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48. Mr. Falk (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967) said that he had not yet received permission to visit the area. In his report (A/63/326), he had described the situation as accurately as possible, denounced human rights violations, and assessed existing issues in the light of international humanitarian law, international human rights law and, in particular, the duties of Israel as the occupying Power.
49. After the Annapolis summit of 2007, Israel had increased the number of checkpoints and obstacles to free movement and had continued to build settlements in the West Bank. Although the ceasefire signed in June 2008 between Gaza and Israel had led to a decrease in political violence, it had not brought about an easing of the regime of confinement and siege imposed on the Gazan population. Palestinians who sought medical treatment outside Gaza were frequently denied exit permits. That denial had caused a number of tragic deaths and severe mental and physical suffering and was a violation of the duty of the occupying Power. The restrictions imposed by Israel could not be justified by security concerns and were a violation of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibited the “collective penalties” imposed on the population of Gaza since July 2007.
50. Recalling the Israeli Government’s refusal to comply with the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (A/ES-10/273 and Corr.1), he called on the Security Council to ensure implementation of that advisory opinion and said that the General Assembly should ask the Court to issue a second advisory opinion, on the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, which was a fundamental norm of customary international law. Given the persistent violation of Palestinians’ rights and the hardships they had endured during more than 40 years of occupation, it was incumbent on the United Nations to exercise its responsibility to protect.
51. Restrictions on the individual and collective rights of Palestinians living in Gaza exceeded necessary security measures. The refusal to grant exit permits to an estimated 250 students with fellowships for study abroad and the decision not to allow the Director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights to attend conferences outside Gaza were but two examples of the many restrictions that hindered the development of an educated and informed Palestinian society.
52. Recalling the six recommendations contained in his report, he said that all relevant United Nations agencies should take serious note of Israel’s failure to fulfil its Annapolis summit pledges to halt settlement expansion, ease freedom of movement in the West Bank and attend to the humanitarian needs of Palestinians under occupation; the United Nations should explore its own responsibility with respect to the well-being of Palestinians living under unlawful conditions of occupation, with a particular focus on abuses of border control, freedom and independence of journalists and the general crisis in health care, particularly in Gaza; members of the international community, including the United Nations, should resume economic assistance as a matter of the highest priority; and, with a view to ensuring respect for the Geneva Conventions, the Government of Switzerland, as the depositary of those instruments, should be urged to convene a meeting of States parties to explore how they might carry out their legal duties in that regard.
53. The responsibility of Member States towards Gaza’s civilian population depended neither on whether Hamas satisfied the political conditions set by Israel, nor on whether the ceasefire held.
54. Ms. Schonmann (Israel) said that she was dismayed, but hardly surprised, by the Special Rapporteur’s report. The review of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, initially scheduled during the March 2008 session of the Human Rights Council and later postponed until September 2008, had not taken place owing to pressure from certain Member States, despite changes in the situation on the ground. As a result, both the report and the very integrity of the Council had been undermined. Moreover, it was surprising that a person who held such highly politicized views had been appointed Special Rapporteur, given that mandate holders were supposed to be impartial and objective and to possess personal integrity. It should also be noted that, with the exception of certain Israeli sources, the identities of the sources cited in the report had not been revealed.
55. The report’s legitimization of Hamas, a group recognized throughout the world as a terrorist organization, was an affront. Its repeated assertions that Israel had imposed certain conditions that Hamas must fulfil in order not to be considered a terrorist organization were unfounded; the Quartet, followed by the international community as a whole, had imposed those conditions. The biased nature of the report was demonstrated by the fact that it dealt at length with Israel’s defensive measures but failed to use the word “terrorism”, speaking instead of a “right to resist”, and by the fact that it criticized the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) for closing certain institutions but turned a blind eye to the true nature of those institutions. The report painted a bleak picture of health conditions in Gaza and the West Bank but failed to recognize that Israel had granted tens of thousands of Palestinians permission to enter its territory for medical treatment and that its own population was traumatized. Moreover, it wrongly asserted that the Gaza Strip was an occupied territory over which Israel exercised effective control. The report also described restrictions on the entry of goods into Gaza but failed to mention that border crossings were regularly attacked by terrorists and that humanitarian assistance channels were often abused.
56. Israel supported self-determination for the Palestinian people and a two-State solution, but also had to protect itself. In searching for answers to such questions, Israel was ready to engage in a constructive discussion. It was regrettable that the Special Rapporteur’s report could not contribute to such a debate.
57. Mr. Mansour (Observer for Palestine) said that he hoped the Special Rapporteur would be allowed to visit the region in order to assess the situation for himself. The Palestinian Authority would do everything in its power to facilitate such a visit.
58. Regarding the Israeli representative’s criticism that the Special Rapporteur’s report lacked objectivity, he recalled that numerous United Nations reports denounced Israel’s refusal to fulfil its obligations under the road map, end settlement activities, dismantle checkpoints in the West Bank, lift the siege of Gaza, reopen institutions in East Jerusalem and release prisoners — demands also made by the Quartet and the Council of the European Union. It was high time for Israel to understand why it faced such massive opposition and to make a good faith effort to fulfil its obligations under international law and respect both the Geneva Conventions and the relevant United Nations resolutions so that the peace process might be advanced and a treaty granting the Palestinian people their own State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, concluded. The Palestinian people, assisted by the international community as a whole, were making great efforts to arrive at a peace treaty. Israel should modify its behaviour on the ground and respect the provisions of international law, in particular international humanitarian law.
59. Mr. Ramadan (Lebanon) said that, assuming that the International Court of Justice agreed to conduct a legal assessment of the Israeli occupation from the perspective of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, he was curious as to how the international community would be able to induce Israel to respect the Court’s opinion, particularly since the Security Council was failing to fulfil its responsibilities in respect of peace and security in Palestine. Recalling article 50, paragraph 3, of the Protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts (Protocol I), which stated that the presence within the civilian population of individuals who did not come within the definition of civilians did not deprive the population of its civilian character, and article 51, paragraph 2, of the same Protocol, which stated that the civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, should not be the object of attack, he wondered whether Israel’s indiscriminate attacks against civilian areas — even if a priori they were targeted at combatants — might be considered flagrant and systematic violations by the occupying Power. Furthermore, given that the occupying Power maintained a siege of Gaza and controlled its entry/exit points, he wondered whether it was correct, from a legal perspective, to state that the Gaza Strip was still under occupation. Lastly, recalling the non-violent struggle espoused by Gandhi, he wondered whether Member States had an obligation under international humanitarian law and human rights law to end that siege, which was illegal.
60. Mr. Gonnet (France), speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed regret that thus far the Special Rapporteur had been unable to visit either Israel or the occupied territories. He called on the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur by granting him free and unfettered access and asked how the international community could contribute in that regard. Furthermore, he expressed concern at the violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the occupied territories and wondered what practical measures United Nations agencies could take to improve the situation, in cooperation with the Israeli and Palestinian authorities.
61. Mr. Prabowo (Indonesia) said that, 60 years after the Nakba and despite the international community’s efforts, the fundamental rights of the Palestinians living in the occupied territories continued to be violated and their access to basic services restricted. The health situation in Gaza and the West Bank, in particular, was extremely serious. He wondered what the international community could do to advance the crisis effectively.
62. In July 2008, Indonesia had hosted, in Jakarta, the Ministerial Conference on Capacity-Building for Palestine, which it had co-chaired with South Africa. Participants in the Conference, which had been organized in the framework of the New Asia-Africa Strategic Partnership (NAASP), had pledged to implement, over a period of at least five years and on a needs basis, projects aimed at accelerating the development of the Palestinian people. The outcome document of the Conference had been published as document A/62/946-S/2008/58. Any Member State wishing to contribute to the initiative should contact the Indonesian delegation.
63. Echoing the Special Rapporteur, he deplored the fact that Israel continued to build settlements and restrict freedom of movement in the West Bank, in disregard of the Annapolis Understanding. He also deplored the construction of the separation wall, the excessive use of force and the harassment of journalists at border crossings.
64. Mr. Naimeni (South Africa), aligning his delegation with the statement made by the representative of Indonesia, said that the peace process had reached a critical juncture. The deadline set at the Annapolis Summit was drawing near and, despite assurances that negotiations were continuing, the situation on the ground had not improved significantly. Where human rights were concerned, the situation had worsened. The denial of access to the occupied territories would be highlighted continuously at both the Human Rights Council and the Committee. He wished to know what additional support the international community could provide in that regard.
65. Mr. Ja’afari (Syrian Arab Republic) said that the Special Rapporteur’s report stated some important truths regarding the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. Recalling that much had been said about Israel’s violation of those rights, he stressed that a key element of the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations was Israel’s legal responsibility, a responsibility which Israel had shirked for decades, for reasons known to all. He wondered what could be done to ensure that those recommendations were implemented effectively and mechanisms for holding Israel accountable legally and politically established, so that Israel was forced to end its crimes against the Palestinian people in the occupied territories. By refusing to allow the Special Rapporteur to visit the occupied territories, Israel was committing not only a violation but also a crime since it was disregarding the will and determination of the international community. Dozens of other special rapporteurs and commissions of inquiry had also been refused access by Israel when attempting to fulfil their mandates, simply because it was not currently possible to hold Israel accountable. The Special Rapporteur’s recommendations should, therefore, be included in a resolution so that Israel would be held accountable should it refuse to implement them.
66. Mr. García Collada (Cuba) said that, despite the commitments made at Annapolis in 2007, the Palestinian people continued to be massacred and Israel continued to build settlements and hinder freedom of movement. His delegation condemned and denounced the annexation of land, the excessive use of force, the failure to make any distinction between combatants and civilians, the inhumane treatment of children and the construction of the wall, the illegality of which had been reaffirmed by the International Court of Justice in June 2008. He wondered how the international community could ensure that an opinion of the Court was implemented when, on 29 occasions, the United States had exercised its right to veto in the Security Council to prevent Palestinians from enjoying their rights.
67. Mr. Saeed (Sudan), welcoming the report of the Special Rapporteur, said that Israel continued to flout United Nations resolutions on strengthening the legal rights of peoples living under occupation, in particular their right to self-determination. The occupying Power’s lack of credibility when it came to peace initiatives was demonstrated by its continued settlement building and the proliferation of checkpoints. The fact that it continued to deny its ongoing violations of both international humanitarian law and the Fourth Geneva Convention and refused to implement Security Council resolutions went against the will of the international community.
68. He wondered what destructive consequences the Israeli occupation would have on the food and health situation of the inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank, whose suffering spoke loudly to the human conscience; how the international community could assist the civilian population; and what the Organization could do about Israel’s violations of the freedom of the press and its aggressive behaviour towards journalists
69. Mr. Falk (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967) expressed regret that Israel considered it acceptable to attack him when throughout his career he had championed justice and freedom and had advocated non-violent solutions. He hoped to be able to engage in dialogue with Israel, which was making a mistake by preventing him from entering its territory and the occupied territories. By refusing to halt its policy of settlement building, in accordance with the Annapolis Understanding, Israel was not only violating the Geneva Convention but also giving the impression that it did not truly seek peace. The plight of Palestinians must be made known and International Court of Justice opinions, international law and human rights law respected. Any impartial person would have reached the conclusions contained in his report.
The meeting rose at 1 p.m.
This record is subject to correction. Corrections should be sent under the signature of a member of the delegation concerned within one week of the date of publication to the Chief of the Official Records Editing Section, room DC2-750, 2 United Nations Plaza, and incorporated in a copy of the record.
Corrections will be issued after the end of the session, in a separate corrigendum for each Committee.