The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and

The Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights

to the Consul Generals of

European Union Member Countries

(as revised/updated 21 March)

 

 

14 March 2001

 

 

Dear Sir/Madam:

 

I would like to thank you for making the time to meet with us, particularly given  your busy schedules.  I appreciate your attention to the desperate and rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).  I would also like to thank the countries of the European Union (EU) for their continuing generous financial support and humanitarian aid to the Palestinian civilians of the OPT.

 

However, although this assistance has been essential to protecting Palestinian civilians under worsening human rights conditions and is thus greatly appreciated, more is needed from EU countries.  The current situation requires that the EU countries prioritize support for human rights and the implementation of international humanitarian law in the OPT.  Since we last wrote to you four months ago in November 2000, Israel's violations of human rights and grave breaches of international law have continued unabated and, in some cases, even escalated. 

 

As of 14 March, 358 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and over 11, 000 Palestinians have been injured in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel. An overwhelming majority of the Palestinian deaths have been civilians.  Out of the total number of Palestinian deaths, 316 (88.27%)were civilians.  Israel has also violated the specific protections for children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (e.g. Article 2, Article 38.4).  A disturbingly high number of those killed have been children,  115 (32.12%).  While the majority of children were killed by Israeli troops during clashes, several children have been killed in the absence of confrontations, including while at home, in school or travelling to and from school.  Israel’s violations of the specific protections accorded to medical personnel under international humanitarian law have also resulted in dozens of injuries of medical personnel, and four deaths of medical personnel.

 

Palestinian residential areas have also regularly been bombed by Israeli helicopter gunships, tanks, and gunships, which have led to 50 deaths as at 28 February 2001, and many injuries of Palestinian civilians.  As of 25 January 2001, 2364 civilian buildings were directly hit and approximately 1000 buildings partially damaged.  Monitoring found that Israel targeted unarmed Palestinian civilians, buildings, schools, medical centres and water sources, as well as Palestinian infrastructure when no meaningful threat was present.  As such, the demolitions and bombings have not only caused immense suffering, but they violate the 1907 Hague Convention and the Fourth Geneva Convention, particularly the right to life and the prohibition of collective punishment.  In many cases, they also constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

 

In violation of international humanitarian law, most notably, the prohibition of collective punishment, Israel is also maintaining a large-scale siege of the OPT.  This siege includes both external closures (which prevent exit from the OPT) and internal closures (which prevent travel between Palestinian areas) as well as a curfew within parts of the West Bank and Gaza.  For example, a 24-hour curfew was imposed in Hebron on all Palestinians for 84 consecutive days.  External and internal closures have not only created a “bantustan”-like system, they have had a disastrous effect on Palestinian human rights.  Palestinian economic, social, and cultural rights, in particular have been violated on a systematic basis.

 

Closure has adversely affected humanitarian aid and services.  In some cases, internal closure has prevented patients from reaching necessary medical facilities, resulting in deaths.  Closure has also meant that medical supplies, medical personnel and emergency services have not been able to reach their destinations.  Closure has also had a devastating socio-economic impact.  In its 25 February 2001 report, “Impact on the Palestinian Economy of Confrontations, Mobility Restrictions and Border Closures,” UNSCO estimated the aggregate losses to the Palestinian economy during the period 28 September-1 January 2000 at USD 1150.7 million or USD 10.9 million a day.  Israel’s refusal of entry to the overwhelming majority of the 130,000 Palestinians who work in Israel also greatly increased unemployment rates.  The unemployment rate had been reduced from 25% in 1997 to 11% in 2000 only to increase to about 38% following closure.  According to UNSCO, the poverty rate also increased 50%, from 21.1% in September to 31.8% during the last quarter of 2000.

 

However, although the last four months has seen increased Israeli violations of human rights in the OPT, I am profoundly concerned that the worst is yet to come.  Abuses have escalated over the last few weeks and tensions are running high due to stalled peace talks and continuing violations.  In addition, the current human rights situation will undoubtedly worsen under the coalition government led by the Ariel Sharon.  His policies regarding settlements, land, and Palestinian rights are causes for profound concern and increased vigilance.

 

This continued escalation of abuses and continued deterioration in the human rights and humanitarian condition of Palestinian civilians has made is imperative for European Union countries to act firmly to uphold basic human rights standards.  At the outset of the al-Aqsa intifada, we were pleased to see the prompt call for a special session on the situation in the Occupied Territories by the Human Rights Commission.  Although we were not surprised by other nations’ objection, we were relieved to see Europe supporting the request and hopeful that the much needed attention to the condition of Palestinian civilians might finally be provided.  However, as PCHR noted in its letter dated 16 November 2000, PCHR was extremely disappointed to see the absence of supporting European votes. 

 

PCHR and other Palestinian human rights organizations found this lack of support profoundly disheartening not only because of the deteriorating and desperate conditions facing Palestinian civilians, but also because our hopes and expectations, based on EU’s extensive history of ardent support for human rights and the protection of civilians, were dashed.    Europe generally, and the EU countries in particular have been a beacon of human rights standards for the world, particular besieged populations such as the Palestinian civilians who have been living in dire circumstances of occupation for over 33 years. 

 

In contrast to other nations whose claims to be “honest brokers” are belied by their consistent partiality and attempts to thwart independent investigations and application of international law, European countries and the EU have  historically been more objective and even handed in their approach.  In addition, Europe has frequently acted to protect civilians against human rights violations and grave breaches of international law.  Bosnia, Kossovo, and Cyprus are just a few examples of a record of protecting human rights that all European governments as well as their citizens should be proud of.  It is against this backdrop that Palestinian civilians have been anxiously awaiting European action on their behalf.  Their disappointment at continued inaction is matched only by their confusion as to why the plight of Palestinians does not warrant the same levels of interest, attention, and action.

 

Although based on our knowledge of Europe’s past support of Palestinian civilians and record of accomplishment elsewhere in the world, we know that this was not your intent, Europe’s collective silence has implied implicit consent for Israel’s continuing violations.  This has put the Palestinian community in an unbearable situation by giving Israel carte blanche to continue and, in some senses, even escalate its abuses.  This has lead to more civilian deaths and continuing attacks.  In order for the nightmarish condition of Palestinian civilians to end, the International Community must stand up and assert its opposition to these abuses.  As a historical leader in the area of human rights and international humanitarian law, it is incumbent on the European Union to lead this effort and unequivocally assert that these abuses must stop.  These abuses not only stain the streets of Gaza and the West Bank with the blood of unarmed Palestinian children, but also continued and unopposed abuses will stain the honor and reputation of the international community for years to come.

 

Not only is a more outspoken and assertive role required by Europe’s historical leadership role and firm ethical stand taken in years past in other locales, it is moreover legally required.  Despite Europe’s incomprehensible recent inaction and deafening silence in the face of grave injustice, international law requires that the European countries intercede to assist Palestinian civilians in their efforts to retain their protections under human rights and humanitarian law as well as basic dignities.

 

A such, we would like to take this opportunity to remind you of the Fourth Geneva Convention and reiterate our great disappointment with the meeting of High Contracting Parties held on July 15, 1999, which, unfortunately, disregarded the views of the human rights community as well as their obligations under international law.  Instead, the High Contracting Parties resolved:

 

Taking into consideration the improved atmosphere in the Middle East as a whole, the Conference was adjourned on the understanding that it will convene again in the light of consultations on the development of the humanitarian situation in the field.

 

The basic premise of this assertion, that there was an “improved atmosphere in the Middle East” was questionable in 1999 when it was already clear that Israel was not seriously pursuing peace.  However, in March of 2001, there can be no doubt that there is not an “improved atmosphere” which justifies continued complacency and indifference to both moral standards and international obligations.  In fact, the drastic deterioration of the situation has indicated that a meeting of the HCP to ensure de jure application of the Fourth Geneva Convention is needed now more than ever.  Moreover, the statement that the Conference “will reconvene again in light of consultations on the development of the humanitarian situation in the field,” indicates that a reconvening of the conference is necessitated by the current deteriorated humanitarian circumstances.  Accordingly, once again we call on the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to convene as they agreed to do in July of 1999.

 

The Euro-Israel Association Agreement is clear.  Article II plainly states that Israel’s upholding of human rights is a precondition to trade.  Israel is unambiguously failing to uphold such standards by engaging in massive human rights abuses.  Yet, there is no movement on the part of European nations toward severing economic ties.  The continued normalized trade between Israel and the EU is a breach of international obligation that is increasingly viewed by a desperate population as a concrete expression of European indifference to Palestinian civilians’ suffering.  The injury of this apparent indifference is made all the more painful by the fact that this normalized trade is occurring with a country that violates human rights and commits grave breaches of international humanitarian law.  In addition, this trade is conducted with a country that expropriates Palestinian land and uproots Palestinian agricultural trees while simultaneously imposing a closure that results in Palestinian produce languishing and frequently rotting at the border when Israel prohibits its export.

 

As an independent and professional human rights organization, we are increasingly alarmed by your failure to respond.  Although we are convinced of your commitment to human rights and international law, particularly the individual representatives’ commitment, the consistent and continued inaction in the face of irrefutable evidence of egregious violations of human rights and grave breaches of international law is cause for concern.  This continued and incomprehensible inaction would almost seem to imply that blame lies not with lack of knowledge of the situation, but rather with a willingness to court catastrophe and allow a massacre to occur before reluctantly taking meaningful action.  Europe’s deafening silence in the face of continued abuses is bewildering and incomprehensible given Europe’s past record.  The continuation of such inaction would amount to implicit consent and thus “a conspiracy of silence.”

 

The upcoming special session of the Human Rights Commission provides an opportunity for European countries to rectify their inattention to the dire situation of Palestinian civilians in the OPT.  Therefore, until there is an end to Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories,  I call upon you to:

 

1.      Immediately provide international protection forces for Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories against the killing and criminal acts perpetrated by Israeli forces and groups of Jewish settlers who move under their protection.

 

2.      Immediately reconvene a conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 to ensure Israel’s compliance with its obligations under the Convention, particularly the de jure application of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

 

3.      Use the effective political and economic measures with reference to Article 2 of the Euro-Israel Association Agreement, which calls for the respect of human rights.

 

4.      Support the recommendations of the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Commission of Inquiry.

 

5.      Support the resolution of the 57th session of the Human Rights Commission.

 

Ethically and politically, this course of action is your minimum obligation.  Anything less is a grave renunciation of Europe’s historical leadership in the areas human rights and international humanitarian law as well as a profound disappointment to a besieged, exhausted and desperate community.  It is also denial of the requirements and responsibilities under international law.  Therefore, Europe must respond to the continuing and escalating violations before history becomes the final arbiter of apparent European indifference and continued inaction despite the repeated pleas of a besieged and desperate population.

 

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

 

 

 

Raji Sourani

Director, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

 

 

Haider Abdel Shafi

Commissioner, Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights