Statement by Ms. Feda Abdelhady-Nasser, First Secretary, Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the U.N., Before the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee, Agenda Item 85: Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, 50th Session, 16 November 1995:
At the outset, as we begin the debate on item 85 of our agenda, the Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, I would like to express the appreciation of my delegation to H.E. Ambassador Herman Leonard de Silva of Sri Lanka, Chairman of the Special Committee, and his colleagues on the Committee, H.E. Ambassador Ibra Deguene Ka of Senegal and H.E. Ambassador Dato Abdul Majid Mohamed of Malaysia, for the work they have done in carrying out the responsibilities of the Committee and in preparing the detailed periodic reports, including the report before us, which is the twenty-seventh report of the Committee. It is unfortunate that this valuable report was issued only two days before our debate due to a delay in printing by the Secretariat. We believe that such a situation should be rectified in the future.
The ongoing Middle East peace process has produced many positive developments, and the recent momentum generated by the signing of the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, on 28 September 1995, is a harbinger for further positive and important achievements as we proceed along the long and arduous path towards our ultimate goal of peace. In accordance with the latest interim agreement reached between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, the populated areas of the West Bank will soon be under the responsibility of the Palestinian National Authority after Israeli redeployment from those areas. However, the Israeli army will remain in large parts of the West Bank, including the areas around the illegal Israeli settlements. As such, a situation of occupation will still exist and clearly, despite the various positive developments in the peace process, as long as a situation of occupation exists, so does the threat of the violation of the human rights of the people under occupation in such a tense and unbalanced environment.
That the situation of the human rights of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, remains a matter of concern was clearly conveyed in the reports of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices. Regrettably, again this year, the reports produced by the Committee describe continuing difficulties and human rights violations being endured by the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, as a result of restrictive and punitive Israeli policies and measures. These are serious violations which constitute a constant and dangerous threat to the progress and stability of the peace process.
In reviewing the reports of the Special Committee, recurrent violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people are the result of specific Israeli occupational practices and policies, which include the closure and sealing of the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem; land confiscation; the sealing and demolition of Palestinian homes; settlement activities and the various ensuing consequences; the detention of Palestinians in Israeli prisons; and the killing of Palestinians by the Israeli military or undercover security forces. Many of those measures carried out by the Israeli authorities are in the form of collective punishment of the Palestinian people, and these policies and practices, as well as their consequences, violate the Fourth Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949, which is applicable to all of the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and violate various other instruments of human rights law. I would like, at this time, to briefly discuss these violations.
The sealing or demolition of Palestinian homes continued during the period under review. As reported by the Committee, for example, in one month alone, in September of 1994, fifteen homes were destroyed and there were standing orders for the demolition of forty others. The imposition of curfews and, more seriously, the closure of areas of the occupied territory, either partially or completely, also persisted. The curfews were recurrent in various towns and villages throughout the West Bank. In Al-Khalil, for example, nightly curfews have been imposed for extended periods of time and frequent curfews have been ordered during day time hours at the town's center.
Along with the curfews, the repeated sealing off or closing of the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, even more greatly hindered daily life activities, restricting the movement of the Palestinian people and, in many cases, preventing them from reaching their places of work, their schools and from selling their products. The repeated closure of Gaza not only sealed the Gaza Strip from Israel but also, in clear violation of the agreements reached between the two sides, sealed Gaza from the outside world through the sealing of its border with Egypt. That practice led to almost complete strangulation of the economy there and dramatically increased the hardships of the population, seriously obstructing the possibilities of any economic development or improvement in social conditions, especially in light of the fact that the closures also isolated the Gaza Strip from the whole West Bank. Also, over the last year, the Israeli practice of closing Jerusalem, making it off limits to the Palestinian people, has worsened. That has led to untold suffering and disruption of the daily life of our people, for whom Jerusalem remains their religious, economic and cultural center. The international community should particularly condemn such a practice because, in addition to all the above, it represents an Israeli attempt to confer legitimacy on the illegal annexation of Jerusalem.
Although many Palestinian prisoners have been released in accordance with arrangements made between the two sides, the issue of the Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons has not been completely resolved and remains of high concern as thousands are still being detained. Many of the detainees continue to be exposed to unsanitary conditions, ill-treatment and to harsh methods of interrogation, which are tantamount to torture and are often mentally and physically damaging, in some cases even leading to death. We hope for the immediate release of all detainees and an immediate cessation of all such measures, reflecting the progress that has been achieved in the peace process.
Another issue of grave concern is the ongoing killing of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers or secret undercover units, which occurred several times throughout the West Bank. We believe that Israeli security elements are also responsible for at least one incident in Gaza, which is under the control of the Palestinian National Authority, and led to the death of one person. Such actions are in clear violation of the Declaration of Principles and subsequent agreements reached between the two sides. The illegal and violent acts of these execution squads must be stopped.
Continuing land confiscation by the Israeli authorities remains alarming. In May of this year, the Security Council convened to address the dangerous Israeli action of ordering the confiscation of 53 hectares of land located in the area of occupied East Jerusalem, an action which constituted a flagrant violation of relevant Security Council resolutions, the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as the Declaration of Principles of 13 September 1993. Through the years, up until the present, the area of land confiscated by Israel in the expanded East Jerusalem has totaled 2,400 hectares, which represents 33% of the area of East Jerusalem, upon which 35,000 units for settlements have been built. Unfortunately, due to the veto of one member state, the Security Council failed to take action with regard to the issue, but soon thereafter the Israeli government did suspend the orders, perhaps in response to the overwhelming condemnation of the action expressed by the international community. We consider this to be a positive step, but we stress the need for the complete cessation of any confiscation.
It is very regrettable that settlement activities by the Israeli authorities also persisted during the period under review. To this day the Israeli government continues to pursue its illegal settlement construction in the occupied territory, particularly in and around Jerusalem as part of the government's fervent drive for "Greater Jerusalem". The expansion of settlements in the past year has been clearly indicated in the report of the Special Committee, as well as in the attached map. This policy has resulted in the illegal and continuous physical and demographic alteration of the landscape in the occupied territory.
Further, in this regard, the settlers who inhabit those settlements constitute a major source of repression and injustice against the Palestinian people. As explained in the report before us, settler behavior unquestionably became more violent and aggressive during the past year. Harmful actions by the illegal and armed settlers include the stealing of land and water, harassment of the Palestinian people, infringement upon their daily lives, destruction of their property, and at times the violent assault or killing of Palestinians by armed and fanatic settlers. The situation in Al-Khalil is a glaring example of this situation. There, the presence and violent actions of 400 extremist and fanatical settlers, among 120,000 Palestinians, remain a source of great tension and problems on a daily basis, precluding any semblance of normal life. The situation is illustrative of the graveness and complexity of the issue.
The policy of land confiscation and the campaign of settler colonialism, because of their severe consequences and implications, are considered by us to be among the most serious of the Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people. The danger of this situation may be only now becoming clear to the Israeli government after so many years of carrying out its overall settlement policy while turning a blind eye its dangers and consequences. Such a policy cannot continue in this new era and must be addressed seriously because it is clearly not reconcilable with the peace process and, in fact, represents a grave threat to it. The settlers must be brought under control until final status negotiations. They cannot continue to run around lawlessly, espousing extremism and defiance of the government and endangering the lives of the Palestinian people.
The minimum level for negotiation in good faith requires the parties to desist from the creation of facts on the ground, which affect the negotiation process and preempt its results. The Declaration of Principles has postponed negotiation on various important issues, including that of the settlements, but we reiterate that this does not mean that our position or the position of the international community in this regard should be changed nor does it mean that the status of the settlements themselves as illegal and an obstacle to the achievement of a comprehensive peace can be doubted.
Moreover, until the occupation is brought to an end and the Palestinian people have realized their fundamental human rights, including the right to self-determination, and as a measure in accordance with the positive developments that have taken place in the peace process, we believe that, it is imperative for the Israeli government to accept the de jure applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 to all of the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and to declare its readiness to abide by the provisions of the Convention and to terminate all actions, practices and policies in violation of it.
We once again express regret with regard to the refusal of the Israeli authorities to cooperate with the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories. In light of the new circumstances, we see no reason for the Israeli government to refuse the Committee cooperation or to deny its members access to the occupied territory. Further, it is our strong belief that the situation as it exists does warrant the continued work of the Committee. As long as the occupation remains in existence and violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people persist, the Committee's mandate is clearly not fulfilled.
We do, however, look forward to a time when the progress and change that is achieved in the peace process will no longer require monitoring of the situation in the Palestinian territory, and we strongly hope that we will see a very different report by the Special Committee next year, reflecting further progress and positive change on the ground. I thank you, Mr. Chairman.