Undoubtedly the highlight of the past year, since the Commission requested the Special Rapporteur, in its resolution 2005/7, to report, has been Israel’s successful evacuation of settlers and withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from Gaza. This constitutes an important step in the direction of the resolution of the conflict in the region.
Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza does not, however, mean that the occupation of the territory has come to an end. Israel still retains effective control over the territory through its control of airspace, territorial sea and external land boundaries. It has continued to assert military control by means of sonic booms and repeated air strikes into the territory aimed at targeted militants. Inevitably, such strikes have killed and injured innocent bystanders.
On 15 November 2005 an agreement was entered into between Israel and the Palestinian Authority aimed at opening the borders of Gaza to allow the free passage of persons and goods in and out of the territory. This agreement has yet to be fully implemented.
Israel continues with its construction of a wall within Palestinian territory in defiance of the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). To date, some 275 of the planned 670 kilometres of the wall have been built. The wall causes great hardship to Palestinian communities between the Green Line and the wall and to Palestinians in the vicinity of the wall. The former are denied easy access to family, hospitals and schools in the West Bank while the latter are denied access to their lands beyond the wall. Israel allows Palestinians to cultivate their lands beyond the wall by means of a permit system, which is administered in an arbitrary and humiliating manner. Some 40 per cent of the applications for such permits are refused.
To aggravate the situation, gates that allow Palestinians to cross the wall are few and often fail to open at scheduled times. As a consequence, many Palestinians are leaving their homes in the vicinity of the wall and becoming internally displaced persons.
Settlements continue to grow, particularly in the “closed zone” between the Green Line and the wall, which at present accommodates 76 per cent of the settler population in the West Bank. The three major settlement blocs - Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel - will effectively divide Palestinian territory into cantons or Bantustans. Settler violence remains a serious problem, particularly in the centre of Hebron, where settlers terrorize the local population.
The character of East Jerusalem is undergoing a major change as a result of the construction of the wall through Palestinian neighbourhoods. The clear purpose of the wall in the Jerusalem area is to reduce the number of Palestinians in the city by transferring them to the West Bank.
This causes major humanitarian problems: families are separated and access to hospitals, schools and the workplace are denied. In November 2005, European Union missions in Jerusalem issued a report in which they accused Israel of embarking on the encirclement of the city by the wall in order to achieve “the completion of the annexation of Jerusalem”.
Although Israel has abandoned its plan to build a wall through the Jordan Valley, its policies in that region are designed to drive Palestinians from the area. Settlements are expanding; Palestinian land is being confiscated, homes destroyed, access denied to non-Jordan Valley residents, and access to water and electricity curtailed. In short, life is being made increasingly difficult for residents in the Jordan Valley and neighbouring mountain ridges.
Other human rights violations continue. Some 9,000 prisoners remain in Israeli jails. Movement is seriously restricted by the wall, elaborate terminals through the wall, and checkpoints. Although the number of permanent checkpoints has decreased, “flying” or temporary checkpoints are on the increase. Restrictions on the freedom of movement are in large measure responsible for the prevailing humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory. Unemployment is high and over half the population lives below the official poverty line. Health and education services also suffer as a result of restrictions on movement. Women suffer disproportionately from the occupation.
In 2004, the International Court of Justice held that Palestinians should be compensated for damage they had suffered as a result of the construction of the wall. In the same year the General Assembly resolved that a register should be compiled to allow for the registration of claims for compensation. Unfortunately, little progress has been made with this register.
At present, the Quartet, comprising the United Nations, the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United States of America, has primary responsibility for resolving the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The basis for negotiations remains the road map of 2003, which is hopelessly out of date and which envisaged an end to the conflict by the end of 2005. It is suggested that the road map be revised to take account of present realities and the 2004 advisory opinion of ICJ. It is essential that the Quartet be guided more by human rights considerations and the Court’s advisory opinion in its handling of negotiations.
John Dugard, on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (PDF) E/CN.4/2006/29 (17 January 2006)