The current spate of deadly violence is distancing the prospect of a two-State solution to end the Israel-Palestine conflict, as the occupation is “eating away” at both societies, the UN rights chief told the Human Rights Council on Friday.
“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,” said Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), after presenting the Council with his latest annual report on the situation.
“For this violence to end, the occupation must end,” he said. “On all sides, there are people who know this.”
During the reporting period, between 1 November 2021 and 31 October 2022, he said escalating violence spiraled, leaving growing numbers of dead and injured. Indeed, 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.
Rising death toll
This death toll has further, and sharply, deteriorated in the first weeks of 2023, and in the month that has just ended, he warned.
The report showed that 13 Israelis were killed by Palestinians during the reporting period, with nine others – including three children – and a foreign national, who have been killed in two attacks since then.
During the reporting period, the Israeli Security Forces frequently deployed lethal force, regardless of the level of threat, and, at times, even as an initial measure, rather than as last resort, he said, also citing reports of cases of extrajudicial, targeted killings.
Outside the context of hostilities, 131 Palestinians were killed by Israeli Security Forces personnel over the past year, including 65 people who were neither armed, or engaged in any attacks or clashes, he said.
Since 2017, fewer than 15 per cent of such killings have been investigated, and fewer than one per cent led to an indictment, he noted.
The report elaborated on impunity for unlawful killings, use of force, torture, and ill-treatment by the Palestinian Security Forces, which also meet with impunity on the part of Gaza’s de facto authorities, militant group Hamas.
Also covered in the report were updates on collective punishments, which are prohibited by international law, detained Palestinians, and the spread of Israeli settlements into Palestinian territory.
“More than 270 Israeli settlements encroach on and fragment Palestine,” he said. Furthermore, the separation wall divides thousands of Palestinians, acting as a major obstacle to their freedom of movement, imposing “a suffocating straitjacket on their lives“.
Continuing tensions and violence are a serious concern, he said. On Sunday, two Israeli brothers, aged 19 and 21, were killed by a Palestinian in the West Bank town of Huwwara.
Hours later, hundreds of Israeli settlers rioted across the area, setting ablaze or damaging Palestinian homes, shops and dozens of vehicles set ablaze or damaged. The rampage left one person dead and 390 others injured, he told the Council.
Effects of occupation
“More than half a century of occupation has led to widening dispossession, deepening deprivation and recurring and severe violations of the rights of Palestinian people, including the right to life,” he said. “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, he said. “They have a right to live in peace, in their State, just as Palestinians do, in a State that is, finally, recognized and viable.”
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, he said.
Finding an ‘exit ramp’
Recommendations from the human rights system that would make an immediate difference include treating cases of violence equally, ending the Gaza blockade, and easing restrictions, he said.
In addition, all sides should adhere completely to 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, he continued.
Such steps would “improve people’s lives, 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,” he said.
Meanwhile, he said Member States should play a role in “assisting all parties to find the exit ramp“.
“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,” he said.