The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and
The Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights
to the Consul Generals of
Union Member Countries
revised/updated 21 March)
14 March 2001
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.”
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:
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
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
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.
the recommendations of the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
and the UN Commission of Inquiry.
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.
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights