The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) continues to be a matter of grave concern. Although the road map promoted by the Quartet offers some prospect of peace in the region, it is important to record that the past six months have seen continued violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
The Government of Israel has justified its actions in the OPT on the grounds of self defence and portrayed them as anti-terrorism measures. That Israel has legitimate security concerns cannot be denied. On the other hand, some limit must be placed on the violation of human rights in the name of counter-terrorism. A balance must be struck between respect for human rights and the interests of security.
During the past few months the construction of the Wall, separating Israel from the West Bank, has been frenetically pursued. The Wall does not follow the Green Line, which marks the de facto boundary between Israel and Palestine. Instead, it incorporates substantial areas of the West Bank into Israel. Over 210,000 Palestinians will be seriously affected by the Wall. Palestinians living between the Wall and the Green Line will be effectively cut off from their farmlands and workplaces, schools, health clinics and other social services. This is likely to lead to a new generation of refugees or internally displaced persons.
The Wall has all the features of a permanent structure. The fact that it will incorporate half of the settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem suggests that it is designed to further entrench the position of the settlers. The evidence strongly suggests that Israel is determined to create facts on the ground amounting to de facto annexation. Annexation of this kind, known as conquest in international law, is prohibited by the Charter of the United Nations and the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Special Rapporteur submits that the time has come to condemn the Wall as an unlawful act of annexation in the same way that Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights has been condemned as unlawful. Similarly, no recognition should be given by the international community to Israel’s control over Palestinian territory enclosed by the Wall.
The restrictions on freedom of movement continue to create a humanitarian crisis in the OPT. Although curfews have not affected as many people in 2003 as in the previous year, they still disrupt Palestinian life on a broad scale. The number of checkpoints has increased during the past six months. These restraints on the movement of goods and persons give rise to unemployment, poverty, poor health care and interrupted education and, in addition, they result in the humiliation of the Palestinian people.
The death toll in the conflict continues to rise as a result of suicide bombings and military incursions. The Israeli practice of assassinating suspected terrorists has inflicted death and injury not only on those targeted but on a substantial number of innocent civilians in the vicinity of such actions. The legality of such measures is highly questionable.
There are some 6,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons and detention centres. Although Israel has agreed to release 540 of them, its refusal to release more prisoners constitutes a major obstacle in the way of peace in the region. Sadly, allegations of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment continue to be made. The Special Rapporteur therefore calls for an independent inquiry into such allegations.
The destruction of property in the OPT continues unabated. During the past eight months, Gaza has been particularly affected by military action that has caused large-scale devastation to houses and agricultural land.
Israel’s undertaking to curb the growth of settlements has not been implemented. On the contrary, settlements have continued to grow at an unacceptable pace. This phenomenon, together with the construction of the Wall, suggests that territorial expansion remains an essential feature of Israel’s policies and practices in the OPT.
The occupation of the OPT continues to result in widespread violations of human rights, affecting both civil and socio-economic rights, and of international humanitarian law. Israel’s justification for these actions is that they are necessary in the interests of its own national security.
The lawfulness of Israel’s response is to be measured in accordance with the principle of proportionality.
The Special Rapporteur finds it difficult to accept that the excessive use of force that disregards the distinction between civilians and combatants, the creation of a humanitarian crisis by restrictions on the mobility of goods and people, the killing and inhuman treatment of children, the widespread destruction of property and, now, territorial expansion can be justified as a proportionate response to the violence and threats of violence to which Israel is subjected.
As stressed in this report, the construction of the Wall within the West Bank and the continued expansion of settlements, which, on the face of it, have more to do with territorial expansion, de facto annexation or conquest, raise serious doubts about the good faith of Israel’s justifications in the name of security.
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