Grave concern expressed over deteriorating situation in Occupied Palestinian territories, as Fourth Committee takes up report on Israeli practices

Expressing grave concern over the deteriorating situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Chairman of the Special Committee established to investigate Israeli practices in those territories presented his annual report to the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this morning.

He stressed that road closures, curfews and the multiplication of mobile checkpoints had prevented thousands of ordinary Palestinians from going to work, cultivating their fields, getting access to health facilities or sending their children to school. Another side effect of the increased military occupation was the renewed campaign of destruction of houses and property undertaken by Israeli forces, he added.

He said the economic crisis affecting the occupied territory left more than 50 per cent of the Palestinian workforce unemployed and 60 per cent of the population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip living under the poverty line. The situation also had an impact on Israel, which had experienced an estimated decline of 9 per cent in its per capita gross domestic product in the last two years.

He pointed to a similar deteriorating pattern of the human rights situation in the Syrian Golan in terms of education and employment for the 50,000 Syrian Arabs living there and of the living conditions of 500,000 other Syrians, many of them refugees from the occupied Golan.

Noting that efforts undertaken to enhance the Middle East Road Map process had produced no positive results and that the truce agreed upon by armed Palestinian groups had been broken, leading to a devastating cycle of violence by both parties, he called on Israel to ensure that the current living conditions of the Palestinians and other Arabs in the occupied territories did not provoke a major and irreversible humanitarian and human rights disaster.

Several speakers deplored the disturbing view of life under the occupation, as detailed in the Special Committee’s report, and highlighted the negative effects of the Israeli settlements and of the construction of the wall of separation. The representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine said the repeated Israeli claims that the settlements and the wall were intended for “security purposes” were obscene and absurd. Apart from their immediate and long-term humanitarian consequences, those practices seriously undermined the contiguity of the Palestinian territory and threatened to make the two-State solution impossible to implement. The representative of Iran said the separation wall marked the beginning of a new phase in the plight of the Palestinian people and would cause direct harm to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in dozens of villages and towns in the West Bank.

In light of the continued deterioration of the situation in the occupied territories, speakers reaffirmed the need for the Special Committee to continue its work. The Syrian representative said that any attempt to weaken the Special Committee’s role would be giving Israel a cover to continue to deny the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

The representative of the United States, however, reiterated his country’s long-standing opposition to the Special Committee, which provided a biased mandate to investigate the actions of one Member State. The United States goal was to see the Committee eliminated, he added.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Lebanon, Jordan, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Tunisia, Qatar and the Sudan.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 6 November, to continue its consideration of the Special Committee’s report.

Background

When the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning, it was expected to begin its consideration of Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.

It had before it the report of the Special Committee on the matter (document A/58/311) which reflects the summary of information gathered during the mission of the Special Committee to Egypt, Jordan and Syria from 13 to 24 June.

Section IV of the report, summarizing the human rights situation in the occupied territories, focuses on issues of particular concern in the light of the testimonies and material received: the right of self-determination; the right to liberty of movement; the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing; the right to just and favourable conditions of work; the right to education; the right to health; the right to liberty and security of person; the right to freedom of opinion and of association; and the right to life.

According to the report, the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory has drastically deteriorated since Israel’s military incursions. Witnesses appearing before the Committee have provided detailed testimony and information referring to dramatic circumstances under which Palestinian citizens have been living during the period under review. It is stated that 60 per cent of the Palestinian population is living under the poverty line. Despite some hopes generated by the launching of the Road Map for a Middle East settlement, in early June 2003, the construction by the Israelis of a separation wall, which does not respect the “Green Line” of 1967, is perceived by the Palestinians as an annexation of important parts of their homeland.

The report says that during the Special Committee’s visit to Damascus it received information from the Syrian authorities, and met with a number of individuals originally from the occupied Syrian Arab Golan. A report from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Syria on Israeli practices affecting the human rights of Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Arab Golan is attached to the Special Committee’s report. According to the information received, the consequences of the long-term occupation of the Golan have been extensive, affecting all aspects of the life of families, villages and communities.

Also before the Committee today was a report of the Secretary-General (document A/58/310) which details the activities carried out by the Department of Public Information (DPI) and by United Nations information centres and services to promote the work of the Special Committee.

The report says that, during the reporting period, the DPI disseminated information on the activities of the Special Committee, including documents, press releases and relevant reports. In addition, the revised and updated publication of the DPI, entitled The Question of Palestine and the United Nations (DPI/2276), includes extensive references to the reports of the Special Committee, including sections dealing with questions of human rights, settlements and refugees. The booklet was printed in March 2003 in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish and Russian and was widely disseminated to all United Nations offices in the field.

According to the report, the United Nations Information Service at the United Nations Office at Geneva bears a special responsibility for promoting human rights, given its close proximity to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and consequent involvement in the work of the Office, as well as of the Commission on Human Rights, the Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, and in the majority of the sessions of the six human rights treaty bodies meeting in Geneva.

The report says that the United Nations Information Centre in Cairo provided support to the Special Committee during its mission to the region by facilitating wide media coverage of its work.

The Fourth Committee also had before it other reports of the Secretary-General. A report dated 15 July 2003(document A/58/155) states that no reply had been received to the Secretary-General’s request to the Government of Israel for information on any steps taken or envisaged towards implementing General Assembly resolution 57/125 of 11 December 2002, demanding Israel’s acceptance of the Geneva Convention on Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War as applying to the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and the other occupied Arab territories.

A report dated 8 August 2003(document A/58/263) says the Secretary-General received no reply to his request to the Government of Israel for information on any steps towards implementation of General Assembly resolution 57/126 of 11 December 2002 concerning Israeli settlements, which demanded the complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activities in the occupied territories, and reaffirmed that Israeli settlements in those areas were illegal and an obstacle to peace and economic and social development. Another report dated 15 July 2003 (document A/58/156) says the Secretary-General had received no reply to his request for information of any steps the Government of Israel had taken, or envisaged taking, concerning the implementation of General Assembly resolution 57/127 of 11 December 2002, which demanded Israel’s full compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and condemned acts of violence against Palestine civilians.

A further report dated 8 August 2003 (document A/58/264) says the Secretary-General had received no information from the Government of Israel on steps towards implementation of Assembly resolution 57/128 on the occupied Syrian Golan. That resolution, among other provisions, called upon Israel, the occupying Power, to comply with the relevant resolutions on the occupied Syrian Golan, in particular Security Council resolution 497 (1981), demanding that Israel rescind its decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the area.