Dear Member States of the United Nations:
On 29 September 2006, the sixth anniversary of the second intifada against the Israeli occupation, the international community appears to have forgotten the continuing Israeli disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, together constituting the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The Palestinian people looks to the UN General Assembly, the body that in 2004 requested the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on the construction of the Wall in the OPT, as a source of hope at a moment of extreme distress and disillusion. Indeed, the situation in the OPT today is marked by further annexation of Palestinian territory by Israel, severe movement restrictions, lack of protection of civilians, economic disintegration and attacks on Palestinian democratic institutions; all of which undermine the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, as recognised by the UN.
Annexation of Land
As you are aware, the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion on the Wall found its construction in the OPT, as well as the Israeli settlements around which it is constructed, to be illegal under international law. The Court also explicitly anticipated that the Wall had the purpose of annexing Palestinian land:
The Court considers that the construction of the wall and its associated rgime create a “fait accompli” on the ground that could well become permanent, in which case, and notwithstanding the formal characterization of the wall by Israel, it would be tantamount to de facto annexation.
In addition to Israel’s previous illegal annexation of East Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has clearly declared Israel’s intention to annex the territory situated between the Wall and the Green Line, where over three quarters of Israeli settlers are located. On 8 March 2006, he stated that “the course of the fence - which until now has been a security fence - will be in line with the new course of the permanent border.” On 3 May 2006, he announced, “The achievements of the settlement movement in main concentrations will forever be an integral part of the sovereign state of Israel, along with Jerusalem, our united capital.” These statements clearly link settlements, the Wall and further Israeli annexation of Palestinian land, all of which prevent the Palestinian people from exercising its right to self-determination throughout the whole of the territory recognised as Palestinian under international law.
Movement Restrictions and Control over Palestinian Lives
The aforementioned annexation is compounded by Israeli policies that make it extremely difficult or impossible for Palestinians to move within the West Bank. In addition to the Wall, physical movement restrictions in the OPT take such forms as permanent or “flying” (mobile) checkpoints, roadblocks, dirt mounds, and road gates. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), on 5 September 2006 there were 552 physical movement restrictions within the West Bank. These obstacles, along with their associated regimes, contribute to controlling the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank. In the Gaza Strip, which remains occupied despite the Israeli unilateral withdrawal of 2005, Israel still controls the air space, territorial sea and land borders, closing down the crossings to the outside world with great frequency.
In addition to physical movement restrictions, Palestinians need special permits to enter the areas between the Wall and the Green Line, or the Jordan Valley, all of which are integral parts of the West Bank. Permit requests are very frequently denied. No such restrictions are placed on Israeli settlers, who use separate roads to travel freely throughout the OPT. Movement of Palestinians between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is almost impossible. Moreover, since early 2006 a new Israeli policy makes access into the West Bank much more difficult for Palestinian expatriates or foreigners. All of these constraints on freedom of movement restrict people’s ability to access work, education, healthcare, agricultural property, family, and other essential aspects of life. These measures have no reasonable security motivation and are unjustifiably sweeping in their application. Al-Haq concludes that their purpose is to force Palestinians to live in ever-shrinking areas, rendering their lives unbearably difficult to the point of actively encouraging departure.
Lack of Protection of Civilians
Israel’s extrajudicial killing of Palestinian civilians continues unabated. Since the outbreak of the second intifada six years ago, Israeli forces have killed 4004 Palestinians in the OPT, of whom 795 were children and 238 were women or girls. Such killings include the targeted assassination of “wanted” individuals, commonly resulting in the death and injury of bystanders, as well as the killing of Palestinians during arrest raids or military operations. These actions constitute violations of the fundamental right to life, and are moreover often characterised by a disproportionate and/or indiscriminate use of force.
Over the course of the last three months, there has been a dramatic intensification of Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip. More than 200 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed. In addition, substantial damage has been caused to civilian infrastructure, not justified by military necessity. Israeli military operations have damaged or destroyed three government ministries, two educational institutions, the main bridges connecting North and South Gaza, numerous homes, vast tracts of agricultural land, two power plants and other civilian infrastructure such as roads, electricity poles, telephone poles, water pipelines and sewage networks. Israeli attacks have been disproportionate and/or directed towards civilian targets, in violation of international law. Indiscriminate fire of home-made rockets carried out by certain Palestinian groups against Israeli civilians and their property do not justify these violations.
The killings take place in an environment of impunity. The Israeli Military’s judge advocate general’s office only opens investigations in exceptional cases, and these investigations are typically wholly inadequate. Furthermore, it is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain redress through the Israeli legal system. A similar pattern of impunity marks Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians and Palestinian property. The international community’s acquiescence to Israeli violations of Palestinian rights have created the perception among Palestinians that international law is incapable of protecting them, thereby effectively encouraging them to seek their own means of protection that may contribute to the escalation of the conflict.
Undermining the Palestinian Economy and Democratic Institutions
In February 2006, while the new Palestinian government was being formed, the Israeli government adopted several economic measures intended to undermine the Palestinian economy, most notably by withholding 50-60 million USD a month in taxes owed to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). On 15 February 2006, Dov Weissglas, Special Adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister, compared these measures to “an appointment with a dietician” and stated that “the Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die.” As a consequence of this, and major international donors’ cessation of financial aid to the PNA, Palestinian civil servants, numbering more than 150,000, have not received their full salaries since March 2006. Approximately 25% of the population of the OPT depends on their income. These measures amount to collective punishment of the Palestinian population for the democratic choice of a majority of Palestinian voters.
The impacts of the financial crisis are all the more devastating when coupled with Israel’s extensive destruction of vital civilian infrastructure in Gaza, and severe movement restrictions in Gaza and the West Bank that paralyse the flow of goods and services. The World Bank has estimated that, if the current situation continues, unemployment levels in the OPT will rise to 40% by the end of 2006, compared to approximately 20% in 2000. In July 2006, UN OCHA estimated that 70% of households in the OPT live in poverty. The economic hardship is limiting food security for many families, hospital services are badly affected, a significant proportion of essential drugs are out of stock and Israeli attacks on infrastructure have reduced the supply of drinking water in Gaza. Al-Haq is concerned that, placed under such immense pressure, Palestinian society might collapse, with unforeseeable consequences.
In addition to the aforementioned economic measures, Israel has engaged in direct attacks on Palestinian democratic institutions. On 29 June 2006, the Israeli army arrested eight Palestinian cabinet ministers, 26 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and numerous Hamas political leaders throughout the West Bank. There are strong indications that these officials are being held as hostages. Furthermore, the East Jerusalem residency permits (IDs) of four of these Palestinian officials have been revoked, effectively expelling them from occupied East Jerusalem. In Gaza, there have been aerial attacks on four official PNA buildings. One result of this dire situation has been the erosion of the ability of the PNA to uphold the rule of law in the OPT. Al-Haq is concerned that a civil war may be imminent.
Since it was founded in 1979, Al-Haq has observed a continuous deterioration in the human rights situation in the OPT. Israel’s almost 40-year-old occupation perpetuates the suffering of Palestinians, purposefully pushes them into exile, exacerbates tensions, escalates the conflict and destabilises the region. The international community must end its double standards with regard to Israel and play a decisive role in solving the conflict and ending the occupation, based on respect for international law, including the Palestinian right to self-determination. The fundamental provisions of international law violated by Israel are not subject to negotiation and one cannot wait forever for an elusive peace deal to be found. Al-Haq therefore calls on all UN Member States to: