The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Makarim Wibisono, on Friday expressed deep concern about the human rights situation of Palestinians living under the 48-year-long Israeli occupation.
“Accounts show that occupation policies constrain Palestinian life and push Palestinians to leave their land and homes, especially in area C of the West Bank, and East Jerusalem,” said the expert after his second mission to the region.
From 9 to 12 June 2015, Mr. Wibisono visited Amman, Jordan, and met with civil society and Palestinian local community representatives, UN agencies, and Palestinian government officials. He was unable to access the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), as the Israeli Government has not granted him access and has not formally responded to his requests for access to Israel and the OPT.
“The briefings I received reflect a situation that is deeply alarming. The crisis in war-torn Gaza is deepening. In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, there are daily infringements of Palestinian rights as land is increasingly lost to illegal settlements,” the human rights expert warned.
“Simply closing our eyes is allowing these practices to continue – the international community must ensure the promise of universal human rights no longer
rings hollow to Palestinians,” he stressed reiterating his call for accountability for violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in the OPT.
“Accountability is critical for dealing with past violations as well as preventing future ones,” Mr. Wibisono explained. “This includes accountability for violations in the context of successive Israeli military operations, including the 2014 hostilities in Gaza. It is the only way to move forward.”
The independent expert heard how nine months after the ceasefire, of some 12,600 homes totally destroyed during the 2014 hostilities, not a single one has been rebuilt in Gaza. Multiple factors affect the slow reconstruction in Gaza, including unfulfilled donor pledges.
Mr. Wibisono noted that the blockade, now in its eighth year, imposes severe restrictions on Palestinian movement, imports and exports and has left Gaza dependent on international aid and with soaring unemployment.
“The bottom line remains that, if Gaza is to recover from the damage wrought by multiple rounds of hostility and a shattered economy, the blockade must be lifted. The people deserve help and realisation of their human rights, not collective punishment,” he said.
The Special Rapporteur was also briefed on the lack of access to health care in Gaza, where more than 11,000 Palestinians were left injured after last summer’s escalation of hostilities. “Health services too are affected by the blockade. There are prolonged and chronic shortages of drugs and medical supplies,” he said.
In addition, the expert was briefed on how the extensive damage caused to civilian infrastructure has worsened the provision of essential utility services. “One man described how ‘Gazans wake up every day to wash with salt-water and sleep at the end of the day without electricity’ – People are deprived of the means to help themselves and they cannot leave – this is a very dangerous situation,” he warned.
The West Bank, including East Jerusalem
In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the independent expert noted the interplay between Israeli control of natural resources, such as land and water, and advancement of Israeli settlements.
The Special Rapporteur was briefed on the scarcity of water for Palestinians, including farmers, while settlements enjoy up to 6-8 times the amount of water. “The impact of untreated sewage and waste from settlements on Palestinian crops and the environment is also concerning,” Mr. Wibisono added.
From Bedouin communities in the West Bank, to Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, families live under the threat of settler violence, home demolitions and forcible transfer.
“I would like to highlight the small village of Susiya. All of its 170 structures located in Area C, from homes to animal shelters, schools and latrines, are now at imminent risk of demolition. This includes structures donated as international humanitarian assistance,” the expert said noting that residents have been subjected to multiple waves of demolitions since an illegal Israeli settlement sprung up nearby the village in the 1980s.
“Occupation policies and practices go beyond control of land – they impact every aspect of life and wear heavily on the social fabric of communities,” he said. “Palestinians are kept apart by movement restrictions: Between Gaza and the West Bank, between the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and within the West Bank, including by the separation wall, which is illegal under international law.”
“The end result is that, if you are Palestinian, family and social life is dictated by the granting or refusal by the Israeli authorities of the right permit,” the Special Rapporteur highlighted.
The human rights expert expressed concern over Palestinian deaths and injuries resulting from excessive use of force by Israeli security forces, including in refugee camps.
“In addition to use of fire arms, there are troubling accounts of how ‘crowd-control’ weapons are used by Israeli security forces. Weapons such as tear-gas, cannot accurately be described as ‘non-lethal’ –they can have serious health effects and in several cases have been used with fatal consequences,” he said.
Regarding detention and imprisonment of Palestinians, including through the practice of administrative detention, the Special Rapporteur described the situation as one of justice turned on its head.
“A high percentage of the Palestinian population, including hundreds of children, are detained by Israel every year and there are serious questions over lack of due process protections afforded under the military justice system,” he stated. “On the other hand, there appears to be little legal consequence for numerous allegations of settler violence or excessive use of force by Israeli security forces against Palestinians.”
Speaking of his meeting with a youth group from the city of Hebron, which is severely affected by military checkpoints and settlements, Wibisono commented: “A young Palestinian human rights defender, who cannot walk freely in the streets due to checkpoints, emphasized that he bore no ill will towards the Israeli people and simply said: ‘The problem is the occupation’.”
The Special Rapporteur will present his next report during the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.