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

13 October 1999



Syria, Lebanon Charge Ongoing Rights Violations

A new commitment in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as well as the new Israeli Government’s lifting of restrictions on Palestinian residents in the occupied territories, were highlighted by the representative of Israel this morning as he participated in the debate of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) on 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 Israeli representative reminded the Committee that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had pledged themselves last month to the principles of a permanent settlement of outstanding issues within five months, and that Israel’s new Prime Minister had pledged to withdraw troops from Lebanon by next summer. He drew attention also to the release of Palestinian political prisoners and the opening next week of a road providing “safe passage” between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He cited also his Government’s published stand against illegal settlements.

Most speakers, however, said that Israel’s practices in the occupied territories were at odds with its stated commitment to peace, and that the outcome of its latest initiatives remained to be seen.

The representative of Syria accused Israel of “sadism and injustice” in the occupied territories, and complained of its expansion of settlements and dumping of industrial waste in the Syrian Golan. He said that Israel wanted to impose its own version of peace, to serve its own purposes. He urged the international community to put pressure on Israel to bring it back to the negotiating table.

Similarly, the representative of Lebanon said that Israel’s actions in the southern part of his country were in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. In the last month, Israeli military aircraft had launched more than 300 raids against south Lebanon and the western Bekaa. Israel’s naval bombardments were disruptive to fishing, and it was using weapons that were prohibited internationally.

Also speaking this morning were the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh and the representatives of Lebanon, Yemen, Cuba, Qatar, Iran and Tunisia.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were the representatives of Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Israel. The observer for Palestine also spoke in that context.

The Fourth Committee will meet next at 10 a.m. on Monday, 18 October, when it is scheduled to begin consideration of peacekeeping operations.

Committee Work Programme

The Fourth Committee met this morning to continue debate on 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. (For background information, see Press Release GA/SPD/162 of 11 October.)


YAW ODEI OSEI (Ghana) said that, each year, the Special Committee put out a report that showed that Israeli policies in the occupied territories were not in accordance with internationally accepted standards of human rights and humanitarian values. This year’s report was no exception. While it was regrettable that the views of the Israeli Government were not reflected, the report was no less credible, given the wide variety of sources of information available to the Special Committee. Linked to the issue was the comprehensive settlement of the Middle East problem.

Ghana reiterated its unwavering support for the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent sovereign state, he continued. Enud Barak’s victory had raised prospects for peace throughout the region. The initiative of the new Israeli leader to resume dialogue with the Palestinians had culminated in the conclusion of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum. He urged both sides to remain on course as they negotiated for durable peace in the region. Ghana endorsed the report’s conclusions and recommendations, including those aimed at establishing a system of continuous communication to improve the circumstances of the people of the occupied territories. The international community had a duty to support the endeavours of the Commissioner for Human Rights to secure and sustain a dialogue with the Israeli authorities.

MIKHAIL WEHBE (Syria) said that the report of the Special Committee was objective and precise. The Special Committee should continue its work, for it represented the conscience of the United Nations. Attempts to weaken its role were tantamount to allowing Israel to continue violating the legitimate national rights of the people of the occupied territories.

Since the occupation of the Syrian Golan, Israel had used various methods, including the establishment of settlements, to annex and Judaize the area, he continued. In an attempt to destroy agriculture, it had taken away water sources. The occupation forces had expelled 130,000 Syrian Arab inhabitants from their villages and towns, which they had destroyed. Syrians who had been expelled in 1967 were still waiting to have their homes and land restored to them. There had been an increase in the number of Israeli settlers in the Golan, and the number of settlements now reached 40.

All those activities were occurring despite the beginning of the peace process, which was based on the implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions, he said. The occupying authorities and their armed forces had also undertaken to destroy the environment of the occupied area of the Golan. Israel had dumped 52,000 tons of industrial and other waste in the occupied territories. Repression, torture and other Israeli practices against the Syrian citizens of the Golan Heights, such as the imposition of closures and blockades, could not be defended. Israel’s policies amounted to a systematic deprivation of the rights of the Palestinian people, which had been recognized by a broad range of international instruments. Thus, the question of the future of the peace process had to be considered. It would appear that Israel, in its stubbornness, did not seek a just and comprehensive peace, but wanted to impose its own version of peace, to serve its own purposes.

He said that Israel continued to construct new settlements, encouraging new settlers to go to the Syrian Golan. That could not go on. The Syrian Golan was an integral part of Syria, which would return to the motherland. In the light of the facts discovered by the Special Committee, it was necessary to ask some important questions: Could the continued occupation be considered a part of the “peace culture” to which the Foreign Minister of Israel had referred in the General Assembly? Were the expansion of settlements and attacks against southern Lebanon part of the peace policy? Did sadism and injustice encourage the peace process? Syria would continue its efforts to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. The international community should bring pressure on Israel to compel it to listen to reason and return to the negotiating table.

HASSAN KASSEM NAJEM (Lebanon) said that terrorism by the occupation forces in the West Bank was reflected in: torture and detention of Palestinians; closures of schools and universities; continuous confiscation of land and expansion of settlements; granting of permits to settlers to build on confiscated land; collective punishment; and demolition of homes under the pretext of non-authorized construction.

In the Syrian Golan, there were now 20,000 people distributed in five villages, as opposed to 100,000 people over thousands of hectares in 1967, he said. The occupation had resulted in the expropriation of land, seizure of water, attempts to erase the Syrian identity of the Golan population by forcing them to accept Israeli identity, racial discrimination, and by prevention of reunification of Syrian families. Those were examples of the scores of arbitrary actions perpetrated daily by the occupation authorities.

He said that in southern Lebanon and the western Bekaa, the actions of the occupation forces were in flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and of Security Council resolution 435.

In the last month, he said, Israeli military aircraft had launched more than 300 raids against south Lebanon and the western Bekaa. This week, 14,000 mortar rounds had hit the liberated areas, killing 29 and wounding 110. Bombardments on land, and from the sea had destroyed 28 houses as well as damaging 83 homes, six schools and four mosques. Attempting by means of daily raids to control the rhythm of life in those areas, Israel had used all kinds of weapons that were prohibited internationally. Its naval bombardments had deprived fishermen of their right to earn a living.

C.M. SHAFI SAMI, Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh, said that foreign occupation in itself constituted a flagrant violation of human rights; prolonged occupation only made the violation worse. The actions of individuals continued to be met with massive retaliation, supplemented by a well-planned campaign to demoralize the people of the occupied territories, particularly the Palestinians, with a view to perpetuating Israel’s illegal occupation.

There were 194 Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, he said. In the West Bank and Gaza alone, there had been 116,400 settlers in 1993 and 175,000 in 1998. Instead of freezing, rolling them back and eventually eliminating settlement activities, Israel was building new settlements, including that of Jabal Abu Ghneim, whose completion would completely encircle Arab-populated East Jerusalem with settlements. That would eventually have a significant effect on the demography of East Jerusalem. Israel’s decision to expand Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries was another encroachment, and a deliberate provocation to the people of the occupied territories.

He said the indiscriminate destruction of lives and property in southern Lebanon had become routine. Bangladesh condemned Israel’s systematic human rights violations in the occupied territories. In contravention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Israeli practices in those territories deprived children of their rights to health, education, expression and play. In many instances, students were barred from going to school as Palestinians were not allowed passage through settlement areas.

ABDELAZIZ BAEISA (Yemen) said it was regrettable that Israel still persisted in flouting the will of the United Nations by refusing to allow the Special Committee to visit the occupied territories. It was no longer possible to conceal the reality. The report of the Special Committee described the situation on the ground. Israeli practices, which included the continued building of settlements, closures, acts of torture, attempts to change the demographic situation in the territories and oppression of the population, did not reflect the will of Israel to achieve peace.

The situation in the Syrian Golan was shocking to those who had hoped to see the relevant resolutions implemented, he continued. Illegal practices in southern Lebanon also led to the deterioration of the situation. This year’s brief Conference of States Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention had confirmed in its final document that the Convention applied fully to the situation in the occupied territories. The States concerned in the Middle East peace process must assume their responsibilities and implement all relevant resolutions. Pressure should be put on the occupying Power towards that end. In conclusion, he emphasized the need for the Secretariat to distribute documents in a timely fashion.

RAFAEL DAUSA CESPEDES (Cuba) said that solidarity with the Palestinian people was a matter of principle for his Government. That translated into unlimited support and defence of all their legitimate and inalienable rights, and for those of other Arabs who lived under occupation. It was regrettable that the Special Committee still had no access to the occupied territories. Cuba demanded an end to the violations described in the report and fully shared the international community’s commitment to peace in the Middle East, which required a definitive solution to the question of Palestine. A just and lasting peace could not be achieved as long as the Palestinian people and other Arabs under occupation were kept from the full and effective enjoyment of their fundamental rights.

The applicability of the 1949 Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War had been repeatedly confirmed by the Security Council over the years and, on 15 July this year, a Conference of High Contracting Parties had reiterated the need to abide by its provisions in the Palestinian territories under Israeli occupation, he noted. The social and economic consequences of the occupation for the Palestinian and Arab populations were very serious. They suffered from health and psychological damage, poor sanitary conditions, limitation of education, prevention of family reunification and restricted freedom of movement. Hope had resurfaced with the signing of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum, but Cuba was observing how the Israeli Government had continued to violate the international law in the occupied territories. Until a definitive solution was reached, the Special Committee had an important task to carry out.

YOSEF LAMDAN (Israel) said that two of the Special Committee's three members came from countries that refused to establish diplomatic relations with his country. At a time when Israel had full relations with 90 per cent of the United Nations membership, that bias spoke for itself. Given the Special Committee’s loaded mandate and distorted membership, Israel had refrained from cooperating with it.

He said Israel was currently redeploying troops in 40 per cent of the occupied territories. For three years now, 98 per cent of the Palestinians living there had been under the control of the Palestinian Authority. The territories were open, with more than 100,000 Palestinians working in Israel every day; next week a road providing “safe passage” between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would be opened; commercial and other agreements had also been reached with the Palestinians. Similarly, Palestinian prisoners who had been involved in attacks on innocent citizens were being released. When Israel had been obliged to close the territories, the cause had invariably been major terrorist outrages in the heart of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities. Those attacks, by Palestinian extremists and provocateurs opposed to peace with Israel, had continued since the signing of the Wye Agreement a year ago.

Regarding Jerusalem, he said there had been a Jewish majority there over the last two centuries, in roughly the same proportions prevailing today. And after 1948 the Golan Heights, far from being a dreamy, pastoral land, had been in effect a large military encampment with a very small civilian Druze population living among mines laid by their own military. On 4 September this year, Israel and the Palestinians had pledged themselves to the principles of a permanent settlement of outstanding issues within five months. Likewise, his Prime Minister had pledged to withdraw troops from Lebanon by next summer and was making earnest efforts to revive the peace talks with Syria.

Stressing Israel’s democratic system of checks and balances at the judicial and government levels, he noted its High Court's recent decision with regard to methods of interrogating suspected terrorists, and the decision last Sunday by the Cabinet Committee on Settlement Affairs. Recounting that committee's meeting to the press, Prime Minister Ehud Barak had asserted his determination to prevent "[land] grabs and footholds, which have been set up illegally in the West Bank".

ALI FAHAD FALEH AL-HAJRI (Qatar) said that over the last few years, the peace process had been frustrated by certain practices, which were being continued by the new Israeli Government. It had been hoped that there would be quicker progress, given the support that government had enjoyed from the international community. However, the continued building of new settlements, the expansion of existing ones and the expropriation of land stood in the way of the peace process. Qatar called on the Israeli Government to heed the voice of law and justice. The Special Committee’s report proved that Israel was continuing its attempts to change the demographic composition of Jerusalem by redrawing identity cards and expanding the city’s municipal boundaries by establishing settlements on the periphery.

He said his Government had been surprised by Israel’s adoption of new laws granting settlers in the Syrian Golan special privileges allowing them to build new settlements there. The continuation of settlement construction, especially in East Jerusalem, would prevent peace. Qatar still hoped, however, that Israel would heed the international community’s repeated appeals for an end to practices that threatened the peace process.

MOHAMMAD H. FADAIFARD (Iran) said that closures, confiscation of land and property, desecration of Islamic holy places and restrictions on the use of the water system were on the long list of Israeli practices that had not ceased or changed. According to the report, settlement activities had continued. More than 15 new settlements had been established in Al-Quds Sharif, and demolition of Palestinian homes had continued. The facts presented in the report illustrated once again that the occupying power was committed to its own agenda. It continuously sought to consolidate its occupation through demographic changes in the occupied territories. The report also provided ample evidence of the systematic inhumane practices of the occupying power. Israel’s unlawful policies and practices had not only been directed against the inhabitants of the occupied territories, but had also been conducted to perpetuate the refugee status of 4 million Palestinians who lived in refugee camps under precarious conditions.

He said conditions in the occupied territories constituted a serious violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which was applicable to all the occupied territories, as affirmed by the General Assembly in its resumed emergency special sessions and by the recent Conference of High Contracting Parties. However, the occupying power was ignoring not only the request embodied in the United Nations resolutions, but also the consensus expressed by the international community. It was imperative that the occupying power accept the Fourth Geneva Convention and fully implement its provisions. The international community should continue to monitor the human rights situation in the occupied territories, he said. A comprehensive and just solution to the question of Palestine lay in the restoration of all rights of the Palestinian people, including the return of all Palestinian refugees and displaced persons to their homeland, full and free exercise of their right to self-determination and liberation of all occupied territories.

MOHAMED SALAH TEKAYA (Tunisia) said the report contained dangerous facts about Israel’s practices in the Syrian Golan, including land confiscation, settlement construction building and expansion, as well as its attempts to changes the status of the inhabitants. Israel continued its policies of collective punishment, arbitrary arrests, detentions and restrictions on freedom of movement. Those practices had a profound influence on the lives of the Syrian people in the Golan and the inhabitants of the other occupied territories. Tunisia had hoped that the dynamism that the peace process had shown in the last few months would lead to a change in such policies, he said. Tunisia had always contributed to the peace process, and had followed with satisfaction the Sharm el-Sheikh accord.

Recalling the principles of land for peace and respect for agreements already concluded, on which the peace process was based, he expressed the hope that the final status negotiations would be successful and that the rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to an independent state with its capital at Jerusalem/Al Quds would be respected. He called for Israel’s unconditional withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the Syrian Golan in accordance with United Nations resolutions.

Statements in Right of Reply

FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, observer for Palestine, exercising her right of reply, said the undisputed fact remained that the occupation continued, as did gross violations of human rights in the occupied territories. The Special Committee was not an anachronism, as had been stated by the representative of Israel. The existence of the peace process required urgent changes from Israel, not from the international community.

Palestine demanded that Israel abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention and by international humanitarian law, she said. It demanded that Israel end its settlement activities. The distortions and falsifications presented today concerning East Jerusalem were lamentable. Jerusalem had always comprised a Christian and Muslim majority. Surrounding it with Israeli tanks made no legal difference. Claims to the contrary indicated an apartheid type of thinking and were unacceptable. It was regrettable that Israeli arrogance blatantly insulted the work of the Special Committee in general and of its members in particular.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria), also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that the hostility and snobbery of the Israeli statement reflected the logic of the occupation. It was but another attempt to mislead the United Nations and distort the facts, as well as to cast aspersions on the role and bodies of the Organization. That statement posed a challenge to the respectable and dignified individuals who had led the Special Committee’s work with integrity and honesty.

He said the Syrian Golan, contrary to the Israeli statement, had always been and would always remain a land of tranquillity and prosperity. Its people had been embraced by their motherland and reflected the demographic composition of Syria as a whole. In speaking of the Golan, the representative of Israel was presenting an occupier’s point of view. They had always claimed that Palestine had been a land without people, found for a people without a land.
The rationale of the occupation remained, he said. Israel wished to perpetuate its occupation of Syrian territory. More than half a million Syrians had been expelled. Nevertheless, the people of the Golan were Syrian Arabs whose only loyalty was to their Syrian and Arab identity. The Israeli representative had claimed that, in 1948, the Golan had been replete with military forces and landmines. At that time, it had had a right to deploy its forces on its own territory, unlike Israel, which had extended its forces outside its territory.

He said Syria had opened the door to the peace process by accepting the United States initiative confirming Security Council resolutions 242, 435 and others, as well as the principle of land for peace. It had adopted peace as a strategic option. However, Israel had blocked the peace process on both the Syrian and Lebanese tracks. Prime Minister Barak’s statements were contrary to what took place on the ground. Even as the Fourth Committee was meeting, Israeli aircraft were bombarding Lebanese territory. What kind of peace was Israel seeking?

HOSSAM ZAKI (Egypt) said he felt compelled to respond to certain points in the statement by the representative of Israel. Egypt’s position was known to all and he did not want to repeat it. However, regarding the 1967 war, what had been said was contrary to the truth. There was evidence that the planning for the 1967 war had begun right after the 1956 war, in which Israel had participated. The purpose of the war, which Israel had launched in 1967, had several aspects.

With respect to Egypt, the war’s purpose had been to occupy territory in order to exchange land for peace later, he said. With respect to Syria, the purpose had been to control a strategic military region and pressure Syria to sign peace agreements. The purpose with respect to the West Bank, Gaza and Eastern Jerusalem had been to put an end to the question of the Palestinian people and acquire the territory of Palestine. Given that there was a peace process and a propitious climate at present he regretted that the Israeli representative had forced him to bring up the subject. However, he would repeat those classifications every year, for they were the truth.

HASSAN KASSEM NAJEM (Lebanon) said he was also responding to what had been said by the representative of the occupying forces, whose statement contradicted the truth. Statements by the representatives of Egypt and Syria had clarified some points. He was surprised that the representative of the occupying forces did not understand the criticism of other delegates. Listening to that speaker, for a moment, one might have thought that Lebanon had occupied Israeli land and that Israel was not occupying Arab territories. The truth was that there was an occupation of lands belonging to others, which was supported by the army. Land had been seized in southern Lebanon and there were repeated raids on that territory. It was impossible to remain silent in that situation, which could be confirmed by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). His country was occupied and it would not rest until it was liberated. Lebanon would continue its struggle.

Mr. LAMDAN (Israel) said that, under the Cairo Agreement, the Palestinian Authority had taken upon itself the responsibility of running the daily lives of 98 per cent of the Palestinians. The Authority’s record was abysmal: fundamental human rights were neither respected nor implemented; there were arbitrary arrests, detentions and summary executions; and freedom of expression did not exist at all. The Special Committee should concern itself with that as well. Peace negotiations would not be affected by the Special Committee’s reports. The final status would be decided only in negotiations under the relevant United Nations resolutions.

He called on Syria and Lebanon to join the negotiations instead of prevaricating. If there was a problem regarding Security Council resolution 435, it was because Lebanese refused to come to the negotiating table. As for references to the culture of peace -- Israel’s Arab and Palestinian negotiating partners could not have it both ways, by talking peace at the table and pressing diplomatic warfare in the Fourth and other General Assembly Committees.

Mr. MEKDAKD (Syria) asked how Member States could change their policies, guidelines and support for the Special Committee while Israel was still committing the same crimes and human rights breaches that it had resorted to since 1967. Syria’s position was not based only on the Special Committee’s reports. The mass media had reported murder and repression. That was the bitter reality of the situation, in spite of the peace process.

He said that a reference to 130 citizens of the Golan in the statement by the representative of Syria had been misinterpreted as 130 soldiers. The representative of Israel was hunting for errors instead of facts, despite the fact that the Syrian statement had been corrected, even in interpretation.

The General Assembly had emphasized that a culture of peace stood in stark contradiction to the occupation and the violation of human rights, he said. Only when Israel heeded international public opinion and the true proponents of the culture of peace, and ended the occupation in the Syrian Golan, Palestine and southern Lebanon, would peace prevail. There could be no peace with occupation.

Mr. NAJEM (Lebanon) said he wanted to recall a simple truth: Israel was the occupying Power that had been occupying southern Lebanon since 1968. At the time, a United Nations resolution had been adopted, demanding Israel’s full and unconditional withdrawal to the internationally recognized borders. Israel had finally accepted that resolution last year. In addition to its acceptance, however, it had imposed conditions and changed the content of the resolution. The occupying Power had left only the title of the resolution unchanged.

Lebanon objected to any conditions, he continued. That was non-negotiable. The decision had been taken by the Security Council, and Israel should submit to its legitimacy. It was impossible to declare peaceful intentions, while undertaking such actions as the sea bombing of southern Lebanon. Last year, Israel had destroyed a power plant in Beirut. At the time, Lebanon had been trying to rebuild; the occupying Power was trying to destroy those efforts. Strength did not create peace, just as military weakness did not mean an absence of dignity or will. Israel must withdraw unconditionally from Lebanese lands.

Mr. LAMDAN (Israel) said that he rested his case.

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For information media - not an official record