Protecting civilians (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By NAVI PILLAY 03/20/12)
JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-Top
My visit to Israel and Palestine a year ago left me with a profound
sense of the difficult human rights situation faced by many
Palestinians and Israelis. Still, the openness of representatives on
all sides to engage seriously on the human rights challenges I
identified was encouraging. Taking this spirit of constructive
engagement as our point of departure, I and my staff have been
watching closely for progress on the issues I raised with Israeli and
Palestinian authorities in Gaza, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Tel Aviv. We
have also continued to press for greater respect for human rights and
suggested ways to protect civilians from violence and insecurity.
Monday, I presented my annual report on human rights in the occupied
Palestinian territory to the Human Rights Council. This provided me
with an opportunity to highlight a few steps that have the potential
to make it easier for both sides to live side by side in peace and
security. During my 2011 visit, I expressed my concern to Palestinian
representatives about the arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of
fellow Palestinians. These issues have not yet been sufficiently
addressed, especially in Gaza. Palestinian leaders should clearly
instruct security personnel to refrain from arresting people without
a proper warrant. They must also ensure that all credible allegations
of illtreatment are investigated promptly, thoroughly and impartially.
A second challenge on the Palestinian side is the need to safeguard
the freedoms of opinion, expression, association and assembly, which
are fundamental human rights. These freedoms are central to the open
and democratic society to which so many Palestinians have aspired for
so long. Palestinian leaders should make a greater effort to secure
these rights in law, policy and practice, including for human rights
defenders and journalists.
The indiscriminate firing of rockets and other projectiles from Gaza
into Israel is illegal and unjustifiable. Those who participate in
such activities are not only terrorizing Israeli civilians, they are
playing into the hands of those who wish to maintain the blockade.
Next week’s report notes that, during certain sensitive periods in
2011, the rockets stopped. This suggests that Palestinian leaders
have the ability to end such attacks altogether.
My visit brought me face to face with many large-scale human rights
violations stemming from Israel’s occupation of Palestine. At the
conclusion of my visit I stressed that transferring civilians into
occupied territory is plainly and unequivocally illegal. To treat the
freezing of settlement activities as a concession, or a pre-
condition, for peace negotiations is to turn the law on its head.
There are numerous serious human rights challenges intrinsically
linked to the expansion of settlements. Repeated violence by Israeli
settlers against Palestinians is one such challenge.
The Israeli government has a clear obligation to protect Palestinians
and their property from violence by Israeli settlers. One step in
this direction is to rigorously investigate all such incidents and
hold perpetrators accountable. Israeli authorities have spoken with
me about difficulties in investigating settler violence. But the fact
is Israel delivers accountability in some cases and should be able to
do so consistently. Palestinians must be able to easily access
Israeli police stations and register complaints if settler violence
is to be dealt with effectively.
Over the past year, my office has paid particular attention to
incidents of excessive use of force by Israeli security forces. In
the West Bank, Israeli forces carrying out law enforcement activities
and operating checkpoints have on several occasions killed unarmed
Palestinian civilians. In Gaza, Israeli soldiers enforcing
restrictions on access to certain areas on land and at sea have also
killed unarmed Palestinian civilians. These deaths were needless.
Such incidents can be avoided if Israeli forces, in accordance with
international standards, stop resorting so readily to the use of live
ammunition when dealing with civilians.
Last year I met many civilians whose lives have been wrecked by
Israel’s blockade of Gaza. If poverty, unemployment and the
deterioration of health care, education and water and sanitation
facilities are its goals, then Israel’s blockade is succeeding. But
Israel has the resources to handle legitimate security concerns that
emanate from Gaza without punishing the civilian population en masse.
Important steps that Israel can take immediately include facilitating
the movement of civilians to and from Gaza, ensuring that
reconstruction materials can be delivered and permitting more goods
to be exported.
To protect civilians from violence and insecurity is to respect human
dignity. Without this respect, “living side by side in peace and
security” will remain unrealistic rhetoric for both Palestinians and
Israelis. Taking these steps would not only lead to immediate
improvements in the lives of civilians, it would demonstrate that
Israeli and Palestinian leaders are actually interested in providing
their own populations with human rights, peace and security, since
neither side will enjoy all three, unless both sides do. (© 1995-
2011, The Jerusalem Post 03/20/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY