The United Nations Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories has heard grave concerns about the deteriorating situation of human rights, during its annual visit to Jordan.
The delegation also heard testimony on a range of human rights issues, including arrests and detentions, the restriction of movement, destruction and confiscation of property, expansion of settlements, and poor detention conditions, as well as the excessive use of force by Israeli security forces and an overarching lack of accountability.
Members of the delegation said it was especially troubling to hear accounts of the increasingly coercive environment in which Palestinians live in Area C of the West Bank – which is under full Israeli civil and security control.
Palestinians feared demolition of their homes, schools and other structures, faced night raids on their homes, and were unable to build or expand their own homes, as they were denied building permits by the Israeli authorities.
The Committee said this was in stark contrast to the current expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The construction of new homes in Israeli settlements threatened the very possibility of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state and was in violation of international humanitarian law.
Against this backdrop, the delegation received detailed briefings on the precarious situation of Palestinian Bedouin communities in Area C, and particularly of the community of Khan al-Ahmar Abu al Helu, whose 181 inhabitants are facing eviction at any moment. This planned displacement could amount to “forcible transfer” under international law, the Committee noted.
Witnesses explained that the pressure exercised by the Israeli authorities on Palestinians living in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to try to force them to leave their property and land, was enormous. The fragmentation of the Palestinian territory, the expansion of settlements, the wall built by Israel, and checkpoints had had a profound impact on the daily life of Palestinians and the enjoyment of their basic human rights, including freedom of movement and access to their livelihoods, education and healthcare.
Organizations told the Committee that Israeli practices, underpinned by the obstruction of humanitarian relief and human rights protection, were pursued in favour of Israeli territorial interests.
The delegates were also briefed on a series of legislative measures, either adopted or under discussion at the Knesset. In particular, they heard about the adoption last week of an amendment to the Administrative Courts Law, transferringjurisdiction for petitions relating to the Occupied Palestinian Territory – currently brought before the High Court of Justice – to the Administrative Affairs Court in Jerusalem. Organizations have expressed concern that this change would have the effect of severely limiting Palestinian access to justice.
Other testimony described the continued use of administrative detention and the poor conditions for Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons. Concerns were also expressed about the arrest and detention of children, including reports of ill-treatment.
The delegation was briefed extensively on the continuation of the blockade in Gaza for the eleventh year, and its negative impact on the most basic human rights of residents, including their rights to health, education and freedom of movement.
The electricity crisis which worsened over a year ago was continuing, with only four to six hours of electricity available per day. This has significant negative repercussions on access to clean water and medical care.
The Committee’s representatives learned of Israel’s decision on 9 July to place additional restrictions on the Kerem Shalom/Karm Abu Salem commercial crossing into Gaza, restricting even more the movements of goods in and out of Gaza.
The delegation heard disturbing testimony regarding the use of lethal force against mostly unarmed demonstrators by Israeli security forces during the “Great March of Return” demonstrations along the fence in Gaza. 112 Palestinians have been killed and thousands of others have been injured since 30 March 2018. Among those killed were 17 children, as well as a paramedic and two journalists, who were wearing clearly visible insignia identifying them as medical staff and members of the press. Concerns were expressed about the lack of accountability that further exacerbates the violence.
Members of the delegation also heard that many injured protesters had sustained permanent injuries, including limb amputations, and that a high number of those who required care not available in Gaza had been denied exit permits to access healthcare elsewhere.
Organizations told the Committee that the space in which they operate was shrinking rapidly. Human rights defenders faced threats and discrimination, and several cases of arrest and detention of human rights defenders were also reported.
The delegates heard with concern of significant cuts to the funding of UNRWA, which plays a crucial role in providing protection, education and health services to the refugee populations, as well as employment in Gaza and the West Bank. The Committee’s members were briefed on the possibility that UNRWA would not be able to start the school year in a few weeks’ time if new funding was not made available by the end of August.
In this context of increased Israeli discriminatory practices against the Palestinians, and in order to cease the deterioration of the human rights situation of Palestinians, members of the Committee stressed the importance of the peace process and the two-State solution.
The delegates of the Special Committee had meetings with civil society organizations, Palestinian government officials and UN representatives during their visit to Amman from 17 to 20 July.
The Committee’s next report will be presented to the General Assembly in November 2018.