Special Report on Israel for the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

vieuxcmaq, Martes, Noviembre 21, 2000 - 12:00

Lucy Mair (

The following is a statement presented by CESR, along with submissions by several other NGOs, to the 24th Session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva on November 13, 2000.

I. Introduction

In its 19th session (November to December 1998) the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights rejected Israel's argument that the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights does not apply to Israeli actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). In its Concluding Observations, the Committee requested Israel "to provide additional information on the realization of economic, social and cultural rights in the Occupied Territories… in time for the 23rd session of the Committee from November to December 2000" (CESCR e/C.12.1/Add.27).

Alarmed by Israel's failure to provide such information,especially in light of the tragic consequences of increased Israeli violations of economic, social and cultural rights in the OPT from September 28 to the present, the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) is submitting this special report for consideration by the Committee. The report focuses exclusively on the impact of Israel's military siege of Palestinian cities and towns in the OPT, although CESR is also deeply concerned by Israel's failure to protect the economic, social and cultural rights of Palestinian citizens inside Israel, an overt discrimination in breach of article 2(2) of the Covenant.

While international attention has focused on Israel's use of excessive force in killing almost 200 Palestinians in the OPT and inside Israel, most of them unarmed demonstrators, little attention has been paid to equally grave violations of economic, social and cultural rights resulting from the strict Israeli military blockade imposed on the OPT. As the authoritative UN body concerned with these rights, it is imperative that the Committee takes a clear position condemning Israeli violations during the current crisis.

II. Israel's Ongoing Violations of the Covenant

Before turning to the current crisis, this report will summarize ongoing violations resulting from Israeli policies in the OPT.

As a signatory to the Covenant, Israel is obligated to respect, protect and fulfill economic, social and cultural rights for all people within its jurisdiction, including the OPT. Article 1(1) of the Covenant, the foundation for all other human rights,affirms that "all peoples have the right to self-determination." Numerous Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, beginning with UN General Assembly Resolution 181(II) in 1947, have explicitly recognized the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. Israel's continuing occupation of Palestinian land and control over Palestinian resources, in violation of article 1(1), forms the basis for all Israeli violations of Palestinian rights in the OPT, including during the current crisis. Palestinian enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights is dependent upon the right of Palestinians to freely determine their own political and economic future as guaranteed under international law.

The Oslo peace process was explicitly based on implementation of Security Council Resolution 242, which calls for Israeli withdrawal of occupation forces from the OPT. In the past seven years, however, Israel's confiscation of Palestinian land and construction of settlements and bypass roads for Jewish settlers has accelerated dramatically in breach of Security Council Resolution 242 and of provisions in the Oslo agreements requiring both parties to respect "the territorial integrity and unity of the West Bank and Gaza Strip." Since 1993 the settler population in the West Bank and Gaza has doubled to 200,000 and increased to 170,000 in East Jerusalem. During this same period, Israeli authorities have demolished over 800 Palestinian homes and diverted water from the West Bank for use in Israeli cities and settlements.

From the outset of the Oslo process in 1993 Israel has imposed a continuous policy of general closure that severely limits the movement of Palestinians and their goods. In addition to general closure, Israel periodically imposes internal closures that restrict all Palestinian movement outside of Palestinian Authority-controlled "A areas" in 18% of the West Bank and approximately 80% of the Gaza Strip. These areas comprise a patchwork of more than 200 non-contiguous enclaves with entry and exit tightly monitored by Israeli military checkpoints from surrounding Israeli-controlled areas in the OPT. The current military blockade of Palestinian population centers in the OPT represents an extreme form of internal closure.

In its Concluding Observations from the 19th session, the Committee noted "with grave concern the severe consequences of closure on the Palestinian population closures have cut off Palestinians from their own land and resources resulting in widespread violations of their economic, social and cultural rights, including in particular article 1(2) of the Covenant."

The cumulative impact of Israeli policies of expropriation and fragmentation is to confine Palestinians in isolated enclaves without adequate land, water or infrastructure to foster viable economic development, especially in the industrial and agricultural sectors. As a result, these policies violate the full range of economic, social and cultural rights, including the rights to work (article 6), housing (article 11), health (article 12), education (article 13), and an adequate standard of living (article 11).

III. Israeli Violations in the Current Crisis

Various United Nations organs have recognized and condemned the gravity of Israeli human rights violations during the crisis that erupted on September 28. Security Council Resolution 1322 called "upon Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and its responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949" (S/RES/1322(2000). The Human Rights Commission, meeting recently in emergency session, condemned "the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force in violation of international humanitarian law by the Israeli occupying Power against innocent and unarmed Palestinian civilians" (E/CN.4/S-5/L.2/Rev.1).

Equally grave human rights violations have resulted from the strict Israeli military blockade imposed on the OPT. Many Palestinian population centers are under military siege, with no exit or entry permitted for trade, work, or even medical emergencies. As a result, the Palestinian economy has been severely damaged. The office of the United Nations Special Coordinator (UNSCO) has estimated daily economic losses at over $8 million, not including material damage to physical assets. This amounts to a cumulative loss of almost $400 million to date, far exceeding the total value of donor disbursements to the Palestinian Authority this year. This crippling of Palestinian trade and other economic activities has extremely negative consequences for the realization of the rights to food, health care, education and work, as documented below.

While sector-specific socio-economic data on this decline is not yet available, the following examples, based on materials from UNESCO, the Palestinian Authority, and international and local NGOs, underscore the gravity of economic, social and cultural rights violations to date:

- Both inside Israel and in the OPT, the Israeli army has prevented medical aid and personnel from reaching injured Palestinians and has even attacked clearly-marked medical vehicles, wounding medical personnel and killing at least one ambulance driver.
- Unemployment in the OPT has tripled during the crisis, causing severe economic hardship especially for poor and vulnerable sectors of the population.
- Children traveling to and from school in the OPT have come under Israeli fire, and many schools in the OPT have been forced to close. Israel has deliberately destroyed Palestinian agricultural land in the OPT, including over 3,000 acres in Gaza alone, and prevented farmers from harvesting their crops.
- Israel has shut down the Gazan fishing industry. Israeli use of heavy weapons has destroyed utilities, schools, homes, roads, cars and civilian property throughout the OPT.
- Trade between Gaza, the West Bank and Israel has virtually stopped due to the internal and external closure.
- Israel has closed border crossings to Jordan and Egypt, and restricted use of the airport and seaports, cutting most Palestinian access to the outside world.

IV. Conclusion

Assessing when a state party to the Covenant has violated economic, social and cultural rights is sometimes complicated by the "progressive realization" clause of article 2(1). However, in the case of Israel, the violations in question are undeniable for two reasons:

1.Article 2 (2) of the Covenant, which prohibits discrimination in access to economic, social and cultural rights, is not subject to the progressive realization clause. The Israeli policies detailed above apply to Palestinians but not to Jewish settlers living in the OPT, and therefore constitute blatant discrimination in access to food, health care, housing, work, education and an adequate standard of living.

2.Israeli violations are based on the regressive impact of their policies. In its General Comment No. 4, the Committee observed that State Parties may not adopt regressive measures that result, for example, in "a general decline in living and housing conditions directly attributable to policy and legislative decisions."

Israeli policies of occupation, expropriation and blockade are deliberate acts of state that discriminate against Palestinians and regressively impact their enjoyment of the full range of economic, social and cultural rights. The necessary remedy does not require any positive action by Israel in the way of providing food or health care to Palestinians, but only the negative duty to stop preventing Palestinians from feeding and caring for themselves.

CESR urges the Committee to condemn these grave Israeli violations of Palestinians' economic, social and cultural rights, and call for an immediately lifting of the military siege of Palestinian cities and town in the OPT, consistent with its finding in the 19th Session regarding Israel's closure policy. CESR also urges the Committee to express grave concern over Israel's failure to respect the right of Palestinians to self-determination, as recognized in article 1(1) of the Covenant.

CESR was established in 1993 to address a critical gap in human rights and activism in general. One of the first organizations to challenge economic injustice as a violation of international human rights law, CESR believes that economic and social rights

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