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UN Special Committee says Israel’s practices against Palestinians amount to ‘apartheid’

New York (QNN)- A United Nations Special Committee has stated it received mounting evidence of “Israel’s discriminatory and inhumane laws, policies, and practices that violate Palestinians’ human dignity in every sense,” saying such practices amount to ‘apartheid’.

The United Nations Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories conducted its annual mission to Amman, Jordan, from 4 to 7 July 2022.

The United Nations Special Committee was established by the UN General Assembly in December 1968 to examine the human rights situation in the occupied Syrian Golan, the West Bank, including eastern part of occupied Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

During the four-day mission, the Special Committee met with high-level Palestinian government officials, UN organisations and representatives of civil society organisations from the occupied Palestinian territory and the occupied Syrian Golan. Furthermore, the Special Committee visited UNRWA headquarters, Marka refugee camp and interacted with the Palestine refugees.

The Committee noted it regrets that ‘Israel’ did not respond to its request for consultations with Israeli occupation authorities or for access to ‘Israel’, the occupied Palestinian territory and the occupied Syrian Golan.

“Israel’s persistent refusal to engage with the UN mechanisms mirrors a lack of accountability for Israeli conduct in the occupied Palestinian territory, which was drawn to the Special Committee’s attention throughout the mission,” said the Committee in an end-of-Mission Statement issued on July 15.

“The protracted occupation, and an entrenched culture of impunity, severely undermine the prospect of Palestinians and Israelis enjoying human rights on an equal basis and living side by side in peace and dignity.”

The Special Committee said the visit took place in the context of increasing settler violence and Israeli occupation forces violence against Palestinians, arbitrary arrests and detention, and restrictions on the freedom of expression and movement, as well as a deepening culture of impunity.

Killing Palestinians

The Special Committee was briefed that in the first half of 2022, Israeli occupation forces killed 60 Palestinians in the West Bank in the context of “law enforcement operations,” compared to 41 in the same period in 2021.

It noted that ‘Israel’ continues to hold the bodies of 325 Palestinians, denying families burials and closure.

Settler violence has continued to increase at an alarming rate, the Committe said, adding that 575 incidents of settler violence resulting in Palestinian deaths, injury and/or property damage were reported between 1 June 2021 and 31 May 2022, compared to 430 in the previous year.

“Perpetrators are very rarely held accountable. Gross violations of Palestinian human rights, including the right to self-determination, are the result of discriminatory and systematic policies and practices negatively impacting almost every aspect of Palestinian life,” the UN Special Committee stressed.

Israel’s policy of administrative detention

The Special Committee was also briefed on Israel’s practice of administrative detention of Palestinians as more than 800,000 Palestinians have been subjected to this practice since 1967.

Approximately 640 Palestinians, including four children, are currently held under indefinite administrative detention without charge or trial, the Committee said, adding that “a lack of respect for fair trial guarantees is a systemic concern in cases involving Palestinians, including the regular admission of secret evidence in trial.”

The Special Committee was also informed that torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons remain widespread. “Some interrogation techniques, which may amount to torture, are allowed by ‘Israel’ on the basis of “necessity”, which is incompatible with the absolute prohibition of torture under international law.”

The Special Committee was also informed that Palestinian detainees are often deprived of adequate health care, as medical clinics within prisons lack appropriate medical equipment and treatment.

Israel’s illegal settlements and lands expropriation

In the West Bank and eastern part of occupied Jerusalem, the Committee said Israel’s “discriminatory planning and zoning laws and military orders are applied to justify aggressive expropriation of land for the purposes of expanding illegal Israeli settlements and military training areas.”

In Area C, which comprises approximately 62 per cent of land in the West Bank, almost 30 per cent is designated as closed “firing zones” and Palestinian residents in those designated areas are at heightened risk of forced displacement and demolitions of their homes.

The Special Committee particularly expressed concern over ongoing demolitions of Palestinian structures and displacement of Palestinian residents in Masafer Yatta, designated as “Firing Zone 918”, following a recent Israeli High Court decision permitting forced displacement of the residents to clear the area as a closed military training site. About 1,200 residents of Masafer Yatta face imminent risks of forced displacement.

“This constitutes the largest displacement of Palestinians since 1967, and may amount to forcible transfer, which is a grave breach of international humanitarian law,” the UN Special Committee said.

It added that illegal Israeli settlements have also continued to expand, resulting in demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures and displacement of the Palestinian residents, notwithstanding UN Security Council resolution 2334 condemning such practices.

The Special Committee was informed that ‘Israel’ has established or allowed the establishment of 279 settlements, outposts or satellite neighbourhoods in the West Bank, facilitating settlement population growth to approximately 700,000. Israeli and international settler organisations actively promote settlements and recruit prospective settlers, and are offered tax incentives.

New settlement housing units continue to proliferate, and in May 2022, Israeli occupation authorities advanced plans for the construction of more than 4,000 settlement housing units in Area C, the Committee noted, adding the expansion of settlements has resulted in a commensurate increase in the demolition of Palestinian structures.

The Special Committee was briefed that since the beginning of 2022, 387 Palestinian structures, including 68 donor-funded structures, were demolished, displacing 496 Palestinians.

Only five percent of construction plans submitted by Palestinians in Area C are reportedly approved by the Israeli occupation authorities. The Special Committee was also informed that in addition to settlement housing units, private land owned by Palestinians is often seized for the purpose of building infrastructure, such as roads, highways and walls, to connect settlements, or creating natural reserves or national parks.

As reiterated by the Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Security Council and other UN bodies, settlement activities are a flagrant violation of international law and must immediately cease, the Committee said.

UNRWA

The Committee also dedicated a portion of its visit to UNRWA headquarters and the Marka refugee camp for Gazan refugees. Although UNRWA faces a dire financial situation and an almost USD 120 million programme budget shortfall, the agency continues to deliver above and beyond all expectations and is sustained by a dedicated and committed cadre of staff, many of whom benefited from UNRWA’s relief, social, health and education services as children, it said.

The Committee said UNRWA urgently requires predictable and sustainable funding in order to continue to fulfil its critical role for Palestine refugees and regional stability. Health and education services in particular are not sustainable on an ad hoc or emergency funding basis, it added.

Health water and environment

Israeli policies and practices also infringe upon the human rights of Palestinians to health, safe drinking water, sanitation, and a healthy environment in a discriminatory manner, said the Committee.

The Special Committee was informed that life expectancy of Palestinians is eight years lower than Israeli settlers.

For Gazans, barriers restricting access to secondary and tertiary healthcare are “extreme.”

Irrespective of medical need, Gazan men aged 18-40 are much less likely to receive a permit to leave Gaza than any other demographic, reflective of Israel’s prioritisation of security policy over the Palestinian right to health.

Palestinians only control approximately 20 percent of their water supply, with the remainder purchased from ‘Israel’.

Public demand consistently exceeds supply, particularly during summer, and over 90 percent of groundwater in Gaza is not suitable for human consumption. In areas south of Hebron in the West Bank, Palestinians reportedly survive on an average of less than 40 litres per person per day, well below WHO minimum guidelines to achieve basic health and sanitation needs.

The Committee was also provided with photographic evidence of Israeli commercial, agricultural, industrial and chemical waste disposal on Palestinian agricultural land, with grave implications for the right to a healthy environment, impacting progress towards SDG 6 and SDG 11, whilst the consequences of climate change become increasingly evident.

Palestinian people are the victims

Discrimination against Palestinians also manifests in the absence of accountability mechanisms, the Committee said.

“As highlighted by many interlocutors, impunity remains pervasive in the occupied Palestinian territory, as acts of killings, torture, ill-treatment or violence committed against Palestinians by Israeli security forces are rarely investigated or result in prosecution of the perpetrators,” the end-of-Mission statement noted.

“A Palestinian victim who wishes to file a complaint and pursue legal action faces a number of insurmountable obstacles, such as prohibitively expensive court fees and access to legal representation.”

The Special Committee was informed that Palestinian children are routinely intimidated by Israeli occupation forces on the way to school and face physical access restrictions to their right to education, despite the UN Secretary-General’s repeated calls on ‘Israel’ to better protect schools as places of learning.

Besieged Gaza Strip

In the Gaza Strip, civil liability claims by Gazan residents are explicitly excluded from Israeli jurisdiction, by virtue of a 2014 legislative amendment that considers the population of Gaza as residents of an “enemy territory,” it said.

In the Gaza Strip, 15 years of the land, sea and air blockade and closures have effectively trapped 2.1 million Palestinians in what Gazan and international civil society organisations describe as an “open-air prison”.

The blockade and closures, combined with the effects of the May 2021 aggression and the COVID-19 pandemic, “have continued to stifle the local economy, constricting the livelihoods of the Gazan population.”

The Committee was briefed that 44.7 percent of working-age Gazans are unemployed, and permits to obtain employment outside Gaza are extremely limited. Livelihoods available to the Gazan population, such as fishery and agriculture, expose Gazans to grave risks of violence and attacks by Israeli occupation forces.

To date, 2022 has seen a spike in the number of arrests of fishermen, harassment, and confiscation or destruction of their boats. While arrested fishermen are usually released within 24 hours, they are often subject to ill-treatment and physical abuse, and not allowed to contact their families.

Entry and export of goods are strictly controlled and restricted by ‘Israel’.

Gazans requiring urgent medical care outside the Gaza Strip are unable to do so without exit permits from ‘Israel’.

The Special Committee was briefed on several “tragic cases” of Palestinian infants and children dying of treatable causes whilst waiting for exit permits to seek life-saving specialized treatment in eastern part of occupied Jerusalem.

“The picture emerging from the Gaza Strip is increasingly bleak, with the population deprived of access to adequate health care, employment, basic services such as water and electricity, and freedom of movement,” the Special Committee said.

“The dire situation in the Gaza Strip is a man-made humanitarian catastrophe, maintained and perpetuated by deliberate policies and practices designed to control a trapped population. The international community must shift its focus from humanitarian emergency to addressing the root cause of the catastrophe, including ending the blockade and border closures.”

Golan Heights

The Israeli occupation government has also expanded its control of the occupied Syrian Golan in the context of the ongoing crisis in Syria and the COVID-19 pandemic, said the Committee.

The Special Committee was informed that the settler population has expanded to just under 30,000 in 35 settlements.

On 26 December 2021, then-Israeli occupation Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Cabinet approved an unprecedented plan to build 7,300 residential units in existing illegal settlements for 23,000 new Israeli settlers within the next five years, as well as the establishment of two new illegal settlements.

‘Israel’ has continued to restrict the movement of the 80 percent of Syrians in the occupied Golan without Israeli identity documents, preventing their movement within Syria, family reunification, and access to work, education and medical services in Damascus or abroad, the Committee noted.

Syrians in the occupied Golan are also denied building permits by Israel and have limited access to natural resources (including land and water).

Shrinking of civic space in OPT

Throughout its visit, the Special Committee was briefed on the continued shrinking of civic space in the occupied Palestinian territory as a function of Israeli occupation policies.

On 22 October 2021, Israel’s Ministry of War designated six leading Palestinian civil society organisations as “terrorist organisations,” allegations that remain unsubstantiated by the information available to the Special Committee.

Other civil society organisations invited to brief the Special Committee were unable to attend in person due to movement restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation. The Committee added that multiple civil society organisations and human rights defenders reported being specifically targeted for surveillance.

In the same context, the Committee referred to Israel’s killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, calling this “one of the most explicit examples of suppression of freedom of speech in the occupied Palestinian territory in recent memory.”

“The killing of Ms. Abu Akleh, known as the “voice of Palestine,” is profoundly symbolic. Her death and the desecration of her funeral procession affected every member of Palestinian civic society, particularly the women journalists and human rights defenders that she inspired,” the Committee said.

Israel’s policies amount to ‘apartheid’

The Special Committee concluded it received mounting evidence of Israel’s discriminatory and inhumane laws, policies, and practices that “violate Palestinians’ human dignity in every sense, the essence of human rights to which all Palestinians are entitled.”

“By design, Israel’s 55-year occupation of Palestine has been used as a vehicle to serve and protect the interest of a Jewish State and its Jewish people, while subjugating Palestinians.”

The Special Committee noted that it is “cognisant that many stakeholders consider that this practice amounts to apartheid,” in a refernce to several human rights groups declaring ‘Israel’ as an apartheid regime, including Amnesty International, B’Tselem, and HRW.

This concern must be given “serious consideration by the international community, for it owes obligations erga omnes to prevent and end the most serious crimes under international law, the Special Committee said.

The Special Committee has also urged Member States to take principled steps towards ensuring that “Israel’s occupation ends and Palestinians’ right of self-determination is realised.”

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