Speaking before the General Assembly, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said Israel’s ongoing efforts to build settlements in the West Bank is “illegal,” a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and have lead to widespread human rights abuses against Palestinians. Ban’s statement came as he announced the findings of two new reports prepared for his office last week.
The first report, “Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan,” is the latest update of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories. It cites the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to argue that continued settlement activity is illegal.
“The advisory opinion and a number of United Nations resolutions have all affirmed that Israel’s practice of constructing settlements—in effect, the transfer by an occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies —constitutes a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” the report reads. “In addition to the construction of the settlements, other activities related to settlements are also illegal. “These include the requisition of land, the destruction of houses and orchards, the construction of roads meant for the use of settlers only, the exploitation of natural resources within the occupied territory and the alteration of the character and status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The international community has also raised concerns regarding the depletion of natural resources as a result of settlements.”
Further, the report finds that one-third of settlements and land incorporated into these areas is private Palestinian-owned land, much of which was expropriated by Israel on the grounds of military necessity. “According to recent reports, as of August 2008, more than 1,000 new buildings were in the process of being constructed in the settlements, of which approximately 2,600 were housing units. Approximately 55 percent of these new structures are located to the east of the separation wall.”
The second report, “Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem,” covers the first eight months of 2008, and finds that the human rights situation in the occupied territory is “worsening.”
“During the period under review, the Government of Israel continued to impose on Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territory the comprehensive closure system, which Israel claims is necessary for its security,” the report says. “The system consists of a complex array of physical and administrative obstacles that have a severe and detrimental impact on the rights of Palestinians as guaranteed in article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and more specifically the individual’s right to freedom of movement, to choose a residence and to leave and re-enter the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
“The restrictions continue to undermine the enjoyment of other rights guaranteed under international human rights law by effectively impeding access to health care, education and employment.”
Ban said the Israeli Government should abide by its commitments to dismantle outposts built after March 2001 and freeze settlement activity, as called for in the “Road Map,” as well as the Annapolis Joint Statement of November 2007. (The Public Record, Nov. 14)