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Issue #1581      February 13, 2013

UN report calls on Israel to cease all settlement activities

On January 31, the UN’s International Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) published its findings on the impact of Israeli settlements on the Palestinian people. The report outlines a multitude of systemic breaches of international law and horrendous violations of human rights. It also calls on UN Member States to take action to restore the human rights of Palestinians in the OPT. Needless to say it did not make the front pages of the Australian mass media. The Financial Review buried it in less than 30 words on page 13. Murdoch’s Australian newspaper featured the Israeli government’s attack on the report, not the details of it. If it had been Iran or the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea) such abuses would have filled news headlines for days.

Palestinians at a rally chant slogans supporting Palestinian inmates hunger striking in Israeli jails. (Photo: Majdi Mohammed)

The Mission was the result of a decision at the 19th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) on March 22, 2012, to “dispatch an independent international fact-finding mission ... to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

Its members are Christine Chanet (chair) from France, Asma Jahangir of Pakistan and Unity Dow of Botswana.

Their findings will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on March 18. Israel refused to co-operate. It denied permission for the Mission to enter Israel or Palestinian territories to carry out their inquiry. This refusal is indicative of Israeli control over the OPT and the contempt it shows towards the UN and international law. Instead, the members met in Jordan with more than 50 people affected by the settlements or working as NGOs in a relevant field.

On releasing their report, Ms Chanet told a press conference that, “Israel must cease all settlement activities without preconditions,” in compliance with Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

“We are today calling on the government of Israel to ensure full accountability for all violations, put an end to the policy of impunity and to ensure justice for all victims,” Ms Jahangir said.

“The magnitude of violations relating to Israel’s policies of dispossessions, evictions, demolitions and displacements from land shows the widespread nature of these breaches of human rights. The motivation behind violence and intimidation against the Palestinians and their properties is to drive the local populations away from their lands, allowing the settlements to expand,” Ms Dow said.

The Mission found that “the violations are all interrelated, forming part of an overall pattern of breaches that are characterised principally by the denial of the right to self-determination and systemic discrimination against the Palestinian people which occurs on a daily basis.”

Israel in full control

It states in its conclusions that “the State of Israel has had full control of the settlements in the OPT since 1967 and continues to promote and sustain them through infrastructure and security measures.” The transfer of Israeli citizens into the OPT, prohibited under international humanitarian law and international criminal law, is a central feature of Israel’s practices and policies.

In the West Bank alone, including East Jerusalem, 250 settlements have been established since 1967 either with or without government authorisation. The number of settlers is estimated at 520,000 (200,000 in East Jerusalem and 320,000 in the rest of the West Bank).

The settlements are established and developed for the exclusive benefit of Israeli Jews. “They are maintained and advanced through a system of total segregation between the settlers and the rest of the population living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. This system of segregation is supported and facilitated by strict military and law enforcement control to the detriment of the rights of the Palestinian population.”

The existence of the settlements has had a heavy toll on the rights of the Palestinians. Their rights to freedom of self-determination, non-discrimination, freedom of movement, equality, due process, fair trial, not to be arbitrarily detained, liberty and security of person, freedom of expression, freedom to access places of worship, education, water, housing, adequate standard of living, property, access to natural resources and effective remedy are being violated consistently and on a daily basis.

Right to self-determination

The Mission recalls General Assembly Resolution 67/19, which “reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine on the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967”.

It notes that “despite all the pertinent United Nations resolutions declaring that the existence of the settlements is illegal and calling for their cessation, the planning and growth of the settlements continues both of existing as well as new structures.”

“Neither the Palestinian Authority nor local Palestinian communities have any control over the governance, administration and planning of these areas.”

It highlights the lack of control Palestinians have over their water resources, extraction of natural resources and fertile agricultural land. For example, “Eighty-six percent of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea is under the de facto jurisdiction of the settlement regional councils,” not Palestinian authorities.

The ongoing creeping annexation prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian State and undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

Inequality and discrimination

Information presented to the Mission demonstrates that distinct legal systems exist in the OPT and are applied separately to Israeli settlers and Palestinians.

Palestinians are routinely subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, including administrative detention and mass arrests and incarceration. It is estimated that over 700,000 Palestinians, including children, have been held in Israeli military detention since the beginning of the occupation, many in prisons located within Israel.

Concern is expressed over the high number of children who are apprehended or detained, including for minor offences. “They are invariably mistreated, denied due process and fair trial. In violation of international law they are transferred to detention centres in Israel. Children suffer harassment, violence and encounter significant obstacles in attending educational institutions, which limits their right to access education.

“Israel, the occupying power is failing in its duty to protect the right to access education of the Palestinian children and failing to facilitate the proper working of educational institutions.”

Attacks and intimidation by settlers against Palestinians often are carried out in daytime and in the presence of Israeli army or police personnel, who frequently do not stop the violence or are ineffective.

Palestinians in the OPT suffer discriminatory application of a military court system that does not comply with international standards of fair trial and administration of justice.

Violence and intimidation

All spheres of Palestinian life are being significantly affected by a minority of settlers who are engaged in violence and intimidation with the aim of forcing Palestinians off their land.

“There is a consistency in the testimonies as to the following facts: the attacks and intimidation regularly take place during daylight hours; the identity of perpetrators are well known or could easily be identified; the frequent presence of police and army at the scene; the involvement and presence of settlement security officers; the frequent existence of video and photographic footage of the incidents; the lack of accountability for the violence.”

The Mission heard numerous testimonies on violent attacks by settlers, including physical assaults on the person, the use of knives, axes, clubs and other improvised weapons, as well as shootings and throwing Molotov cocktails. They also heard about the psychological impact of the intimidation from armed settlers trespassing on Palestinian land, at Palestinian water springs or in the midst of Palestinian neighbourhoods in Hebron and East Jerusalem.

Some testimonies described years of violence and intimidation directed at the same Palestinian family living in proximity to settlements which have pushed it to abandon its properties.

The violence and intimidation affects the livelihoods of Palestinian farmers: “preventing Palestinians accessing their land close to settlements through violence and intimidation; burning, uprooting and attacking Palestinian crops; settlers taking over the land and planting their own crops; fencing off and constructing on Palestinian agricultural lands.”

“Violence, verbal and physical abuses, inhumane and degrading treatments, forced evictions, land and property grabbing, destruction of property and housing and many of the issues for which testimonies and information was gathered gravely affect the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”

Depression, anxiety, symptomatic stress, mood disorder, behaviour problems and post traumatic stress disorders are some of the most current conditions reported by specialists. As settlers act with impunity, the feeling of injustice, the recurrence of events and the anticipation of renewed abuses, especially on relatives and children, lead to a worsening of these conditions.

Dispossession and displacement

“Dispossession and displacement featured in most of the submissions, reports and testimony put before the Mission…. Since the beginning of the occupation, Palestinians have seen over a million dunums [approx. 250,000 acres] of their land seized … Seized lands are placed within the jurisdictional boundaries of local and regional settlement councils, used not only for urbanisation, but also as buffer zones surrounding settlements or turned into recreational and nature areas which cannot be accessed by Palestinians.”

Bedouin communities in general are particularly vulnerable to displacement and dispossession. Eighty percent of them live in the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea area and around Hebron. Many of these communities have already experienced multiple displacements.

They experience food insecurity, lack basic services including electricity. Over 90 percent face water scarcity, living with less than one-quarter of the World Health Organisation (WHO) minimum standards.

The Israeli army routinely demolishes their shelters and property, including those provided by or built with the assistance of aid agencies and international donors. In the South Hebron hills, eight villages are at risk of eviction to make way for a new firing zone.

In East Jerusalem, multiple factors such as the discriminatory building regulations, high number of demolition orders, residence permit restrictions, the acute housing shortage and violence and intimidation from settlers place enormous pressures on the city’s Palestinian population.

Cases of forced eviction in East Jerusalem, such as in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood were also reported to the Mission. Numerous testimonies speak of settlers taking over individual houses within the Old City.

Absence of proof of registration – land registration was discontinued by military order in 1968 – makes it extremely difficult for Palestinians to obtain recognition of tenure or permits.

Building permits are rarely if ever granted; in the last 20 years, 94 percent of permit applications were denied. Building without a permit is an offence under military orders, and a demolition order is accompanied by a high fine. The mission heard about residents demolishing their own houses to avoid paying fines – “self-demolitions” are not recorded in demolition statistics.

Many Palestinians are under the constant threat that their homes and property may be demolished. In East Jerusalem alone, where 33 percent of Palestinian homes lack building permits, at least 93,100 residents are potentially at risk of being displaced.

Restrictions on freedom of movement

The vast majority of restrictions on the freedom of movement seem to be directly linked to the settlements and include “restrictions aimed at protecting the settlements, securing areas for their expansion, and improving the connectivity between settlements and with Israel itself.”

The restrictions themselves come in many forms including settler-only roads, a regime of checkpoints and crossings (closure obstacles), impediments created by the Wall and its gate and permit regime as well as administrative restrictions.

The Mission notes that restrictions on freedom of movement have a detrimental impact on Palestinian access to their land with direct consequences for their ability to work and earn their livelihood.

“Discrimination is particularly evident in the movement restrictions in Hebron and the Jordan Valley where large Palestinian populations are subjected to permit regimes and areas off limit to traffic and in some cases to even walk through. In the H2 area of Hebron there are 123 movement obstacles which are in place to facilitate the movement of approximately 550 Israeli settlers in Hebron and 7,000 in the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba at the expense of the Palestinian population (170,000).”

The presence of these settlements directly impacts on Palestinian livelihoods as military orders have led to the closure of 512 Palestinian businesses, and at least 1,100 others closed due to the restricted access of customers and suppliers.

Restrictions on peaceful assembly

Settlements, including the Wall, are the subject of Palestinian demonstrations in places such as Bili’in and Nabi Saleh, where the vast majority of demonstrators are reported to be acting in a non-violent manner. “The Israeli authorities often respond to these demonstrations with restrictions on assembly, declaring areas closed military zones, as well as employing violent means to suppress demonstrations by firing tear gas, rubber bullets and, on occasion, live rounds.”

The Mission heard that since 2009, residents of Nabi Saleh, a village of 600 people, have protested every Friday against the takeover by nearby settlers of the village’s water spring. The witness described a litany of violent attacks by the Israeli army on peaceful demonstrators which have resulted in one person being killed and over 400 people injured, including 195 children.

On some occasions the army has reportedly stopped demonstrations before they have begun by firing tear gas inside the village forcing all villagers to flee. The Mission was informed that Israeli politicians, academics and civil society actors voicing criticism of the settlements are discredited in public discourse. An example of this includes the targeting of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military in the OPT and who voice dissent with the official line of the establishment.

The report acknowledged “the valuable contribution made by members of Israeli civil society in highlighting the denial of human rights to the Palestinians due to the presence of the settlements.”

Restrictions on right to water

Israel has predominance in the allocation of West Bank water resources, of which it withdraws 90 percent.

The Palestinian Water Authority’s ability to transfer water to areas facing water shortages is severely inhibited by the territorial fragmentation. In the Jordan Valley, deep water drillings by the Israeli national water company Mekorot and the agro-industrial company Mehadrin have caused Palestinian wells and springs to dry up. Eighty percent of the total water resources drilled in the area is consumed by Israel and the settlements.

Palestinian villagers must travel several kilometres to get water when closer water resources serve neighbouring settlements. Settlements benefit from enough water to run farms and orchards, and for swimming pools and spas, while Palestinians often struggle to access minimum water requirements.

Some settlements consume around 400 l/c/d whereas Palestinian consumption is 73 l/c/d, and as little as 10-20 l/c/d for Bedouin communities which depend on expensive and low quality tanker water. In East Jerusalem houses built without a permit cannot connect to the water network.

Water shortages are further exacerbated by restrictions on movement, destruction of infrastructure, expropriations, forced evictions and settler violence.

The denial of water is used to trigger displacement, particularly in areas slated for settlement expansion, especially since these communities are mostly farmers and herders who depend on water for their livelihoods. A number of testimonies highlighted that the cutting off from water resources often precedes dispossession of lands for new settlement projects.

Impact on economic rights

“The agricultural sector, considered the cornerstone of Palestinian economic development, has not been able to play its strategic role because of dispossession of land and the denial of access for farmers to agricultural areas, water resources and domestic and external markets. This has led to a continuous decline in the share of agricultural production in GDP and employment since 1967.”

Israel’s ban on the import of fertilisers for Palestinians into the West Bank has resulted in a reduction in productivity.

Besides demolitions carried out by the authorities, villagers suffer recurrent attacks from nearby settlements – especially during the olive harvest season – the destruction of trees, water installations and livestock, creating additional pressure to relinquish agricultural activities.

The Wall has divided villages, cut off farmers from their lands and water and curtailed trade with traditional markets, stifling the local economy. This is illustrated by the example of the village of Nazelt Issa, where half of the businesses existing before were destroyed to build the Wall while other activities closed down, given that most of their trade was with neighbouring villages now cut off by the Wall.

The Mission was informed that “Israeli settlement agriculture is blooming”.

With few income-generating prospects left in the village, unemployment is high, and young people leave to seek work.

A stringent system of permits and quotas continues to determine employment in Israel and the settlements, which lends itself to abuse by contractors and middlemen. Palestinians employed in the settlements work primarily in the manufacturing industry and the construction sectors. Women are mostly engaged in domestic work and agriculture.

While wages might be higher, employment conditions in the settlements remain precarious. Workers claiming their rights are easily dismissed, and supervision of employers by the Israeli authorities in the settlements remains largely absent.

Employment conditions of Palestinian workers in settlements are subject to a system characterised by legal uncertainties. Palestinians are contracted under the far less favourable pre-1967 Jordanian labour laws while Israeli citizens in the West Bank are employed under Israeli labour laws.

This “cheap labour” from the numerous Palestinian villages in convenient commuting distance represents an additional incentive for enterprises to move to the settlements.

The report also describes how private businesses are profiting from the demolition of Palestinian homes and businesses and from the construction and growth of settlements: supply of equipment and materials, surveillance and identification equipment for settlements, supply of security services, provision of services and utilities, banking and financial operations, use of natural resources (water, land), the dumping and transfer of waste to Palestinian villages, etc.

Some businesses, however, have pulled out of settlements because it harms their image and might entail legal consequences.

“Israel labels all its export products as originating from ‘Israel’, including those wholly or partially produced in settlements. Some companies operating in settlements have been accused of hiding the original place of production of their products.

“This situation poses an issue of traceability of products for other states wishing to align themselves with their international and regional obligations. It also poses an issue in relation to consumers’ right to information. … these issues are increasingly being addressed by states, regional organisations and some private businesses, the report notes.

Recommendations

The Mission put forward the following recommendations:

Israel must, in compliance with article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, cease all settlement activities without preconditions. In addition it must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers from the OPT.

The Mission further urges Israel to ensure adequate, effective and prompt remedy to all Palestinian victims for the harm suffered as a consequence of human rights violations that are a result of the settlements in accordance with Israel’s international obligation to provide effective remedy. Where necessary, steps must to be taken to provide such remedy in concurrence with the representatives of the Palestinian people and with the assistance of the international community.

Israel must put an end to the human rights violations that are linked to the presence of settlements.

The Mission calls upon the government of Israel to ensure full accountability for all violations, including for all acts of settler violence, in a non-discriminatory manner and to put an end to the policy of impunity.

The Mission urges Israel to put an end to arbitrary arrest and detention of the Palestinian people, especially children, and observe the prohibition of the transfer of prisoners from the OPT to the territory of Israel, according to Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Mission calls upon all Member States to comply with their obligations under international law and to assume their responsibilities in their relationship to a State breaching peremptory norms of international law – specifically not to recognise an unlawful situation resulting from Israel’s violations.

Private companies must assess the human rights impact of their activities and take all necessary steps – including by terminating their business interests in the settlements – to ensure they are not adversely impacting the human rights of the Palestinian People in conformity with international law …

The Mission calls upon all Member States to take appropriate measures to ensure that business enterprises domiciled in their territory and/or under their jurisdiction, … that conduct activities in or related to the settlements respect human rights throughout their operations ...

The Guardian urges all readers to promote this report, its recommendations and to lobby their MPs to pressure the government and Opposition to implement them. Australia’s seat on the UN Security Council gives it an excellent opportunity to press for their international implementation.

The full text of the report is available on the UNHRC’s website, follow the links from the 19th Session. See also last week’s Guardian (#1580, 06-02-2012) on Israel’s refusal to co-operate with the UNHRC Universal Periodic Review procedure where UN member states have their human rights record evaluated every four years.

Footnote: On November 29, 2012, the UN General Assembly voted for Palestine to become a non-member state with observer status. The next day, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu authorised the building of 3,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank   

Next article – Has Scotland Yard name become toxic?

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