A three-member United Nations body has called for an end to human rights violations by Israel in the occupied territories of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Syrian Golan Heights, after hearing from dozens of witnesses during a recent visit to the region.
“The testimonies that we have heard attest to a failure to address the long-standing pattern of serious violations of human rights,” said Ambassador Palitha Kohona of Sri Lanka, who serves as Chairman of the UN Special Committee on Israeli Practices in the Occupied Territories.
“Victims of the systematic and often arbitrary restrictions on human rights and basic freedoms have the right to see justice prevail,” he added. “Violations must cease.”
Mr. Kohona’s comments came at the end of a 13-day fact-finding visit to Cairo, Amman and Damascus, during which the Committee heard from witnesses from across the occupied Palestinian territory and the occupied Syrian Golan, recounting their first-hand experiences of life under occupation.
Witnesses from Gaza stressed the urgency to put an end to the deliberate assaults on the civilian population, according to a news release issued in Damascus.
They spoke about not being able to reconstruct homes and schools destroyed during Israel’s 2009 military offensive, due to the three-year-old blockade imposed against Gaza, as well as the alarming situation of the water and sanitation systems, which has serious implications for the health of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents.
Testimonies from the West Bank highlighted issues of forced displacement, settler violence, home demolitions and evictions, notably in East Jerusalem, and the targeting of peaceful activists.
The Committee also heard about discriminatory policies relating to, among others, the continuing violations of the right to freedom of movement resulting from the Gaza blockade, the separation barrier, checkpoints, roadblocks and other physical obstacles; restricted access to education, health and water resources; and the treatment of prisoners, including over 300 children, held in Israeli jails.
Regarding the occupied Syrian Golan, testimonies highlighted settlement building and problems in the fields of education and health, which witnesses and officials said were aimed at altering the Syrian Arab identity of the population under occupation.
The Committee also heard about an unequal and discriminatory distribution of water between Israeli settlers and Syrian inhabitants, as well as the ongoing threat resulting from Israel’s failure to clear landmines in the area, and the ill-treatment of prisoners from the Golan held in Israeli jails.
Members of the Committee, which also include Ambassador Hamidon Ali of Malaysia and Momar Gueye from the Permanent Mission of Senegal to the UN in Geneva, also met with the Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, during their visit.
The Committee will present its report to the General Assembly, which set up the body in 1968, in November with its observations and recommendations to improve the human rights situation for those living under the occupation.