Rights: Palestinian population needs greater protection, says UN expert

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, Mr. Makarim Wibisono of Indonesia, has stressed the critical need for the international community to increase its protection of the Palestinian population.

Mr. Wibisono, who has resigned because of Israeli non-cooperation with his task, while presenting his final report to the Human Rights Council, recalled the well-documented violations related to the Israeli occupation policies and practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), and appealed to the Government of Israel, as the occupying power, to take practical steps to implement protections under international law as it pertains to the Palestinian population living under occupation.

The report was presented on Monday to the Council which is currently holding its thirty-first session from 29 February to 24 March.

(Mr Wibisono had submitted his resignation to the President of the Human Rights Council on 4 January 2016, to take effect as of 31 March 2016. In a UN news release of 4 January, the Special Rapporteur voiced deep regret that throughout his mandate, Israel failed to grant him access to the OPT. Repeated requests for access, both written and oral, have been unsuccessful. "Unfortunately, my efforts to help improve the lives of Palestinian victims of violations under the Israeli occupation have been frustrated every step of the way," he had said in the news release.

(During the interactive dialogue in the Council on Monday, a number of speakers expressed regret over Mr Wibisono's resignation in response to the lack of cooperation by Israel with the mandate. They called on the President of the Human Rights Council to nominate his successor as soon as possible. They also called on Israel to fully cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and other UN human rights mechanisms. Reportedly, Israel was not present in the room during the dialogue.)

In his final report, the Special Rapporteur said that since assuming his mandate in June 2014, he has been struck by the abundant amounts of information and reports on violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, on the one hand, and the seeming inability of the international community to match what is known of the situation with more effective protection of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

He noted that year after year, violations of international humanitarian law and of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights continue to be reported.

"Key recommendations to the Government of Israel presented by the Secretary-General, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and independent mandate holders, such as the Special Rapporteur, to the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council remain largely unimplemented."

As an occupied people, under international humanitarian law, Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are "protected persons".

Yet there is a disconnect between the rights and protections afforded to them under international humanitarian law, and international human rights law in particular, and actual protection.

The Special Rapporteur emphasised that Israel, as the occupying Power, holds the primary responsibility for addressing this disconnect.

The destructive impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is particularly clear in times of active hostilities, such as in the summer of 2014 in Gaza, or as has been witnessed particularly in the fourth quarter of 2015, especially in the West Bank, during escalations in violence, said the report.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in October and November 2015, the escalation of violence resulted in the deaths of more than 100 Palestinians and some 11,300 injured, and 17 Israeli fatalities and some 170 injured.

The rights expert reiterated two points, related to the current violence, which are interlinked. The first is that any wanton act of individual violence, whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis, is unacceptable and must be investigated and prosecuted in accordance with international standards.

The second is that the upsurge of violence with serious concerns of excessive use of force by Israeli security forces in the context of attacks and alleged attacks by Palestinians and during clashes, and ongoing settler violence, is arising within a pre-existing context.

Anyone seeking to quell the unrest, notwithstanding the unequivocal position that individual perpetrators of crimes must be held responsible, would need to look to the context and related root causes of the overall heightened tension.

"To simply condemn individual attacks does not offer any viable way out of the violence rolling over the Occupied Palestinian Territory," said Mr Wibisono.

He reiterated that long-standing Israeli policies and practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, such as continued settlement expansion, the construction of the wall, and the blockade of Gaza, are illegal under international law and well-known to entail ongoing and serious violations of the human rights of Palestinians.

In his report, the Special Rapporteur deeply regrets that he has been obstructed in his ability to fulfil his mandate by the lack of cooperation of Israel.

He assumed the mandate as an impartial observer and has from the outset made great efforts to engage in dialogue with the Government of Palestine and the Government of Israel.

While the Government of Palestine has extended full cooperation, the Government of Israel has repeatedly sought to justify its non-cooperation by referring to its reservations regarding the mandate.

Consequently, despite assurances of access made upon his appointment, and the duty of Israel, as a Member State, to extend cooperation to a special procedure mandate holder, the Special Rapporteur has effectively been denied access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Mr Wibisono said.

The Special Rapporteur said he has raised a number of concerns related to the rise in violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, especially of excessive use of force by Israeli security forces during clashes and in the context of attacks and alleged attacks by Palestinians.

The situation escalated in October, following heightened tensions, and continued in November and December 2015.

"The upsurge in violence is a grim reminder of the unsustainable human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the volatile environment it engenders."

Against the backdrop of illegal settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the blockade of Gaza, and a general lack of accountability, including for violations and crimes by Israeli security forces and settlers, tensions rose further in September and October 2015 following restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities on Palestinians' access to the Al-Aqsa compound and what Palestinians viewed as attempts to alter the status quo at the Al-Aqsa compound.

October and November 2015 also saw a wave of protests and violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.

Excessive use of force by Israeli security forces against Palestinians in the context of attacks and alleged attacks on Israelis, including soldiers, and during clashes, has been widely reported.

The rights expert said that the high number of Palestinian casualties in individual incidents and during clashes with Israeli security forces, since the violence escalated, is extremely worrying.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that, in October and November 2015, of some 11,300 Palestinians injured, injuries were mainly caused by exposure to tear gas (60 per cent), rubber bullets (23 per cent) and live ammunition (14 per cent).

Of fatalities in the same period, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 60 Palestinians, including children, were killed in the context of attacks and alleged attacks against Israelis, and 17 Israelis were killed in such attacks.

In addition, 39 Palestinians were killed in the context of clashes with Israeli security forces, and three Palestinians were killed in other types of incidents.

The Special Rapporteur is deeply concerned at measures employed against the Palestinian population in the context of the escalation of violence.

"While Israeli authorities need to respond appropriately and proportionally to the deteriorating security situation, measures that are excessive violate international law and only add fuel to already inflamed tensions."

He noted that in mid-October, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported the approval by the Security Cabinet of a number of measures, authorizing Israeli security forces to "impose a closure on, or to surround, centers of friction and incitement in Jerusalem".

The measures also provided that where a punitive demolition has taken place no new construction would be permitted, that the [suspected] perpetrators' property would be confiscated and their East Jerusalem residency rights revoked.

Mr Wibisono pointed out that punitive demolitions of the homes of perpetrators or alleged perpetrators of attacks against Israelis are in contravention of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

"Israel, as the occupying Power, is prohibited from destroying private property in the Occupied Palestinian Territory."

Such demolitions further constitute collective punishment, contrary to article 33 of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, affecting not only the perpetrator or suspected perpetrator, but also the family of the targeted person and often families in adjacent homes impacted by the blast of the demolitions.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, from mid-October to the end of November 2015, 11 homes were demolished or sealed in such punitive actions.

This caused the displacement of 80 Palestinians, including 42 children.
Twenty-six persons living in adjacent buildings were also temporarily displaced in connection with the demolitions.

In East Jerusalem, extensive restrictions, affecting the right to freedom of movement, in the form of roadblocks and checkpoints were imposed following approval by the Israeli Security Cabinet in mid-October 2015.

At the end of November, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that around 76,000 people in six Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem were still directly affected by additional checkpoints, roadblocks and an earth mound.

With respect to the right to education during the period of increased tensions and clashes, the Special Rapporteur said he has received allegations of schoolchildren and teachers in Hebron being harassed by Israeli forces and settlers on their way to and from school in October 2015.

Children attending school in the H2 area of Hebron, controlled by Israeli security forces, appear to have been particularly adversely affected. According to the organization Christian Peacemaker Teams, in the first 10 schooldays of October, more than 140 tear gas canisters were fired by Israeli forces from two military checkpoints in H2 as Palestinian children walked to and from school.

The Special Rapporteur stressed the need to ensure respect for the human rights of Palestinians. "Responding to the deteriorated security situation does not permit excessive measures or measures of collective punishment to be carried out by Israeli authorities."

The Special Rapporteur reiterated that it is imperative that Israeli security forces abide by international standards on use of force, in particular the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

He renewed the call on Israeli authorities to carry out independent, effective, thorough, prompt and impartial investigations into all suspected cases of extrajudicial, arbitrary and summary executions.

According to the rights expert, most of the human rights violations against Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are linked to the existence and expansion of settlements.

Such violations relate to home demolitions and the consequent displacement, discriminatory supply of water and provision of access to land, movement restrictions, settler violence and the discriminatory military court system which Israel applies to Palestinians.

The Special Rapporteur expressed deep regret that Israel rejected the following recommendations related to settlements: stop the transfer of its population to the occupied territory and put an end to all measures that encourage or perpetuate the settlements; guarantee the right to housing of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, stopping the demolition of Palestinian houses and guaranteeing the property rights of the Palestinian population; and dismantle the separation wall and halt the expansion of illegal settlements.

According to the report, in Gaza, the landscape and the people are scarred by multiple rounds of hostilities with Israel and kept in a state of de-development by the long-standing blockade, which constitutes collective punishment contrary to international humanitarian law.

It has the effect of isolating Gaza, including from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and affects a range of human rights, especially the right to freedom of movement and the right to an adequate standard of living.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has reported: "The over-abstraction and scarcity of drinking water have been exacerbated by crumbling sanitation infrastructure, while the blockade creates chronic shortages of electricity and fuel, which in turn aggravate contamination and the water crisis."

Of the many families hit hardest in terms of damage and destruction of their homes during the 2014 Israeli military operation, some 95,000 people were still displaced as of November 2015.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that in October 2015 the reconstruction of 10 per cent of homes that had been totally destroyed in 2014 was under way (over 1,100), while 12 per cent of repairs to severely damaged homes had been completed.

The Special Rapporteur is dismayed that there appears to be no indication from Israel that the blockade will be lifted. The Government of Israel rejected seven recommendations expressly on lifting the blockade or closure of Gaza.

Regarding the treatment of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, including children, under the Israeli military court system, the report said figures reported by various non-governmental organizations show a sharp rise in the number of Palestinians detained in the month of October 2015, during the escalation of violence.

According to figures published by an Israeli non-governmental organization, the number of Palestinians in the custody of the Israeli security forces reached some 5,680; a rise of more than 400 persons held compared to September 2015.

With respect to the situation of child suspects and detainees, the Special Rapporteur is astounded at the openly discriminatory approach signalled by the rejection by Israel of the following recommendation: take all steps necessary to ensure that Palestinian children in military custody receive the same level of care and have the same rights as provided by Israeli criminal law to youth offenders.

A rise in Palestinian minors held by Israel has also been recorded, with some 300 of those held by Israel at the end of October 2015 being minors, up from some 170 in September 2015.

"Hundreds of Palestinians being held, now including children, often under secret evidence, and for up to six- month terms that can be renewed indefinitely, is not consistent with international human rights standards. It is fundamental that those suspected of wrongdoing be able to defend themselves and to challenge the detention. The Government of Israel should promptly charge or release all administrative detainees," said Mr Wibisono.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in 2015, settler-related violence continued at a weekly average rate of two Palestinian casualties and three incidents of damage to Palestinian-owned property.

The Office highlighted a marked increase in settler violence reported in and around Hebron in October and November 2015, with 61 attacks causing injuries to Palestinians or property damage.

Cases of Palestinian fatalities involving Israeli security forces and failures to appropriately investigate and prosecute have also contributed to the sense of impunity for crimes committed against Palestinians.

According to information released in December 2015 by an Israeli non-governmental organization, even when the Israeli Military Police Criminal Investigations Division has launched criminal investigations into alleged offences by Israeli soldiers against Palestinians, indictment rates are low: reportedly, over the past five years, only 3 per cent of criminal investigations resulted in indictments.

The Special Rapporteur reiterated that settlements, the blockade, Palestinian prisoners and detainees, and accountability are critical areas to address and urged Israel to take concrete steps towards addressing related ongoing violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

By Kanaga Raja.

Source: South-North Development Monitor SUNS #8207 .