘Let me reiterate what a number of experts have already pointed out with regard to Israeli action in Gaza: the use of collective punishment is strictly prohibited under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

‘While aid agencies and the donor community are committed to providing humanitarian support in Gaza, such aid, by itself, cannot reverse the situation.

‘It is a palliative. The denial of basic and fundamental rights cannot be compensated for by permitting a trickle of charity.’

Arbour concluded: ‘While states have a primary responsibility to protect all persons under their jurisdiction or control from war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and ethnic cleansing, under the doctrine that was reconfirmed in the Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit, the international community in its entirety shares the responsibility to protect civilians in particular where and when the authorities concerned are unable or unwilling to do so.

‘Thus, the people of Gaza look legitimately to the international community to respond with urgency and with appropriate measures to their desperate and still worsening situation.’