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UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


GA/SPD/162
11 October 1999



FOURTH COMMITTEE TAKES UP REPORT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE

TO INVESTIGATE ISRAELI PRACTICES

Israel’s Judaization of East Jerusalem through demographic transformation was aimed at encouraging Arabs to leave, the representative of Malaysia told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this afternoon.

As the Committee began its consideration of the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, he said that policy was evidenced by the increase in the number of Israeli inhabitants in the city, thereby ensuring that Israelis would remain the majority population.

Egypt’s representative said that the latest settlement activities in the occupied territories constituted the most dangerous part of Israeli practices. The latest examples of such practices joined the list of illegitimate decisions and laws carried out by the occupying power to alter the situation on the ground in its favour before the start of final status negotiations. It was no secret that the final objective of Israeli planning was the establishment of an axis of lands settled by Israelis extending from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, thus disrupting the geographic unity of the West Bank and dividing it in two.

The representative of the United States said the Committee was an anachronism, the existence of which was inconsistent with the joint efforts that Israel and the Palestinians were making to resolve their differences. He noted that the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, regarding the treatment of prisoners of war, applied to territories occupied by Israel since 1967. The United States opposed, however, the specific mention of Jerusalem in
resolutions under the related agenda item, because that served only to divert attention from the actual peace process. The same could be said of the 15 July Conference attended by some of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention.

The observer for Palestine stressed the need for the Israeli Government to respect the de jure applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied territories and to comply fully with its provisions. Progress in the Middle East peace process and a genuine improvement in the living conditions of the Palestinian people depended on Israel’s compliance with international law and international humanitarian law. The functioning of the Special Committee remained part and parcel of the work of the United Nations, she stressed.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Finland (on behalf of the European Union and associated countries), Senegal, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

Also this afternoon, the Committee decided that the final deadline for submission of draft resolutions on agenda item 89 [Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories] would be 2 November. The report and related documents of the Special Committee were introduced by that body’s Chairman, John de Saram (Sri Lanka).

The Representatives of Egypt and Syria, as well as the Observer for Palestine, spoke on procedural matters before that decision.

The Fourth Committee will continue its work at a date to be announced in the Journal.


Committee Work Programme

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to consider the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (document A/54/325).

The Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices was established by the General Assembly in its resolution 2443 (XXIII) of 19 December 1968. The Committee is composed of three Member States appointed by the President of the Assembly. Presently, the Committee is composed of its Chairman John de Saram (Sri Lanka), Absa Claude Diallo (Senegal) and Hasmy Agam (Malaysia). For the purposes of the report, the territories considered occupied territories are those remaining under Israeli occupation, namely the occupied Syrian Arab Golan, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza strip.

The materials before the Committee consisted of oral testimony of persons from the occupied territories; written material submitted by such persons and by the Governments of Jordan and Syria; and reports appearing in the Jerusalem Post, Ha’aretz; and The Jerusalem Times in 1999. The list of materials and documents used to prepare the report is contained in an annex.

The evidence before the Special Committee concerned such questions as the Israeli settlement policy; confiscation of land; house demolitions; revocation of residence permits in Jerusalem; water supply for domestic and agricultural use; movement of persons and goods; closures; treatment of prisoners and detainees; health conditions in the occupied territories; and the general economic and social situation in the area.

The report states that restrictions in the occupied territories with respect to land, housing and water, severely affect the Palestinians. The information made available to the Special Committee confirms that confiscation of Palestinian-owned land still continues. The establishment of new and expansion of existing settlements continued and accelerated markedly after the signature of the Wye River Memorandum in 1998, particularly subsequent to the unilateral suspension by Israel for six months of its implementation of the Memorandum. There are reportedly 194 Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Some Palestinian estimates placed the number of settlements at about 220.

Also according to the report, movement of Palestinians within and between parts of the occupied territories continues to be under control of the Israeli authorities. Requirements concerning identity cards and travel permits are complicated, and there is a system of checkpoints and closures. Among the positive developments during the period under review was a decline in the number of Palestinian administrative detainees, which has been attributed to the activities by Israeli human rights groups. The issue of torture has been raised repeatedly in connection with the treatment of Palestinian prisoners under interrogation, in particular those accused of having committed security-related offences.

The Special Committee concludes that there exists an all-encompassing sense of tension in the occupied territories. Rigorous implementation of laws, regulations and administrative measures by Israeli authorities creates a sense of fear and despondency among the inhabitants. During periods of violence, such exercise of control makes the lives of the Palestinian and Syrian peoples in the occupied territories even more unbearable. Bitterness at their treatment by the authorities and the sense of hopelessness are caused to a large extent by lack of progress in the peace process and absence of tangible benefits for the people of the occupied territories. The Special Committee welcomes the resumption of dialogue in the peace process and notes meetings between Palestinians and Israelis of the younger generation, which show what appears to be an increasing willingness to meet and communicate. However, the Committee also observes an apparent absence of sensitivity to circumstances in the occupied territories on the part of the Israeli authorities. As regards the general conditions of the Palestinians, the sense of alienation, exclusion and separation from their homeland remains a matter of anxiety and concern.

The Special Committee recommends that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in communication with the Secretary-General, consult with appropriate Israeli authorities with respect to permitting long-separated families in the occupied Palestinian territories and in the Syrian Golan to meet freely and often. Such consultations should also include the subjects of the entire process of detention and treatment of detainees; the use of physical force and torture; the effect of the occupation, including settlements, closures and restriction on movement, on the children of the occupied territories; facilitating access to educational centres; and ameliorating the conditions under which Palestinians in Gaza travel from Gaza into Israel through the Erez border crossing.

The Special Committee considers it especially important that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in consultation with the Secretary-General, establish a system of continuous communication with the Israeli authorities to improve the lives of the Palestinian and Syrian peoples of the occupied territories. The Special Committee also believes that it is important for the Committee to have access to the occupied territories in order to witness for itself the actual human rights situation there and to ascertain the views of the Israeli Government on the subject.

The Committee also had before it the Special Committee’s first periodic report (A/54/73), which covers the period from 6 November to 31 January 1999 and contains a summary of articles on the matters within the terms of reference of the Special Committee from newspapers Ha’aretz and the Jerusalem Post, published in Israel, and The Jerusalem Times, published in the occupied territories.

According to the summarized articles on the human rights situation in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the part of the area fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority (Area A), would increase from 3 to 18.2 per cent and Israel would withdraw from 13 per cent of Area C. As a result, the Palestinians would have full or partial control over 40 per cent of the West Bank, while Israelis would control the remaining 60 per cent. The document also contains reports of incidents when Palestinian residents of the occupied territories objected to Israeli settlement practices and land development there, and of settlers seizing Palestinian land and establishing makeshift operations in several locations in the West Bank.

The report also contains articles about land confiscation in the occupied territories and violent confrontations over the construction of settlements, the plans for which – according to the articles – have been accelerated before the implementation of the Wye agreement. The Wye Memorandum states that “neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the statute of the West Bank and Gaza strip in accordance with the Interim Agreement”, the report stated. However, then Prime Minister Netanyahu stated on 31 October 1998 that by the year 2000, construction would be completed at Har Homa. On 15 November, members of the Council of Jewish Settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip stated that they would continue to establish facts on the ground in advance of a pullback. Construction of roads also continued in the occupied territories.

The Special Committee also transmits summaries from articles regarding confiscation and demolition of houses built without permits, and restrictions affecting movement of Palestinians within and outside the occupied territories. Following violent incidents, the Israeli authorities on numerous occasions resorted to closures of Palestinian villages, imposing curfews and setting up roadblocks throughout the West Bank to prevent residents from leaving their homes. Some publications contain information about delays and difficulties in granting authorizations and identification papers to the Palestinians by the Israeli authorities; incidents at checkpoints; interrogation procedures; administrative detention and imprisonment and their conditions.

On the question of the use of force, the report transmits summarized articles about clashes between the Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops, as well as about use of rubber bullets, tear gas and live ammunition by the authorities. Violent incidents in many cases led to injuries and death on both sides. Aspects of the administration of justice are also covered, as well as economic, social and cultural effects of the Israeli system of regulation and enforcement.

The last chapter of the report is devoted to the human rights situation in the occupied Syrian Arab Golan, where, the report stated, settlement policies, similar to those in other occupied territories, were pursued. On 4 January 1999, the Knesset plenum approved the first reading of a bill that would require any Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights to be approved by an absolute majority of 61 members of the Knesset and a simple majority of citizens voting in a national referendum. On 26 January, the Knesset gave its final approval to the so-called Golan Heights bill. However, due to a change in the bill approved by the Knesset, the requirement for holding a referendum would only take effect after the Knesset legislated a basic law on the matter.

The Committee also had before it the second periodic report of the Special Committee (A/54/73/Add.1), which covers the period February through August 1999. The newest evidence before the Committee, the report states, includes examples of Israeli practices relating to land, housing, use of water, demonstrations in protest of Israeli actions, road construction, identity cards and travel permits.

It is reported that the Israeli Interior Ministry would defend its policy of revoking East Jerusalem identity cards by introducing a new plan. The Israeli authorities would conduct a census within Jerusalem city limits before the end of 1999. According to the proposal, the citizens of East Jerusalem would be divided into five categories. Those living within the borders of the city and included in the 1968 census would have permanent status and would enjoy full social benefits. Other categories would have no entitlement to social benefits – depending on their place of residence, they would be given different kinds of residence status and identification papers. The report also contains information on the closures and the manner of the implementation of restrictions. It also addresses the question of the use of force; aspects of the administration of justice; and economic, social and cultural effects that the Israeli system of regulation and enforcement has on the lives of the people of the occupied territories.

The Committee also had before it reports of the Secretary-General regarding his actions undertaken pursuant to General Assembly resolutions 53/53, 53/54, 53/55, 53/56 and 53/57 of 3 December 1998 (documents A/54/181, A/54/182, A/54/183, A/54/184 and A/54/185). In those reports, the Secretary-General states, among other things, that all necessary facilities were provided to the Special Committee on Israeli practices, and the Department of Public Information continued to provide press coverage of the Special Committee meetings. The Department also continued to disseminate information on the activities of the Special Committee and provide support to its field missions. The Secretary-General also states that in view of his reporting responsibilities under the resolutions, he addressed several notes verbales requesting information of steps taken by the Israeli Government concerning the implementation of the relevant provisions of General Assembly resolutions No replies had been received at the time of the preparation of the reports. The Secretary-General had drawn the attention of all States Parties to the Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of and to relevant paragraphs of resolutions.

Statements

JOHN DE SARAM (Sri Lanka), Chairman of the Special Committee To Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, introduced that body’s annual report (document A/54/325) and two periodic reports (document A/54/73 and Add.1). He said that among the significant issues listed in the report were the building of new settlements and the expansion of existing ones; construction of bypass roads used only by settlers with a view to connecting settlements; fragmentation of the land as a consequence of settlements, bypass roads and stone quarries; negative environmental effects on lands surrounding the settlements, usually located on land of high elevation; and the marked increase of settlement activity after the signing of the Wye Memorandum in 1998, particularly subsequent to the suspension by Israel of its implementation.

He said the Special Committee had been informed that the Palestinian people were greatly disadvantaged in the use of water – settlements and settlers were considered, with respect to water, to be in a very privileged position. Also cited were restrictions on constructions of Palestinian housing; demolition of houses constructed or expanded without the required authorization; the terminations on entitlement to reside in East Jerusalem; restrictions on movements into and within East Jerusalem; the system and conditions of arbitrary as well as the arbitrary extension of detention periods; the disruption in employment, trade, education and health care.

FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, observer for Palestine, expressed regret over the delay in the issuance of the Special Committee’s reports. The timely distribution of documents was necessary to the Palestinian observer delegation. The Special Committee’s mandate continued to be relevant and its work must continue, she stressed.

She said that while there had been some progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track of the Middle East peace process, violations by Israel of international law and international humanitarian law, as well as General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, continued. The aggregation of abuses continued to cause hardships to the Palestinian people. Those included the demolition of homes, closures, administrative detention and physical harassment. Armed Israeli settlers continued to perpetrate violence against Palestinians. Israel’s policy of creating facts on the ground in the occupied territories had been an integral part of its efforts to Judaize the territories, including East Jerusalem, and threatened to destroy the peace process.

Citing the international consensus on the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949 concerning the treatment of prisoners of war, she said that for the first time in the history of the Convention, a conference addressing a specific situation had been held – last July. It was imperative that the Israeli Government respect the de jure applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied territories and comply fully with its provisions. Progress in the Middle East peace process and a genuine improvement in the living conditions of the Palestinian people depended on Israel’s compliance with international law and international humanitarian law. The functioning of the Special Committee remained part and parcel of the work of the United Nations.

DOUG KEENE (United States) said that the resolutions under the agenda item on the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices contained outdated language that failed to support the peace process. While the difficulties on the long road to peace could not be ignored, the many accomplishments of the negotiating parties should not be minimized. The Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum signed on September 4 was the latest of a long line of agreements leading to permanent status negotiations. It was necessary to assist in building confidence for the resumption of negotiations, not to lessen it.

He urged Member States to delete the standard call for the Special Committee to continue its work. The Committee was an anachronism. Its existence was inconsistent with the joint efforts that Israel and the Palestinians were making to resolve their differences. Its work, such as it was, did nothing to support the cause of peace. The Governments that supported the peace process should look for opportunities to create an environment of reconciliation between the parties to help attain the goal of just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region.

The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 applied to territories occupied by Israel since 1967, he said. However, his delegation opposed the specific mention of Jerusalem in those resolutions. In much the same way that the 15 July conference – attended by some of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention – served only to divert attention from the actual peace process, those references inappropriately sought to prejudge arrangements, which, in reality, could only be determined by direct negotiations between the parties.

KATRI SILFVERBERG (Finland), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated countries, said the Middle-East peace process had got a new impetus after the signing of the Sharm-el-Sheikh Memorandum. That decisive step gave new confidence and optimism for accelerated final-status talks. Moreover, it was an important move towards the goal of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region. She hoped the implementation of the
Memorandum would improve the serious economic situation in the Palestinian territories and alleviate the feeling of despair there. The European Union encouraged the Israeli Government to fully meet its obligations in promoting the conditions for economic development. That would lead to a reduction of tension and violence in the region and eventually to social and political stability.

The newly rebuilt trust between the parties was a very important step towards reaching that goal, she continued. It was of utmost importance that the parties further build on that and fulfill their obligations. They should refrain from any unilateral acts, which might become a source of new tensions or prejudge the outcome of the final-status negotiations. The Union condemned in the strongest terms all acts of terrorism that had followed the signing of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum and strongly supported the stated determination of the parties to deny success to those seeking to frustrate the peace process by provocative actions.

The Union still viewed with concern some policies applied by the Israeli Government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, she continued. However, it was convinced that the questions addressed by the Special Committee would better be dealt with in a different context, which was more favourable to the spirit of compromise and mutual understanding. The breakthrough reached in Sharm el-Sheikh had already led to the resumption of the negotiations on permanent status. It envisaged a speedy implementation of outstanding commitments under the Interim Agreement. The Union wanted to reiterate its firm commitment to a just and comprehensive settlement in the Middle East based on the Madrid and Oslo accords. It was also ready to be fully associated with the implementation of the Memorandum, if the parties so wished, through a significant political and economic contribution, and to contribute to the issues to be negotiated between the parties under the final-status negotiations.

AHMED ABOUL GHEIT (Egypt) said it was regrettable that the report once again put before the General Assembly a bitter picture of the policies and practices of an occupying power, which was intent on altering the situation on the ground and imposing a new de facto situation in the occupied territories. It was not only clearly defying all resolutions of international legitimacy and rules of international law, but also ignoring its obligations as an occupying power in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention. The most dangerous part of the Israeli practices related to settlement activities. The latest examples of such practices joined the list of illegal and illegitimate decisions and laws carried out by the occupying power to alter the situation on the ground in its favour before the commencement of the negotiating process. It was no secret that the final objective of that Israeli planning was the establishment of an axis of lands settled by Israelis extending from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, thus disrupting the geographic unity of the West Bank and dividing it in two.

The report also described a number of disturbing figures and facts concerning exploitation of water resources, the policies of the Israeli authorities in the field of housing, building permits, demolition of Palestinian homes and the encroachment on the Palestinian people in the ownership of those homes, particularly in occupied East Jerusalem, he continued. Administrative detention, checkpoints, partial closures and heavy searches were also cause for concern. All those measures did not conform to an atmosphere of peace.

The high Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention had held a Conference in Geneva in July, he said. The Final Statement issued by the Conference unequivocally confirmed the applicability of the Convention to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and requested Israel to implement scrupulously its relevant obligations. Egypt believed that the policy of Israeli settlements came at the forefront of the practices that threatened the future of peace in the region. The rights of the Palestinian people included a right to their land, a sovereign right to their natural resources, and a right to a dignified life, as well as a natural right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent state. Continuation of Israeli settlement policies in the occupied territories, particularly in East Jerusalem, would destroy the chance to achieve peace, since it distracted negotiations from their substance and voided any meaning from them.

The practices of Israel in the occupied Syrian Golan were no less dangerous, he said. Reports of a new law approved by the Israeli Authorities, granting settlers in the Golan additional benefits and incentives, totally contradicted what the new Israeli Government had publicly stated about its intention to resume negotiations with Syria. He requested the Israeli Government to clarify its position in that regard. The formation of a new Israeli Government had brought hope for all for the resumption of the peace process. That hope had been reinvigorated by the signature in Sharm el-Sheikh of the Implementation Agreement of the Wye River Memorandum. Peace would be achieved when Israel implemented its obligations in accordance with the agreements reached seriously and in good faith.

IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal) said that following the signing of the Sharm el-Sheikh accords between the new Israeli Government and the Palestinian authorities hope had been reborn for the return of peace to the Middle East region. He welcomed the signing last week of an agreement making it possible for Palestinians to travel from Gaza to the West Bank. Those were concrete actions which should be welcomed and increased in order to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians in the occupied territories.

He said that while such confidence-building measures would create an atmosphere propitious to future negotiations, much remained to be done. Several illegal measures continued to be applied in the occupied Syrian Golan despite diplomatic efforts being made elsewhere. The building of illegal settlements, particularly in East Jerusalem, had not stopped, despite repercussions in the international community. The Palestinian population in East Jerusalem had become a minority. Repeated violations of human rights as well as difficult detention conditions and punitive measures against families, were clearly contrary to the expectations of the Palestinian people at a time when there were prospects for future peaceful coexistence. In order for the region to achieve peace and security, it was important to build on recent dialogue. The Special Committee still had an important role to play to that end.

HASMY AGAM (Malaysia) expressed regret over the Special Committee’s inability to visit the occupied territories and for its members to see for themselves the situation prevailing there. The Government of Israel had consistently declined to cooperate with the Special Committee and had mocked and criticized its reports as a “pointless, ritualized and one-sided propaganda exercise” that did not tell the whole story. Surely the onus lay not with the Special Committee, but with the Israeli authorities for not allowing the Committee to enter the occupied territories, which would ensure “a more balanced” report that the Israeli Government would like to see.

He said the Israeli Government’s policies in the occupied territories continued to be harsh and repressive, affecting virtually every aspect of life. The cumulative effect of those measures had been to traumatize the Arabs under occupation, who lived in an atmosphere of great stress, frustration, despair and despondency, and who felt alienated and peripheralized, bearing the characteristics of a subdued and subjugated people living under an overwhelming military and security authority. The situation was particularly acute in East Jerusalem, which Israel intended to integrate with the rest of the city as its capital.

Through systematic confiscation of Arab lands and houses, the demolition of homes for security or administrative reasons, confiscation or revocation of residence permits, disqualification of residence rights and other forms of judicial/administrative requirements or procedures, life for Arab Jerusalemites had become increasingly difficult. The purpose of all those measures was to encourage the Arabs to leave the city – a deliberate policy of depleting East Jerusalem of its Arab inhabitants – described by some as a form of “ethnic cleansing” or “quiet deportation”. That policy of Judaization of Arab East Jerusalem through the city’s demographic transformation was evidenced by the increase in the number of Israeli inhabitants, thereby ensuring that Israelis would remain the majority population.

ZAID AL-HADIDI (Jordan) said the Special Committee’s work had a serious effect in the region. The Israeli practices described in the report were undermining the economic and humanitarian situation in the occupied territories. That was not propitious to the peace process. Settlement activities in the occupied territories were a flagrant violation of human rights. Those activities were illegal and went against a peaceful solution in the region. It would be useless to treat the signs of the malady without addressing the root causes of the illness. First of all, it was necessary to resolve the Palestinian issue, which was the key to peace in the region. Lebanese and Syrian problems should be resolved, as well. It was necessary to re-establish confidence and partnership between the parties concerned. There had been hope that the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum would re-launch the peace process, he continued, but Israeli actions had had a negative impact on the lives on the people in the occupied territories. Those actions included demolition of houses, continued building of settlements, withdrawal of identification papers and administrative closures. All that led to a feeling of frustration and lack of hope among the people of the occupied territories and created instability in the region. He hoped the new Israeli Government would help create an atmosphere of peace.

ALI AL-HOSANI (United Arab Emirates) said that despite the signing of the Sharm el-Sheikh Agreement, the Israeli Government was continuing its exploitation of the Arab people in East Jerusalem and in the Syrian Golan. It was continuing its policies of torture, arrest, arbitrary detention and the confiscation of Palestinian identity cards in order to change the demographic character of East Jerusalem.

He supported the statement by the Special Committee Chairman on the need to establish a system of contacts with the Israeli Government in order to improve the difficult situation under which the Palestinian people and the peoples of the other occupied territories lived. Israel must allow the Special Committee to enter the occupied territories so that its members could see for themselves the conditions prevailing there.


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