UN urges Israel to abide by Gaza ceasefire agreement
Israel must abide by and fully implement the ceasefire agreement that ended the recent crisis in Gaza, stressed a United Nations independent expert, who called on the international community to exert pressure over the country to fulfill its obligations and investigate its recent actions which resulted in the deaths of Palestinian civilians.
"Experience has shown that Israel fails to meet its international obligation to promptly and impartially investigate its own actions," said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, Richard Falk, who just finished a visit to the Egyptian capital, Cairo, and the Gaza Strip.
"Experience has also shown that Israel is not likely to carry out its obligations under the ceasefire agreement; indeed during our visit we heard Israeli warplanes flying directly overhead and received reports of Israeli military incursions into the Gaza Strip."
The ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, which controls Gaza, was announced on Nov 21, just over a week after the start of the most recent wave of deadly violence, which included rocket attacks against Israel from Gaza, and Israeli airstrikes on targets in the Strip.
Eight days of violence left an estimated 158 Palestinians dead, including 103 civilians, and approximately 1,269 injured. Six Israelis - four civilians and two soldiers - were reported killed by Palestinian rocket fire and 224 Israelis were injured, the vast majority civilians.
Falk was in the region to assess the overall impact of Israel's prolonged occupation and the six-year-old blockade against Gaza. However, he said that "there arose an urgent need to investigate Israel's seemingly deliberate attacks against civilian targets during recent hostilities."
During his visit, Falk visited the sites of attacks and spoke with surviving family members.
"It is clear that some attacks killed and harmed civilians in a grossly disproportionate manner and thus appear to violate international law," he said. "There is a widespread feeling among Palestinians that Israel is above the law, and that it is likely to continue to have the benefits of impunity even when it flagrantly and repeatedly violates international human rights and humanitarian laws."
Falk called for sustained pressure from the international community, including governments and civil society, to secure Israel's full implementation of the ceasefire agreement, noting that without such pressure it is unlikely to hold.
"Worldwide support for the recent General Assembly resolution that made Palestine a non-member observer State should serve as a starting point for more concerted international protection of Palestinian rights," he said.
Falk underlined the need to clarify how certain aspects of the agreement will be implemented, particularly those regarding access to maritime and agricultural resources, as well as basic services such as clean water and sanitation.
"Every day Palestinian fishermen and farmers risk being shot at or detained by Israeli forces. Already since the agreement was reached, Israel has detained 13 fishermen, confiscated 4 fishing boats and sank another fishing boat," he said. "Such actions signal an Israeli intention to maintain its coercive style of occupation rather than to explore whether implementing the ceasefire agreement might lead toward a more hopeful future."
Falk underscored that although there have been plans for infrastructure projects in Gaza that would meet the population's urgent needs, donors are reluctant to invest in projects that are likely to be bombed by Israel.
"Unless these underlying problems are addressed soon, it appears that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020, as predicted by a recent UN report. Some of the experts with whom we spoke actually believe that 2016 is a more reasonable assessment. This indicates the gravity of the human rights crisis in the Gaza Strip."
While in Cairo and the Gaza Strip, Falk met with governmental, inter-governmental and civil society representatives, as well as victims and witnesses.
He received briefings from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and other UN agencies, which provided an in-depth picture of the magnitude of the challenges in Gaza, and the difficulties of addressing such challenges in a situation of occupation and blockade.
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme.
The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work. Falk is scheduled to present his next report to the Council in June 2013, which will include concerns raised during this mission.