Speakers Voice Alarm at Rising Gaza Death Toll, West Bank Settler Violence as Fourth Committee Debates Israeli Practices in Occupied Lands
Two-State Solution Remains Best Hope for Middle East Peace, Delegates Say
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today began its general debate on Israeli practices which impact the human rights of Palestinians and other Arabs in occupied territories and concluded its consideration of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), with speakers expressing alarm at the fast-rising death toll in Gaza and an upsurge in violence between settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank.
“By the time we leave this room, the toll will only be higher, as Israel presses on with its genocidal onslaught,” the observer for the State of Palestine said, noting that the current number of Palestinian dead at around 10,000. Last week in Gaza, there was no space left in hospital morgues and not enough body bags, she said, drawing attention to the many children who will be orphaned, some rendered “WCNSF” — meaning “wounded child, no surviving family”. Yet Israel is undeterred and the feeble calls for “humanitarian pauses” will give it the time and space to kill as it wishes, she said. This dangerous trajectory threatens not only the Palestinian people, but also the entire region, she emphasized.
Sri Lanka’s representative, who introduced the fifty-fifth report from the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (document A/78/553), said that Israel’s dehumanization of Palestinians and consistent violations of international law have contributed substantially to this moment. “Just as Israel’s occupation does not justify the attacks of Hamas on 7 October, Hamas’s actions on 7 October does not justify Israel’s war,” he said. He also emphasized the growing influence of Israel settlers in the West Bank on Government policy and practices. “Israeli settlers have thrown the olive branch to the ground,” he said.
Ilze Brands Kehris, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, presented three relevant reports of the Secretary-General. Israel has endorsed a policy to expand long-term control over the occupied West Bank, she said, noting that settler violence against Palestinians almost doubled in the reporting period, which also saw a spike in attacks by Palestinians against Israelis.
The 10,022 people killed in Gaza since the 7 October attack by Hamas against Israel are mostly civilians, and include 4,104 children, she said. Calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, she said that Hamas must release all hostages. Recalling the wider context of the now 56-year-old occupation and the 16-year closure and blockade of Gaza, she noted the lack of accountability for Israel’s systematic discrimination, unnecessary or disproportionate use of lethal force, arbitrary detention and settlement expansion.
Egypt’s delegate said that even before 7 October, Israel was engaged in a disturbingly consistent pattern of violations with settlements at the forefront. Pointing to a two-year plan to move 500,000 new settlers to the West Bank, as well as the despicable behaviour of settlers, he said that the two-State solution is “the only real hope that the tragic war in Gaza will not recur”.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, condemned terrorist attacks by Hamas, called for the release of hostages, supported Israel’s right to self-defence and expressed concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. All Palestinian factions must engage in good faith in the reconciliation process, renounce violence and terrorism and recognize Israel’s right to exist, she said.
The recent violence also dominated the Committee’s general debate on UNRWA, which concluded today, as the death toll among the Agency’s staff in Gaza rose to 89.
“Every single element of humanitarian and economic aid to Gaza has been exploited by Hamas and Islamic Jihad to further their murderous aims and despicable activities,” Israel’s representative said, adding that without such exploitation, Hamas would have been less able to carry out its attack. Hamas stole concrete, cement and steel to build hundreds of kilometres of military tunnels, including under schools, hospitals and mosques, he said. Highlighting a deleted tweet by UNRWA admitting that Hamas stole fuel on 13 October, he also noted that the Agency’s teachers had celebrated the 7 October attack. Humanitarian aid, while important for the well-being of Palestinian civilians, has often been a significant resource for Hamas’ murderous aims, he said.
The United States’ representative affirmed that there is simply no replacement in Gaza for UNRWA, whose schools, clinics and relief efforts provide the only alternative to Hamas. His Government is the single largest donor to the Palestinian people, with more than $1 billion provided to UNRWA since 2021, he said.
The representative of Saudi Arabia, which has given UNRWA more than $1 billion since 2000, thanked UNRWA staff for their courage in the face of what he called Israel’s war machine. Appealing for an immediate ceasefire, he also noted that the Palestinian refugees’ right to return is a longstanding legal right. Iraq’s delegate pointed out that the Agency’s role goes beyond the humanitarian; it is also a line of defence for the right of return of Palestinian refugees and a legal tool against schemes to prevent their return.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 7 November, to continue its debate on Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the occupied territories.
UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East
KAMAL ALIZADA (Azerbaijan), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has proved itself a lifeline for Palestine refugees, especially in these days of profound crisis, dangerous instability and grave suffering. Israel is carrying out indiscriminate attacks across the Gaza Strip, including on refugee camps and UNRWA schools and facilities where 640,000 Palestinian civilians are sheltering. Reiterating strong support for the Agency and its mandate, as granted by the General Assembly, he expressed appreciation for the Agency’s staff, who continue to serve Palestine refugees despite extremely adverse conditions. Further, its operations in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Occupied Palestinian Territory remain essential and indispensable until the achievement of a just, lasting solution to the question of Palestine.
Urging the international community to step up its support to the UNRWA, he stressed the need to provide sustained, predictable and uninterrupted support, as repeatedly called for by the Assembly. Also condemning Israel’s illegal settlement campaign as well as attempts to forcibly displace or transfer Palestinians, either within the occupied territories or to neighbouring countries, he added that the illegal blockade imposed by Israel, now in its sixteenth year, has imposed untold humanitarian, social and economic suffering on the more than 2.3 million Palestinian children, women and men there. Noting that the Agency ended last year with a $75 million deficit and is facing an even more serious deficit this year, he said that its funding needs must be met so it can meet the humanitarian needs of the refugees and preserve its stabilizing role.
MUHAMMAD ABDUL MUHITH (Bangladesh), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, described the killing of 72 UNRWA personnel and damaging of 47 UNRWA installations in Gaza “a collective failure”. Israel’s dreadful atrocities have “crossed all limits”, he said, pointing to the indiscriminate and disproportionate bombardment of Gaza and the killing of more than 9,000 people since 7 October. “Immediate ceasefire is a must.” Commending UNRWA critical services to millions of Palestine refugees in 2022, including health care, food assistance, education and psychological support, he welcomed its progress in digital transformation, quality of services and broadening of opportunities for the Palestine refugees. Underscoring the unacceptability of the Gaza blockade, he reiterated the call for an immediate and unhindered provision of essential supplies to the Gaza Strip. He also urged the international community to respond to the UNRWA flash appeal and to investigate earlier attacks on UNRWA staff.
DIAMANE DIOME (Senegal), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that what is happening now in Gaza is dishonourable to the international community. The tightening of the Gaza blockade, which has already dragged on for 16 years, “risks transforming what was already an open prison into a cemetery for over two million Gazans”. UNRWA is the last lifeline for the Palestinian people in Gaza, who now more than ever needs its support. Israel, the occupying Power, must show restraint and spare civilians, hospitals, sites of worship, UN establishments and all media, humanitarian and medical personnel. He paid tribute to the 5,000 UNRWA staff who continue to work in permanent danger, and expressed support for a two-State solution in the Middle East.
ABUZIED SHAMSELDIN AHMED MOHAMED (Sudan), associating himself with the Arab Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, called for a sustainable, fair and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian question, allowing for an independent, sovereign statehood along the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital. He also voiced support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, especially the right of return. Turning to the deterioration of the situation in Gaza and the loss of thousands of civilians, he stressed the dire need for the work of UNRWA, more than at any other time. Noting that more than 70 humanitarian workers have fallen, he called for the protection of civilians and infrastructure as well as observance of international humanitarian law. “UNRWA proved its ability to be resilient in overcoming difficulties over the past period,” he noted, calling for filling its financial gap and rejecting any change in its mandate.
HASANAIN HADI HASAN AL-DAHLAKI (Iraq), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, commended the work of UNRWA and its recent reforms, while condemning the barbaric aggression launched by the Israeli occupation forces. The Agency’s role goes beyond the humanitarian role mandated to it by the Assembly, he said, explaining that it is a line of defence for the right of return of Palestinian refugees and a legal tool against the schemes of the occupation forces to prevent their return. Noting that the Palestinian people are living under a barbaric bombardment, he said it is unacceptable to cut off supplies of water, food, fuel, electricity and medical assistance to a population under siege. The international community must put an end to these crimes and the continuous destruction of housing, infrastructure and services. There has to be a ceasefire as well as access for humanitarian and medical aid, he emphasized.
MOHANNAD BAGHDADI (Syria), associating himself with the Arab Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, condemned the continued barbaric Israeli aggression killing more than 10,000 people in Gaza, including humanitarian workers. Israel was and remains the primary reason of the continued plight of the Palestinian people, he said, adding that that country obstructs the work of UNRWA and directly targets the Agency in Gaza. Syria has been hosting Palestinian refugees and will spare no effort to ensure their protection, he said, urging Member States to contribute to the UNRWA budget in an adequate and sustained manner. He rejected the possibility of transferring the services delivered by UNRWA to any other United Nations agency, reiterating that the Organization and the Secretary-General should take immediate actions to fill the financial gap in the Agency’s budget.
SARAH AHMED AHMED AL-MASHEHARI (Yemen), associating herself with the Arab Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, deplored in the strongest possible terms the heinous attacks on Gaza Strip. “This is an unprecedented challenge to all international rules and laws.” Condemning the killing of more than 72 humanitarian workers from UNRWA since 7 October, she reiterated the importance of the UNRWA mandate and stressed the need for the Agency to continue its work. She called for the establishment an independent sovereign state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital and rejected Israel’s systemic attacks against UNRWA, including attempts to close schools in Israeli-occupied Jerusalem. She noted UNRWA financial shortfalls and called for the international community to contribute in an adequate and sustained manner.
YUSNIER ROMERO PUENTES (Cuba) condemned the killing of innocent people as a result of the current escalation, which attacks viciously, without distinction of ethnicity, origin, nationality or religious faith. “Nothing can justify the serious violations of international humanitarian law” committed against Gaza, as Israel transgresses each and every UN resolution. The deaths of 70 UNRWA members constitute an attack on the Organization itself, he added. Current events have provoked a general situation of concern and fear about the future of UNRWA, with the lack of sufficient funding pointing towards an unpromising future. Emphasizing the need for the Agency’s important work to continue — even more so in this context of merciless war, where more than 3,700 children and 9,000 people have been killed in recent weeks — he called on Member States to show political will to ensure more sufficient, predictable and sustained funding.
HIND JERBOUI (Morocco), associating herself with the Arab Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, commended the Agency for 70 years of service to Palestinian refugees. Noting the harsh and unprecedented humanitarian situation in Gaza, she called for protection for UNRWA workers, adding that the Agency must receive the resources it needs. The military operation in Gaza as well as the humanitarian crisis are clear violations of international humanitarian law that could prolong the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and trigger a spillover effect that destabilizes the Middle East at large. She called for a ceasefire and the opening of humanitarian corridors, adding that it is essential that hostages be freed. Rejecting the displacement of Palestinians, she said that Morocco has sent urgent humanitarian assistance to health and social service institutions in Palestine.
GENG SHUANG (China) condemned violence and attacks against civilians and opposed all practices that violate international law. “No civilians — Palestinian or Israeli — should be victims of armed conflict,” he said, adding that the safety of UN staff should be guaranteed and that civilian facilities should not be targeted. Expressing deep concern about the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, he called on Israel to lift the blockade, restore the supply of water, electricity, food and fuel and stop the collective punishment against the people in Gaza. China has provided emergency financial and in-kind humanitarian aid to Gaza, he said, warning however that without a lasting ceasefire, any humanitarian assistance will just be a drop in the bucket. Noting the collective call made by the 18 UN agencies and non-governmental organizations for an immediate ceasefire, he said that the solution to the Palestinian question lies in the establishment of an independent state of Palestine based on pre-1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.
NISHIYAMA AKIRA (Japan) commended the UNRWA staff in the Gaza Strip for providing humanitarian assistance under extremely dangerous circumstances and he expressed grave concern about recent developments. It is totally unacceptable for any more innocent lives to be lost, irrespective of nationality, religion or ethnicity, he said, adding: “Every life is equally valuable and should be treated as such.” Japan supports humanitarian pauses to ensure that essential services and goods can be provided without delay. Given the very serious humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, it is a priority to deliver necessary assistance as soon as possible. Japan pledges to provide humanitarian aid amounting to around $65 million in relief supplies through the Japan International Cooperation Agency in addition to the already decided upon emergency grant aid worth $10 million to international organizations, including UNRWA, he said.
MICHAEL IMRAN KANU (Sierra Leone), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the deteriorating humanitarian situation and the UNRWA inability to provide adequate humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza — owing to the condemnable indiscriminate bombardment — necessitates a humanitarian ceasefire and the establishment of humanitarian corridors for the delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians. Such a ceasefire must ensure full, speedy, safe and unimpeded humanitarian access for UN humanitarian agencies and implementing partners. Welcoming the diplomatic engagements that have led to the flow of limited humanitarian aid, he called for continued dialogue and negotiations that would lead to the scaling up of supplies, including but not limited to fuel and medical resources. He also called on the relevant parties to build mutual trust and advance the potential for the two-State solution, based on 1967 borders, in which Israel and Palestine could live side by side in peace.
HOANG NGUYEN NGUYEN (Viet Nam), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, praised UNRWA staff who have been working bravely and tirelessly under the UN flag in a dangerous environment to assist and shelter hundreds of thousands of civilians. Seventy years since the Palestinians embarked on their search for a self-determination that has eluded them, the world now is haplessly witnessing “a man-made humanitarian crisis of unprecedented magnitude”. Water, food, medical supplies, fuel and electricity must reach those in serious need, he continued. The Agency is not only an essential provider of vital services to millions of Palestinians, but also an important stabilizing element in the region. It is unquestionable that it should continue to carry out its operations, not only in the Occupied Palestinian Territory but also in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the region at large. However, providing services to refugees should not be a substitute for finding a just and lasting solution, he said.
MARTHINUS CHRISTOFFEL JOHANNES VAN SCHALKWYK (South Africa), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that it is shocking that a Member State is committing attacks against UN personnel and infrastructure. UNRWA staff are humanitarians who are selflessly helping civilians who are being subjected to unwarranted attacks and collective punishment. Calling on the parties to respect the humanitarian law, he said that the scale of the tragedy that has engulfed the Gaza Strip is unprecedented. An immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce is needed, he said, reiterating that the UNRWA Commissioner-General’s call for urgent fuel deliveries and a scaling up of the humanitarian operation. Noting South Africa’s contribution to the UNRWA budget, he urged other Member States to follow the suit, adding that peace in the Middle East can only be achieved through a negotiated two-State solution.
EGRISELDA ARACELY GONZÁLEZ LÓPEZ (El Salvador) expressed her deepest condolences to the families of the UNRWA staff killed since 7 October, adding that the report of the Agency’s Commissioner-General describes the desperation and despair of the Palestine refugees. UNRWA continues to provide essential services, with at least 5,000 Agency workers showing up every day to provide humanitarian assistance. However, they will soon lose its ability to operate if the UN does not act decisively since assistance is woefully insufficient. Despite chronic underfunding, UNRWA has spared no effort in safeguarding the civilian population in Gaza and the West Bank, she said, calling on States to approve the Secretary-General’s request for UNRWA financing, which is under discussion in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary). “We need a new and tangible commitment from the international community,” she said.
JOAQUÍN ALBERTO PÉREZ AYESTARÁN (Venezuela), speaking for the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, commended the work of UNRWA which, despite financing difficulties, continues to have a real incidence in the daily lives of over 5.9 million registered refugees of Palestine. He further paid tribute to the 89 courageous heroes from the Agency who have recently lost their lives on the line of duty in the Gaza Strip, since the latest and regrettable spiral of violence, death and destruction. He condemned all attacks against UNRWA’s infrastructures, including refugee camps, which are currently sheltering over 690,000 Palestinian civilians, including women and children. Given the scale of the ongoing atrocities, he reiterated the call for ensuring that UNRWA is allowed to operate safely and effectively, without obstructions. As the available assistance remains insufficient to cover the basic needs of the affected population, “the least we can do is reaffirm our firm and unwavering political support for UNRWA, while renewing our call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and for unimpeded humanitarian access to be granted”.
HASSAN MOHAMMED A. ALAMRI (Saudi Arabia), thanking UNRWA's staff for their courage and sacrifice in the face of Israel’s war machine, recalled that UNRWA was created in the wake of the great tragedy of the Nakbah, which forcibly displaced Palestinians from their lands. Condemning the targeting of civilians in refugee camps, including recently the Jabaliya camp, he said that Gazans are taking shelter in mosques, hospitals, churches and schools, including the Agency’s schools which the occupying Power has continued to bomb. Calling for a ceasefire, an end to the military operation, the immediate delivery of humanitarian aid and the lifting of all obstacles placed on UNRWA’s work, he said that the Palestinian cause remains the central cause for Muslims. Saudi Arabia has provided UNRWA more than $1 billion since 2000, with the last contribution being $2 million. Further, the Salman Center for Humanitarian Relief has collected more than $100 million to support the Palestinian people, he said, calling upon States, donors and international financial institutions to redouble their contributions. The Palestinian refugees’ right to return is a longstanding legal right and the international community must enable them to return to their country, he said.
MARÍA DEL CARMEN SQUEFF (Argentina), emphasizing that UNRWA has been the main humanitarian actor in Gaza assisting Palestinian refugees, said that international humanitarian assistance must reach the affected population urgently and without restrictions. Argentina has organized a humanitarian mission to assist the Egyptian Red Crescent to alleviate the crisis in Gaza. Argentina condemns the terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas and acknowledges Israel’s right to self-defence, she said, adding however that the violation of international humanitarian law, in particular attacks on civilian infrastructure. Noting that her country supported the General Assembly resolution calling for a humanitarian truce, she reiterated that hostages must be released unconditionally and without delay by Hamas. She further urged Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table in order to achieve a just and lasting peace in accordance with international law.
CLAUDIO ERNESTO GARRIDO MELO (Chile) said that the use of force in the legitimate exercise of self-defence must be guided by proportionality, but in Gaza, this is clearly not being complied with. Israel’s blockade makes UNRWA’s work even more difficult. He condemned Hamas’ actions unequivocally and called for the unconditional release of all the hostages at the hands of this terrorist organization. He expressed concern over the number of internally displaced people who are facing steadily worsening humanitarian conditions. All violations of international humanitarian law must be investigated, he said, calling as well for an immediate ceasefire and for Israel to relieve the blockade.
GERSHON KEDAR (Israel) noted that in previous years, his delegation has expressed many concerns over the UNRWA mandate and the many flaws and irregularities in its activities. This year, however, in the wake of the barbaric terrorist attack on southern Israel on 7 October — in which around 1,400 Israelis and foreign nationals were brutally murdered and 240 people, including babies, were taken hostage — these issues are superseded by an altogether much more significant issue, namely “the exploitation of humanitarian and other forms of aid to the Palestinians, specifically in Gaza, by terrorist organizations”. Such exploitation has been extensive, routine and well-documented, he noted, yet Israel’s warnings that such aid could and would be used by terrorist organizations were not taken seriously. “Every single element of humanitarian and economic aid to Gaza has been exploited by Hamas and Islamic Jihad to further their murderous aims and despicable activities,” he said.
Without such exploitation, he continued, Hamas would have been less able to carry out its attack, and fewer Israelis, Jews, Christians and Muslims alike would have been slaughtered and taken hostage. The international community had advocated for the entry of concrete, cement and steel into Gaza with assurances of civilian use only, with methods established to ensure that. However, a significant amount was stolen by Hamas and used to build hundreds of kilometres of military tunnels, including under schools, hospitals and mosques. He further noted that Hamas stole fuel on 13 October, as admitted by UNRWA in a tweet, “which for some reason was very soon deleted”. He also referred to incidents in which UNRWA teachers celebrated the 7 October attack. Humanitarian aid has been important for the well-being of Palestinian civilians, but too often it has been a significant resource for Hamas’ murderous aims. When the present conflict has concluded, Israel will do everything necessary to ensure that no aid to Gaza will be siphoned off for illegitimate uses, he said.
LEONOR ZALABATA TORRES (Colombia), condemning the attacks against civilian populations, said that as a country which has experienced the barbarity of war, Colombia knows that every conflict is complex and has many variables. Recalling the decades of armed conflict and many attempts to negotiate peace in Colombia, she said that polarization and violence only produces more violence and leaves a nefarious legacy for future generations. UNRWA has lost 72 members of its staff and its infrastructure has been affected, thereby exacerbating its financial crisis. The international community must facilitate the arrival of humanitarian assistance and take measures to protect life. Reaffirming support for the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent and sustainable State, she also recognized Israel’s right to live in peace within safe and internationally recognized borders.
AHMED SAHRAOUI (Algeria), recalling Israel’s attacks on Gaza, reiterated that targeting humanitarian workers and UN officials is a crime against humanity. The lack of accountability by the occupier is the main reason behind the deterioration of the situation in Gaza, he said, calling on the international community to put an end to violations of international humanitarian law and empower the Palestinian people. UNRWA was initially set up as a temporary mechanism, but it has become the only source of hope for millions of Palestinian refugees due to the absence of any real solution to the root causes of the conflict. Financial support for UNRWA must not be politicized, he said, adding that the Agency should be funded from the regular UN budget. Pointing to ongoing accusations of UNRWA by the occupying Power, he said that this was the reason behind the recent bombardment of the Agency’s facilities, including schools and hospitals.
JAMES GEORGE PULAY GIBBON (United Kingdom) expressed sincere condolences for the UNRWA staff members killed in Gaza since 7 October. On the ground, Agency officials continue to address the humanitarian needs under great risk. For UNRWA to fulfil its role, collective efforts are needed for aid to get in safely. He expressed support for humanitarian pauses that can help aid deliveries and, crucially, allow hostages and international citizens to leave. “We also need to ensure that the UN are fully supported to rotate out their staff so they can maintain staff resilience and mental health.” Since the Hamas terrorist attacks on 7 October, the United Kingdom has committed over $36 million in additional humanitarian aid to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It is vital to support the 1.5 million displaced Gazans in urgent need of assistance, he said, adding that the UNRWA longstanding contribution to peace and security should not be undermined.
CHRISTOPHER P. LU (United States) affirmed that there is simply no replacement in Gaza for the critical role of the UN and especially UNRWA, whose schools, clinics and relief efforts have been the only alternative to Hamas. The United States is committed to being a strong partner to UNRWA in providing assistance in a manner that respects human rights, impartiality, neutrality and independence. The Government of the United States is the single largest donor to the Palestinian people, with more than $1 billion provided to UNRWA since 2021. Noting that the Agency is unlikely to be able to pay salaries in November and December, he said that the United States is working with Israel, Egypt and the UN to urgently scale up provision of assistance. Recalling that President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. has called for humanitarian pauses, he said that the United States is seriously concerned about the slate of draft resolutions on the question of Palestine proposed in the Fourth Committee every year, as final status issues should be decided by the parties and not the General Assembly.
MOHAMMAD ALI JARDALI (Lebanon), associating himself with the Arab Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, condemned in the strongest words the criminal Israeli aggression against Gaza and its people. The Israeli war machine has killed more than 10,000 Palestinians, injured more than 20,000, most of them women and children and destroyed more than half of Gaza on top of its citizens. Lebanon calls on the international community to put pressure on Israel to commit to international law and international humanitarian law. He added that Palestinians are persecuted on a daily basis in the West Bank at the hands of the occupying Power and Israeli settlers with total impunity. This destruction cannot be perceived as collateral damage. He called for an immediate ceasefire and the delivery of sufficient and sustainable assistance without obstructions. Further, he called on Member States to increase their contributions to UNRWA, saying the provision of adequate funding is a matter of life and death.
DMITRY S. CHUMAKOV (Russian Federation) said that UNRWA activities are particularly important amid the unprecedented escalation in violence in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Humanitarian aid provided by international organizations to the Gaza Strip covers less than three per cent of the demand. Pointing to the staggering loss of life within UN agencies, he said another two UNRWA staff had been killed over the last 24 hours. He further praised UNRWA for maintaining a balanced and unbiased approach despite external pressures. The Agency should continue its work without delegating its functions to any other humanitarian structures, he said, calling for an increase in annual voluntary contributions to its budget.
ZAYED BIN SULTAN AL NAHYAN (United Arab Emirates), associating himself with the League of Arab States, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Gulf Cooperation Council, acknowledged those who have lost their lives while delivering humanitarian assistance in Gaza. UNRWA’s staff represent the face of humanity at one of its darkest times, he said, noting that the number of UN employees killed in Gaza is unprecedented. Emphasizing the need to abide by international humanitarian law, he said that the Agency’s work is fundamental in providing aid to more than 2 million people. “Gaza has become a children’s cemetery,” he said, quoting a statement by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), adding that the Agency’s work is more urgent than ever.
NOEL MANGAOANG NOVICIO (Philippines) joined the international community in grieving for the staggering loss of UNRWA personnel — the highest number of UN aid workers killed in a conflict in such a short time — while further extending sympathies to all affected civilians in Israel and the Palestinian territories. “The wanton destruction of health and medical facilities is intolerable,” he said, welcoming the opening of the Rafah crossing, a lifeline especially for injured civilians and foreign nationals, including Filipino nationals, caught in the strife. Commending the Agency’s unwavering resolve in the face of danger, he noted that his Government’s commitment is further manifested in its voluntary financial contribution to its 2023 programme budget. It is imperative that Member States bolster UNRWA, a pillar of hope amidst the direst of challenges, ensuring its capacity to persevere in its mission, he said.
GABRIELE CACCIA, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, said that the unprecedented escalation of violence in Israel and Palestine has resulted in deplorable levels of suffering. The Holy See reiterates its condemnation of the terrorist attack on 7 October by Hamas against the Israeli population that brutally killed 1400 people, wounded many others and witnessed the taking of hostages. At the same time, the Holy See is concerned at the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip which has resulted in the loss of thousands of innocent Palestinian lives, including many children, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. The suffering is indiscriminate, he said, calling for the absolute protection of each and every civilian. It is also imperative that no one targets hospitals and medical facilities, refugee camps, schools and places of worship. Humanitarian corridors must be kept open to allow aid to reach the entire population, he said, adding that a settlement based on the two-State solution requires a cessation of current hostilities.
NASRIA ELARDJA FLITTI, Observer for the League of Arab States, aligning herself with the Arab Group, said that the Committee should include the question of the Occupied Palestinian Territory in its decolonization agenda, as “the Israeli occupation is one of the worst forms of a modern colonization.” UNRWA is a pillar of the two-State solution that needs significant support at this critical phase. She added that the Security Council is applying double standards by putting on an equal footing the victim and the executioner. Describing the blockade of the Gaza Strip as “the worst humanitarian situation in modern history”, she called on Israel and its allies to put an end to the war, halt settlement plans and open humanitarian passage for civilians, aid workers and journalists. For its part, the international community must provide UNRWA with financial and logistical support without any politicization, in addition to adopting measures to protect civilians during the ongoing hostilities and to protect the Palestinian people from the Israeli occupation.
Israeli Practices and Settlement Activities Affecting Palestinian Rights
Introduction of Report
PETER MOHAN MAITHRI PIERIS (Sri Lanka) introduced the fifty-fifth report from the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (document A/78/553), saying that he was doing so with a sense of sadness. The report was finalized 30 years after the start of the Oslo peace process and focuses on growing settler influence on Israeli policy and practices. Since the tragic killing of Israeli civilians and foreign nationals on 7 October, Israel has bombed Gaza relentlessly. “By mid-October, Palestinian mothers were writing their children’s names on their bodies in the hope that if their children are killed in an Israeli airstrike, their remains might be identified,” he said.
Noting that UNRWA is one of the few remaining lifelines for the people in Gaza, he reiterated a call for Member States to provide the Agency with predictable and sustainable funding. “Just as Israel’s occupation does not justify the attacks of Hamas on 7 October, Hamas’s actions on 7 October does not justify Israel’s war.” The Government of Israel’s dehumanization of Palestinians and consistent violations of international law contributed substantially to this moment. Hate speech and incitement for violence by the most senior representative of the State of Israel cannot be accepted today, he said, recalling that in March this year, Israel’s Finance Minister, Bezalel Yoel Smotrich, a settler leader, called for a West Bank village to be wiped out. The National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has meanwhile spent the last fortnight handing out weapons to settlers in the occupied West Bank. These ministers are not representative of all Israelis, nor does the commander of Hamas represent all Palestinians in Gaza, he said, adding: “Israeli settlers have thrown the olive branch to the ground.”
Introduction of Reports
ILZE BRANDS KEHRIS, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), introduced three reports of the Secretary-General, noting that the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is growing more dire by the hour, with more than 10,022 people, mostly civilians, killed in Gaza, including 4,104 children, 2,641 women and more than 25,000 injured. Under international humanitarian law, disproportionate strikes may amount to war crimes, she said, adding that more than 1.4 million residents of Gaza are reportedly displaced due to protection concerns and the destruction of homes. The humanitarian system in Gaza is facing a total collapse, with Israel’s complete siege of the Gaza Strip cutting off essential supplies to the civilian population, amounting to collective punishment.
She reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid and workers within Gaza, as well as for Hamas to release all hostages promptly and unconditionally. The ongoing military offensive in response to the abhorrent attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups on Israel on 7 October comes in a wider context of the now 56-year-old occupation and the 16-year closure and blockade of Gaza, she said. Her office has been monitoring and documenting the increasingly dire human rights situation for more than 20 years and reported on violations including systematic discrimination, unnecessary or disproportionate use of lethal force, arbitrary detention and settlement expansion — practices that may amount to collective punishment, and other restrictions imposed on human rights of Palestinians, with a pervasive lack of accountability, she said.
Introducing the Secretary-General’s report titled “Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” (document A/78/502), covering from 1 June 2021 to 31 May 2023, she noted that two major escalations of hostilities between Israeli and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza occurred, from 5 to 7 August 2022 and from 9 to 13 May 2023 respectively, which resulted in a total of 84 Palestinians killed in Gaza, including 24 children. The report also notes an escalation of the use of unjustified lethal force by Israeli security forces against Palestinians across the West Bank. Israel also escalated punitive measures on Palestinians that may amount to collective punishment in the West Bank. Noting that the closure of Gaza may amount to collective punishment, she recalled the Secretary-General’s recommendation that Israel immediately end all practices that may amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Introducing the second report, titled “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan” (document A/78/554), covering from 1 June 2022 to 31 May 2023, she noted that the current Government has endorsed a policy to expand long-term control over the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which may amount to steps towards annexation. Over the reporting period up to May 2023, plans for the construction of 16,500 housing units were advanced or approved and the settlement of land title in East Jerusalem was advanced, placing thousands of Palestinians at risk of forced eviction and transfer. Settler violence against Palestinians almost doubled in the reporting period, while attacks by Palestinians against Israelis also spiked. She recalled the Secretary-General’s recommendations that Israel immediately and completely cease and reverse all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, in compliance with international law.
Introducing the third report, titled “The occupied Syrian Golan” (document A/78/529), she noted that it called on Israel to desist from changing the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and legal status of the occupied Syrian Golan, and in particular desist from the establishment of settlements. The resolution also called upon Israel, the occupying Power, to comply with the relevant resolutions on the occupied Syrian Golan, in particular, Security Council resolution 497 (1981), deciding that the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the occupied Syrian Golan was null and void and without international legal effect and demanded that Israel, the occupying Power, rescind forthwith its decision.
The observer for the State of Palestine said that it is tragic that on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the world is seeing a horrific escalation of an endless Nakba that includes colonial occupation, ethnic cleansing, apartheid and, now, an unfolding genocide. How can it be that a country that wilfully breaches international law and blatantly refuses to abide by its Charter obligations is allowed to remain a Member State of the United Nations, she asked. “I don’t expect that these questions will be answered today, but it is long past time to ask them and many other important questions being sidestepped by the international community as it continues to treat Israel with kid gloves.”
Ms. KEHRIS recalled that the Secretary-General has called strongly for a humanitarian pause as well as the release of hostages. It is vital to address the larger situation for the sake of current and future generations, she added. Human rights must be respected and there must be accountability for all violations, both past and ongoing.
FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, Observer for the State of Palestine, said that last week in Gaza, there was no space left in hospital morgues and not enough body bags for the scale of the carnage. Some 10,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel and more than 24,000 civilians have been injured, she said, adding that Israel kills a Palestinian child every 10 minutes. “By the time we leave this room, the toll will only be higher, as Israel presses on with its genocidal onslaught.” More mothers will write their children’s names on their limbs so they can be identified if killed in the next bomb blast. More fathers will attempt to carry their children to safety, only to be bombed as they run south. More children will be orphaned, and some will be rendered “WCNSF”, meaning “wounded child, no surviving family”, a new acronym created for solely for Gaza in these past weeks, she said.
Even as global calls for a ceasefire grow louder, Israel is undeterred, ignoring the General Assembly’s unequivocal demands, certain that the feeble calls for “humanitarian pauses” will give it the time and space to kill and destroy as it wishes, she said. Also highlighting the violence of Israeli occupying forces and extremist Jewish settlers in the West Bank, she said that Israel is stepping up its collective punishment and coercion, while extremist settlers and officials are warning of “a greater Nakba” and making genocidal threats against Palestinians. Just yesterday, an Israeli Minister proposed dropping a nuclear bomb on Gaza, she said, adding that “no Palestinian is safe under this inhuman occupation”. There must be consequences to sanction Israel, including an arms embargo, she said. Calling on the Security Council and General Assembly, the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice to halt this dangerous trajectory, she said it threatens not only the Palestinian people, but also the Israeli people, the region and international community as a whole.
MARY CLUNE, representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, reiterated that the European Union condemns terrorist attacks by Hamas, urges for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, supports Israel’s right to self-defence and is concerned about the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. She called on Israel to halt continued settlement expansion, underscoring that these practices are illegal under international law. She further voiced concern about the deteriorating situation in the occupied West Bank and called for efforts to de-escalate. The European Union urges all Palestinian factions to engage in good faith in the reconciliation process, to adhere to previous agreements, renounce violence and terrorism and recognize Israel’s right to exist, she said, urging to restore a political horizon towards a two-State solution.
Ms. AL RASHDI (Oman), speaking on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, expressed concern over the developments in the Occupied Palestinian Territory due to the extremely dangerous Israeli escalation. She called for calm and for the release of prisoners and hostages and for humanitarian access. Israel’s complete blockade of Gaza runs counter to international law, she said, adding that the occupying forces are responsible for the situation. She reiterated support for a two-State solution and the creation of an independent Palestinian state within the June 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. The expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem must stop and the international community must exert pressure on the Israeli authorities to stop ongoing settlement construction.
AHMED MOHAMED EZZAT AHMED ELSHANDAWILY (Egypt), aligning himself with the Arab Group, said that the calls for a ceasefire and for upholding international humanitarian law have fallen on deaf ears as Israel continues its unabated aggression against the Palestinians. Even before 7 October, Israel was engaged in a disturbingly consistent pattern of violations and practices contrary to its obligations under the international law and United Nations resolutions. “Settlements were at the forefront of these practices,” he added. A two-year plan to move 500,000 new settlers to the West Bank and to construct 16,500 housing units in Area C and East Jerusalem goes hand-in-hand with the demolition of Palestinian property, he said, pointing also to the despicable behaviour of settlers. These activities are detrimental to the rights of Palestinians and are fatal to the peace process, he said, adding that the two-State solution is “the only real hope that the tragic war in Gaza will not recur”.
Ms. AL-MASHEHARI (Yemen), aligning herself with the statement to be delivered by the Arab Group, underlined “the centrality of the Palestinian cause for the Arab and Islamic nation as a whole”. The Arab Peace Initiative stipulates that comprehensive peace with Israel and normalization of relations must be preceded by an end to the occupation of Arab and Palestinian territories and the guarantee of Palestinians’ inalienable rights, including self-determination, right of return and reparations. Stability in the region cannot be achieved without a just solution to the Palestinian cause. She further emphasized the need to protect the occupied city of Jerusalem and its holy sites and to defend against efforts by the occupation to change its demographic and its Arab, Islamic and Christian identity.
ABDULAZIZ M. ALWASIL (Saudi Arabia), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that the Arab Group condemns in the strongest terms large-scale Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people, including the use of internationally-banned weapons against the Gaza Strip and the deliberate targeting of women, children and the elderly in the air strikes and land incursions. He also condemned the targeting of places of worship, infrastructure, schools and hospitals and called for the perpetrators of the crimes to be held accountable. The immediate delivery of food, water, fuel and electricity to the Gaza Strip is a moral and legal responsibility for the international community as a whole, he said, adding that failure in that regard is a violation of international humanitarian law.
The Arab Group condemns attempts under false pretexts to eliminate the Palestinian cause or to force the displacement of the Palestinian people either within their territories or to neighbouring countries, he continued. He further reiterated the need for a ceasefire to end the Israeli military operations in Gaza, saying that this is necessary to stop the violence and its catastrophic impacts on regional and international peace and security. In addition, he called for an end to incursions by Israeli settlers into the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to attacks by extremists who defile holy sites. The Arab Peace Initiative is the most comprehensive proposal to achieve a stable and secure future for all in the region, through ending the Israeli occupation of Arab territories and establishing a sovereign, independent Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital, in line with the two-State solution, he said.
TOUFIQ ISLAM SHATIL (Bangladesh), reiterating that an immediate ceasefire is the call of the day, also stressed the need for continuous and unhindered provision of supplies throughout Gaza. Condemning all illegal settlements, demolitions and forced evictions, he expressed concern about Israel’s plans to consolidate the ring of settlements around East Jerusalem and the regularisation of illegal structures. Settler violence has doubled, but illegal settlers have been enjoying impunity and one was even appointed a Minister, he said. Rejecting Israel’s policies aimed at altering the demographics in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said that the impunity afforded to that country makes the two-State solution even more elusive. Highlighting the threat of use of nuclear weapons, he said it is not acceptable to impose collective punishment on a civilian population.
ALPER SEZER (Türkiye) said there can be no justification for indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure. Collective punishment and attempts at forced displacement of people are unacceptable and they must stop. Israel’s expansion of illegal settlements, forced evictions, mass displacement and extrajudicial killings in the Occupied Palestinian Territory — all carried out with impunity — are the underlying causes of this cycle of violence, he said, adding: “These practices undermine the perspective for a just and lasting solution.” He also urged respect for the sanctity and historic status quo of Jerusalem’s holy sites. The international community has a responsibility to end Israel’s blatant violation of international law and international humanitarian law, he said, adding that the Security Council must end its paralysis and act.
JOAQUÍN ALBERTO PÉREZ AYESTARÁN (Venezuela), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the spiral of violence is reprehensible. Palestinians who live in Gaza are living a true nightmare and the United States is an accomplice to genocide. The intensity of the bombing is now 1.5 times greater than the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, he said, warning that the conflict might spread to other parts of the Middle East. The International Court of Justice must investigate the serious crimes being perpetrated, he said, noting however that its Prosecutor seems to be paralyzed. “No one can be above the law,” he said, adding that the cycle of impunity has led to this point. Settlements and the destructions of homes is another precursor of these developments, yet still this illegal practice continues, he said, concluding by expressing his country’s unwavering support for the Palestinian people.
YASSINE SALAH (Tunisia), aligning himself with the Arab Group, said that the international community, particularly influential parties, should assume their political and ethical responsibilities and stand for peace and justice, especially after the Security Council failed on four occasions to make a decision that would stop the genocide by Israeli occupation forces against the Palestinian people for the past month. Tunisia cannot accept such double standards and selective application of the principles of the UN Charter or international law. The occupying Power is responsible for the failure of all peace initiatives as its forces use provocative measures in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to provoke action, which they later use to justify their illegitimate retaliation against innocent civilians. Israeli aggressive practices will not eliminate the Palestinian people, he said.
YUMIRKA FERNÁNDEZ PALACIOS (Cuba) reiterated her country’s unwavering solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank and expressed deep concern at the collective punishment carried out by Israeli authorities which has led to an unprecedented forced displacement. Israel has violated the relevant UN resolutions and flagrantly violates its obligations as an occupying Power. Cuba will continue to call for the total and unconditional withdrawal of Israel from the Syrian Golan and from all of the occupied Arab territories. It also calls for a constructive dialogue with respect to all of the peoples of the region. She went on to say that the United States is an accomplice to Israel and responsible for preventing the Security Council from taking concrete measures to end to this historic injustice. She emphasized Cuba’s total support for the entry of Palestine as a full-fledged member of the United Nations and urged the Security Council to take a position swiftly and in keeping with the rules.
KIM IN CHOL (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, condemned Israel’s heinous massacre of civilians. Thousands of innocents have lost their lives in this bloodshed, he said, adding that the resolution of the question of Palestine brooks no further delay. The international community’s delay in addressing the problem has resulted in this horrifying conflict. The peace process has been undermined by the one-sided policy of the United States, which has encouraged Israel’s territorial expansion. That country also continues to provide military aid and has greenlighted the current massacre, he said. In the Security Council, the United States vetoed a resolution calling for a ceasefire. These facts clearly prove that the United States has been obstructing the peaceful aspirations of Palestinians. As long as this double-dealing behaviour continues, there can be no peace and stability, he said, reaffirming support for an independent State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital.
ABUZIED SHAMSELDIN AHMED MOHAMED (Sudan), aligning himself with the Arab Group, said that the deterioration of the situation in the occupied Arab territories is the result of the international community’s failure to resolve the issue in accordance with international law and relevant resolutions on the Middle East. Underscoring the importance of protecting civilians and providing essential humanitarian assistance such as energy, food, water and medication, he described the Israeli authorities’ practices in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as violations of international humanitarian law, constituting an affront to humanity. He called for the lifting of the 15-year blockade on Gaza and the opening of crossing points to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. Emphasizing importance of the Palestinian question for the Arab and Muslim world, he called for the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in alignment with the international law.
CHEIKH NIANG (Senegal) said current events bear the hallmarks of a tragedy and that October has been filled with tragedy, tears and despair. He reiterated an appeal for de-escalation, encouraging all initiatives that work toward calm, including processes under way to release hostages. He also appealed for an immediate ceasefire to allow humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, Israel’s reprisals have already led to more than 10,000 deaths, including 88 UNRWA staff, and the destruction of civilian infrastructure and housing, threatening the prospect for displaced people to return home, he said. He went on to urge Israel, the occupying Power, to spare civilians, humanitarian workers and media personnel, and expressed support for sustainable and predictable UNRWA funding. He deplored the voices within the Israeli Government who sow the seeds of instability by encouraging the discriminatory and aggressive policy of settlement, expulsion and demolition of houses, contrary to international law.
MARISKA DWIANTI DHANUTIRTO (Indonesia) said the events in Gaza did not happen in a vacuum, given the expansion of settlements, settler violence and decades of illegal occupation and impunity. Noting that the United Nations has yet to intervene to stop the violence, she wondered: “Are the values of these lives lessened because of their ethnicities or religion?” The escalation of violence has broad global implications, requiring dialogue and negotiation, while the root causes of the conflict must be examined. Land must be “returned to the rightful owners — Palestinians”. She also highlighted Indonesia’s submissions to the International Court of Justice and looked forward to hearings scheduled for February 2024.
FATIN HILYATI HAJI HAMZAH (Brunei Darussalam) said that her country is deeply concerned at the escalation of violence that has resulted in the loss of innocent lives, unbearable suffering and destruction of property. Brunei Darussalam urges the parties concerned to immediately cease all forms of violence and exercise utmost restraint, and joins the international community in calling on the occupying Power to de-escalate tensions and halt its aggression against the Palestinians. In this regard, it is important to consistently uphold international law, she added. Brunei Darussalam stands firm in its belief that humanitarian personnel and civilians should never be targeted and must always be safeguarded. The plight of the Palestinians remains at the core of the conflict in the Middle East and lasting peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved without an independent state of Palestine, based on pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Brunei Darussalam remains steadfast in its support for the State of Palestine to be accorded permanent membership to the United Nations, she said.
AHMAD FAISAL MUHAMAD (Malaysia) said that Gaza is becoming a graveyard for children, pointing to deaths of around 4,000 children in the ongoing war. What is happening in Gaza did not occur in a vacuum, he said, citing increasing incidents of hate speech by certain Israeli leaders as well as settler violence and Israeli military operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Condemning the disproportionate use of force by Israel in Gaza, he added: “We are outraged by Israel’s total disregard of international law.” Under Israel’s illegal occupation, Palestinians are being denied their basic human rights, he said, adding that despite repeated calls for the international community to take decisive action, nothing has happened to change their fate. Calling for an immediate ceasefire, he said that the Security Council must deliver on its responsibility to protect global peace and security.
AHMED SAHRAOUI (Algeria) expressed astonishment at the scale of destruction by the Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip, describing it as a new episode in a series of blatant and systemic violations of international norms and laws. Unfortunately, some try to justify the crimes of the occupation, believing that it only started with the current aggression, but for the Palestinian people, the suffering began with the occupation. History is full of the massacres committed against the Palestinians, yet the international community has been silent about their suffering. The current scorched-earth policy in the Gaza Strip is accompanied by increased settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and the desecration of Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, he added. “What is happening now in the Palestinian territories is a crime against humanity that requires every free individual to stand against it,” he said.