6. The first three weeks of 2009 were marked by the Israeli military invasion of the Gaza Strip. In the more than three weeks of relentless Israeli bombardment and ground offensive, more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed and more than 5,300 injured. The majority of victims were Palestinian civilians, including many children and women. Among the casualties were also United Nations staff and medical and humanitarian personnel. In addition to the loss of innocent life caused, the Israeli military assault caused massive destruction and damage to Palestinian homes, properties and infrastructure, including some 21,000 homes, thousands of businesses and power, water, sanitation, medical, education and agricultural infrastructure. More than 50 United Nations facilities were also destroyed or damaged by the Israeli bombardment. This unprecedented military onslaught followed many months of a suffocating Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, during which all border crossings were closed and only an absolute minimum of humanitarian aid was allowed to pass into the Territory, causing severe shortages of all basic and essential supplies, including food, medicine and fuel, causing a dramatic rise in poverty, unemployment, hunger and disease. Israel explained its military operation and the continued closure of crossings by the need to ensure its security and stop rocket fire by Palestinian militants. The Committee has condemned Israel’s military operations against the Palestinian civilian population. It has also denounced rocket attacks on Israel and has called for the cessation of these activities by Palestinian armed groups. The Committee strongly condemns the killing of innocent civilians by either side.
7. The Security Council and the General Assembly immediately engaged the parties and the international community with a view to stopping the military activities and violence and working towards a long-term solution of the conflict. In this regard, on 8 January 2009, the Council adopted resolution 1860 (2009), and the Assembly, on 16 January 2009, at its resumed tenth emergency special session, adopted resolution ES-10/18. The conflict in the Gaza Strip seriously disrupted the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on a permanent settlement of the conflict which had relaunched in late 2007 following the Annapolis conference.
8. The Committee has stressed that Israel was waging the military aggression in the Gaza Strip in contravention of international humanitarian and human rights law and United Nations resolutions, and without regard for the life, safety and well-being of the Palestinian civilian population already suffering from more than 40 years of occupation. The Committee reminded Israel that under the Fourth Geneva Convention an occupying Power is obligated to protect the civilian population under its occupation, including through the provision of basic services, such as food and medicines. Israel’s prolonged closure of the border crossings, which has obstructed the free movement of persons and goods, including access of humanitarian aid and personnel, and stifled any normal economic life, is a clear violation of the Convention. In this regard, it is clear that the Gaza Strip remains a part of the Occupied Territory by virtue of the fact that Israel fully controls the borders, airspace, naval waters and every single aspect of the daily life of the Palestinian population.
9. The Committee emphasized in its report to the General Assembly at its sixty-third session that, despite the resumption of the political process and intensified international engagement during 2008, the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, remained a cause of great concern. Throughout the year, the Israeli army continued to conduct military operations in Palestinian population centres in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, causing the deaths and injuries of many Palestinian civilians. Israeli actions included extrajudicial killings, house demolitions and arrests. The Government of Israel, in violation of international law, United Nations resolutions and its obligations under the road map, also continued to construct and to expand Israeli settlements, including in and around East Jerusalem. The unlawful construction of the wall on Palestinian land also continued in contravention of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (see A/ES-10/273 and Corr.1). The number of Israeli checkpoints throughout the West Bank exceeded 600, severely restricting freedom of movement of people and goods, isolating East Jerusalem from the rest of the Territory, stifling Palestinian economic activity and further worsening the daily hardships experienced by the Palestinian population.
10. The Committee reiterates that, without real improvement in the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the negotiations will be doomed to failure, since the two are clearly linked and mutually reinforcing, and reminds Israel, the occupying Power, of its obligations under international law. The continuation of unlawful policies of creating facts on the ground pose a grave threat to the prospects for a just and peaceful negotiated solution of the conflict. Moreover, they preclude any possibility of improving the economic and humanitarian situation and are making a two-State solution virtually impossible to achieve.
11. The Committee is strongly opposed to the illegal construction and expansion of settlements, as well as the unlawful construction of the wall in the West Bank, including in and around East Jerusalem, and finds these activities incompatible with negotiations on the permanent settlement. The Committee is also of the view that Israel must release, immediately and unconditionally, all Palestinian prisoners, including children, women and imprisoned members of the Cabinet and the Palestinian Legislative Council. The Committee also stresses the need for Israel, the occupying Power, to cease all measures of collective punishment of the Palestinian people, which it has been imposing in direct contravention of international law.
12. The Committee’s position is that the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territory must end without conditions, which should allow the Palestinian people to establish an independent State on all territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and to exercise their inalienable rights, including the right to self-determination. The Committee firmly supports the two-State solution based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 1397 (2002) and 1515 (2003). The Committee is convinced that only serious and sustained international engagement will bring about a peaceful and negotiated settlement of all outstanding issues and reverse the growing support for radical forces that promote violent and unilateral approaches to ending the conflict, for which there is no military solution. Moreover, any diplomatic process needs to be buttressed by urgent and meaningful steps on the ground.
13. The Committee remains concerned about the internal Palestinian divisions blocking national unity of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip under the Palestinian Authority. It expresses support for all efforts of Arab and other countries, as well as the initiatives of the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, aimed at promoting reconciliation and restoring Palestinian national unity, which are essential if progress is to be made towards the achievement of a permanent settlement of the question of Palestine. It is of paramount importance that the various Palestinian factions put the national interests and aspirations of the Palestinian people ahead of any partisan concerns.
14. The Committee is deeply concerned about the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip as a result of the Israeli invasion. Basic services have to be restored immediately and aid agencies, including the United Nations, should have unhindered and safe access to the Gaza Strip. It is imperative to embark without delay on the process of recovery and reconstruction of the thousands of destroyed and damaged homes, schools, hospitals and vital civilian infrastructure. The isolation of the Gaza Strip from the rest of the Palestinian Territory and from the international community has to be lifted with the opening of crossings, and concrete measures must be put into place to restore normal economic activity. Israel, the occupying Power, is obliged to create the necessary conditions, including reparations for reconstruction of civil structures destroyed during the war. The international community, which has a long history of consistent support of the Palestinian Authority, should contribute to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and should continue development projects in the West Bank. The Committee, in that regard, emphasizes the critical importance of international donor assistance for the functioning of the Palestinian institutions at this time of crisis. It urges the international donor community to continue providing assistance and to address the humanitarian and economic situation in the Gaza Strip as a matter of urgency.
15. The Committee reaffirms that the United Nations should play an active and facilitating role in these efforts and maintain its permanent responsibility with respect to all aspects of the question of Palestine until it is resolved in all its aspects, in conformity with relevant United Nations resolutions and norms of international law. As requested by the General Assembly, the Committee will continue to keep the situation under review and to promote a constructive analysis and discussion of these issues by the international community.