Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York

25 November 1997



Palestine Observer Says Israel Must Abide by Their Agreements;
Israeli Representative Cites Commitment to Peace Process, Negotiations

There could be no viable peace process while Israel continued to violate international law and the relevant resolutions of the United Nations, the Observer for Palestine said this morning, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) 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.

The Observer said that Israel must cease its activities aimed at destroying the agreements reached between the Palestinian and Israeli sides and comply with its contractual obligations under those agreements. The present situation was characterized by increasing Palestinian despair, frustration, humiliation and suffering as a result of Israel's punitive, harsh and illegal policies and practices, she said.

The representative of Israel said that in the face of numerous suicide bomb attacks against his country, his Government had an obligation to defend and protect its citizens. The application of security measures, including closures which prevented the entry into Israel of tens of thousands of Palestinians, was not meant to be a collective punishment but a measure of precaution, protection and investigation. His Government was committed to the peace process, aimed at reaching a permanent settlement through negotiations.

While recognizing Israel's security needs and its legitimate right to live within safe and recognized borders, the European Union believed that the measures imposed by the Israeli Government following the suicide attacks this year seemed excessive and jeopardized the peace process, the representative of Luxembourg said. She was speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States.

The representative of Egypt said the continued construction of settlements by Israel in the occupied territories would kill the peace process, making negotiations between the two parties impossible. The representative of Syria stressed that such Israeli policies blatantly violated the United Nations Charter, as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians. True peace could not be compatible with the occupation of land, he said.

Statements were also made by the representatives of the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon. The representative of Sri Lanka, as Chairman of the Special Committee, introduced that body's report.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue its consideration of the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices.

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to begin 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 (documents A/52/131 and Adds.1 and 2). Also before the Committee were four related reports of the Secretary-General.

The report of the Special Committee on Israeli Practices summarizes information it has received on reported violations. The Israeli press, as well as Arab-language and English-language newspapers published in the occupied territories, were its main sources. The Special Committee also sought the cooperation of the Governments of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, as well as of the Permanent Observer for Palestine at Geneva and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It also sought the Secretary-General's intervention in securing the cooperation of the Government of Israel.

The Special Committee reports on the general situation in the occupied territories, on Palestinians killed by Israeli troops or civilians, on incidents resulting from the occupation, and on the administration of justice as it applies to the Palestinian and Israeli populations. It also addresses the treatment of civilians, including harassment and physical ill-treatment, collective punishment, and the imposition of curfews and expulsions. In addition, it reviews measures affecting the fundamental freedoms of movement, education, religion and expression; settler activities that affect the civilian population; the treatment of detainees; questions relating to annexation and settlement; and information concerning the occupied Syrian Golan.

On the treatment of prisoners, the Special Committee cites a report prepared by the Palestinian Authority and the Prisoners' Society which revealed that 83 Palestinians had died in Israeli jails over the previous 30 years. It added that 31 Palestinians had died as a result of torture during interrogation, while 15 had been deliberately killed during protests in prison. Another six had died owing to lack of medical care. On 15 March, the Palestinian Authority's Minister of Information appealed to international legal organizations and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) for the immediate release of 250 minors held in Israeli prisons.

A Palestinian prisoner, Riyad Mahmoud Adwan, died on 12 January in Beersheba prison, an isolation facility notorious for its bad detention conditions, the report states. Mr. Adwan, who had respiratory problems, suffered an attack that resulted in suffocation. He was not taken immediately to hospital since a transfer requires administrative arrangements. On 2 February, the Gaza-based A-Damir human rights organization stated that more than 3,000 Palestinians continued to be held in 12 prisons or detention facilities inside Israel. Of those detainees, 291 were held without trial, 357 were under the age of 18 years, and 480 were either ill or old. The list also included 69 Israeli Arabs arrested for political reasons.

A report by Defence for Children International charged that 21 Arab boys under the age of 17 years were being held at the Abu Kabir police lock-up in a state of vegetation, the Special Committee states. The minors had nothing constructive, educational or positive to do, spent all day in bed, and had nobody to talk to. In addition, their cells were not heated and they were not allowed visits. The report also states that 5,000 Palestinian male prisoners were still held in Israeli jails, of whom an estimated 600 were detained without trial under administrative detention.

On Palestinians killed by Israeli troops or civilians, the report lists 12 deaths resulting from violent clashes with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), border police or settlers, or in gun battles between soldiers and Palestinian police. Five other Palestinians were killed in incidents resulting from the occupation -- one stepped on a landmine while grazing his sheep; another died of a heart attack when the car taking him to hospital was delayed for half an hour at an IDF roadblock; and three were reportedly suicide bombers who blew themselves up in attempted attacks on Jewish targets.

Other incidents cited in the report include one in which seven Palestinians were wounded, one or two seriously, when an Israeli soldier opened fire at Arab civilians in the Hebron casbah. The soldier fired some 15 to 20 shots before being wrestled to the ground by an Israeli officer and two fellow soldiers. Amid claims of a conspiracy between the attacker and other soldiers, four of those wounded stated that they were hit by several soldiers, while relatives of the most seriously injured man said he had been shot at by soldiers stationed on a roof. During the attacker's interrogation, he expressed no regrets, saying he wanted to murder many Arabs and damage the peace process.

On the administration of justice, the report states that on 25 March, Sa'id Badarna, who was serving a life sentence plus 15 years for a "terrorist" attack on a bus station in 1995, was jailed for 18 years for killing his cellmate, Naza Abu Zina, whom he suspected of collaborating with the authorities. Mr. Badarna had beaten Mr. Abu Zina until he confessed, but the beaten man died the following day and Mr. Badarna was charged with murder. Since he was already serving a maximum sentence, the charge was reduced to manslaughter. On the other hand, two settlers who had shot and killed a Palestinian in Hebron were released on bail and ordered to stay out of the town for three months.

On the question of harassment and physical ill-treatment, the Special Committee cites an incident in which a 22-year-old Palestinian woman from Tsurif village complained that a border policeman had tried to rape and abuse her while in her home. The woman, married with three children, charged that two border policemen had entered her home to conduct a search. They had broken furniture and damaged the house. According to neighbours, one of the policemen had at one point come out of the house and waited outside, leaving the other alone with the woman. The policeman was suspected of trying to rape the woman and then fleeing with his partner. A lawyer who lives in the village claimed that the two policemen had harassed, provoked and verbally abused other residents during the day and that, during another house search, had severely beaten two residents.

On 7 April, Israeli border police stationed in Hebron took control of El Yakoubia girls' school whenriots intensified in the town centre, the report states. They smashed doors and tables, urinated on the floor and wrote an anti-Arab inscription on the blackboard. A border police official later arrived to assess the damage and apologized to the school principal. On 25 April, it was reported that medical sources had confirmed that the type of tear gas used by the Israeli army to disperse crowds in Sureif was on the list of internationally banned weapons. Basing their report on diagnosis of victims of tear gas inhalation, the sources indicated that exposure to the gas could lead to paralysis of the nervous system and damage to the respiratory system.

The Special Committee also reports that on 23 January, border policemen detained for interrogation several Palestinian labourers who had been restoring Arab-owned homes in an Israeli-controlled area of Hebron. It says that Palestinians were concerned about growing settler activity around Nablus, the Jordan Valley in the east, Wadi A-Teen in the west, and Kharbatha in the centre, south-west of Ramallah. A researcher for the group Solidarity International for Human Rights explained that the most recent settler activity was a consequence of the $1 billion that the Government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had allocated for the revival of the settlement movement.

On 10 March, about 100 Palestinians clashed with 150 soldiers in Hebron as Palestinians tried to stop bulldozers from clearing the way for a new road that would connect the Kiryat Arba settlement to the Israeli-controlled part of Hebron, the report states. Using force against men, women and children, the soldiers injured 12 people with clubs and rifle butts and detained at least five Palestinians. Palestinians stated that the clashes had erupted when Israeli bulldozers began ploughing through their vineyards and almond and olive groves. The IDF declared the area a closed military zone.

It was reported on 14 March that Palestinian livestock owners living in the Jordan Valley, in the perimeter covering the hilly areas near Tubas, Tamous and Nassiryeh east of Nablus and down to Jericho in the south, had received eviction notices, the Special Committee states. The measure was perceived as part of an Israeli campaign to clear the area's sparse Arab population and take control of its water sources and plains for settlement expansion.

Also cited is a periodic report by the Peace Now movement covering changes in settlement trends since the Netanyahu Government came to office. Defence Minister Yitzhak Mordechai had issued construction permits for more than 4,000 housing units in Kiryat Sefer, Maaleh Adumim, the Jordan Valley and Emmanuel. In addition, 3,000 apartments, the sale of which had been frozen by the Rabin Government, had been placed on the market. The Peace Now report also indicated a rise in the number of settlers from 137,000 at the beginning of 1996 to 150,000 at the end of that year -- a 9.6 per cent increase. The number of births in settlements over the same period was 4,661. However, Peace Now considered the most significant change had been the large increase in the budget allocated for settlement.

On the situation in the occupied Syrian Arab Golan, the report cites the French daily newspaper Le Figaro of 18 January, which had quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as ruling out negotiations on the future of the Golan. In its interview, he is reported as saying that the Golan Heights must remain under Israeli control because of its strategic, historical and economic importance.

The Committee also had before it a report of the Secretary-General on applicability of the Geneva Convention (document A/52/551). It was submitted pursuant to Assembly resolution 51/132 of 13 December 1996, which reaffirmed that the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, was applicable to the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and other Arab territories occupied by it since 1967. The resolution also demands that Israel accept the de jure applicability of the Convention in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and other Arab territories occupied by it since 1967, and that it comply scrupulously with the Convention's provisions.

The Secretary-General's report on Israeli practices (document A/52/552) was submitted pursuant to Assembly resolution 51/134. According to that text, all measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, in violation of the relevant provisions of the Geneva Convention and contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Security Council, are illegal and have no validity and that such measures should cease immediately. It further demands that Israel, the occupying Power, cease all practices and actions which violate the human rights of the Palestinian people.

Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General 's report on the occupied Syrian Golan (document A/52/550) submitted pursuant Assembly resolution 51/135 of 13 December 1996. That resolution called upon Israel to desist from changing the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan and, in particular, to desist from the establishment of settlements. It further called upon Israel to desist from imposing Israeli citizenship and Israeli identity cards on the Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan, and to
desist from its repressive measures against the population of the occupied Syrian Golan.

Pursuant to the Assembly's resolutions on applicability of the Geneva Convention on Israeli Practices, and the occupied Syrian Golan, the Secretary-General, on 18 June 1997, addressed notes verbales to the Foreign Minister of Israel, those reports state. He asked the Minister to inform him of any steps the Israeli Government had taken or envisaged taking towards implementing the relevant provisions of those relevant resolutions. However, no reply had been received at the time of the preparation of the Secretary-General's reports on those issues.

Also before the Committee was a report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the Special Committee on Israeli Practices (document A/52/533). It cites paragraph 8 of Assembly resolution 51/131, which asks the SecretaryGeneral to provide all necessary facilities to the Special Committee. He was asked to ensure the widest circulation of the reports of the Special Committee and of information on its activities and findings, by all means available, through the Department of Public Information (DPI) and, where necessary, to reprint those of its reports which are no longer available.

The Secretary-General states that all necessary facilities were provided to the Special Committee. Arrangements were made for it to meet in February, May/June and August 1997. Furthermore, it carried out a field mission to Egypt, Jordan and Syria in May/June 1997. The DPI continued to disseminate United Nations information materials, documents and press releases on the activities of the Special Committee and the Commission on Human Rights, through the global network of United Nations information centres and services in 69 countries, through 359 depository libraries in 141 countries, and electronically through the Internet. The Department also continued to make information materials available to non-governmental organizations through its resource centres in New York and Geneva.


HERMAN LEONARD DE SILVA (Sri Lanka), Chairman of the Special Committee, said that while the signing of the September 1995 Oslo II Agreement and the January 1997 Protocol concerning the redeployment in Hebron had generated renewed expectations for a lasting peace among inhabitants of the occupied territories and the international community, the human rights situation in the territories had deteriorated over the past year. The most disturbing aspect of the situation was the relentless Israeli policy of settlements, pursued in disregard of the concern of the international community. Other disquieting aspects were the massive withdrawal of identity cards from Palestinian Jerusalemites and the imposition of restrictions on the movement of the Palestinian population of the occupied territories.

The hopes entertained during and after the signing of the agreements for continuation of the peace process had virtually evaporated, he said. If negotiations were not resumed and the agreements already reached fully implemented, the cycle of violence and conflict would continue, threatening the region's peace and stability. The people of Palestine were facing an unprecedented double challenge -- a virtual breakdown of the peace process, combined with an escalation of human rights violations on the ground.

He said the relentless expansion of settlements was all the more surprising in the light of an American study which revealed that 26 per cent of existing housing units in West Bank settlements, 56 per cent of those in the Gaza Strip and 28 per cent of those in the occupied Syrian Golan were unoccupied. An Israeli source had conceded that 12 per cent of the settlements might be unoccupied. "This is surely needless provocation", he said.

The single act that might be said to have halted the peace process was the beginning of construction on 18 March at Jabal Abu Ghneim in East Jerusalem of a settlement called Har Homa, he said. That settlement would complete the chain of Israeli settlements around the part of the city populated by Arabs. It had also been reported that plans were under way to confiscate 1,200 hectares of Palestinian land for the expansion of the largest settlement in the occupied territories, Maaleh Adumim, to cover an area greater than that of the Israeli capital, Tel Aviv.

He said that some 60,000 to 80,000 Arab inhabitants of Jerusalem were threatened by such discriminatory bureaucratic methods as withdrawal of their identity cards, with their attendant economic and social hardships. Witnesses who had testified before the Special Committee had described the identity cards policy as amounting to a process of slow deportation or ethnic cleansing. None of the policies affecting the Arabs were applied to the Jewish population of Jerusalem. It was thus a policy of blatant discrimination.

The policy of internal closure of Palestinian localities in the West Bank had also continued, he said. The hardships resulting from restricting the inhabitants' freedom of movement had been felt primarily in the areas of health, employment and commerce. They had also given rise to an erosion of the Palestinian social fabric and an increase in the divorce rate, as a result of the disruption of family life. The closures had been compounded further by the delay in opening safe passages between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as by the opening of an airport and seaport in Gaza.

FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, Observer for Palestine, said the Special Committee had reported a severe decline in the peace process and in the living conditions of the Palestinian people, owing to the policies and practices of the Israeli Government. Those policies violated the human rights of the Palestinian people, in violation of international law, she said. The situation in the past year had deteriorated to such a critical plateau that, for the first time in 15 years, the Assembly had convened an emergency special session to consider illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory.

She said the fervent resumption by the current Israeli Government of the colonial settlement campaign, and particularly the construction of a new settlement in Jabal Abu Ghneim to the south of occupied East Jerusalem, had led to the convening of the special session following the failure of the Security Council to discharge its responsibilities on the matter. The ongoing illegal actions and practices by Israel, the occupying Power, as well as their downward spiralling consequences, threatened the very existence of the peace process and the stability of the region as a whole. The present situation was characterized by increasing Palestinian despair, frustration, humiliation and suffering as a result of Israel's punitive, harsh and illegal policies and practices.

As it had done for the past 30 years, Israel had continued, and in many ways increased, its oppressive practices and measures in violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people, she said. Several forms of collective punishment had continued during the reporting period of the Special Committee. Harassment and physical ill-treatment had also persisted, as had kidnappings, killings and assassinations by the Israeli authorities. Those practices were in blatant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It was imperative that the Israeli Government accept the de jure applicability of the Convention to the territories it had occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem.

There could not be a viable peace process while Israel continued to violate international law, international humanitarian law and the relevant resolutions of the United Nations, she said. The international community must shoulder its responsibilities and take a clear position on the matter. Israel must cease its policies and practices, which aimed at destroying the agreements reached between the Palestinian and Israeli sides, and comply with its contractual obligations under those agreements. Those were the requirements for progress in the peace process and a qualitative change in the living conditions and the human rights situation of the Palestinian people. The refusal of the Israeli authorities to cooperate with the Special Committee was deeply regretted.

YURIKO BACKES (Luxembourg) spoke on behalf of the European Union, as well as for Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Iceland. She said the Union was extremely concerned by the profound crisis in which the peace process found itself. Nothing could justify the barbarity of terrorism, whatever motivations were invoked by those responsible. The European Union condemned such acts without reserve.

The European Union recognized Israel's security needs and its legitimate right to live within safe and recognized borders, she said. Full and complete cooperation by the parties in the field of security and the fight against terrorism was thus imperative. Nevertheless, the measures imposed by the Israeli Government following the suicide attacks this year seemed excessive and jeopardized the peace process.

The serious deterioration of the economic situation in the Palestinian territory, provoked by the prolonged closures of the territories and the imposition of sanctions, only increased the people's frustration, she said. That sentiment was exacerbated by the obstacles and delays in the negotiations and by Israel's resumption of the practice of confiscating lands and constructing settlements, which risked becoming the source of new tensions. A climate of trust must be restored. All parties were therefore called upon to abstain from unilateral measures which undermined trust and which might seem to prejudge the final status negotiations.

Effective implementation of the Interim Agreement between the parties would render the existence of the Special Committee unnecessary, she said. Although the Union viewed a number of Israel's policies in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as problematic, it was convinced that the problems covered by the Special Committee would be dealt with better in a different context, which would be more favourable to a spirit of compromise and mutual understanding. Without that, real peace could not be achieved in the region. There was no alternative to a just, global and lasting settlement of the Palestinian question and of the Israeli-Arab conflict in general.

DAVID TOURGEMAN (Israel) enumerated the suicide bombings carried out against Israel between 6 April 1994 and 4 March 1996, while the former Government was in office, and three attacks which occurred in 1997, under the current administration. The Government of Israel had a national and moral obligation to take the proper defensive and protective measures for its citizens. Whenever a suicide bomb attack took place, the first and natural step was to prevent the entry into Israel of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The application of security measures, including closure, was not meant to be a collective punishment, but a measure of precaution, protection and investigation.

The Government of Israel would continue its commitment to the peace process, which aimed at altering the present situation and reaching a permanent settlement through negotiations and agreement, he said. Israel was convinced that the political process towards peace would eventually prevail, because the interest and common sense of both sides would prevent them from going backwards.

He said the Special Committee was archaic, outdated and divorced from reality. Its nature was indicated by its very name and mandate, which predetermined its conclusions. Out of the three members of the Committee, two represented countries which did not have diplomatic relations with Israel. The Israeli delegation noted that, besides using Arab sources, the Special Committee was relying on material from the Israeli press which served its goals and interests.

SULTAN KHALFAN AL-RAMITHI (United Arab Emirates) said it was regrettable that peace efforts were deadlocked because of the practices carried out by Israel, which continued to occupy Arab territory, including Al-Quds/Jerusalem. The confiscation of land and water resources was done in an attempt to legitimize the building of settlements, which were meant to change the legal status of the occupied territories.

He said that Israel's provocative practices confirmed once again its intention to carry out its regional schemes and its determination to retain the occupied Arab territories. The United Arab Emirates rejected all those practices, as they were neither in accordance with the search for a just and lasting peace, nor with Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 425 (1978). His country urged the United Nations and all parties involved in the peace process to compel Israel to fulfil its obligations.

HOSSAM ZAKI (Egypt) said the Special Committee had been forced to work under very difficult conditions. The Government of Israel had not allowed it to enter into the occupied territories. There were no doubt violations it had been unable to report on because it could not gather the necessary information. Although there had been hope for a lasting and just peace in the region, the situation had changed over the past half year, with the current Israeli Government reverting to practices which had characterized the period prior to the beginning of the peace process.

The construction of Israeli settlements was one of the major practices used by Israel against the Palestinians, he said. International law had safeguarded the right of Palestinians to live in their homeland. The continued construction of settlements in the occupied territories would kill the peace process, making negotiations between the two parties impossible.

The Fourth Geneva Convention guaranteed many rights for the people of occupied territories, he said. It banned the expulsion of a people from their lands by occupying forces, but those protections had been violated by Israel. Peace could only be achieved when the Government of Israel ceased its numerous violations of Palestinian human rights.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) said that even after 30 years, the world remained unable to compel Israel to respect international law, as well as the dozens of resolutions issued by the General Assembly. Those who had grown up under Israeli occupation had suffered greatly. Israel policies blatantly violated the United Nations Charter, as well as the rights guaranteed by the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel was still refusing to receive the Special Committee, demonstrating its disregard for the positions of the Member States. Since the current Israeli Government had taken power, the living conditions of refugees in the Syrian Arab Golan Heights had deteriorated, he said. Settlers who had no connection with the land, were being attracted from all over the world. In its quest to Judaize the occupied Syrian Golan, Israel had disregarded the position of the international community. More than 200,000 Syrian refugees were still awaiting return to their homes and lands, while Israeli settlements in the region increased. That was occurring despite the fact that the peace process had been initiated on the basis of complete Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories.

"One must wonder about the fate of the peace process", he said. It seemed clear that Israel did not want peace. Israel wanted a peace that satisfied its greedy ambitions. It had been working to destroy everything that had been achieved since the peace process began. True peace could not be compatible with the occupation of land.

ADNAN MANSOUR (Lebanon) said that since the occupation of 1967, Israel had constantly carried out practices that violated the Geneva Conventions and human rights. Those practices included the harassment of civilians, the destruction of homes on grounds that they belonged to members of the resistance, the imposition of curfews, and the declaration of villages and towns as "closed areas". They also included restrictions on construction, as well as on the freedoms of movement, religion, expression and education. There was detention without trial and with respect for United Nations standards for the treatment of detainees. There was also the annexation by force of tens of thousands of hectares of land and the uprooting of olive groves for settlements.

The situation in the Bekaa and southern Lebanon was no better than that in the other occupied territories, he said. Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon had caused increasing violence, destruction and repression in their most abject forms. Those included illegal arrest without cause and without trial, and the killing of innocent women, children and the elderly. They also included the daily bombing of infrastructure -- including bridges and power stations -- as well as of homes, using internationally prohibited weapons like fragmentation bombs. Thousands of people were forced to leave their villages, and farmers were prevented from cultivating their lands and growing their crops. For how long would Israel be allowed to defy international law and flout the norms of the international community? he asked.

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