Statement by Dr. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Ambassador, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, before the United Nations Security Council, 19 May 2004

 

 

Mr. President,

 

            Over the past few days and throughout the period since I last addressed the Security Council on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, Israel, the occupying Power, has continued with and intensified its barbaric military campaign against the Palestinian people.  Flagrant violations and grave breaches of international law war crimes are being committed by the occupying Power against the Palestinian civilian population every single day, including at this very moment.  In this regard, I believe it is necessary to recall before this Council that willful killings, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly, are among those acts considered to constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

 

               In grave breach of the Convention, which governs military occupation, and in serious violation of other relevant provisions of international law, Israel continues to use excessive and indiscriminate force against Palestinian civilians, killing men, women and children, and to wantonly destroy Palestinian homes and properties in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in the Rafah area of the Gaza Strip.  Left defenseless and unprotected by the international community, the Palestinian people continue to suffer the wrath of Israels violent and lethal occupation policies and practices.

 

The slaughter today of innocent Palestinian children by the Israeli occupying forces in the Rafah camp is the most recent and most telling illustration of the vicious and barbaric behavior and actions of this occupying Power.  The occupying forces fired at least one missile and several tank shells at a large crowd of about 3,000 Palestinians marching from Rafah towards the Tel El-Sultan neighborhood in Rafah in protest against the invasion and destruction of their neighborhood and the killing of their families, friends and loved ones.  These people were unarmed demonstrators, many of them school children.  While the situation on the ground remains chaotic, as of now it is being reported that at least 10 Palestinian civilians were killed in this assault, most of them children, and more than 60 civilians were wounded, including women and children, more than 30 of them in critical condition, and that 9 other Palestinians were also killed today in the area.  This is terrorism.  This is State terrorism.  These are war crimes for which the perpetrators must be held accountable under international law.

 

This what you have seen today and in recent days and months: the blood of Palestinian civilians flowing in the streets, the demolition of their homes, their constant humiliation, suffering and collective punishment - is exactly what the Palestinian people have been subjected to under Israels nearly 37 years of belligerent occupation.  It has been a constant barrage of war crimes, State terrorism and systematic human rights violations for which the international community must hold this occupying Power responsible.  The lawlessness and impunity of Israel must be brought to an end and the Palestinian people must be accorded their rights under international law, including their right to protection as a civilian population under occupation.

 

Mr. President,

 

Since the start of this month of May, the Israeli occupying forces have killed at least 96 Palestinians, including 28 children.  This is the Palestinian death toll in less than 3 weeks time.  This has included brothers and sisters, fathers and sons.  Families and lives are being destroyed by the occupying Power on a wholesale basis as it continues launching military assaults against the civilian population.  The rate of death and destruction is staggering and continues to rise.  Since September 2000 and as of today, more than 3,000 Palestinians, including women, children, elderly and men, have been killed by the Israeli occupying forces to be exact at least 3,023 Palestinians have bee killed.  Many have been the targets of extrajudicial killings by the occupying forces, and nearly 600 of the total number of Palestinians killed have been children.  In this same time period, more than 40,000 Palestinians have also been wounded by the occupying forces.

 

Palestinian hospitals and emergency rescue personnel, poorly equipped and in desperate need of supplies, have been unable to keep up with the growing number of casualties.  Morgues have been unable to keep up with the rising number of dead.  Funerals for the martyred have become a daily occurrence.  The bloodshed and loss caused by the occupying Power has been steep because Israel has breached every single one of its obligations under international law as an occupying Power.  It has blatantly violated all norms and standards of international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law, and has completely ignored the pleas of the international community to cease it violations against the Palestinian civilian population and to adhere to international law and uphold its obligations. Why?  Because this is the core of the mentality of this occupier it is brutal, vicious, and inhumane in all its actions against the occupied people, seeking to torment them and impose on them maximum loss, misery and suffering while pursuing its illegitimate aims of colonizing the land and expanding its boundaries.

 

Mr. President,

 

In addition to the human loss and devastation, Israel continues to pursue its illegal and inhumane practice of destroying Palestinian homes and properties, causing widespread destruction and material loss and compounding the grief, suffering and humanitarian hardships of the Palestinian people.  Thousands of homes and thousands of dunums of Palestinian land have been destroyed by the Israeli occupying forces throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory since September 2000.  Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been made homeless, the majority of them Palestine refugees who have been displaced and dispossessed yet again.

 

During the past several days, the occupying Power has escalated this unlawful practice in the Rafah area of the Gaza Strip, including in particular in the Rafah refugee camp, causing excessive and vast destruction.  Using armored bulldozers, tanks and helicopter gunships, the Israeli occupying forces have raided the area, terrorizing the civilian population and destroying dozens of homes, even attacking some of them while the families were still inside.  Reports indicated that in just the past few days more than 100 homes have been completely destroyed by the occupying forces in Rafah.  Some estimates put the toll of destruction much higher at about 120 homes, and fears continue to rise that even more will be destroyed as Israeli officials threaten to demolish hundreds more homes.   As a result of these most recent assaults, more than 1,100 Palestinians have been made homeless, and hundreds of other Palestinians have been fleeing the area, fearing the impending destruction of their homes and properties. 

 

Tragically, this is not the first time that the Rafah refugee camp and surrounding area have been besieged and attacked by the Israeli occupying forces.  Since September 2000, the Rafah area has been severely targeted.   As many of you may recall, just over a year ago, a young American, Rachel Corrie, was brutally crushed by a huge armored Caterpillar bulldozer while trying to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes in Rafah.  Regrettably, those responsible for her tragic death did not even have to explain, were not held accountable and the practice of bulldozing the homes of innocent civilians did not cease. Indeed, as home after home and building after building in Rafah are destroyed by the Israeli occupying forces, the entire community is being torn apart piece by piece and being laid to ruin.  Since September 2000, more than 1,300 homes in Rafah alone have been demolished or severely damaged and made unlivable and more than 12,000 Palestinians have been made homeless.

 

The humanitarian impact has been overwhelming.  The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East UNRWA has been unable to keep pace with the widespread destruction being caused by the occupying Power within the refugee camps.  It has been struggling to provide shelter to house all those who have been displaced and is still trying to repair and rebuild the thousands of refugee homes that have been damaged or destroyed since the start of this military campaign, while now faced with even more destruction and displacement.  Yet, within its limited resources, UNRWA continues to provide tents, food and other relief for these devastated refugee families.

 

Mr. President,

 

            With the ongoing military operation being carried out by the Israeli occupying forces in the Rafah area and the declarations made by Israeli officials that hundreds more Palestinian homes there are targeted for demolition, it is more clear than ever that the aim of these Israeli actions is the effective leveling of the Rafah camp and areas in the city of Rafah itself to allow for the enlargement of the so-called security zone by the occupying Power.  Indeed, some of the statements made by Israeli officials are starkly clear about this very intention.  These ongoing actions are part and parcel of, and reveal the exact meaning of, Prime Minister Sharons disengagement plan.  This is, of course, an attempt to isolate the Gaza Strip from the outside world, ensuring that it has no border with Egypt and thus ensuring the creation of a large prison for the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza.

 

For those who may be unaware, I wish to impart some basic information about Gaza.  Gaza measures a total of only 360 square kilometers.  It is a very poor and deprived area with no natural resources not even water and constitutes the most densely populated area in the world per square kilometer with a population of more than 1.3 million people.  And, now, more than 10 years after Oslo, at least 35% of Gaza remains under the full control of Israel for the sheer enjoyment of 7,000 colonial Israeli settlers illegally transferred there and the entirety of Gaza remains a killing field for the Israeli occupying forces to continue their target practice against the other human beings the Palestinians - who have the misfortune to be living there.

 

Racist ideologies have always fueled colonialist phenomena and throughout history colonizers have always committed crimes against the colonized or occupied people.  The occupation of the Palestinian territory since 1967 is no exception.  However, it must be said that the occupation of Gaza takes this phenomenon to a different level.  The occupation of this poverty-stricken area, the relentless killing of its civilian inhabitants, the wanton destruction of homes and shelter, and the constant imposition of suffering on the masses there defy all logic and reason.  These constitute transgressions of the most fundamental rights and of the dignities of persons for which the violators must be held accountable and must be punished.  The same applies to those who want to make sure they destroy what is actually left in Gaza before they presumably leave it.

 

Mr. President,

 

As I stated at the beginning of my intervention, the willful killing and injury of civilians constitutes a grave breach, a war crime.  Without a doubt, Israel is thus committing war crimes against the Palestinian people repeatedly.  The demolition of one home constitutes collective punishment.  The excessive and large-scale demolition of homes and confiscation of property constitute grave breaches, war crimes.  This must all be unequivocally condemned by the international community and measures should be taken to ensure the cessation of all such breaches.  Action should be taken to ensure the protection and the safety and well-being of the Palestinian civilian population under Israeli occupation.  Action should be also taken to ensure that due reparations are made to those whose homes and properties have been destroyed.  The international community, including through the Security Council and the Quartet, must act firmly and collectively to uphold international law and to counter the precipitous decline of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and to prevent the complete extinguishing of any hope for a resumption of the peace process towards the resolution of this tragic and unjust conflict.