Press Releases

    GA/PAL/951
                                                                                                                            16 April 2004

                                                                                                   

    Palestinian Minister Says Israeli Separation Wall Is Overt Plan of Expansion to Annex Palestinian Land

    International Meeting on Impact of Construction of Wall in Occupied Palestinian Territory Continues

    (Reissued as received.)

    GENEVA, 15 April (UN Information Service) –- The Minister of Planning of the Palestinian Authority this afternoon said that Israel’s separation wall was an overt plan of expansion into and annexation of Palestinian territory which had created hardships for Palestinian people across the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

    Nabeel Kassis, the Palestinian Minister of Planning, said the separation wall had added to the difficulties already faced by Palestinians in the health, education, agriculture and social welfare sectors, as well as by private business through its de facto annexation of Palestinian territory.

    Mr. Kassis was addressing an international meeting organized by the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People on the impact of the construction of the wall by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory. The meeting also heard speeches by independent experts, United Nations officials, Member States and non-governmental organizations in its afternoon discussion which was moderated by Rawan Farhadi of Afghanistan.

    Mustafa Barghouti, President of the Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute and Chairman of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, said that yesterday’s declaration by President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon reminded the international community that the building of the wall was part of a strategy to annex all of Palestine by the Israeli Government.

    The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, briefed the meeting on the report he submitted on his visit to the occupied territories to the Commission on Human Rights in which he referred to an “invisible tragedy”, or humanitarian crisis, as a result of the construction of the wall. United Nations figures suggested that 65 per cent of households in occupied Palestinian areas ate only once a day; 68 per cent of the entire Palestinian population depended on international assistance; and 22 per cent of children under five years of age were seriously undernourished.

    Dalit Baum, a peace activist with the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, based in Tel Aviv, described the wall as just one part of an elaborate system of dissection of Palestinian people. She said a growing number of Israelis, from all sectors of society, opposed the construction of the wall.

    George Khoury of the United Nations Development Programme in Jerusalem highlighted the wall’s impact on the lives of the Palestinian people. He said that if the wall was completed, 14.9 per cent of Palestinians would be trapped between the wall and the Green Line. Some 23 per cent of Palestinians would be separated from their land by the wall; and 43 per cent of the West Bank would be annexed by Israel.

    Taking the floor, the delegations of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Morocco, Indonesia and the Russian Federation said the construction of the wall violated international law and urged the two parties to continue their efforts to resume peaceful negotiations for a lasting settlement.

    In the follow up question and answer session, Mr. Barghouti said the international community was faced with a great challenge given the declarations made yesterday by the United States and Israel and perhaps the time had come to declare sanctions against Israel for the creation of an apartheid system.

    The meeting will resume at 10 a.m. on Friday, 16 April. The morning plenary is entitled “The construction of the wall -– violating international law”.

    Discussion

    NABEEL KASSIS, Minister of Planning of the Palestinian Authority, said Israel’s separation wall was an overt plan of expansion into and annexation of Palestinian territory which had created hardships for Palestinian people across the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The separation wall had added to the difficulties already faced by the health, education, agriculture and social welfare sectors, as well as by the private business through its de facto annexation of Palestinian territory. Delays associated with travel through the gates had had a significant impact on the daily routines of students, farmers, workers and on the livelihoods of all inhabitants behind the separation wall.

    Access to health services would be curtailed for those populations on either side of the wall. The wall’s planned trajectory south and to the west of Bethlehem, and the encompassing Hebron governorate, for example, would ensure that ten Ministry of Health clinics, one UNRWA clinic and three NGO clinics would be isolated between the Green Line and the separation wall. Concerning education, access for teachers was particularly tenuous in areas impacted by the separation wall; for some areas the problem was more acute in the areas where schools existed where the teachers did not reside, for example. In the sector of agriculture, the Palestinian Authority estimated that, as a result of the separation wall construction, losses in agricultural production would total $28 million per year. Agricultural operations had been impacted to the extent that obtaining permits for farm vehicles remained difficult, Mr. Kassis said. Additional water infrastructure had also been damaged throughout the course of the construction of the wall. The Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee had estimated that more than 30,000 metres of irrigation networks and water pipelines had been destroyed.

    While the exact economic impact of the wall had yet to be quantified, the private sector was under no illusions as to the wall’s devastating consequences for economic enterprise across the West Bank, specifically in agricultural, stone and marble, tourism, and manufacturing activities. Individual cases of hardship had increased as a result of the wall’s presence in the West Bank. The World Food Programme (WFP) was currently distributing food packages to approximately 25,000 beneficiaries as part of the WFP’s “Food for Work” and “Food for Training” programmes in villages across the Palestinian occupied territory. The loss of employment opportunities was also a big factor as a result of the construction of the separation wall, he added.

    MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI, President of the Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute and Chairman of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, said yesterday’s declaration by President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon reminded the international community that the building of the wall was part of a strategy to annex all of Palestine by the Israeli Government. Mr. Barghouti made a presentation providing statistics and information about the socio-economic effect which had resulted from the construction of the wall. The construction of the wall demonstrated the worst kind of aggression against the Palestinian people and was destroying the coherence of life in the occupied territory. Moreover, the wall was an instrument of destruction and was not for means of security but a means of ethnic cleansing, thus preventing people from studying, living in peace and carrying on with their lives.

    More than 800,000 Palestinians would be affected as a result of the construction of the wall, Mr. Barghouti said. Moreover, some 249,000 Palestinian residents were cut off completely from the West Bank as a result of the wall. The Israeli Government was transforming Gaza into a prison where no less than 40 per cent of the population therein would be under the Sharon Government’s full control. Since 2001, Israel had engaged in a process of destruction of homes to allow for the construction of the wall and today the Israeli army was destroying five to six houses on a daily basis and was destroying any possibility of a Palestinian State.

    Mr. Barghouti said that declaration made in Washington yesterday violated international law and United Nations resolutions and also assaulted international legitimacy. They had destroyed the Road Map. In conclusion he said, a bi-national democratic State was the alternative to a two-State solution and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was a struggle of people for national liberation and self-determination.

    JEAN ZIEGLER, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, briefed the meeting on the report he submitted on his visit to the occupied territories, which was presented to the Commission on Human Rights. More than 3,000 Palestinians had been killed as a result of the State terror committed by the Israeli Government. Mr. Ziegler referred to an “invisible tragedy”, or humanitarian crisis, as a result of the construction of the wall. United Nations figures suggested that 65 per cent of households in occupied Palestinian areas ate only once a day; 68 per cent of the entire Palestinian population depended on international assistance; 22 per cent of children under five years of age were seriously undernourished and other children suffered from anaemia. The humanitarian crisis in the region was extremely serious and was worsening. These figures, the Rapporteur said, were comparable to figures reflecting the situation in Chad and Bangladesh. While researching for his report, the Rapporteur met with Israeli officials and travelled to Tel Aviv to speak with the military generals responsible for the occupied territories; none of the figures he presented were questioned by the generals yet they said they could not do anything about the situation. The occupation, he said, was causing the humanitarian crisis. Collective punishment was illegal and, more importantly, inhumane. If the wall was completed, it would make it completely impossible for the Palestinian State to have the right to food and to meet the minimum requirement to have access to food as per international human rights standards.

    DALIT BAUM, a peace activist with the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, based in Tel Aviv, said her movement was a peace movement comprised of thousands of women and men who wanted to uproot racism in occupied Palestine. Ms. Baum gave a presentation of her movement’s activities which described the wall as just one part of an elaborate system of dissection of Palestinian people. It was just one barrier which existed in Palestine. Palestinians had been able to sustain themselves due to a strong system of mutual help and extended family system; the construction of the wall was hindering this system and threatened to shatter it apart. Women were no longer able to sustain their livelihood as a result of the wall. Ms. Baum said a growing number of Israelis, from all sectors of society, opposed the construction of the wall and added that her movement was a grass-roots, non-partisan movement. Several demonstrations had taken place throughout the region and in many cases unarmed protesters had been shot by Israeli soldiers with live fire.

    GEORGE KHOURY, of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Jerusalem, made a presentation to highlight the impact on the lives of the Palestinian people by the construction of the wall. If completed, 14.9 per cent of Palestinians would be trapped between the wall and the Green Line. Some 23 per cent of Palestinians would be separated from their land by the wall; and 43 per cent of the West Bank would be annexed by Israel. Moreover, access to education was harmed in that students would be cut off from their schools; some 170,000 students would have their schooling affected in all; 96 per cent of classrooms would be overcrowded. Health-care services were also suffering with more than 152,000 people affected. More than 100,000 trees had been uprooted and more than 36,000 metres of irrigation networks had been destroyed. There was close correlation to the destruction of natural resources and the construction of the wall, Mr. Khoury said. Some 40 per cent of communities had no access to water networks. The UNDP had launched a comprehensive intervention programme to address the needs to alleviate the suffering and hardship of the people in the most affected areas and to decrease the levels of poverty and provide access to basic health, improve municipal infrastructure, improve food security and to build local capacities to better respond to their own needs. The UNDP relied heavily on support form donor countries who provided much needed funds to ensure the livelihoods of those living in the areas affected by the construction of a wall.

    A representative of Morocco said that her country was deeply concerned about the consequences of constructing the wall, which was illegal in view of international law, as well as a violation of the Geneva Conventions. The illegal building of the wall would prejudge the peace process and undermined the vision of an independent Palestine. It also placed a major obstacle to the road to peace. Morocco reaffirmed its firm commitment to promote the Road Map to peace and supported any initiative to sustain durable peace in the region.

    A representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said his country viewed the large-scale construction of the wall as the most serious problem and conflict between Arab countries and Israel; it was causing great concern not only among the countries in the region but in the rest of the world as well. The construction of the wall violated international law, created the artificial division of one nation, violated human rights and destroyed entire lives of many Palestinian people. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea supported the initiative of Palestine and other Arab countries to put the question to the International Court of Justice and strongly demanded that Israel immediately stop the construction of the illegal wall in Palestinian territory.

    A representative of Indonesia said Indonesia remained deeply concerned by the situation in the occupied territories. As the situation unfolded, the aggression also continued. One recent example of aggression was the killing of Sheikh Yassin last month. Indonesia deplored the act which clearly violated international law and ethics. Indonesia seconded the view taken by the Non-Aligned Movement that the wall was illegal; it must be dismantled and its construction halted. The building of the wall was creating huge difficulties and preventing Palestinian people from earning a living. The further isolation the wall imposed on the Palestinian occupied territories could only result in greater poverty for the population.

    A representative of the Russian Federation said it was unfortunate that the violence between Palestinians and Israelis had continued, adding that the violation of the right to self-determination would lead to further confrontation if not solved. Peace could not be established contrary to the will of the people and the use of force would only lead to a deadlock. Israelis should come to realize that the occupation of Israeli lands was damaging to Israel itself. The building of a security barrier was twice discussed in the Security Council last year at which time Russia voted in favour of condemning the construction of the wall which was a counterproductive step. The entire arsenal of political means must be employed to overcome this problem. Russia as a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process put forth its position on the building of the wall to the International Court of Justice and was convinced that bilateral talks between the two parties was the best means to solving the crisis.

    During the question-and-answer session that followed, a member of a non-governmental organization asked what the future of the occupied territories was in view of the declarations made yesterday and the position of the United States Government as a co-sponsor of the Road Map. In response, Mr. Kassis said the Palestinian Authority did not have to accept the statement made by the United States. Mr. Barghouti added that the peace process was not a goal in itself; it was a means to achieve peace. He said the international community was faced with a great challenge given the declarations made yesterday and perhaps the time had come to declare sanctions against Israel for the creation of an apartheid system. In response to a question, Ms. Baum said there was a need to build a coalition within Israeli society and to show the population what was being done to Palestinians. To reach real change, real pressure from the outside was needed and it was also the role of the Israelis to ask for that as well, she added. A panel expert said the letter of Mr. Bush was particularly troubling because it accepted that the wall was being constructed as a security barrier and, therefore, it was permissible to continue with its construction.

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