U.N. Secretary-General Issues Report on Jenin and other Palestinian Cities

General Assembly Resumes 10th ESS

On 5 August 2002, the 10th Emergency Special Session (ESS) of the General Assembly resumed, upon the urgent request of the Arab Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, to consider the report of the United Nations Secretary-General on the recent events that took place in Jenin and other Palestinian cities. The report was submitted pursuant to resolution ES-10/10, adopted by the ESS on 7 May 2002, which requested the Secretary-General to prepare a report on the matter, drawing upon the available resources and information, due to Israelís refusal to cooperate with the Secretary-Generalís fact-finding team in disregard of Security Council resolution 1405 (2002).

In the meantime, between the time of the Assemblyís request and the issuance of the report, the Security Council convened twice to address the deterioration of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Council convened on 13 June, following the Israeli reoccupation of major Palestinian population centers in the West Bank, including the siege of President Arafatís headquarters in Ramallah, and convened again on 24 July, following the Israeli air bombing of a densely populated neighborhood in Gaza that killed 15 Palestinians, including 9 children. More than 30 speakers addressed the Council at each of those meetings, with the overwhelming majority expressing grave concern over the dire situation being faced by the Palestinian people due to the ongoing Israeli military siege and assaults.

When the 10th ESS resumed on 5 August, the Assembly held an intense and lengthy debate regarding the Secretary-Generalís report on the recent events, with 37 speakers addressing the session. The Permanent Observer of Palestine to the U.N. delivered the Palestinian assessment of the report as well as of the current situation on the ground in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem.

The Secretary-Generalís report was issued on 1 August 2002, later than anticipated and without the expected conclusions. The report covered only a specific period of time, from early March 2002 to 7 May 2002, and, as noted above, was prepared on the basis of available information, without a visit to Jenin or the other Palestinian cities in question. The government of Israel refused to even submit information to assist in the reportís preparation, as requested by the U.N. Under-Secretary-General (USG) for Political Affairs, yet the report manages to extensively quote Israeli sources. An official Palestinian response to the USGís request was submitted in early June and was composed of a main submission, included as Annex I of the report, as well as various support documents and annexes.

In assessing the Secretary-Generalís report, the Palestinian side believes that it lacked the proper context and, in some cases, actually departed from the established legal and political understanding and terminology of the U.N. with regard to the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The report, nevertheless, detailed many of the actions committed by the Israeli occupying forces in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities. As such, there is no doubt that it provides yet further confirmation of what the Palestinian side has always known - that the Israeli occupying forces have committed war crimes, atrocities and other serious violations of the 4th Geneva Convention against the Palestinian people, including unlawful killings; the use of human shields; the use of excessive, disproportionate, indiscriminate and lethal force; arbitrary arrests and torture; the imposition of collective punishments; the targeting of ambulances and medical personnel; and the denial of medical treatment and access.

In fact, as of this month, more than 1,700 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli occupying forces since September 2000. This tragic figure does not include the hundreds of other Palestinians that have died as a result of other illegal practices being carried out by the occupying Power.

Accordingly, the Palestinian side believes that an accurate and thorough understanding of the situation requires placing the reporting period in the context of everything that the occupying Power has been doing before and after that period, including the measures and practices mentioned in previous reports by the Secretary-General as well as other organs and agencies of the U.N. Further, all of this must be assessed against the background of the ongoing existence of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian land and Palestinian people.

Upon concluding its debate on the report, the General Assembly adopted resolution ES-10/11 by a vote of 114 in favor, 4 against, 11 abstentions. (The full text of the resolution appears below.) The usual negative votes were cast by Israel, U.S., Marshall Islands and Micronesia.

Clearly, such a large majority voting in favor definitely contributes to the importance of the resolution, which deals with the report of the Secretary-General in the proper context, namely that of the existence of the Israeli occupation, the obligations of the occupying Power and the need to end that occupation. The resolution also addresses the current situation on the ground, demanding the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli occupying forces from Palestinian population centers. It also emphasizes the urgency of unhindered access for medical and humanitarian organizations, and in this regard specifically addresses the humanitarian situation and the need for assistance and reconstruction.

In addition, resolution ES-10/11 affirms the obligations of the High Contracting Parties to the 4th Geneva Convention, including the follow-up on the implementation of the Geneva Declaration of 5 December 2001. In this regard, it is important to note that the Secretary-Generalís report did indeed affirm that, except for Israel, all of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross, maintain that the Convention does apply de jure to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

The following are some of the findings of the Secretary-Generalís report regarding the actions of the Israeli occupying forces during the period under report:

  • A total of 497 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli occupying forces from 1 March to 7 May 2002 and in the immediate aftermath. Most accounts estimate that approximately 70 to 80 Palestinians were killed in Nablus alone, and that at least 52 Palestinians were killed in the Jenin refugee camp. At least 1,447 Palestinians were also wounded during this period.

  • Several of the people who died in the Jenin refugee camp died of their wounds while they waited days for medical assistance as the occupying forces refused to permit humanitarian aid to reach the camp. In addition to the denial of aid, the occupying forces in some cases targeted medical personnel and ambulances. Indeed, the functioning of the Jenin Hospital, just outside the camp, was severely undermined by the actions of the occupying forces. The hospitalís supplies of power, water, oxygen and blood were badly affected and, on 4 April, the occupying forces ordered the Palestine Red Crescent Society to stop operations and sealed off the hospital.

  • By 6 May, at least 7,000 Palestinians, mostly males between the ages of 15 and 45, had been arrested by the occupying forces, many of them held for long periods with little or no outside contact. According to human rights reports, significant numbers of the men arrested were blindfolded and handcuffed, not allowed to use the lavatory, and deprived of food and blankets on their first day of detention.

  • There were numerous reports of the occupying forces using Palestinians, in the Jenin camp and other Palestinian cities, as human shields, forcing them to accompany them during house searches, check suspicious objects, stand in the line of fire, and in other ways protect soldiers.

  • There was widespread destruction of Palestinian private and public property caused by the actions of the occupying forces, who used tanks, rocket fire from helicopter gunships and bulldozers in populated areas. Over 2,800 refugee housing units were damaged and 878 homes were demolished or destroyed during the reporting period, leaving more than 17,000 people homeless or in need of shelter rehabilitation. In Jenin, witness testimonies and human rights investigations maintain that the destruction was disproportionate and indiscriminate, with some houses coming under attack from bulldozers before the inhabitants were able to evacuate. Also, 50 Palestinian schools were damaged by Israeli military actions, of which 11 were completely destroyed, 9 vandalized, 15 used as military outposts and another 15 used as mass arrest and detention centers.

  • Closures of cities, villages and refugee camps and round-the-clock curfews created a serious humanitarian situation among the estimated 1 million Palestinian civilians in the affected areas. That burden was exacerbated in most of the cities reoccupied by significant periods during which utilities (electricity, water and telephone) were cut or severely curtailed by the occupying forces.

  • The closures and curfews posed particular problems for those with chronic medical problems, who were unable to obtain care and medications. Humanitarian agencies also reported shortages of food and other vital, basic supplies among the Palestinian people as a result of the closures and curfews. In addition to the humanitarian consequences suffered by the Palestinian people, the Israeli measures also had a devastating economic impact, virtually shutting down the Palestinian economy by impeding any normal business activity and preventing Palestinians from going to work.

The Secretary-General concluded his report by stating that the continuing deterioration of the situation demonstrated the urgent need for the parties to resume peace negotiations. Further, he noted the wide support in the international community for a solution in which two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side, within secure and recognized borders, as called for by the Security Council in resolution 1397 (2002). In addition, he affirmed the international communityís responsibility to intensify efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as a key element in the search for a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1967).