Open letter to the UN - Palestine conflict

The following text is an open letter to the United Nations Secretary General from Dr Ahmad Harb, Commissioner General, The Independent Commission for Human Rights in Palestine (link).

Date: 21 November, 2012

Open Letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon The Independent Commission for Human Rights Calls on the Secretary General to Take Immediate Action to End Israeli Military Offensive Against the Gaza Strip and Protect Palestinian Civilians

Dear Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-Moon,

The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) is urging you to take immediate action to stop the Israeli military aggression on the Gaza Strip. Under their military operation “Pillar of Cloud”, Israeli occupation forces continue their random shelling of the Gaza Strip resulting in high casualties among the Palestinian civilians, especially among children, women and the elderly. Israel is further threatening to expand the scope of its military operations by launching a ground operation which will further exacerbate the human rights and humanitarian situation and cause serious additional casualties among Palestinian civilians in one of the most highly populated areas of the world, thereby threatening the safety and well-being of over 1.6 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. 

ICHR calls on you to use your good offices to exert pressure on Israel to immediately stop its military aggression against the Gaza Strip, and to condemn such acts which are in blatant violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.  We urge you to uphold your mandate as the Secretary General of the United Nations and “to speak and act for peace and security” and take all measures possible to ensure the safety and well-being of the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip, especially after the failure of the UN Security Council from taking any measures to ensure peace and security and upholding their responsibilities under international law.   

Contrary to the Israeli government’s allegations that its forces do not target civilians, the death toll of this aggression so far indicates that civilians are paying the price, as (138) Palestinians have been killed in those military attacks, and over 900 were wounded while casualties among civilians.  Over 90% of the casualties are civilians; 26 children and 12 women were killed, at least 290 children and 148 women were injured. Israeli military attacks mainly targeted civilian properties, including houses (750 houses of which 57 were totally demolished), mosques, churches, schools, agricultural lands, farms and infra-structures. A number of civilians have already been killed and injured inside their homes, as a result of the shelling of the residential neighborhoods and their surrounding with missiles, weighing 1000 kilo grams each, launched by warplanes fighter jets (F 16). One such example is the bombing of the home of the Daloo’s in which 14 civilians were killed from the same family, among which there are at least 4 children and three women.

There is no longer a safe place in the Gaza Strip, which already has no shelters in which civilians can resort to in order to protect themselves from the continued shelling day and night. Palestinian civilians are caught in the crossfire of the occupation forces, and all of them at risk of death.

In light of this continued and expanding military aggression, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is exacerbating, especially with the comprehensive closure of the border crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel and preventing the entry of goods and basic materials into the Gaza Strip, including the consignments of medicines, food and fuel, especially that the Gaza Strip has been under military siege since 2006. This constitutes a grave violation of the obligations imposed on Israel as an occupying power, and on other Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and under occupation who have legal obligations to ensure respect of the Convention.   The passage of consignments of food and medicine and humanitarian aid to the civilian population in the occupied territories should be facilitated at all circumstances.

We, at ICHR, strongly condemn the continued aggression by the Israeli occupation forces on the Gaza Strip.  We warn against further deterioration of the situation and its disastrous impact on the lives of Palestinian civilians. We fear that the worst is yet to come, and unless the international community intervenes to put an end to this aggression, Palestinian civilians alone will pay the price for this escalation. ICHR holds the Israeli occupying authority accountable for the lives of Palestinian civilians in accordance with the rules of international law. We emphasize that the existence of armed resistance does not justify by any means the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of excessive force against civilians.

The role of the UN and the international community lies in immediate action to prevent a crime before it happens, not only its condemnation. The failure of the international community to intervene to protect Palestinian civilians under the pretext of “self-defense” encourages Israel as the occupying authority to commit more war crimes against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip. These crimes will continue in the absence of accountability and will further encourage a culture of impunity in favor of Israel.  For example, the non-implementation of 2009 UN-Fact Finding Mission of the Goldstone Report by all relevant UN organizations, especially the UN Security Council, after the “Cast Lead” Military Operation, in 2008/2009 against the Gaza Strip, conveyed a wrong message to Israel that it can escape accountability for grave breaches of international humanitarian law, and is not accountable for war-crimes committed against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In the current military attack on the Gaza Strip, Israel is again launching its aggression without respecting the rules of “distinction and proportionality”, with confidence that the UN and the international community will take no serious measures for its war crimes and grave breaches of international law.  

ICHR expresses its strong condemnation of the brutal aggression on the Gaza Strip, and calls on you and all concerned bodies of the United Nations to exert pressure to force Israel to stop its military aggression on the Gaza Strip and to push for respect of international law, through:

  • Immediate and urgent action to stop Israel’s brutal military offensive on the Gaza Strip.

  • To prevent its expansion.

  • To divulge the crimes of the Israeli occupation and the failure of the occupying power to adhere to its legal obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention related to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War

  • To break the silence on  serious violations committed against civilians by Israel as an occupying authority

  • To take necessary measures to ensure respect for the Fourth Geneva Convention and its two additional protocols, and to prosecute those accused of committing grave breaches of the Convention, which constitute war crimes in accordance with article (147) of the Convention.

We further urge you in your capacity as the Secretary General of the United Nations,

  • To intervene and take immediate action to protect international peace and security, in accordance with the UN Charter.

  • To work to stop the aggression coupled with a disastrous and humanitarian catastrophe that is taking place among civilians in the Gaza Strip and to ensure its non recurrence.

  • To intervene personally and officially to compel the Israeli government to protect civilians and to stop the aggression on the Gaza Strip immediately; To condemn the atrocities carried out by the Israeli occupation forces in the Gaza Strip and to call on the international community and the High Contracting Parties of the Four Geneva Conventions to uphold their legal and ethical obligations towards the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territories to end Israeli military occupation, one of the most prolonged belligerent occupations in the world.  

It is due time for the Palestinian people to enjoy their right to self-determination as enshrined in international human rights law. The international community should exert all efforts towards finding a just and durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to allow Palestinians to enjoy their human rights and their right to peace and security like other nations of the world.

Yours Sincerely,

Dr. Ahmad Harb, Commissioner General, The Independent Commission for Human Rights