The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is a tragedy.
A tragedy, above all, for the Palestinian people. Over half a century of occupation has led to widening dispossession, deepening deprivation and recurring and severe violations of their rights, including the right to life. Nobody could wish to live this way – or imagine that forcing people into conditions of such desperation can lead to an enduring solution.
. The people of Israel also suffer from this situation: insecurity, pain, loss and fear. They have a right to live in peace, in their State – just as Palestinians do, in a State that is, finally, recognised and viable.
But the current intensification of violence on all sides makes that prospect seem very distant.
2022 saw both the highest number of Palestinians killed by Israeli Security Forces in the past 17 years, and the highest number of Israelis killed since 2016. This death toll has further, and sharply, deteriorated in the first weeks of 2023, and in the month that has just ended.
On Sunday night, two Israeli brothers, aged 19 and 21 years old, were killed by a Palestinian in the West Bank town of Huwwara.
Hours later, hundreds of Israeli settlers rioted across the area. One Palestinian man was shot dead and two others were shot and wounded. A third person was stabbed, and a fourth badly beaten. Palestinian homes, shops and dozens of vehicles were set on fire or damaged. The Palestinian Red Crescent said 390 people were wounded in the rampage; three ambulances were attacked.
The attack was strongly condemned by the President of Israel, who called it “criminal violence against innocents,” which “harms us as a moral society and a lawful country.”
Yet, the Finance Minister publicly called for the town of Huwwara to be “wiped out”, an unfathomable statement of incitement to violence and hostility.
Increasing violence is condemning innocent people on all sides to further tragedy, in a terrible, self-sustaining logic – or rather, illogic – of confrontation.
My report A/HRC/52/75 finds that over the reporting period, lethal force has been frequently employed by the Israeli Security Forces, regardless of the level of threat – and, at times, even as an initial measure, rather than as last resort. My Office has also documented several cases of apparent extrajudicial, targeted killings by members of the ISF.
The report finds that 131 Palestinians were killed by ISF personnel over the past year in a context of law enforcement – that is, outside any context of hostilities. This includes 65 people who we understand were not armed, nor engaged in any attacks or clashes. Since 2017, fewer than 15% of such killings have been investigated, and fewer than 1% led to an indictment.
Thirteen Israelis were killed by Palestinians during the period covered by this report. Nine Israelis – including three children – and a foreign national have been killed in two attacks since then.
Collective punishments, which are prohibited by international law, are increasingly imposed on Palestinians by Israel. The blockade of Gaza, which restricts 2 million people to that territory, has been in effect for 16 years.
Currently, 967 Palestinians are being held in what is termed administrative detention, in which people are arbitrarily detained for often lengthy periods without charge or trial. This is the highest number in 15 years.
Unlawful killings, use of force, and torture and ill-treatment by the Palestinian Security Forces also meet with impunity. The same is true of the Gaza de facto authorities.
More than 270 Israeli settlements encroach on and fragment Palestine. The Separation Wall divides thousands of Palestinians from each other and their lands. It constitutes a major obstacle to their freedom of movement - including impairing access to health-care, schools and employment – and it imposes a suffocating straitjacket on their lives.
Lethal force has repeatedly been employed against Palestinian workers attempting to cross the Wall into Israel. During the reporting period, two men were shot and killed, and 35 were shot and injured, by Israeli Security Forces in these circumstances.
Decade upon decade of loss and violence. Violence against the occupation; violence to uphold and enforce it. I condemn the violence that has killed and harmed so many people on both sides – and which generates overwhelming despair. On both sides there is, I believe, a growing sense of a narrowing future, in which nobody can even hope for peace and security, for anyone’s children.
The occupation is eating away at the health of both societies, on every level – from childhood to old age, and in every part of life.
For this violence to end, the occupation must end. On all sides, there are people who know this.
It is my fervent conviction that the human rights cause, which unifies us and brings us back to what is human, can be the impetus for changing course towards peace and security for everyone.
I urge decision-makers and people on all sides to give effect to the recommendations of our reports and to step back from the precipice to which increasing extremism and violence have led.
I would like to highlight some of the recurring recommendations from the human rights system that would make an immediate difference.
Take steps to ensure that ISF actions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, operate within the boundaries set by international human rights law for law enforcement operations.
Treat all cases of violence equally. The law is not law if it applies only to one side. There must be genuine accountability for all acts of unlawful violence as a first essential step towards greater calm: – the lethal mob violence in Huwwara on Sunday, and the two murders that preceded it.
All sides should adhere completely to the spirit and wording of the agreement reached at the Summit in Aqaba on 26 February, and build on this experience of opening the issues to regional solutions, to resolve other issues in the future.
Prevent or, when they occur, investigate and prosecute abuses at checkpoints. End the blockade of Gaza. Ease – instead of tighten - restrictions to improve people’s lives and allow them to breathe.
And tug young people – indeed, people of every age and political opinion – away from further violence and extremism and the illusion that this represents any solution.
Steps such as these are rooted in the reporting and monitoring of my Office. They could immediately help to lessen the violence – instead of the current, sharply escalating trajectory towards much worse.
Member States should play a role in assisting all parties to find the exit ramp. In the near future, there must be an end to settlements in occupied land. And within a foreseeable horizon, there must be a two-State solution, with an end to the occupation, and mutual recognition of the legitimate rights of all Israelis and Palestinians to live in dignity, peace and security.
Thank you, Mr President.