The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the reported violation by Hamas of the mutually agreed humanitarian ceasefire which commenced this morning. He is shocked and profoundly disappointed by these developments.
The Secretary-General notes that the UN has no independent means to verify exactly what happened. According to the latest reports, two Israeli Defense Forces soldiers were killed and one taken captive after the humanitarian ceasefire came into effect. This would constitute a grave violation of the ceasefire, and one that is likely to have very serious consequences for the people of Gaza, Israel and beyond. Such moves call into question the credibility of Hamas’ assurances to the United Nations. The Secretary-General demands the immediate and unconditional release of the captured soldier.
The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the resumption of Israeli attacks on Gaza and the killing of over 70 Palestinians this morning. Instead of giving both sides, especially Gazan civilians, a much-needed reprieve to let them attend to their injured, bury their dead and repair vital infrastructure, this breach of the ceasefire is now leading to a renewed escalation.
The Secretary-General urges both sides to show maximum restraint and return to the agreed 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire that tragically lasted such a brief period of time. He also urges those with influence over the parties to do everything to convince them to observe the humanitarian ceasefire.
The following statement was issued on 3 August 2014 by the Spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (SG/SM/16062, GA/PAL/2177):
United Nations shelters must be safe zones not combat zones. The Israel Defense Forces have been repeatedly informed of the location of these sites. This attack, along with other breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated and those responsible held accountable. It is a moral outrage and a criminal act.
The Secretary-General is profoundly dismayed over the appalling escalation of violence and loss of hundreds of Palestinian civilian life since the breach of the humanitarian ceasefire on 1 August. The resurgence in fighting has only exacerbated the man-made humanitarian and health crisis wreaking havoc in Gaza. Restoring calm can be achieved through resumption of the ceasefire and negotiations by the parties in Cairo to address the underlying issues.
The Secretary-General repeats his demand to the parties to immediately end the fighting and return to the path of peace. This madness must stop.
This morning at about 1045 Gaza time there was an Israeli missile strike adjacent to the main gate of the UNRWA Boys’ Prep School ‘A’ in the town of Rafah, in southern Gaza. We believe as many as nine people were killed, including an UNRWA guard, and 27 were injured. Almost three thousand people had registered at the school, one of ninety which we are using as temporary shelters for some 260,000 displaced people across the Gaza strip.
On six occasions since the start of the conflict, UNRWA schools housing the displaced were subject to direct shelling. This is the first time a strike in the immediate vicinity of one of our premises, of which there have been several, caused fatalities. As in previous incidents, UNRWA had notified the Israeli Army of the location of the school to make sure that it was protected from the violence that has so dramatically affected the entire population of Gaza, displacing a total of at least 475,000 people. For this particular installation we notified the Israeli Army on 33 separate occasions that this school in Rafah was being used to accommodate the displaced, the last time only an hour before the incident.
The incident in Rafah is a further tragic and unacceptable reminder that there is nowhere safe in Gaza for people to take refuge. No one feels secure and given that Gaza is enclosed by a barrier, there is also nowhere safe for them to run. While UNRWA will continue to provide all possible aid and protection to the displaced, we remind the parties that they must respect the sanctity of civilian life, the inviolability of UN property and that they must abide their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and humanitarian workers.
We are painfully aware of how dangerous working in Gaza is. In the last hours before the Rafah incident, confirmation had come through that another UNRWA worker, our eleventh, was killed. Our hearts goes out to their families and loved ones at this terrible time.
We vigorously condemn today’s Israeli strike and find it incomprehensible that such violence has happened again, only four days since we carried out dead and wounded civilians who had sought refuge in a UN installation. We again call on the Israeli authorities immediately to investigate this appalling incident in Rafah. We made two similar calls after the shelling incidents at our schools housing thousands of displaced people in Beit Hanoun and Jabalia, which caused multiple deaths and injuries. We fully expect the result of these three investigations to be transmitted to us.
International law requires that principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in attack must be taken into account by parties to a conflict to reduce civilian casualties; the frequency of these incidents increases the urgency to find out why this continues to happen and hold accountable those responsible. We echo the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate cease-fire. This is another urgent reminder that the people of Gaza need an end to this violence and a negotiated settlement that addresses so the underlying causes; instead of this being the third war, it must be the last.
The Secretary-General welcomes the efforts leading to a new ceasefire as announced today. He commends the parties for committing to this ceasefire of 72 hours, to begin Tuesday, 5 August, at 8 a.m. local time, and calls on them to abide by it. Until the start of the ceasefire, the parties must exercise the utmost restraint.
The Secretary-General urges the parties to commence, as soon as possible, talks in Cairo on a durable ceasefire and the underlying issues. In this regard, he welcomes the proactive engagement of the Palestinian delegation under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas. Such talks are the only way to sustainably stop the violence, which has cost far too many lives, and to change the untenable and tragic status quo in Gaza. The United Nations stands ready to lend its full support to these efforts.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (SG/SM/16071)
I thank the President of the General Assembly for convening this crucial session on the tragic situation in Gaza. As we meet this morning, it seems that the long-overdue ceasefire is holding. For the moment, the near constant firing of Hamas rockets and Israeli missiles and mortars has subsided. We expect the parties to fully respect the ceasefire.
I thank all who contributed to the agreement, including Egypt, the United States, Qatar, Turkey, the League of Arab States, the European Union and many other international actors. We have all been working day and night.
But, of course, we cannot rest as the suffering continues. This ceasefire has come at a price that is almost too much to bear. The massive death and destruction in Gaza have shocked and shamed the world.
More than 1,800 Palestinians have been killed — the vast majority civilians, including hundreds of women and children. Three civilians in Israel were also killed as well as 64 Israeli soldiers.
People on both sides have the right to life, but also the right to a life free from fear.
Of course we understand the legitimate security right to defend Israeli citizens from the threat of rocket attacks by Hamas. At the same time, the fighting has raised serious questions about respect for the principles of distinction and proportionality in international humanitarian law.
Perhaps nothing symbolized more the horror that was unleashed on the people of Gaza than the repeated shelling of United Nations facilities harbouring civilians who had been explicitly told to seek a safe haven there. These attacks were outrageous, unacceptable and unjustifiable.
Yes, we uncovered cases in which weapons were stored in a small number of abandoned buildings. Yes, there were reports that Hamas rockets were fired from near United N premises.
Yet, let me be clear: mere suspicion of militant activity does not justify jeopardizing the lives and safety of many thousands of innocent civilians.
International humanitarian law clearly requires protection by all parties of civilians and civilian facilities, including UN staff and UN premises. Our UN flag must be respected and assure protection to those in need. UN shelters must be safe zones, not combat zones. Those who violate this sacred trust must be subject to accountability and justice.
In the most recent case of shelling on a UN facility, the Israelis were informed of the coordinates 33 times. Attacks against UN premises, along with other suspected breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated.
Here, before the General Assembly, I want to convey a personal and direct message to the many UN colleagues serving the people of Gaza under these grueling circumstances: Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for saving lives. I join you in mourning our fallen colleagues — and pay them my highest tribute. Tomorrow, the UN flag will be flown at half-mast in their memory. We will carry on their work.
You will soon hear from UN senior officials about the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. I urge all Member States to respond swiftly and generously to the emergency appeals by UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] and OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] to address these most pressing humanitarian needs.
The immediate task before us is meeting the dire and urgent humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza: providing care to the many wounded and traumatized, ensuring that people have food and water, housing the many homeless families, and repairing vital infrastructure.
We now face an enormous reconstruction task in the shattered rubble of Gaza where homes, schools and hospitals have been destroyed and damaged. But we must do even more.
We must spare no effort to turn the current calm into a durable ceasefire that addresses the underlying issues of the conflict: ending rocket fire from Gaza, weapons smuggling, opening the crossings, lifting the blockade and bringing Gaza back under one Palestinian Government that accepts and adheres to the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization] commitments.
I urge the parties to heed the international community’s call to return to negotiations in order to end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, ultimately through a viable two-State solution.
The nightmare of the last four weeks has been a terrible reminder that only a negotiated political settlement can bring security and peace to Israelis and Palestinians alike.
I repeat: only a negotiated political settlement will bring sustainable peace and security to Palestinians and Israelis alike. Only through the exercise of moral and political leadership will both sides enjoy the better future that their people yearn for and deserve.
As Secretary-General, I have made repeated visits to the region, including to Gaza. I have seen the scourge of war etched in the faces of women and children. In 2009, I stood before an UNRWA warehouse still smoldering from the aftermath of an Israeli attack. And yet, the attacks happened again and again.
Before my most recent trip, I had already travelled to the region twice before to help end hostilities in Gaza. And yet, the attacks happened again — then and now.
The senseless cycle of suffering in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as in Israel, must end. Do we have to continue like this: build, destroy, and build, and destroy? We will build again, but this must be the last time to rebuild. This must stop now. They must go back to the negotiating table. We must not repeat this, [from happening] periodically. Why [are] both parties putting all of the international community’s citizens always at unease and concerned, looking helplessly at many people being killed?
The United Nations stands ready to make this the last time, and we have to do everything possible to help those in need and support the peace process. I count on the engagement of all of you, and I urge the parties to accept their responsibility for peace and for future generations of their people. Thank you very much.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me first to thank the Secretary-General for his important remarks about the conflict that has unfolded in Gaza since 8 July, and also to add my voice to the appeal of the international community to take decisive action to address the causes and consequences of this most recent round of violence. In that regard, I convey my utmost appreciation to the President of the General Assembly for convening this informal briefing, which further advances the General Assembly’s rightful role in addressing the humanitarian needs and well-being of the refugees, and in the pursuit of a just and comprehensive resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict including the plight of the refugees.
That role is central to UNRWA’s work on behalf of Palestine refugees, through the mandate given to us by the General Assembly; I remind the Membership that, more than anyone else, it is the refugees themselves, now five-million strong, that count on your commitment to assist and protect them, a commitment you have upheld since establishing UNRWA in 1949.
In Gaza today we are experiencing the second day of the 72-hour truce, which like many others UNRWA hopes will be extended and consolidated into a lasting cessation of hostilities. It is a bitter-sweet moment. On the one hand, the fighting and killing has stopped for now and this was critically needed. On the other, it is the moment when the full extent of the staggering and frankly catastrophic human cost of the war becomes fully visible.
In excess of 1,800 people killed and 9,500 injured, many of them civilians. Up to 450,000 people displaced by the fighting or by instructions from the Israel Defence Forces. Of these, 270,000 were sheltered in 90 UNRWA schools throughout the Gaza Strip. This was over five times the number we had in UNRWA installations during the 2008/9 conflict. Nothing brought home to me the suffering and pain more vividly than my recent visit to the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza where the broken bodies of children – some very young children – and the look of despair and powerlessness on the faces of their parents and relatives, conveyed to me once again a universal tale in war.
It was the reminder that death and injury is never and should never be allowed to be anonymous. Palestinians are not statistics. If we had the time, Mr President, I would share with you some of the stories behind the young and older civilian victims of this conflict. Behind each and every one of them there is a personal history and destiny just as important as any of ours. This conflict has not seen only buildings and infrastructure damaged; it has seen people, families and communities torn apart. I have said previously from Gaza and repeat here that the firing of rockets by armed groups in Gaza, aimed at Israeli cities and endangering or killing Israeli civilians, was unacceptable and had to cease.
The conflict did not spare UNRWA installations and staff. Ninety of our premises have been damaged. Six of our schools were hit directly by shelling or affected by rocket fire in their immediate vicinity, with serious loss of life and injuries. This was particularly the case in Beit, Hanoun, Jabalia and Rafah. We condemned such military actions by Israel explicitly and unreservedly. We cannot comprehend why they occurred, and even less why they happened so repeatedly. We have asked for investigations to be carried out and for accountability.
There were also three incidents where weapons were stored by armed groups in some of our unused schools. The world knows about these because UNRWA inspections work and because we swiftly informed everyone on the ground and in the world through our clear and deliberate public communications and condemnations of these abuses of the sanctity of UNRWA premises.
As is plain to see, the population of Gaza and the UNRWA team present on the ground have gone through a lot in recent weeks and I seize this opportunity, Mr President, to express my deepest appreciation to my UNRWA colleagues in Gaza – a full 12,500 of them – for their dedication and courage. I wish to inform you that, as of this morning, all flags across UNRWA fields and installations are flying at half-mast to honour the memory of the 11 colleagues who lost their lives since the beginning of this conflict as well as UNRWA staff who were killed in our other fields of operations, notably Syria. We are honoured and touched by the many expressions of sympathy and actions of support we have witnessed. And I am most grateful for the comments of the Secretary-General that UN Headquarters will join this initiative as of tomorrow.
Excellencies, Distinguished delegates,
Since yesterday morning, after the beginning of the truce, an estimated 100,000 of displaced people who were sheltered in UNRWA schools have started to return to their homes. They are leaving our shelters in the hope of rebuilding their shattered lives. But right now the foremost question they will face, and we will all with them, is: what are they going back to? Some will find their homes damaged others completely destroyed. They will return to neighbourhoods where there is no electricity because the Gaza power plant has been destroyed and where as a result no water is available.
These are the neighbourhoods where, despite all the difficulties, children once played in the streets and familial bonds were forged. This reminds us vividly that beyond the physical destruction, the population of Gaza will have to deal with all of the emotional and psychological scars from this and other rounds of conflict. Remember that a seven year old boy or girl in Gaza today has now experienced three successive conflicts in six years and only known life under blockade. But remember also that these scars include a powerful sense of being abandoned by the world: the failure to be protected, whether in UNRWA school buildings or beyond, will have a lasting effect on people.
Should the current cease-fire hold, the situation presents UNRWA, the wider UN family, as well as other agencies working in Gaza, with formidable human challenges to address in coming months. There will be ongoing emergency humanitarian and recovery needs for hundreds of thousands of people, be it those remaining in shelters, those going home and seeking to rebuild their lives or those having no home to go back to. This requires food aid to families unable to meet their needs, and emergency employment to inject modest resources into households whose income and savings have been utterly depleted - while also providing a labour force to contribute to the clearing and repairing of damaged infrastructure. Hygiene and sanitation are at risk throughout the densely-populated territory, and under these circumstances disease outbreaks are becoming a serious concern. I note in this regard that Gaza’s rainy season is little more than two months away.
Furthermore, for UNRWA there is the pressing question of how we bring UNRWA’s almost 240,000 pupils back to school at the end of this month with a public school system that is imploding. We may have to deal with a continuing use of a significant number of our schools to shelter a large population of displaced persons, as well as a pressure to accommodate children from governmental schools should these be unable to open. In addressing these concerns, we are engaging with the Government of National Consensus at the highest levels including President Abbas and Prime Minister Hamdallah.
More widely, upcoming rapid assessments will tell us more about the extent of reconstruction needs that will need to be addressed, whether homes, public buildings or vital infrastructure.
With decisive support from the Special Coordinator, UNRWA has been engaging the Israeli authorities on all aspects of the situation in the Gaza Strip with a view to addressing the disastrous conditions. We welcome the engagement of the Israeli authorities. We also call on them to address the UN family’s requirements on an urgent basis.
Mr President, Excellencies, Distinguished delegates,
In closing allow me to share with you my firm belief that for real progress and change to occur, a cease-fire with a return to conditions that existed in Gaza before this round of fighting will not be enough. This is time for comprehensive action to resolve the underlying issues at stake in Gaza and in the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On my very first visit to Gaza as Commissioner-General in April this year, I pointed out that the situation for the population of Gaza and for Palestine refugees was utterly unsustainable.
To be sure, Israel has legitimate security concerns that must be addressed. At the same time, the illegal blockade of Gaza must be lifted. Until and unless that happens, Gaza – and for that matter the West Bank under occupation - will remain perpetually dependent on humanitarian assistance. As is all too well known, nowhere in the world does humanitarian assistance alone make up for the denial of dignity and rights.
Assistant-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ms. Kyung-wha Kang
Mr. Secretary-General, Distinguished delegates,
On behalf of the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, I thank you Mr. President for this opportunity to brief the General Assembly on the humanitarian situation in the Gaza.
As with previous speakers, we welcome the ceasefire that began yesterday which has brought a pause to the violence and some much needed respite to the people of Gaza who have suffered a month of intense conflict with little room to flee or seek shelter. It is critical that this ceasefire holds and, as the Secretary-General has so passionately and powerfully underscored, a sustainable solution be found that addresses the root causes of the conflict.
Over 1,860 Palestinians have been killed. Of those identified, at least 1,370 were civilians, including more than 420 children and 221 women. At least 122 Palestinian families have had three or more family members killed, accounting for half of the civilian fatalities. The Israelis have faced indiscriminate rocket fire. 64 soldiers and three civilians have been killed.
Over half a million people, or over one quarter of the population of Gaza were displaced by the conflict. They fled for their lives with nothing. An estimated 65,000 people have lost everything. Their homes reduced to rubble.
People sought shelter at United Nations installations, public buildings, and open spaces when their homes and neighbourhoods came under fire. UNRWA alone hosted some 273,000 displaced people in 90 schools at the peak of the conflict. 187,000 people are still hosted in UNRWA schools.
144 schools and other facilities — including UN buildings — have been hit and damaged. We also stand by the Secretary-General and the Commissioner-General of UNRWA in solidarity to the 11 UNRWA staff who have been killed.
The public health system is on the verge of collapse. One third of hospitals, 14 primary health care clinics, and 29 Palestinian Red Crescent and Ministry of Health ambulances have been damaged in fighting. More than 40 per cent of medical staff were unable to reach their places of work due to widespread violence. Half of all public primary health care clinics were closed. Basic emergency care is severely compromised at a time when treatment, including for the more than 9,500 injured, is urgently required.
Hospitals and clinics have been overwhelmed by the numbers of casualties and the severity of their wounds. Doctors have been working in hallways and parking lots. There was already a critical shortage of medicines and disposables in the Gaza Strip. This past month medical teams have struggled to save lives in difficult and dangerous circumstances.
The damage to the water and sanitation system has been immense. More than one million people do not have access to water. Gaza’s only power plant was damaged by shelling last week and feeder lines damaged as well, plunging much of the Strip into darkness. But the long term consequences are far greater. Hospitals do not have electricity to adequately power critical machinery. Food production is reduced. Water and sewage cannot be pumped. Some people have been without water for nearly two weeks. Sewage is backing up and risks flooding low lying areas and contaminating the water system. This makes the outbreak of communicable and waterborne disease a very serious risk.
The prevalence of unexploded ordinance makes comprehensive assessments very difficult, but preliminary reports reveal a situation of utter devastation, particularly in areas that Israel declared a no-go zone. Large parts of neighbourhoods are damaged or destroyed. UN staff on the ground report that the level of destruction to civilian infrastructure, private homes and land is much greater than in previous conflicts.
Gazans remain deeply concerned that the ceasefire will not hold. Many people have returned home but only to assess the damage, salvage what they can and then returned to their shelters. Some shops in the centre of Gaza are open and people are able to restock up.
Thousands of people want to or will have to remain in shelters, despite the overcrowding, shortage of food and inadequate hygiene facilities. Buildings designed to educate 500 children are sheltering over 3,000 people.
Throughout the conflict, humanitarian workers have tirelessly supported people with basic assistance. In addition to the valiant efforts of UNRWA colleagues, WFP provided food to the displaced and people in hospitals. WHO facilitated the transfer of urgently needed medical supplies to hospitals and clinics. UNICEF is supporting the repair of the water and sanitation system. Our NGO partners played a critical role in delivering much needed aid.
The ceasefire has enabled this support to be stepped up. We can now reach people who were trapped by fighting. But the needs remain enormous. The population of Gaza — over half of them children — were already destitute before the outbreak of the latest conflict. Seven years of a blockade had driven unemployment to 43 per cent, food insecurity to around 57 per cent of the population, and left approximately 80 per cent of people dependent on external assistance.
Significant and sustained international commitment is required to repair damaged infrastructure and restore livelihoods. Water, sanitation and electricity infrastructure and networks must be urgently repaired. To do this we need equipment and tools. We need more medicines to be sent to Gaza. And there is an urgent need to evacuate at least 50 patients a day to the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
For those who can return to their homes, we must provide the basic supplies they need. We need to find alternative venues for shelters so that the upcoming school year — due to begin in just three weeks — is not disrupted. Funding is also urgently required. The UN and partners have appealed for $367 million to address immediate needs. I strongly encourage Member States to respond quickly and generously to the appeal. People need help now.
The world watched with horror the impact of this conflict on children, on civilians. Restoring trust and dealing with the trauma of war could take generations. We witnessed blatant violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
The negotiations in Cairo are critical. Gazans want peace, security and stability. Israelis want the same. We cannot allow a return to a state of active conflict where there is an absence of protection for civilians.
No Gazan has escaped this conflict unscathed. The people of Gaza are frustrated that the international community was unable to protect them during the fighting and are looking to us yet again for help. We cannot fail them. All people deserve to live in peace, security and in dignity. Gazans have been deprived of this for too long. The blockade must be lifted. The cycle of violent conflict must end for good, so that Gazans and Israelis can live free from fear of and reality of war and conflict.
The Secretary-General expresses his deep disappointment that the parties were unable to agree to an extension of the ceasefire in their talks in Cairo. He condemns the renewed rocket fire towards Israel. More suffering and death of civilians caught up in this conflict is intolerable.
The Secretary-General urges the parties to swiftly find a way back to respect of the humanitarian ceasefire and to continue negotiations in Cairo to reach a durable ceasefire.
The extension of the ceasefire is absolutely essential for talks to progress and to address the underlying issues of the crisis as soon as possible. The Secretary-General firmly calls on the parties not to resort to further military action that can only exacerbate the already appalling humanitarian situation in Gaza.
The Secretary-General welcomes today’s announcement by Egypt that the Israelis and the Palestinians have accepted another 72 hours’ unconditional humanitarian ceasefire to commence at midnight local time.
He expresses his strong hope that this will give the two sides, under Egyptian auspices, another chance to agree on a durable ceasefire for the benefit of all civilian populations and as a starting point to address the underlying grievances on both sides. He continues to urge all concerned to work constructively to this end and avoid any steps which would lead to a return to violence.
The United Nations stands ready to assist in the implementation of an agreement that would consolidate peace and allow for much-needed reconstruction and development of Gaza.
The President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Baudelaire Ndong Ella (Gabon), announced today the appointment of Amal Alamuddin Ms. Amal Alamuddin informed the HRC President on 12 August 2014 that she was unfortunately not in a position to accept this role. , Doudou Diène and William Schabas to serve as members of the independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014. William Schabas will serve as Chair of the three-person commission mandated by the Council at its last special session.
The Council decided to establish the commission of inquiry at its twenty-first special session on 23 July 2014 to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014, whether before, during or after, to establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and to identify those responsible, to make recommendations, in particular on accountability measures, all with a view to avoiding and ending impunity and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable, and on ways and means to protect civilians against any further assaults.
The same resolution requested that the commission of inquiry present a written report to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-eighth session in March 2015. It requested the High-Commissioner for Human Rights to report on the implementation of the resolution, including on measures taken with regard to ensuring accountability for the serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, to the Council at its twenty-seventh session in September 2014.
Biographies of the members of the Commission of Inquiry
Doudou Diène (Senegal) was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance from 2002 to 2008 and the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Côte d’Ivoire from 2011 to 2014. Mr. Diène holds a doctorate in public law from the University of Paris law degree from the University of Caen (France) He holds a law degree from the University of Caen and a doctorate in public law from the University of Paris.
William Schabas (Canada) is professor of international law at Middlesex University in London. He is also professor of international criminal law and human rights at Leiden University as well as emeritus professor human rights law at the Irish Centre for Human Rights of the National University of Ireland Galway. From 2002 to 2004, he served as one of three international members of the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mr. Schabas was also a member and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in Human Rights and has drafted the 2010 report of the Secretary-General on the status of the death penalty.
The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, today voiced deep concern over the death of Italian journalist Simone Camilli and Ali Shehda Abu Afash, his Palestinian translator, in an explosion in the town of Beit Lahiya in Gaza.
“I deplore the death of Simone Camilli and Ali Shehda Abu Afash, lifting the death toll of media workers from the current confict,” the Director-General said. “The loss of individuals who brave danger to ensure that the world is kept informed of events in conflict zones affects to us all.”
Associated Press (AP) journalist Simone Camilli, 35, and Ali Shehada Abu Afash were killed, along with three members of the Palestinian bomb squad, who were trying to dismantle an unexploded missile on Wednesday morning.
Eight media workers have died in Gaza since the start of the conflict in July. The Director-General issues statements about these cases in line with Resolution 29 adopted by UNESCO Member States at the Organization’s General Conference of 1997, entitled “Condemnation of Violence against Journalists.” They are posted on a dedicated webpage, UNESCO condemns the killing of journalists.
We meet today against the backdrop of a restive region with heightened political tensions and a severe security threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Nusra Front, as well as the recent attacks by violent extremist groups from Syria against the Lebanese Armed Forces and the internal security forces in the Lebanese town of Arsal. Given that the Security Council has already been seized of those very worrisome situations, with its adoption on 15 August of resolution 2170 (2014), on countering the threat of ISIL and the Nusra Front, and with its press statement of 4 August on Lebanon (SC/11507), I would like to focus my briefing today on the situation in Israel and Palestine, with an emphasis on Gaza.
As we meet, the temporary ceasefire between Israel and Gaza, now on the fifth and last day of its current extension, is holding, with Israeli and Palestinian delegations in Cairo meeting separately with the Egyptian authorities in a crucial effort to break the deadlock of violence and retaliation. I recently travelled to Cairo in support of those important talks, and the Secretary-General has continued to engage with the parties and the stakeholders to end the violence and to reach a durable ceasefire. The hopes of the people in Gaza for a better future and of the people in Israel for sustainable security rest on those talks, and we call on the delegations to live up to that responsibility. By the deadline later today — midnight Cairo time, or 5 p.m. here in New York — we urge the parties to reach an understanding on a durable ceasefire that also addresses the underlying issues afflicting Gaza, or to make substantive progress towards it. At the very least, we hope that the ceasefire will be extended and that the situation remains quiet.
I think we all share the relief that no blood is being shed at the moment, but we also all regret that it has taken too much time and too many lives to achieve this pause. The toll of this third major escalation in Gaza in six years is appalling. A total of almost 2,000 Palestinians have been killed, of whom 459 are children and 239 are women. Civilians represent more than two thirds of that total. Some 10,000 — again, roughly a third of them children — have been injured. Sixty-four Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, two Israeli civilians and one foreign national have reportedly been killed. A few dozen Israelis have been directly injured by rockets or shrapnel.
In the face of that devastation and loss of life, the United Nations has mobilized its every effort, including through the personal engagement of the Secretary-General, and is working closely with regional and international stakeholders to end the violence. We did not relent, despite setbacks, because the loss of civilian life was so unbearable. On two occasions, we were successful. On 17 July and 26 July, humanitarian pauses provided civilians with a much-needed respite from the violence. The temporary ceasefire that currently prevails has granted civilians another such reprieve for the past eight days, and I would like to commend the Government of Egypt for brokering it. It is essential that the guns remain silent to allow civilians to resume the necessities of their daily lives and to allow for increased humanitarian and early recovery efforts to address the manifold needs of the people in Gaza, such as urgent repairs to water and electricity networks and efforts to find more viable shelter for those displaced who are not able to return to their destroyed homes.
It remains my conviction that we must not leave Gaza in the condition it was in before this latest escalation. Otherwise, the restrictions on the Strip on the exit and entry of goods and people will continue to fuel instability, underdevelopment and conflict, and I am afraid the next escalation will be just a matter of time.
As I told the General Assembly recently from Cairo, the basic equation must consist of ending the blockade on Gaza and addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns. That has become even more urgent given the unprecedented amount of destruction wrought on the Strip during this latest escalation and the corresponding unprecedented level of humanitarian needs. The assessment of Gaza’s reconstruction needs has not yet been completed, but there are indications that the volume of reconstruction will be approximately three times that needed after operation Cast Lead in 2009. Approximately 16,800 housing units have been destroyed or severely damaged, affecting some 100,000 Palestinians.
Reconstruction is the main priority, while exports and transfers are crucial to help Gaza’s economy get back on its feet. Construction materials — aggregate, bar and cement — must be allowed into Gaza to that effect, and their access to Gaza must be facilitated in such a way that it fulfils Israel’s security concerns.
The United Nations stands ready to lend its support in that regard. For years, the United Nations has been importing construction materials for United Nations projects under a mechanism agreed with the Government of Israel, which comprises robust measures to monitor the exclusively civilian use of all materials entering under that mechanism. That system has demonstrably worked, prevented the diversion of materials, allowed the successful implementation of crucial projects and built trust. Reconstruction of the magnitude now needed can be addressed only with the involvement at scale of the Palestinian Authority and the private sector in Gaza, which means that larger quantities of materials entering Gaza are required. We stand ready to explore with the relevant stakeholders how the proven United Nations mechanism can be expanded to monitoring a Palestinian Authority-led, private-sector-driven reconstruction programme in Gaza.
The engagement of the donor community will also be indispensable to help Gaza get back on its feet. We support today’s announcement by Norway and Egypt that they will co-host a donor’s conference once a durable ceasefire is in place and adequate access conditions have been established.
I am heartened that the Government of national consensus has resolved to spearhead the reconstruction agenda for Gaza as part of assuming its rightful responsibilities as the legitimate Government of Palestine, in cooperation with the United Nations and other international partners. Last week, I met with Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amr in Gaza. I appreciate that he was able to enter Gaza via the Erez crossing. After seeing with my own eyes the massive destruction, in which entire residential neighbourhoods were flattened, I discussed the way forward with the Deputy Prime Minister and his Cabinet ministers. Mr. Abu Amr assured me that the Government of national consensus was committed to addressing the urgent and daunting challenges of governance, reconstruction and security as part of bringing Gaza back under one legitimate Palestinian Government that adheres to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s commitments. I reiterate the appeal that I made last week in Gaza. I call on all in Gaza to rally behind the Government of national consensus and empower it to take charge and effect the positive, transformative change that Gaza so badly needs. Right now, Gaza urgently needs houses, hospitals and schools, not rockets, tunnels and conflict. We expect Hamas and all other factions to act responsibly in that regard and refrain from any actions that run counter to that agenda.
We have been extremely troubled during this escalation by breaches of the inviolability of United Nations premises. On three occasions, there were direct hits on United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools that were being used at the time, with full knowledge of the parties to the hostilities, as shelters for Gazans who had fled their homes to seek safety from the fighting. A total of 38 people were killed in those three incidents, and 317 were injured. Eleven UNRWA colleagues were killed in the line of duty. They, as many others, have paid the ultimate price for their heroic efforts aimed at protecting the most vulnerable and to alleviate suffering, for which we honour their memory. An estimated 108 UNRWA installations have been damaged. On 29 July, the Gaza branch of my own office, the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, was hit by a number of projectiles, which caused damage to the main building and to United Nations vehicles. On three occasions, rockets were found in UNRWA schools that were vacant at the time. Those incidents are intolerable, and they are examples of the parties’ disrespect for the vital provisions of international law that safeguard United Nations installations and staff and protect civilians. The Secretary-General has called for a thorough investigation into those incidents to ensure full accountability.
It is not yet clear what kind of ceasefire understanding will emerge from the talks or whether it will be reached by the fast-approaching deadline. In any case, we believe that a sustainable solution must address the issues of governance, reconstruction and security — all in the context of the return to Gaza of one legitimate Palestinian Authority that will undertake institutional restructuring, including of the security sector, and that should also gradually assume the effective and exclusive control of the use of force through the deployment of Palestinian security forces to border crossings and throughout Gaza. None of that will be easy, but we see no other way to change the dynamics in Gaza. As needed, in cooperation with other partners such as the European Union, the United Nations will support the Government of national consensus in those tasks, while taking advantage of our presence on the ground. We are ready to take on that role provided that we are given the relevant resources and mandate. We also underline the importance of an international monitoring arrangement in support of the ceasefire understandings. Given the implications for peace and security in the region, I trust that the Council will consider taking whatever action is needed in support of a durable ceasefire at the appropriate time.
The flare-up in Gaza has also been accompanied by increased tensions and violence in the West Bank. Since 23 July, demonstrations against the Israeli military operation in Gaza have taken place across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, on an almost daily basis, especially around checkpoints and refugee camps, often resulting in clashes with Israeli security forces. The most significant took place on 24 July during the holiest night of Ramadan, when approximately 4,000 to 5,000 Palestinians, including some Palestinian Authority officials, marched on the Qalandiya checkpoint. Demonstrations and clashes have spread as well in East Jerusalem. A total of 17 Palestinians were killed, including two children, and some 1,400 injured during this reporting period. Israeli security forces conducted almost 300 search-and-arrest operations, arresting 623 Palestinians. Seventeen Israeli security forces personnel were also injured. Settler attacks resulted in 1 Palestinian killed and 19 others injured. Twelve settlers were injured by Palestinians.
On 4 August, on a street near the Green Line in Jerusalem, an excavator driven by a Palestinian ran over and killed an Israeli pedestrian and then turned over a bus, injuring five Israelis. The Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli police on the scene. On the same day, an unknown motorcyclist shot and injured an IDF soldier in the Mount Scopus area in Jerusalem.
Last but not least, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture. The increasingly restive situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, together with the Gaza crisis, should be a bleak warning to all concerned of what the future will bring if we do not reverse the current negative trend towards a one-State reality, which is now on the parties’ doorstep. The slide towards a state of permanent conflict and hopelessness must be halted at once. The conflict and the occupation that began in 1967 must be ended. The two-State solution is the only viable scenario in that regard. We must urgently call upon and support both parties to return to meaningful negotiations towards a final status agreement in which Israel and Palestine live side by side in peace and security.
The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the breach of the Egyptian-brokered humanitarian ceasefire, which was to expire at midnight local time. He is gravely disappointed by the return to hostilities.
The Secretary-General reminds both sides of their responsibility not to let the situation escalate. The hopes of the people in Gaza for a better future and the hopes of the people in Israel for sustainable security rest on the talks in Cairo. The Secretary-General calls on the delegations to live up to this expectation and urges the parties to reach an immediate understanding on a durable ceasefire, which also addresses the underlying issues afflicting Gaza.
The present report has been prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights pursuant to General Assembly resolution 68/83. It focuses on four main themes: an assessment of the impact of the wall and related measures in the light of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice of 9 July 2004 on the Legal Consequences of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory; Israel’s practice of administrative detention; the human rights situation in Gaza; and accountability for reported excessive use of force by security forces. The report also provides an update of ongoing efforts to build the capacity of Palestinian institutions.
A. Recommendations to the Government of Israel
76. The Government of Israel should fully comply with the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Legal Consequences of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
77. The Government of Israel should fully lift the blockade of Gaza to remedy the ongoing punitive measures against the civilian population. Any measures restricting the freedom of movement of civilians and the transfer of goods from, into and within Gaza must be consistent with international law.
78. The Government of Israel should ensure that the rules of engagement or open fire regulations of Israeli security forces, including in the access restricted areas, are consistent with international law, including by carrying out an independent review and adopting and implementing any necessary revision.
79. The Government of Israel should ensure that appropriate orders are issued and that disciplinary and criminal accountability mechanisms are in place and used to ensure the effective implementation of rules of engagement and open fire regulations related to the use of force by Israeli security forces, including in the access-restricted areas, in situations other than hostilities.
80. The Government of Israel should take all possible measures to ensure full respect of its obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions, and international human rights law, during the conduct of hostilities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
81. The Government of Israel should carry out prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigations into allegations of unlawful killing or injury, or of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Investigations should also be subject to public scrutiny and allow for meaningful victim participation. Individuals who are responsible for violations should be held accountable and prosecuted in fair trials and victims should be provided with an effective remedy. As an initial step to reforming the investigative system, the Government should implement the recommendations of the second report of the Turkel Commission.
82. The Government of Israel should rescind all policies and practices that directly or indirectly lead to the forced eviction and/or forcible transfer of civilians, including demolitions and/or confiscations, or plans for demolitions or confiscations, and those that contribute to the creation of a coercive environment that forces Palestinians to leave their homes or land. It should permit and facilitate the return of those communities already affected to the places from which they were evicted and/or transferred and ensure the right to adequate housing and legal security of tenure.
83. The Government of Israel should charge or release any detainees held in administrative detention and bring to an end the administrative detention regime.
B. Recommendations to the Government of the State of Palestine
84. The Government of the State of Palestine should conduct prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigations into allegations of unlawful killing or injury, or of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by security forces, as well as any violations of international humanitarian law by Palestinian actors. Such investigations must be transparent and the results made public. Those responsible must be brought to justice in fair trials.
85. The Government of the State of Palestine should implement the Palestinian National Development Plan in accordance with the Guidance Document for the Integration of Human Rights into Palestinian National Development Plans.
86. The Government of the State of Palestine should ensure compliance with its obligations under international law following accession to a number of international treaties, including eight human rights treaties, and ensure timely, comprehensive and accurate reporting to relevant human rights treaty bodies.
C. Recommendations to Palestinian armed groups in Gaza
87. Palestinian armed groups in Gaza must respect international humanitarian law, especially in relation to all rules on the conduct of hostilities, in particular distinction, which includes a prohibition on indiscriminate attacks.
The President of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Ambassador Baudelaire Ndong Ella (Gabon), today announced the appointment of Mary McGowan Davis as an additional member of the Commission of Inquiry charged with investigating human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in particular the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014. Justice McGowan Davis will join William Schabas and Doudou Diène whose appointments were announced by the Council President on 11 August.
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry was established by the Council through resolution S-21/1 adopted at its special session on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory on 23 July 2014. As mandated by the Human Rights Council, the Commission of Inquiry will investigate all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law since the current military operations began in mid-June.
In carrying out its work, the Commission of Inquiry will aim to establish the facts and circumstances of human rights violations and crimes perpetrated in order to identify those responsible. The Council also requested that the Commission of Inquiry present a written report to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-eighth session in March 2015.
The President of the Human Rights Council is continuing to hold consultations in order to find ways to further strengthen the Commission of Inquiry in its work.
Mary McGowan Davis (United States of America) served as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York and as a federal prosecutor during the course of a 24-year career in the criminal justice sector in New York City. She also has extensive experience in the fields of international human rights law and transitional justice. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Association for the International Commission of Jurists and the International Judicial Academy, and serves on the Managerial Board of the International Association of Women Judges. Justice McGowan Davis also served as a member and then Chair of the UN Committee of Independent Experts tasked with following up on the findings of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict occurring between December 2008 and January 2009.
The present report, which has been prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights pursuant to General Assembly resolution 68/82, provides an update on Israel’s activities aimed at creating and expanding settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan. It focuses on both official and informal methods used by Israel to control land, which is then allocated to settlements. It also provides an update on settler violence and addresses the failure of Israel to maintain public order and ensure accountability for settler violence.
VII. Conclusions and recommendations
47. Israel continues to violate its international legal obligations and commitments under the road map, and fails to heed the repeated calls from the international community to cease transferring its civilian population into occupied territory.
48. Israel plays a leading role in the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan, including by using its legal system to seize land, which is later allocated to settlements, and by expanding the area effectively occupied by settlements. Israel must implement relevant United Nations resolutions, including Security Council resolution 497 (1981), and withdraw from territories occupied in 1967.
49. Israel continues to fail to protect Palestinians from violent acts committed by Israeli settlers, in contravention of its international obligation as the occupying Power to maintain public order and safety in the occupied territory. Israel continues to fail to ensure accountability for settler violence.
50. Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem lead to multiple violations of the human rights of Palestinians. Israel must abide by its international obligations by respecting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of Palestinians, as contained in international human rights law. In addition, Israel, as the occupying Power, must ensure that Palestinians are afforded the protection provided under international humanitarian law for protected persons.
51. Israel is called on to put an end to the creation and expansion of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in the occupied Syrian Golan. In particular, it should cease using its legal system to control land which is then allocated to settlements, specifically through declarations and endorsements of State land. In addition, the Secretary-General calls on Israel to immediately stop using informal land control methods, such as agriculture and archaeological parks, aimed at expanding the area effectively occupied by settlements. In this regard, Israel must take action against settlers who take over land, including by agricultural activities.
52. Moreover, Israel must stop the funding, support and participation in archaeological projects, often managed by settler organizations, which contribute to the consolidation of settler presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and could result in several violations of the rights of Palestinians, including their right to freedom of movement.
53. The forcible transfer of the Palestinian population, including the Bedouin communities and herders currently residing in the central West Bank and the eastern Jerusalem periphery, violates Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian and international human rights law. Therefore, plans that would result in the forcible transfer of such communities should be halted immediately.
54. Israel also has an obligation under international law to provide Palestinian communities in Area C, including the Bedouin communities and herders at risk of forcible transfer, with adequate housing, security of tenure and access to water and services, including health and education, in their current locations.
55. Israel, as the occupying Power, is obliged to prevent violent attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, in particular in geographic locations where such acts are known to occur persistently. Israel must take all measures to ensure that all acts of violence committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their property are investigated independently, impartially, thoroughly, promptly, effectively and in a non-discriminatory manner. Investigations should allow for public scrutiny and the participation of victims. Individuals responsible for violations should be prosecuted and victims should be granted effective remedies.
After this latest round of killing and the further widespread destruction of Palestinian homes, civilians on both sides need a reprieve in order to resume their daily lives, and to allow for humanitarian and early recovery efforts to address the desperate needs of the people in Gaza. The children of Gaza and Israel must be able to start the school year without the sound of rocket alarms and airstrikes. After 50 days of profound human suffering and devastating physical destruction, any violations of the ceasefire would be utterly irresponsible.
Any peace effort that does not tackle the root causes of the crisis will do little more than set the stage for the next cycle of violence. Gaza must be brought back under one legitimate Palestinian Government adhering to the Palestine Liberation Organization commitments; the blockade of Gaza must end; and Israel’s legitimate security concerns must be addressed. The United Nations stands ready to support efforts to address the structural factors of conflict between Israel and Gaza.
The Secretary-General remains hopeful that the extended ceasefire will act as a prelude to a political process as the only way of achieving durable peace. The two-State solution is the only viable option. The Secretary-General urgently calls on both parties to return to meaningful negotiations towards a final status agreement that addresses all core issues and ends the 47-year occupation.