Violence Reaching Unprecedented Levels in Occupied Palestinian Territory, Fourth Committee Hears, as Israeli Practices Come under Spotlight
Speakers Call for Accountability, Immediate Halt to Settlement Activity
Speakers today condemned unprecedented levels of violence by Israeli security forces and settlers against Palestinians, as well as attacks on human rights defenders and organizations, as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) began its general debate on Israeli practices which impact the human rights of Palestinians and other Arabs living in occupied territories.
Peter Mohan Maithri Pieris (Sri Lanka), Chair of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, called 2022 the deadliest year for Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since 2006. Israel’s political system has the characteristics of apartheid, he said, highlighting among other incidents the death of a 7-year-old Palestinian boy who died of a sudden heart failure while being pursued by Israeli soldiers. He was one of the 121 Palestinians killed in the West Bank this year.
Israeli attacks and restrictions on Palestinian civic space also escalated to unprecedented levels this year, he said, noting that several human rights and humanitarian organizations were designated as “terrorist”. In Gaza, an Israeli blockade has left 2.1 million Palestinians trapped in an open-air prison. Meanwhile, settler violence is increasingly well-coordinated and often facilitated by Israeli security forces, he said, adding that the transfer of Israeli civilians into the Occupied Palestinian Territory may constitute a war crime.
Ilze Brands Kehris, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, who presented relevant reports of the Secretary-General, added that Israel’s transfer of its own civilian population into territory it occupies is prohibited under international humanitarian law and may also be a war crime. Highlighting the intensification of settler violence against Palestinians, she noted that it is increasingly difficult to discern between the activities of settlers and those of the Israeli security forces. There were also many instances where Israeli security forces used force to suppress Palestinian demonstrations against settlement activity, she said.
An observer for the State of Palestine called on the international community to protect the Palestinian people from the brutality of the Israeli occupation. Noting that Israeli occupying forces and armed settlers relentlessly harass, intimidate and attack Palestinian civilians, she said that no one is safe. She called for an end to the occupation, stressed the need for accountability and urged the General Assembly to take action to end Israel’s impunity, including by requesting another advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice.
Jordan’s representative said effective steps must be taken to prevent unilateral actions that could destroy peace. Otherwise, all that will be left will be a one-State solution, with the Palestinians losing their rights. Illegal measures taken by Israel must be counteracted and the two-State solution implemented, he said, adding that Jordan will continue its custodianship of holy sites and oppose any attempts to change the status of the Aqsa Mosque.
Egypt’s representative said that conditions in Gaza will undermine prospects for the two-State solution and diminish the hopes of the Palestinians to achieve their legitimate rights, including an independent State, without which a just and lasting peace in the Middle East will never occur.
Syria’s representative demanded a halt to Israeli settlement activities in the Syrian Golan, in accordance with international law and Security Council resolutions. The Israeli occupation covers more than three quarters of the Syrian Golan, she said, emphasizing her country’s firm attachment to recovering all that territory as per its 1967 borders.
Israel’s representative, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that once again, her country is being blamed for all the ills of the Middle East. Recalling how her country and the Palestinian Authority worked together to respond to the COVID‑19 pandemic, and the peace agreements it signed with other countries in the region two years ago, she encouraged delegates to reflect the true reality on the ground in their statements — one in which Israel is working for peace for all in the Middle East.
Also speaking today were representatives of Azerbaijan (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Saudi Arabia (on behalf of the Arab Group, the Gulf Cooperation Council and in its national capacity), Peru, Oman, Iraq, Cuba, Maldives, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United Arab Emirates.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, spoke during an interactive dialogue.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 10 November, to conclude its general debate on Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the occupied territories.
Opening Statements and Introduction of Reports
PETER MOHAN MAITHRI PIERIS (Sri Lanka), Chair of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, presented the Secretary‑General’s note transmitting the Special Committee’s report (document A/77/501), noting that the human rights situation of the Palestinian people has further deteriorated throughout the COVID‑19 pandemic. Regrettably, the Israeli authorities did not respond to a request for consultations or grant access to Israel, the occupied Syrian Golan, or the Gaza Strip. As a result, the Committee’s members travelled to Amman to meet with civil society members and Palestine officials. Summarizing witness testimonies, he said that to date, 2022 has been the deadliest year for Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since 2006. Noting that 121 Palestinians, 27 of them children, were killed by Israeli security forces in the occupied West Bank in the first 10 months of this year, he highlighted the story of Rayyan Suleiman, the 7-year-old Palestinian boy who died of a sudden heart failure while being pursued by Israeli soldiers.
Settler violence reached unprecedented levels during 2022, he said, with such violence increasingly well-coordinated, and often, facilitated by Israeli security forces. Officers and soldiers regularly participate directly in attacks, he said, adding that serving members of the Knesset are among those responsible for inciting violence. More than 700,000 settlers now live in 279 settlements, outposts or satellite neighbourhoods in the West Bank. He drew attention to the recruitment of prospective settlers from abroad as well as the offer of tax incentives and other concessions for financial contributions to settler organizations. Stressing that the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, have no legal validity, he said the Special Committee believes that the transfer of Israeli civilian population may constitute a war crime.
Expressing concern about Israeli attacks and restrictions on Palestinian civic space, which also escalated to unprecedented levels this year, he said that seven Palestinian human rights and humanitarian organizations in the West Bank that were raided and, in six cases, designated as “terrorist”. This included the officers of two organizations that briefed the Special Committee, he said, also expressing the Special Committee’s distress about the killing of the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May 2022. The Israeli authorities have not opened a criminal investigation into that incident to date, he said, deploring the desecration of her funeral procession by Israeli forces.
Turning to Operation Breaking Dawn, which Israel conducted on Gaza in August, killing 49 Palestinians, he recalled the Secretary-General’s words that if there were a hell on earth, it would be the lives of children in Gaza today. Fifteen years of blockade have trapped 2.1 million Palestinians into 365 square kilometres, making Gaza an open-air prison, he said. The unemployment rate exceeds 50 per cent, he said, also pointing to the deaths of several children in Gaza as they awaited exit permits to seek life-saving specialist treatment. Further, Israeli settlements and Israeli commercial activity in the occupied Syrian Golan have limited the Syrian population’s access to its natural and agricultural resources. Declaring that Israel’s political system has the characteristics of apartheid, he called on the authorities to investigate all cases of excessive use of force in the West Bank. Furthermore, the Government must cease all settlement activity, cease all plans to annex parts of the Jordan Valley and other areas, and immediately end the illegal practice of demolishing Palestinian homes. For its part, the international community must implement the relevant resolutions and provide sufficient funding to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe, he added.
ILZE BRANDS KEHRIS, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, presented the reports of the Secretary-General on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan (document A/77/493) and on the occupied Syrian Golan (document A/77/520), saying that the former presents an update on settlement advancement and its impact on the human rights of the Palestinian people. She noted that Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan are a flagrant violation of international law. Such activity amounts to the transfer by Israel of its own civilian population into territory it occupies, which is prohibited under international humanitarian law, as affirmed by the General Assembly and other United Nations organs. It may also be a war crime, she added. As the occupying Power, Israel must abstain from introducing irreversible changes, particularly if they are detrimental to the rights and prerogatives of the occupied population, she said.
The Palestinians' rights to freedom of movement and access to services and livelihoods continue to be arbitrarily infringed, including through restrictions on access to key roads, she said. The report also highlights an intensification of settler violence against Palestinians, with 575 incidents resulting in Palestinian deaths, injuries and/or property damage occurring in the reporting period. It is also increasingly difficult to discern between the activities of settlers and those of the Israeli security forces. Systematic and increasingly severe settler violence, with the acquiescence and support of the Israeli security forces, is putting Palestinians' rights to life and security of the person at risk. There were also many instances where Israeli security forces used force to restrict or suppress Palestinian demonstrations against settlement activity, she said, adding that in the occupied Syrian Golan, settlement expansion took a new dimension with the aim of doubling the settler population, in violation of international law.
The Secretary-General’s report recommends that Israel immediately stop and reverse all settlement activities, halt demolitions and forced evictions, and review the operations and policies of Israeli security forces to ensure they are consistent with its obligations as an occupying Power, she said. All incidents of violence against Palestinians and damage to their property should be promptly, effectively, thoroughly and transparently investigated, she added. Turning to the Secretary-General’s report on the occupied Syrian Golan, submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 76/81, she recalled that that text called upon Israel to desist from changing the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and legal status of the Syrian Golan and to desist from the establishment of settlements. The report summarizes responses received to a request for information about the implementation of the resolution, she said, adding that responses were received from Cuba, Iraq and Syria.
An observer for the State of Palestine, stating that the Special Committee’s findings and recommendations reflect the agonizing reality of millions of Palestinians, asked how the work of civil society has been affected by the occupying Power’s unlawful actions. She also asked what, if anything, is being done to ensure that staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights can resume their work in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
A representative of the European Union, in its capacity of observer, reiterated the bloc’s position on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including its call on halt settlement expansion, including in and around East Jerusalem. The European Union will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders other than those agreed by the parties, she said, also emphasizing the need for language on the holy sites of Jerusalem that reflects their importance and historical significance for the three monotheistic religions.
She expressed the European Union’s concern over increased violence in the West Bank and she called on all parties to take urgent steps to change the situation in Gaza. “Strong, inclusive, accountable and functioning democratic Palestinian institutions based on the respect for the rule of law and human rights are vital for the two-State solution.” Civil society must be allowed by all parties to carry out its tasks freely, while freedom of expression must be upheld. Welcoming the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and a number of countries, she encouraged the parties to work towards a two-State solution, undertake real and tangible progress on the ground, develop confidence-building measures, improve living conditions and open the path towards relaunching the peace process.
FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, observer for the State of Palestine, said that Palestinians, no matter where they are — under occupation, in Israel or living as refugees or in exile — continue to be deprived of their freedom, dignity and rights by Israel. “Our struggle is for attainment of no less than our inalienable human rights, including our right to self-determination and for our fundamental right to exist.” Of immediate urgency is ensuring protection to the Palestinian people from the brutality of the Israeli occupation and pursuing accountability, as both are essential to deter further violations and promote justice. Palestinian lives are under daily threat as Israeli occupying forces and armed settlers relentlessly harass, intimidate and attack Palestinian civilians. No one is safe, she said, not children, women or men, not clergy, not peaceful protesters, not civil society, not medical personnel or journalists. An entire people are being dehumanized and branded as terrorists by the occupying Power, with thousands held captive in Israel’s prisons under the most deplorable conditions, all in grave breach of international law, she said.
These are war crimes and crimes against humanity, she said, adding that the world cannot continue to entertain the false pretexts and excuses given by Israel for its unlawful and cruel policies and practices. Israel cannot be singled out, privileged to act as a State above the law and given a free pass over and over again. This is a matter of equity and justice, and is existential not only for the Palestinians but also for the international law-based order. Without accountability, she added, Israeli political and military officials and settlers will only be further emboldened. Only pursuit of accountability offers the possibility of altering the dangerous, disastrous trajectory Israel is insisting to drag all on. International justice must play its role and must make its contribution towards achievement of justice and peace, she continued. It has become more imperative for the General Assembly to uphold its Charter duties, including by requesting another advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice. Upholding the law is the peaceful, principled route and that path should be encouraged and supported, she said.
KAMAL ALIZADA (Azerbaijan), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, regretted that Israel, the occupying Power, continues to violate its obligations as a Member State and that the Special Committee’s inquiries have failed to yield results. Pointing to an escalation of violence by Israeli occupying forces and extremist settlers against Palestinian civilians, he said that Israel’s ongoing settlement construction is not only a grave violation of international humanitarian law but may also amount to war crimes. He called on Israel to end its illegal blockade of Gaza and open all crossing points promptly and unconditionally, adding that it is regrettable that Israeli settler violence has continued to result in Palestinian civilian casualties, including among children, as well as the destruction of Palestinians homes and properties.
All such violations must cease and Israel must comply with its obligations under international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, he continued. He further categorically condemned the illegal exploitation of the natural resources of Palestine by the occupying Power, which deliberately denies Palestinians right to permanent sovereignty over their natural resources and their right to development and perpetuates their state of dependence regarding, among others, water and energy resources. International law must be respected to alleviate the human rights and protection crisis prevailing in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. He went on to reiterate over the lack of accountability for all violations committed by Israel.
ABDULAZIZ M. ALWASIL (Saudi Arabia), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, affirmed that Palestine has had the right to absolute sovereignty over all of its occupied territories since 1967 as well as its natural resources and its air and sea space. The Palestinian people also have the right to self-determination. He condemned Israeli aggression against the Palestinians, including the ongoing Israeli siege of Gaza and the deliberate targeting of children, women and the elderly in the Palestinian territories. The Security Council should assume its responsibility towards implementing resolution 2334 (2016), through which it demanded that Israel, the occupying Power, cease all its settlement activities.
Condemning Israeli violations of Muslim and Christian holy sites, he condemned any decision that violates the legal status of Jerusalem, including the relocation of foreign embassies, which constitutes a flagrant violation of international law. He also condemned Israel’s decision to classify six Palestinian non-governmental organization as “terrorist” organizations. He went on to emphasize that the international community has a duty to ensure accountability and to put pressure on Israel to cease criminal actions and lift the Gaza blockade.
Mr. PIERIS said the Special Committee has called on Israel to reverse its designation of various human rights organizations as “terrorists”. It must also cease attacking and harassing human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Israel’s unsubstantiated allegations criminalize legitimate organizations, he said, adding that those groups continue to provide valuable services despite the restrictions placed on them.
Ms. KEHRIS said counter-terrorism legislation should not be used to restrict legitimate human rights work. She noted that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has been present in the Occupied Palestinian Territory for 26 years, but that 16 of its international staff had to leave in 2020 after their visas were not renewed by the Israeli authorities. Israel’s failure to provide reasons for this is inconsistent with its international obligations, she added.
The representative of Lebanon asked about the impact on people who are evacuated or whose property is destroyed.
Ms. KEHRIS said evacuation impacts a wide range of human rights, including the rights of the child.
Mr. PIERIS said it is a bizarre and unimaginable situation. No one can imagine the trauma of having nothing to eat, no furniture to sit on, no roof over their head and a family to feed. He did not wish to think of it as he was sure it would give him sleepless nights, he said.
LUIS UGARELLI (Peru) said that despite the international community’s efforts, Israeli settlements are growing across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, with the authorities open declaring that they are seeking to alter the demographics in East Jerusalem to create an Israeli majority. All settlement activity and forced demolitions must cease, he said, adding that growing tension, systemic violence and the situation in various West Bank cities remain a concern. He went on to reiterate Peru’s support for the two-State solution.
MOHAMED KAMAL ALI ELHOMOSANY (Egypt), noting that this year has been the deadliest in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 2006, said Israel must respect the legal status of the West Bank under Jordanian custodianship. Turning to Gaza, he emphasized that Egypt and several international partners have taken urgent action to contain the situation and prevent it from developing into a wider confrontation. Such conditions will undermine prospects for the two-State solution and diminish the hopes of the Palestinians to achieve their legitimate rights, including an independent State, without which a just and lasting peace in the Middle East will never occur, he said.
AHMED HAMOOD FAISAL AL BUSAIDI (Oman), associating himself with the Arab Group, the Non-Aligned Movement and the statement to be delivered on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), said that the international community must urge the Israeli occupying authorities to abide by international law and not to expose the Palestinian people to violations. Pressure must also be put on the occupying Power to cease its attempts to change the demographic nature of the occupied territories. He reiterated Oman’s support for the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, including their right to self-determination and the creation of an independent State, based on the two-State solution, with East Jerusalem as its capital and full membership in the United Nations.
YAARB AHMED NASER AL-TEMEMY (Iraq), associating himself with the Arab Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, said that his country rejects the occupying Power’s racist laws and military action that seeks to create a new status quo in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He called on the international community to stop the escalation of the Israeli aggression and ensure the lasting peace. He further condemned all arbitrary practices against the Palestinian people and urged the implementation of all resolutions that call on Israel to end all unilateral measures.
Mr. HERNÁNDEZ MORERA (Cuba) said that is regrettable that the Security Council, which is tasked with the maintenance of international peace and security, has not been able to put a definitive end to the aggression and colonizing practices against the Palestinian people and the occupied Syrian Golan. The Council should adopt, without further delay, concrete measures to end this historic injustice. The Gaza blockade should likewise be brought to an immediate end, he said, supporting a request for the General Assembly to seek guidance and an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice.
HASSAN ADAM (Maldives) said that the escalation of hostilities in Palestine are in violation of Security Council resolutions, international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as well as the fundamental human rights and dignity of the population under occupation. He expressed concern about the chronic humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, Israel’s illegal occupation of the Syrian Golan and the expansion of settlement activities. The plight of the Palestinian people can only be solved with the end of occupation and the recognition of the State of Palestine. The crisis, ongoing for more than half a century, calls into question the collective failure to uphold the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and underscores the urgent need to resume meaningful negotiations to resolve all final status issues, he said.
KHALID MOHAMMED H. H. FELEMBAN (Saudi Arabia), speaking on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, called on the international community to intervene to assist the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, who are being displaced in an effort to change the demographic situation there. He also drew attention to attempts to impose Israel’s sovereignty over holy Muslim sites, emphasizing that the sanctity of the Aqsa Mosque is raising concerns worldwide. Constant violations of holy sites are leading towards an endless cycle of violence. He added that Israel must cease to build settlements in Palestinian territory while the Security Council must ensure that its resolutions are being implemented.
Speaking in his national capacity, he said that international law prohibits the annexation of occupied territory by force. Such acts risk hampering international peace and security as well as prospects for the two-State solution. He deplored rising violence in Jerusalem, attempts to change its demographics and the ongoing incursion of Israeli settlers, with support from the security forces, into Haram al-Sharif. The aggression of the occupying forces in Gaza are also undermining any attempts at achieving peace, he added.
SULTAN NATHEIR MUSTAFA ALQAISI (Jordan) said that the escalation of violence, the pursuit of measures which undermine peace and security, lack of hope in a political process, the growth of settlements and the confiscation and demolition of property are factors that could trigger violence at any time. Effective steps must be taken to prevent unilateral actions that could destroy peace. Otherwise, all that will be left will be a one-State solution, with the Palestinians losing their rights. Illegal measures taken by Israel must be counteracted and the two-State solution implemented, he said, adding that Jordan will continue its custodianship of holy sites and oppose any attempts to change the status of the Aqsa Mosque.
KIM IN CHOL (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), stating that the actions of the Israeli occupiers can never be justified, said that the United States rationalizes all Israeli atrocities as exercises of “the so-called right to self-defense”. The country even released a statement critical of the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel to prevent the dispute from being resolved through peaceful means. “The failure to address the Palestinian issue and the continued instability in the region are mainly attributed to the unfair, one-sided policies of the United States,” he said, emphasizing that the international community should no longer tolerate “patronizing” Israeli territorial extortion.
Mr. ALHOSANI (United Arab Emirates), associating himself with the Gulf Cooperation Council, underscored the importance of using international agreements to break out of the current impasse and achieve a fair and lasting peace. Respect for religious rights is a basis for peaceful coexistence, emphasizing the importance of respecting Jordan’s custodianship over holy sites. He called for more international assistance to ensure long-term development and better living conditions for the Palestinians. He reiterated his country’s historic position in support of the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights and recalled a recent agreement with the World Health Organization (WHO) that will provide $25 million to an East Jerusalem hospital.
Ms. ALI (Syria), pointing to the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan as well as the Palestinian territory, noted with dismay the negative conclusion of the Special Committee’s report. Many violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory have also been confirmed in reports from other United Nations mechanisms. She condemned Israel's settlement policy including in occupied Syrian territory, and demanded an immediate halt to such illegal practices, in accordance with international law and Security Council resolutions. The Israeli occupation covers more than three quarters of the Syrian Golan, she said, emphasizing her country’s firm attachment to recovering all that territory as per its 1967 borders.
Right of Reply
The representative of Israel, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that today’s reports, and the statements made during today’s meeting, failed to touch upon true Israeli practices. Once again, Israeli is being blamed for all the ills in the Middle East. She recalled Israel and the Palestinian Authority worked together to respond to the COVID‑19 pandemic, with Israel vaccinating more than 150,000 Palestinians, facilitating the flow of medical supplies and training Palestinian health-care providers. Israel is also joining others in the region in signing climate pledges. Describing Israel as one of the Middle East’s most culturally diverse countries, she noted that two years ago, it signed historic peace agreements with several countries in the region and hopes more will follow. She went on to say that delegates should reflect the true reality on the ground in their statements, one in which Israel is working for peace for all in the Middle East.