The Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have escalated acts of aggression against Palestinian civilians in the OPT during the last week. Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and Al Haq: Law for the Service of Man have frequently attempted to draw the international community’s attention to the fear that the Government of Israel, currently led by Ariel Sharon, would take advantage of a potential war on Iraq to perpetrate even more severe crimes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
The Israeli occupation forces have already begun military operations in several areas around the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Additional tens of Palestinians have been killed and numerous homes and facilities destroyed. The last week also witnessed further demolition of agricultural land and the ruining of water-wells and bridges.
These crimes come at a time when the living conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories have reached the crisis point as the rates of poverty and unemployment are at their peak; 70-85% and 64% successively.
According to the findings of Al Mezan and Al Haq, since the beginning of 2003 Israel has killed 118 Palestinians; wounded 1,332 people; destroyed 382 homes, 231 of which were completely destroyed; 280 commercial facilities; razed approximately 400 dunams of agricultural land and arrested 261 people. Meanwhile, the closure and blockades are imposed with increasing frequency, duration, and serious consequences on the whole territory. Additionally, Israel has resumed its occupation of West Bank cities and towns.
Most recently, the Israeli occupation forces carried out two operations in the Old City of Nablus and the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun. There is detailed evidence that Israeli occupation forces have perpetrated war crimes during these operations. However, this is only part of the increase in Israeli aggression. It must be noted that the Israeli occupation forces carried out 36 incursions into Palestinian areas, and in all of these incursions they destroyed homes, demolished land, and killed civilians.
Also, according to al Mezan and Al Haq records, the Israeli occupation forces broke into the Old City of Nablus, north of the West Bank, on Wednesday 18 February 2002 killing 8 Palestinians and destroying tens of homes and about 50 commercial stores. In addition, they arrested 50 Palestinians after imposing curfew on the town.
On Sunday, 23 February 2003 The Israeli Army invaded the town of Beit Hanoun, north of the Gaza Strip with 40 tanks and two helicopter gunships. During this incursion 77 homes were demolished, six of them by explosives; Six Palestinians were killed, two of whom were disfigured after they died; 15 dunams of land, and two bridges were destroyed; three people arrested, including a Reuters journalist; the water supply was targeted and damaged, as were electricity and phone lines.
Al Mezan and Al Haq emphasize that Israel’s acts during the last 55 days constitute alarming indications of the possible situation should a war with Iraq be initiated in the region. There is fear that the OPT may witness an unprecedented increase in human rights violations. The two organizations highlight the fact that Israel’s escalation is in part allowed by the international community’s tendency to address the Israeli occupation and Palestinian rights from a political perspective, which contravenes their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 1949.
As such, Al Mezan and Al Haq are making an urgent appeal to the international community to monitor the human rights situation in the OPT more carefully, and to intervene immediately to protect the civilian population and ensure Israelís respect of its obligations under human rights law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is also the international community’s responsibility to enforce United Nations resolutions in relation to the Palestinian cause and to stop allowing Israel to act as if it were a state above the law, which undermines the legitimacy of the United Nations and perpetuates a double standard as regards the implementation of UN Resolutions.