Deep concern regarding the ongoing serious and degrading situation

Press release

Open letter to H.E M Erkki Tuomioja Foreign Minister of Finland, The Foreign Ministers of Member States of the European Union, H.E Mr Javier Solana, High Representative of the European Union for the CFSP, Mrs Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Commissioner for External Relations.

The humanitarian situation in the OPT was already very preoccupying following the decision of the western countries to interrupt all aid channelled to or through the Palestinian Authority (PA). The decision by the Israeli government to cease the restitution of VAT taxes and customs duties that it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, in violation of its legal obligations, worsened this situation. Finally, the international humanitarian law and human rights violations in the OPT resulting from the « Operation Summer Rains » led by the the Israeli Defence Forces in the Gaza Strip make it now simply dramatic and intolerable.
Responsibility of the EU in economic and social rights violations in the OPT.

A mission of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) was in Israel and in the OPT between 25 June and 2 July 2006. The mission was set up in order to examine the situation of economic and social rights in Gaza and the West Bank, almost one year after Israel ‘disengaged’ from the Gaza strip and three months after Israel and the international community decided to suspend all contacts with the government of the Palestinian Authority and to interrupt all aid channelled to and via that government, following the taking into office of a government led by Hamas on 29 March 2006 after fair and democratic elections were held on 25 January 2006. At the same time, the Israeli government decided to cease the restitution of VAT taxes and customs duties it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

The preliminary note of this mission shows that poverty and unemployment are raising in dramatic proportions in the Gaza strip and in the West Bank. According to the World Bank’s previsions in March 2003, it was estimated that by the end of 2006, the average personal income would decrease by 30 percent in real terms, that unemployment would increase to 40 percent (from 23 percent in December 2005) ; and that poverty levels would climb from 44 percent to 67 percent. In May 2006, the World Bank commented : « Based on evolving Government of Israel and donor policies, these projections now appear too rosy ».

The financing plan proposed by the European Union and adopted by the Quartet is a step forward in the humanitarian support to the Palestinian population. Unfortunately, it does not guarantee the payement of salaries to the Palestinian civil servants, notably in the education and health care departments. The interim funding mechanism proposed by the World Bank on May 7, 2006 would have enabled the payment of these salaries. Deplorably, the Quartet did not choose to provide so. Consequently, the salaries of the civil servants of the PA have not been paid since March 2006. The Palestinian Authority has 152,000 civil servants, an average of 6 persons depend on each one of those civil servants. Thus, over 900,000 persons, almost one quarter of the total population of the OPTs, are affected by the nonpayment of salaries to the civil servants in the OPTs, and are currently essentially without any financial ressources.

In this context of serious humanitarian crisis, FIDH welcomes the commitment of the EU, expressed among others through the EU Council conclusions on 18 July 2006, to « pressing ahead with the further expansion of the proposed Temporary International Mechanism to which the EU and its Member States have contributed significantly. » Nevertheless, this mechanism should somehow allow to pay the salaries of the Palestinian civil servants.
Responsibility of the EU to condemn the « Operation Summer Rains » and its dramatic consequences on the Palestinian civilian population.

The FIDH condemns the rocket firing from Palestinian armed groups against Israeli civilian population. However, the reaction by the Government of Israel results in a flagrant and serious violation of international humanitarian law. The operations of the Israeli Defence Forces constitute at the least war crimes, if not crimes against humanity, according to international criminal law. As acknowledged by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the OPT, these interventions are disproportionate.

According to information obtained by our member organization in Gaza, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, and following our mission in the OPT, the attacks perpetrated by the Israeli Army led to the deliberate destruction of Gaza strip’s power station, of water supplying systems, of bridges, roads, offices of the Palestinian Authority and of other civilian infrastructures.

Furthermore, an important number of Palestinian civilians have been killed by bombings in the past weeks and months. Since the incursion began in the Gaza Strip, 115 people, mostly civilians and including 16 children have been killed and 550 injured. 24 are said to have been killed in 24 hours between 6 and 7 July 2006. Between 13 and 19 July, 26 Palestinians, including five children and two women, were killed by the IOF. On 24 July 2006 Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) killed 5 Palestinian civilians, including two children and an old woman, in two separate attacks on Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia towns in the northern Gaza Strip. Fourteen other civilians, including 5 children and a woman, have been wounded.

Arbitrary arrests conducted by Israel of members of the Palestinian government, of the Palestinian Legislative Council elected according to an electoral process which the international community has confirmed to be fair and transparent, and of political leaders, are a direct threat to the very existence of Palestinian institution.
The power station destroyed by the Israeli armed forces on June 28th insured the supplying in electricity of an area reaching to 43% of the total population of the Gaza strip. 700,000 individuals are affected by the power breakdowns. The water supplying system is also seriously disturbed, some pumps being now out of service. Moreover, after the closing of Karni and Rafah cross-points, and the almost complete closing of the Erez cross-point, food supplies, gas and combustible are lacking, and people can no longer seek healthcare in Egypt. The situation is particularly worrisome in hospitals and healthcare centers, where water supplies have become insufficient and where lack of combustible is preventing them from feeding their generators.

Because they directly targeted the civilian Palestinian population, the measures and attacks carried on and at the origin of this humanitarian crisis, constitute a collective punishment in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. They also place Israel in violation of the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the applicability of which to the Occupied Palestinian Territory the International Court of Justice has affirmed in its Advisory Opinion of July 9th, 2004.
FIDH is very worried and shocked by the fact that the Conclusions of the EU Council on Middle East (17-18 July 2006) do not explicitly condemn the flagrant and serious violation of international humanitarian law committed by the Government of Israel.

FIDH therefore calls upon to the EU to:

- Review the mechanism of humanitarian aid aimed at the Palestinian population, following the World Bank propositions, in order to enable the payement of salaries to the Palestinian public servants, notably in the education and health care departments,
- Continue urging Israel to resume transfers of withheld Palestinian tax and customs revenues.

Strongly condemn the massive violations of international humanitarian law and human rights perpetrated in the framework of the « Operation Summer Rains ».

Sidiki Kaba

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