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Visit to Gaza: UN Press Release

(I recently completed a mission to the Gaza Strip, entering by way of Egypt at the Rafah Crossing; as I am now in Doha attending the final days of the UN Climate Change negotiations, I have had no chance to write a post describing the moving and difficult circumstances that confront the people of Gaza, and the hopes and disappointments that followed the ceasefire that followed the Israeli onslaught; there are concerns about whether it will be fully implemented in accordance with expectations, and if not, whether events will move toward renewed cross-border violence. There are new hopes and complexities on two further fronts: the aftermath of Palestinian success in being confirmed as a non-member state by the General Assembly on November 29, and the new priority being accorded to reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. More than ever since Hamas assumed governing authority in June 2007, foreign leaders have been visiting Gaza, according Hamas an upgraded diplomatic status.)

Israel must abide by cease-fire agreement in the Gaza Strip      

CAIRO (5 December 2012) – Concluding his week-long mission to the region, Mr. Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, called on Israel to abide by and fully implement the cease fire agreement that ended the recent crisis with Gaza.

“The initial purpose of my visit was to assess the overall impact of Israel’s prolonged occupation and blockade against the Gaza Strip, which is an integral part of Palestine,” Mr. Falk explained, “however there arose an urgent need to investigate Israel’s seemingly deliberate attacks against seemingly civilian targets during recent hostilities. We visited the sites of attacks and spoke with surviving family members. It is clear that some attacks killed and harmed civilians in a grossly disproportionate manner and thus clearly appear to violate international law.”

The Special Rapporteur continued, “There is a widespread feeling among Palestinians that Israel is above the law, and that Israel is likely to continue to have the benefits of impunity even when it flagrantly violates international humanitarian law.  Experience has shown that Israel fails to meet its international obligation to promptly and impartially investigate its own actions. Experience has also shown that Israel is not likely to carry out its obligations under the cease fire agreement; indeed during our visit we heard Israeli warplanes flying directly overhead and received reports of Israeli military incursions into the Gaza Strip.”

For the Special Rapporteur, “Sustained pressure from the international community, including both Governments and civil society, is essential to secure Israel’s the full implementation of the cease fire agreement, without which it is extremely unlikely to hold. Worldwide support for the recent General Assembly resolution that made Palestine a non-Member observer State should serve as a starting point for the more concerted international protection of Palestinian rights.”

The Special Rapporteur stressed that talks to clarify how certain aspects of the cease fire agreement will be implemented, in particular with regard to access to maritime and agricultural resources, must be swiftly concluded.  “Every day Palestinian fishermen and farmers risk being shot at or detained by Israeli forces. Already since the agreement was reached, Israel has detained 13 fishermen, confiscated 4 fishing boats and sank another fishing boat.  Such actions signal an Israeli intention to maintain the continuity of its coercive style of occupation rather than explore whether implementing the ceasefire, agreement might not lead toward a more relaxed atmosphere and a more hopeful future.”

“At the same time, Palestinians and the international community are confronted with huge challenges to address underlying problems that have been severely aggravated by Israel’s occupation and blockade.” The Special Rapporteur pointed to the urgent need for access to clean water and sanitation, productive agricultural land, and new infrastructure. “We received extensive briefs on what could be done if sufficient resources and political will are made available. One example is the construction of a desalinization plant to meet urgent water and agricultural needs, but in many such cases funding is not forthcoming as donors are reluctant to invest in infrastructure projects that Israel is likely to bomb in one of its periodic large-scale attacks against Gaza.”

According to Mr. Falk, “Unless these underlying problems are addressed soon, it appears that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020, as predicted by a recent United Nations report. Some of the experts with whom we spoke actually believe that 2016 is a more reasonable assessment.  This indicates the gravity of the human rights crisis in the Gaza Strip.”

The Special Rapporteur noted that his visit to the region consisted of meetings in Cairo and the Gaza Strip, with Governmental, inter-governmental and civil society representatives, as well as victims and witnesses.  He received helpful briefings from UNRWA and other United Nations agencies, which provided an in-depth picture of the magnitude of the challenges in Gaza and the difficulties of addressing such challenges in a situation of occupation and blockade.  He expressed his special appreciation to the people of Gaza and those international civil servants with whom he spoke for their support and engagement.

Mr. Falk’s next report to the Human Rights Council, which he intends to present in June 2013, will fully address the many concerns that were raised during the mission.


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