Global Trends by Martin Khor
Monday 10 July 2006
The Middle East situation was inflamed again last week by Israeli bombing of and incursion into the Gaza Strip. The Human Rights Council demanded Israel end its operations, while the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Palestine made a remarkable statement on the suffering of the Palestinians.
Last week, Israel’s bombing of and incursion into the Gaza Strip caused damage to infrastructure and social disruption to Palestinians, as well as over 40 deaths by Saturday. It earned widespread condemnation and has scuppered whatever hopes there had been for peace talks.
The bombings damaged roads, water supplies, and increased the already extreme hardships of the Palestinians. The office of the Palestinian Authority’s Prime Minister was bombed, and many Cabinet members and legislators were detained by Israeli troops.
The re-occupation of parts of Gaza and the settlements from which Israel had pulled out last year led to speculation that the Israeli troops will be back “for the long haul”.
The Israeli actions were in response to the capture of a young Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants, who are demanding that in exchange for his release, Palestinian prisoners be also released. There is a widespread feeling that the Israeli response is way out of proportion.
In Geneva, the United Nation’s Human Rights Council held its first ever special session, in recognition that this was an urgent situation. On 5 July it adopted a resolution demanding that Israel end its military operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and release arrested Palestinian ministers and legislators. It also decided to send a fact finding mission to the Palestinian territory.
The resolution was passed by a vote of 29 for, 11 against, with 5 abstentions after a lengthy debate.
Most developing countries on the Council voted for the resolution. Voting against were member states of the European Union who felt the text should be balanced by also making requests on the Palestinians. Others voting against were Canada and Japan.
The resolution demanded that Israel, the occupying power, end its military operations in the OPT, abide scrupulously by the provisions of international humanitarian law and human rights law, and refrain from imposing collective punishment on Palestinian civilians.
The Council urged Israel to immediately release the arrested Palestinian ministers, members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and other officials and civilians. It expressed grave concern at the violation of human rights of Palestinians caused by the Israeli occupation including the current military operations.
The resolution also expressed grave concern at the detrimental impact of the Israeli military operation on the already deteriorating humanitarian conditions of Palestinians. The Council decided to dispatch an urgent fact finding mission to the area.
Many speakers expressed deep concern about the deteriorating situation in Palestine resulting from the Israeli incursion in the Gaza Strip, the use of force by Israeli troops against the Palestinian civilian population, and the air raids on Palestinian vital public infrastructure and utilities.
Ambassador Masood Khan of Pakistan, speaking for OIC, said that the Israeli response (to the capture of its soldier) was overwhelming. Disproportionate force was being used in violation of international law. Complete insensitivity had been shown to human suffering.
Collective punishment of the Palestinians broke humanitarian law and targeted unarmed civilians.
In the past week, continuous military strikes against the people, infrastructure, roads, bridges and power stations had left Palestinians devastated.
Ambassador Hsu King Bee of Malaysia called on the Council to act urgently to live up to its responsibility. She said the Israeli military aggression, including bombardment and wanton destruction of infrastructure, government buildings, water and power plants in the occupied Palestinian territory, arbitrary arrests and detention of democratically elected Palestinian ministers and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and other officials and civilians, were indeed excessive, disproportionate and deplorable.
Malaysia urged the Council to call on Israel to immediately cease all violations, in particular its military aggression, and release all those who had been arbitrarily detained.
Ambassador Samir Labidi of Tunisia, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said Israel had stepped up its attacks to unprecedented levels, in defiance of international law. The international community should get Israel to return to the peace process.
Finland, speaking for the European Union, said that the EU was extremely concerned about the situation and called on all parties to abstain from actions that were in violation of international humanitarian and human rights law. It called for the unconditional release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier. The EU was particularly concerned about the detention of elected members of the Palestinian Government and legislature.
Palestine’s Ambassador Mohammed Abu-Koash (Palestine) said the ongoing Israeli military
offensive constituted the most abhorrent form of breaches against humanity. Israel claimed that it was undertaking the operation in self-defence. Was it self-defence to make an entire population suffer for one Israeli soldier, who was captured from a military base firing missiles against Palestinian civilians?
The issue of the captured soldier was but a pretext to fulfil Israel’s intent to carry out its aggressions against the Palestinian people and impose collective punishment on them. The ostensible aim of that arrest of the people’s representatives was to undermine the Palestinian Authority and its institutions and create an unstable political climate conducive for Israel to impose its plans on the Palestinian people.
Israel’s Ambassador Itzhak Levanon said the request for the special session was made for political reasons, and was part of the Arab plan to put Israel in the dock. He rejected all allegations against his country. The Palestinians themselves had provoked the current situation by abducting an Israeli soldier.
The United States said it did not believe the Council should focus on only one aspect, while ignoring the role of Hamas in the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier, and the failure of the Palestinian Authority to denounce terror.
The Special Rapporteur on human rights in the OPT, John Dugard, gave a statement which had a powerful impact. It was a brief but remarkable catalogue of the problems facing the Palestinian society, and of the violations of several international laws by Israel.
It also remarkably criticized the Quartet, of which the UN is a part, for what he called the economic sanctions it was effectively imposing on Palestine. The other Quartet members are the US, EU and Russia.
Dugard said the human rights situation was already appalling in June. “Both the West Bank and Gaza are impoverished as a result of Israel's unlawful withholding of Palestinian tax revenues and the Quartet's decision to withhold aid” which he said in effect amount to economic sanctions.
“This is the first time an occupied people has been subjected to economic sanctions. This economic strangulation has had a severe impact on the social and economic rights of Palestinians…
“Israel is in violation of countless UN resolutions and refuses to comply with the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice. The Quartet has taken no action against Israel and, politely, fails to even remind Israel of its obligations under the Advisory Opinion. But now it has, in effect, imposed economic sanctions - not on the Palestinian Authority - but on the Palestinian
“In the past week the situation has worsened. In Gaza people are without water, food is scarce, medicines are running out. 200,000 households are without electricity due to the destruction of power plants. Over 1,500 rounds of artillery have been showered on Gaza. Sonic booms terrorize the people.
“Transport has been seriously disrupted by the destruction of roads and bridges. Sanitation is threatened. And external borders are substantially closed to persons and supplies.
“How is one to assess the present situation? In moral terms, Israel's conduct is morally indefensible. But I am concerned with the law. And here it is clear that Israel is in violation of the most fundamental norms of humanitarian law and human rights law.”
“Israel portrays its military offensive against Gaza as a response to Kassam rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. Deplorable as such Palestinian actions may be, they do not warrant the disproportionate retaliation they have prompted. Humanitarian law prohibits indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian objects and the disproportionate use of force against civilians.”
The Rapporteur made two concluding points. “First: It must be re-iterated that it is not the Hamas government that is being punished, but the Palestinian people. Israel's siege of Gaza hurts the Palestinian people. The Quartet's economic isolation of Palestine hurts the Palestinian people.
“Secondly, there is a desperate need for a minimum respect for human rights and
humanitarian law. This can only be achieved by a resumption of peace talks. There is a need for "honest brokers" in the present crisis. The EU and UN are the bodies best qualified for such a task.
Whether they can act as "honest brokers" while remaining members of the Quartet
is, however, questionable.”