While some in the international community were trying to breathe life into what seemed to be a dying peace process in the Middle East, Israel had unleashed its military, sowing death and destruction in Gaza, the Security Council heard today as it met in the wake of escalating deadly violence in the Gaza Strip.
The emergency meeting was in response to a week-long Israeli military incursion into the Gaza Strip that has left 83 Palestinian dead and many more wounded, following rocket attacks against Israeli targets by Palestinian militants, which killed two Israeli children. Most of the 29 speakers today warned that the recent violence had imperilled the hope for peace, with many urging both sides to give up the violence and return to their obligations under the Road Map.
Algeria’s representative, who called for the meeting at the request of the Arab States, warned that the unfettered use of brute force would persist, as Israel now promised more death and destruction, bearing down on an already suffering civilian population. Confronted by the present grave turn, the international community could not, must not, remain passive or indifferent, he said, urging Council support for the draft resolution he had introduced today, demanding that Israel immediately end the operations in Gaza and uphold international law standards.
Palestine’s Permanent Observer, asserting that 20 of the 83 killed by Israeli Defence Forces when they swept through the northern part of Gaza, had been under the age of 18, said there was absolutely no justification for the “Israeli hysteria”. Those weapons were not rockets in the traditional sense; they were rudimentary weapons put together locally and had caused the deaths of three Israeli civilians over time. There was no justification, therefore, for the widespread killing and destruction by Israeli forces. Such acts were crimes of war and State terrorism. Perhaps the time had come for the Council to take a serious position and put an end to the constantly unfolding tragedy by calling on Israel to halt its military aggressions and never repeat such actions in the future.
Asking how the Council could remain a silent observer in the face of daily crimes by the Israeli occupation forces, the Permanent Observer for the League of Arab States called on the Council to adopt measures that denounced the violence and prompted Israel’s return to the negotiating table. He also called on the Council to provide international protection for the Palestinian people. The crimes perpetrated by Israel could only bring further bloodshed and instability. Events had proven that the policy of military escalation against civilians would not subdue Arab will into acceptance of a settlement of Israel’s design.
Israel’s representative, claiming that the Council had been galvanized into action not because of the murder of children, but rather in defence of such murders, said that two Israeli children had been murdered by Qassam rockets fired at their home in the southern Israeli town of Sderot. The Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas had claimed responsibility for the latest in a continuing onslaught of terrorist incidents. He urged the Council to stand by the side of both the Israeli and Palestinian people, and remind the Palestinian side that the path to peace and security lay in the end of terrorism and in reform. He also called for an investigation into today’s reported admission by the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) that members of Hamas were on the UNRWA payroll.
Characterizing the resolution tabled today as not the road map to peace, but one more step on the “road to nowhere”, the United States’ representative said that the United Nations, both the General Assembly and the Security Council, acted as an adversary of Israel and the cheerleader for the Palestinians. That was not the path to peace. The problem of Qassam rockets was not new. After last Wednesday’s attack, Hamas had claimed credit for “victory” over the enemy — a two-year-old and a four-year-old child. If Palestinian terrorists shot at Israel, Israel would shoot back. The issue now was where to go from here. Passage of one-sided resolutions by the Council was not the way to go. Instead, the message should be for both sides to stop the shooting and return to the Road Map.
Statements were also made by the following Council members: Spain; Chile; Brazil; Romania; Germany; Russian Federation; Philippines; Benin; Angola; Pakistan; China; France; and the United Kingdom.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Tunisia, Jordan, Netherlands, Iran, Malaysia, Egypt, Japan, South Africa, Cuba, Syria and Turkey. The Vice-Chairman of the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People also addressed the Council.
The Security Council met this afternoon to consider the situation in the Middle East, following requests from the Group of Arab States, on behalf of the member States of the League of Arab States, and the Permanent Observer for Palestine to the United Nations to convene an “immediate meeting”.
NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said that, in the past six days, the Israeli Defence Forces had killed 83 Palestinians, including 20 children under the age of 18, and injured more than 350 others. They had also caused widespread destruction, including the demolition of homes and the destruction of farmland and economic installations and infrastructure. The bulk of those offences had occurred when the Forces swept through the northern part of the Gaza Strip, rushing in more than 2,000 soldiers and more than 100 tanks, armoured vehicles and bulldozers. That was in addition to the massive use of military helicopter gunships. The Israeli Defence Forces used all that massive military might without discrimination. It even used missiles against human Palestinian targets. Those forces destroyed almost everything in their wake, including nursery and drama schools. Tens of thousands were without water or electricity, and suffering from severe shortages of foodstuff and medicines, thus precipitating a genuine humanitarian tragedy, the repercussions of which required vast resources and much time to redress.
In addition, he said, many ranking Israeli officials had expressed their intention to pursue their aggression for an extended period of time and to set up a buffer zone. He had advised the Secretary-General and the General Assembly President of all of those horrific developments in a series of three letters. In the last, he had requested an immediate meeting of the Security Council. The Arab Group had done the same. He hoped that the Council would be able to examine the draft resolution before it and vote on it as urgently as possible.
He said that Israel had claimed that it had swept through the northern part of Gaza and committed all those acts in response to the launching of rockets from that area on an Israeli town close to the borders between Israel and the Palestinian territory. Specifically, Israel had referred to the launching of a rocket last Wednesday that resulted in the killing of two Israeli children. He expressed his sorrow over their deaths and the loss of any civilian life, and he appealed to all the parties to stop such acts completely. That appeal had nothing to do with the legitimate right of his people to resist occupation. Rudimentary weapons locally put together had caused the loss of lives of three Israeli civilians, including the two children last week. Those weapons were not weapons of deterrence or rockets in the established traditional sense of the word. There was absolutely no justification for the “Israeli hysteria”. There was no justification for the widespread killing and destruction, which constituted war crimes and State terrorism.
He asked why the Council had so far failed to put an end to all of that. Even before the present stage, it had failed to halt the colonization of the Palestinian territory and attempts to change the status of Jerusalem. Perhaps the time had come for the Council to take a serious position, in order to put an end to that constantly unfolding tragedy. It must call on Israel to cease its aggression and halt its military aggressions, and not to repeat such actions in the future. Perhaps what was taking place in Gaza was related to the so-called unilateral Sharon disengagement plan, which was aimed at, among other outcomes, continuing construction of the separation wall and building settlements in the West Bank. In other words, it aimed at a long-term movement to surround the Gaza Strip in return for maintaining the colonization of the West Bank. That was unacceptable and completely contravened the Road Map.
That unilateral plan sought to undermine the territorial integrity of the Palestinian territory. Any Gaza withdrawal must be a genuine part of the Road Map; it must be parallel to similar steps taken in the West Bank, primarily the halting of the construction of the separation wall and the building of settlements, he said. All of that must be done in coordination with the Palestinian Authority. The Gaza Strip must not be transformed into a large prison. The international community should adhere strictly to the Road Map and support the Palestinian position in that regard. The steadfast Palestinian people would not surrender, but would cling fully to their national rights. They felt a profound sense of bitterness due to the double standards being applied, yet they had not lost hope. He hoped that the Council today would be able to take the necessary steps specific to the current situation in northern Gaza.
DAN GILLERMAN (Israel) said the Council had been galvanized into action not because of the murder of children, but rather the defence of those murders. It was an attempt to put the victims of terror on the dock, rather than the perpetrators. On 29 September, the eve of the Sukkot holiday, two Israeli children had been murdered by Qassam rockets fired at their home in the southern Israeli town of Sderot. The Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas had claimed responsibility for the attack. The murder of the two young children was only the latest in a continuing onslaught of such terrorist incidents in which the innocent civilians of Sderot and neighbouring communities had been targeted without respite. The rocket attacks were employed with the specific intent of killing and injuring as many civilians as possible. In a similar incident on 28 June, four rockets on Sderot had killed two Israeli civilians, landing near a nursery school and damaging a nearby coffee shop.
Indeed, as part of the broader Palestinian terrorist campaign that had brought untold suffering, more than 460 Qassam rockets had been indiscriminately fired at Israel’s civilian population, causing numerous deaths, many injuries and extensive destruction of property. Qassam rocket fire from Gaza continued, targeting innocent civilians. Terrorist groups, operating with complete freedom and impunity from Palestinian Authority territory, had every intention of escalating the campaign with ever more sophisticated weapons. Palestinian terror organizations had been producing Qassam rockets in lathes dispersed through the Gaza Strip. Hamas had developed the new rockets using knowledge gathered over the years by international terror groups.
The ease with which the rockets were hidden, transported and launched and the ability to mass produce them had made them a weapon of choice, he said. Hamas was currently seeking to develop the Qassam 4 rocket to enhance the range of the missile and increase the impact of its explosion. It was an insufferable situation that no country could or would tolerate. Despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority had thousands of police and security personnel in the Gaza Strip, they were doing nothing to halt the firing of Qassam rockets on Israeli communities.
The fact remained that the Palestinian leadership still refused to fulfil any of its obligations to confront and dismantle the Palestinian terrorist network in an ongoing violation of basic international norms, signed commitments and the explicit terms of the Road Map’s first clauses. Instead, the Palestinian leadership continued to offer encouragement for those actions, glorifying murder as martyrdom, and pursuing a campaign of incitement to hatred and violence. The Palestinian leadership continued to choose an alliance of violence with the terrorist over a partnership for peace with Israel, based on mutual obligation and compromise.
Most Palestinian representatives and people knew that, if not for the terrorism, there would be no Israeli defensive action and there would have been a two-State solution long ago, he said. It was terrorism, and the Palestinian leadership’s complicity in it, that was the greatest single obstacle to peace and the enemy of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. Terrorism, motivated by opposition not to Israel’s conduct, but to its existence, fuelled hatred and disempowered those yearning for peace.
Israel intended to disengage from the Gaza Strip as part of Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement initiative that had been welcomed by the Quartet and by the international community as an important opportunity to restart the Road Map process. The disengagement plan promised greater stability and security for both Israelis and Palestinians, and a platform from which mutual implementation of the Road Map could proceed.
He said the continued rocket attacks from Gaza constituted a grave violation of international humanitarian law not only because they targeted innocent civilians, but also because Palestinian lives were also at risk and held hostage by the continued tactic adopted by Palestinian terrorists, by which innocent Palestinians were used as human shields and civilian areas were used as staging grounds for terrorist atrocities. Virtually all terrorist fire directed from Gaza against Israeli targets emanated from crowds or residential buildings, and hundreds of explosive charges and mines were planted within the civilian infrastructure.
In one recent incident, on 22 July, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy had been killed in cold blood by a Fatah Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade terrorist when he had tried to stop them from launching a Qassam rocket attack near his family home. In an example of fabrication by Palestinian spokesmen, the death of Hassan Al-Zaanin had been presented to the Secretary-General as though he had been killed by Israeli forces. Those kind of blatantly false allegations were part of a long pattern of Palestinian presentations, which referred to murderers as “martyrs”, armed terrorists as though they were innocent civilians and the innocent victims of Palestinian terrorism on both sides as though they were non-existent.
In the face of that complex reality, Israel was compelled to act in accordance with its recognized right and duty of self-defence in an effort to halt the firing of those rockets and the murder of its citizens, he said. While the present operation was broader than its predecessors, it was relatively limited with the aim of refraining from deeply penetrating densely populated areas. In that context, Israeli forces were making every effort to avoid harming non-combatants or their property in accordance with legal obligation. There should be no doubt, however, that the primary responsibility for tragic civilian causalities lay with those terrorists who had abused the protected status of Palestinian civilians.
He said there had also been information that Palestinian terrorists were once again attempting to exploit not only civilian areas, but also United Nations vehicles, ambulances, facilities and personnel. That would not be the first time that Palestinian terrorist had abused the immunity of United Nations facilities and ambulances to launch attacks, move weapons or transfer operatives. That worrying pattern of activity was a matter of grave concern threatening to undermine the integrity of United Nations operations. All sides, including United Nations officials on the ground, must to do all in their power to prevent such misuses and investigate alleged misconduct.
In that regard, today’s reported admission by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Commissioner, Peter Hansen, that members of the Hamas terrorist organization were on the UNRWA payroll and thus being funded by United Nations Member States was alarming. The Hamas organization was officially recognized by numerous States as a terrorist organization without any artificial distinctions between its various wings. By the admission of Hamas’ own leaders, members of the political wing were involved in planning, directing and providing the support infrastructure and financing for acts of terror. The very idea that individuals with clear links to the Hamas terrorist network might be “on the UNRWA payroll” was totally unacceptable and should be properly investigated.
Israeli reaffirmed its support for the humanitarian work being carried out by UNRWA and continued to facilitate the carrying out of its mandate, despite the obstacles it faced as a result of continuing terrorism carried out by the Palestinian side. In the lead up to the operation, preparations had been made to respond effectively to the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian civilian population, he added, including the appointment of liaison officers and the opening of a special route to provide easy access to the vehicles of international humanitarian organizations.
The cost of the morally bankrupt Palestinian strategy of terrorism was paid for in the lives of innocent Israelis and Palestinians, the stagnation in the peace process and the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians. By entertaining initiatives that effectively rewarded that strategy, the Council would only embolden extremists and undermine the letter and spirit of the Road Map. He urged the Council to stand by the side of the Israeli and Palestinian people, and remind the Palestinian side that the path to peace and security lay in the end of terrorism and in reform; it lay in taking responsibility and not in shifting blame; it lay in Ramallah and in Gaza, not in New York.