Press Briefing


At a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, Jean Ziegler, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the right to food, briefed correspondents on his report, highlighting his mission to the occupied Palestinian territories.

In compiling his 2003 report, he said, the most important country mission to be conducted was in those territories.  He expressed his gratitude to civil society partners who had helped him in his mission to Palestine, especially the Israeli non-governmental organizations, who had exhibited great courage and determination.

He said 3.8 million people had lived under occupation in the Palestinian territories since 1967.  Since September 2000, the situation had been dramatically deteriorating, and World Bank figures released in March 2003 corroborated this fact.  He said 22 per cent of Palestinian children under 5 were suffering from grave malnutrition, a three fold increase since September 2000, and 9.3 per cent of children under the age of 5 were suffering from acute malnutrition, which meant that they had brain damage or were mutilated for life from chronic malnutrition.

Furthermore, he went on, 15.6 per cent of children above 5 suffered from acute anemia and related sicknesses.  Food consumption had fallen by over 30 per cent in three years, and 61 per cent of all Palestinian households could eat only one meal a day.  More than 80 per cent of all Palestinians living under occupation were dependent for survival on international aid agencies.

Continuing, he said that the olive harvest was beginning this year under the gravest of difficulty, because the occupying power was hindering movement, and settlers were attacking Palestinian peasants on their way to harvest.  When the harvest could take place, it was only when militants from Israeli non-governmental organizations were present to help them.

The main causes of the devastating situation afflicting the Palestinian people were the measures of occupation, including closures, curfews and the hindering of circulation of people and of merchandise.  A new development was occurring in terms of land expropriation; existing colonies were expanding, new colonies were being founded.  The military, which had a responsibility for the civil and military administration of the occupied territories, were creating ‘military zones’ around expropriated agricultural land and settlements, where fruit trees and olive trees were being destroyed in order to hinder any possible attack against the settlements.  This accelerated the destruction of the Palestinians’ livelihood.

In the vocabulary of the generals of the Israeli army, the wall that was currently being constructed was a ‘security fence’, he continued.  In the words of the non-governmental organizations it was an ‘apartheid wall’. This security closure had already taken 15 per cent of Palestinian land, affecting more than 350,000 Palestinians, who, as of now, could no longer reach their fields or their water, and were specifically deprived of access to international borders.  This meant that even if one day an independent Palestinian State was created, this new State could not guaranteed its citizens the right to food.

Mr. Ziegler expressed his gratitude to the Israeli authorities for having received him.  He had been provided total access to the competent persons in the Ministry of Defence, and his discussions with them had been very frank and sympathetic.  However, he said, he could not accept their explanation for the situation in the occupied territories as ‘security’.  While he agreed that States had the right to protect their citizens, and that there had been many Israeli victims in the struggle, collective punishment was forbidden by international law.  A Palestinian child who suffered grave malnourishment or brain damage, had nothing to do with suicide bombers, he said.  The collective punishment that was happening at this very moment in the occupied Palestinian territories had to be denounced by the international community.  Israeli settlements and the security zones protecting them were a clear breach of international law, as was the construction of the wall.

Asked what was the history of United Nations Human Rights representatives going into the West Bank or Gaza, he said that until now the Israeli authorities had refused to collaborate with United Nations Special Rapporteurs.

Responding to a question about the amount of access he had been allowed to previously out-of-bounds areas, he said that this had been difficult, and that his travel on the ground had not been facilitated.

A correspondent asked about his reported statement that it was a deliberate policy on the part of the Israeli to starve the Palestinians into submission.  He replied that he had never said such a thing, and that he had stuck to the information and statistics of the United Nations and the World Bank.

Asked whether the deterioration of the food situation cut across the economic and social divide, he replied that the dependency rate was high.  There was great solidarity between classes, families and businesses, he said.

How many more people would suffer if the ‘apartheid wall’ was completed? a correspondent asked.  He responded that its completion would mean the expropriation of more land, the cutting off of villages, and a lack of export possibility.  The completion of the wall would not respect the right to food, he said.

A correspondent pointed to a statement made by the Israeli Ambassador in Geneva last month, in which he asked that the Human Rights Commission withdraw Mr. Ziegler’s report.  What would be done to fight this, he asked.  Mr. Ziegler replied that it was legitimate for Member States to contest or to attack his findings.  After all, that was democracy and the United Nations was the world’s parliament.  The United Nations had ruled against the Israeli Ambassador’s suggestion, however, and if the report were to be refused, it would be by the Third Committee, in a democratic fashion.

Asked how many people had died as a result of malnutrition over the past three years, he said that there were no statistics on the matter.

Responding to a question as to whether the Israeli were placing too much emphasis on their historical past, he said that he didn’t like to talk about ‘Israel’.  It was the Sharon Government that had contested his report, and it was the Sharon Government’s actions that had to be denounced.

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For information media. Not an official record.