The Committee’s report examines the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory and the occupied Syrian Golan Heights between September 2010 and August 2011. It contains information gathered during the Committee’s mission to the region, which took place from 21 to 28 July. The mission included the Committee’s first ever visit to an occupied Palestinian territory, namely to the Gaza Strip, as well as meetings in Jordan. The Committee was provided with a wide range of views regarding Israeli practices affecting the human rights situation in the occupied territories. Invitations were extended to Palestinian, Israeli and Syrian victims, witnesses and nongovernmental organizations, and support was made available to facilitate their appearance before the Committee. Documentation and other materials submitted to the Committee were reviewed in the process of preparing this year’s report.
The over-arching observation of the Special Committee following its visit to the Gaza Strip is that Israel’s blockade continues to amount to a collective punishment of the civilian population despite limited relaxation of the blockade. This collective punishment is having a grave impact on the children of Gaza. Israeli-enforced restrictions on the freedom of movement within Gaza and restrictions on the importation of materials necessary to reconstruct houses, schools and other infrastructure destroyed by operation “Cast Lead,” constitute further serious concerns that were emphasized during the Committee’s visit to Gaza.
The Special Committee received extensive testimony regarding the high prevalence of physical and mental health problems that have resulted from Israel’s blockade. Organizations working on health issues stressed that there have been increases in the incidence of high blood pressure, cancers and other physical ailments, while psychological conditions, such as depression, conversation disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder are widespread.
The Committee saw that much of the devastation of infrastructure that occurred during Israel’s operation “Cast Lead” remains. Witnesses informed the Committee that reconstruction is constrained, since Israel’s blockade impedes the importation of materials. The Committee was informed that 51,000 civilians lost their homes during Israel’s operation “Cast Lead.”
Committee members were disturbed by testimony that Israel enforces its restrictions on movement on the borders of Gaza through the use of live fire. The members were dismayed to learn that 17 Palestinian children were killed in live fire incidents in 2010. Furthermore, witnesses noted that Israel’s so-called “buffer zone” excludes around 35 per cent of Gaza’s land territory from agricultural use, and that such restrictions extend to Gaza’s fishing territory. While the Oslo Agreement allotted 20 nautical miles of maritime area to Palestine, Israel has reduced this to 3 nautical miles. These restrictions have greatly diminished Gaza’s agricultural and fisheries industries. Two telling statistics are that fishermen’s catches fell by around 50 per cent between 2008 and 2009 and 92 per cent of Gaza’s fisherman now live in poverty.
The Special Committee received extensive information on the grave impact that Israel’s blockade is having on children in Gaza. Frequent direct exposure to violence, including being victims of such violence, a general feeling of helplessness and lack of opportunities, obstruction of the right to education, and rapidly deteriorating physical and mental health constitute the most immediate concerns. These could result in consequences that may become vastly problematic in the future.
Some of the statistics that witnesses provided are indicative: 75 per cent of children at the age of nine months are aneamic; 13 per cent of children under five suffer from malnutrition; and 25 per cent of children do not eat breakfast. Deficiencies in critical vitamins and minerals are diminishing children’s capacity for learning. In addition, the Committee was told of 20 instances within the past year when Israeli authorities have denied Palestinian children the possibility to travel outside of Gaza to receive necessary medical treatment. The expulsion of children to areas away from their homes was mentioned by witnesses. In one such instance, a three year old child died while awaiting permission to travel.
The Committee was informed that 17,684 dunums of land were confiscated between August 2010 and June 2011. Witnesses gave particular attention to Israel’s increasingly vigorous confiscation of land in the Jordan Valley. The Committee was also reminded that Israel persists with the construction of the Wall, in defiance of the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice. The Committee received accounts of violence being perpetrated by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their homes, crops and mosques. Not only did witnesses report that Israeli settlers perpetrate violence against Palestinians with near impunity, but the Committee also heard consistent allegations of cooperation between Israeli security forces and Israeli settlers on committing violence against Palestinians and their properties.
In line with the General Assembly’s request, and while welcoming the recent exchange of prisoners, the Committee gave particular attention to the situation of Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Witnesses raised serious concerns related to the legal status of such prisoners; the lack of family visits; access to proper medical care; conditions and treatment during detention; concerns particular to female detainees; access to education for detainees; and long-term detention without charges. One victim explained to the Committee his experience of being detained for two full years without having been charged, under the so-called “administrative detention.” In addition, the Committee’s attention was drawn to a new policy of continuing to imprison Palestinians at the conclusion of their sentences, under the designation of “illegitimate fighter” status, as well as a new Israeli law allowing for the detention of any Palestinian who has previously been detained.
The Committee was unable to travel to the Syrian Arab Republic this year. However the members were able to engage with victims in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights by way of teleconference. Unfortunately the testimony received indicated that Israel has not changed its policies and practices of concern in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
Specific concerns raised included discrimination against Syrians with respect to access to water – and the resultant negative impacts on Syrian agriculture in the occupied Golan Heights; the continuing policy of inhibiting Syrian families from visiting their relatives outside of the occupied Golan Heights; Israel’s construction of a wall to cordon off the occupied Golan Heights; incidents of excessive use of force by Israeli security forces against Syrians; and poor conditions of detention for Syrian detainees held by Israel.
The following are the key recommendations to Israel in the Special Committee’s report.
Lift the siege of Gaza. Ensure a regular and adequate supply of food, medicines and other basic supplies and services, in line with Security Council resolution 1860, and increase the capacities of Israeli crossing points for cargo and commercial goods. Clarify restrictions on the freedom of movement within Gaza, and ensure that Israeli security forces and the population of Gaza are informed of such restrictions. Israeli security forces should never enforce such restrictions through the use of live fire.
Desist from confiscating further land in the West Bank, and develop and implement a plan to return land that has been confiscated. In this connection, cease the demolition of Palestinian houses and provide appropriate compensation to Palestinians who have had homes demolished.
Desist from the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory and to dismantle settlements previously built.
Take effective measures to end violence against Palestinians by Israeli settlers. This must include informing Israeli security forces in the West Bank of their legal responsibility to protect Palestinian civilians and their property from violence. Ensure the humane treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
With regard to the people in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. Facilitate visits for Syrians in the occupied Golan with family members in other parts of Syrian territory.
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