Press Releases

    GA/PAL/953
                                                                                                                     19 April 2004

                                                                                                        

    International Meeting on Impact of Wall Built by Israel in Occupied Palestinian Territory Concludes Two-Day Session

    Final Document Says Lack of Dialogue between Parties Necessitates Active Involvement of International Community

    (Reissued as received.)

    GENEVA, 16 April (UN Information Service) –- The United Nations International Meeting on the Impact of the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Including In and Around East Jerusalem, concluded its two-day session this afternoon with participants expressing deep concern about the dangerous current and potential humanitarian consequences of the construction of the wall and urging active involvement of the international community to resolve this crisis.

    A final document issued by the meeting said participants expressed deep concern over the dangerous current and potential humanitarian consequences of the construction of the wall, noting that it would bring further dispossession for a significant number of Palestinians. They also noted that by destroying, confiscating and putting off-limits Palestinian agricultural lands and water sources in the process of the wall construction, Israel dealt another devastating blow to the Palestinian economy, which was on the verge of collapse after three years of destruction and restrictions imposed by the occupying Power.

    The final document said participants further noted that the protracted and complete lack of dialogue between the parties necessitated an active involvement of the international community. They reaffirmed the permanent responsibility of the United Nations with respect to all the aspects of the question of Palestine, until it was resolved in conformity with relevant United Nations resolutions and norms of international law, and until the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people were fully realized.

    In remarks after the final document was adopted, the Permanent Observer for Palestine to United Nations Headquarters in New York, Nasser Al-Kidwa, said that the wall presented the biggest threat to establish peace in the region and made the two-State solution practically impossible; it constituted a war crime and, thus, should be stopped and removed.

    Paul Bidja, Chairperson of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People which decided to hold the meeting, said the international community should take prompt action to terminate the building of the wall and to resume negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. The search for peace and security must continue.

    During the fourth and final plenary entitled “The Construction of the Wall – Rendering the Two-State Solution Physically Impossible”, speakers included Bahia Amra, a representative of the Palestinian Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute in Ramallah; Hussein H. Hassouna, the Ambassador of the League of Arab States to the United States; Mozi Raz of the Palestinian-Israeli Peace Coalition; and Victor de Currea-Lugo, a legal analyst at the Palestinian Environmental NGO Network.

    Final Document

    The final document said the meeting was held at a time, when, despite a broad opposition by the world community, the Government of Israel continued to build the wall in the occupied Palestinian territory. In light of this situation, the Committee was of the view that the far-reaching humanitarian, economic and political implications of the construction of the wall warranted further attention of all actors of the international community.

    In the course of the meeting, speakers expressed their dismay at the scope of the project, its devastating immediate and longer-term effects on the Palestinian population and the destructive consequences for the political process. They also discussed the Palestinian and Israeli reactions, as well as the response of the international community. Many speaker expressed their appreciation of the important report of the Secretary-General submitted in November 2003 and stressed further importance of the General Assembly resolution ES-10/14 requesting an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall. They called upon the international community, but in particular the occupying Power, to adhere to the upcoming advisory opinion of the Court and to take all the necessary steps to restore international legitimacy.

    The political consequences of the construction of the wall were at the centre of the discussion. The participants were of the opinion that the construction had multiple negative effects on the political situation. Among other things, it violated the letter and the spirit of the Road Map. Many speakers saw the wall as a de facto annexation of Palestinian land.

    Participants expressed deep concern over the dangerous current and potential humanitarian consequences of the construction of the wall, noting that it would bring further dispossession for a significant number of Palestinians. They also noted that by destroying, confiscating and putting off-limits Palestinian agricultural lands and water sources in the process of the wall construction, Israel dealt another devastating blow to the Palestinian economy, which was on the verge of collapse after three years of destruction and restrictions imposed by the occupying Power.

    The participants further noted that the protracted and complete lack of dialogue between the parties necessitated an active involvement of the international community. They reaffirmed the permanent responsibility of the United Nations with respect to all the aspects of the question of Palestine, until it was resolved in conformity with relevant United Nations resolutions and norms of international law, and until the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people were fully realized.

    Closing Remarks

    NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine to United Nations Headquarters in New York, expressed his delegation’s appreciation to the panellists and participants for their exchange of views and said he felt all the main points had been covered. The wall presented the biggest threat to establish peace in the region and made the two-State solution practically impossible; it constituted a war crime and, thus, should be stopped and removed. On the issue of the root of the wall, Palestine had indicated that Israel could have built a wall on its own territory and it would not have challenged the legality of that move, although it still would not have agreed to it as a good idea for a peaceful solution.

    On the issue of violence, Mr. Al-Kidwa said the whole conflict was essentially one of foreign belligerent occupation that was transformed into colonialism aimed at negating the existence and national rights of the Palestinian people. Palestine had a clear policy against targeting civilians in Israel, which should be distinguished from the right of the Palestinians to defend themselves against attacks by the occupying army. On the issue of enforcement, the emergency special session of the General Assembly, as well as the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, were good examples of concerted action to resolve the problem being addressed. All of the above depended on the determination of States, which would lead to the respect for international law, he added.

    The recent declarations by the United States and Israel had violated the Middle East peace process and brought an end to the Road Map, among other things. The Palestinian position was that these declarations were not acceptable. Moreover, that position would not have any impact on international law or on the rights of the Palestinian people as recognized by the international community.

    PAUL BIDJA, Chairperson of the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the findings of the meeting should be analysed and used to attract attention and remind others of the grave consequences of the actions taken by Israel. The Security Council and the United Nations, as well as the International Court of Justice, had been seized with the issue of the wall and he said he felt the meeting came at an appropriate time, during the sixtieth session of the Commission on Human Rights, since the situation in the occupied territories was largely of a human rights nature. The meetings had exposed the dangers posed to Palestinian people and obstacles they faced in trying to improve their livelihood.

    The Chairman said particular attention had been paid to the humanitarian consequences of building the wall, international law and the annexation of Palestinian land. At the political level, all statements had underlined that the wall had harmful effects and was a violation of the Road Map. The continuation of building the wall would make it impossible for a two-State solution to be implemented and, therefore, impossible for peace. On the humanitarian level, suffering had resulted due to the wall and freedom of movement and other rights had been deprived. At the economic level the construction of the wall had ruptured economic links and had weakened an already weak Palestinian economy.

    In conclusion, Mr. Bidja said the international community should take prompt action to terminate the building of the wall and to resume negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. The search for peace and security must remain.

    Discussion

    BAHIA AMRA, Representative of the Palestinian Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute in Ramallah, said that for more than 50 years, Palestinian people had been suffering from occupation by living in their country without freedom. The occupation was more than the wall and as a result of it many Palestinians were suffering on a daily basis. The wall had also divided Palestinians from other Palestinians, not just Palestinians from Israelis. It was very difficult for health care professionals to move about the area without unhindered access; all movements were controlled by the Israeli authorities. This action had seriously affected health care, among other things. There were no hospitals in Abu Dess, for example, and only one school. Difficulties were also encountered in the area of education; children were also seriously affected by the measures taken by the Israeli authorities as a result of the wall. Many children had to jump over the wall in the past to go to school, now it was impossible to jump over the wall since it was much higher. The only alternative was to go through checkpoints. Water facilities and the economic situation in general were also affected.

    From 1993 the Palestinian people began to develop their State as a result of the Oslo Accords but now there were many more difficulties that they were faced with as a result of the wall. The wall and occupation was illegal and there was no hope for a two-State solution with the existence of the wall. Ms. Amra said Israel did not want to provide Palestinians with a chance to build their own State; Palestinians had the potential to do so but unfortunately were prevented from doing so. If the United Nations turned from speaking to taking action, much could be achieved.

    Ms. Amra called for the end of the occupation of Palestinian lands. Support was needed from the international community as a whole and from the European Union. As a result of the wall, Palestinians needed to work harder to protect their own people.

    HUSSEIN H. HASSOUNA, Ambassador of the League of Arab States to the United States, recalled the Beirut Arab League Summit of 2002 and said the Arab League had remained attached to that peace initiative, which was complementary to the Quartet’s Road Map and the vision of the two-State solution. The upcoming Arab League Summit would have to address the new greatest challenge facing the prospects of peace in the Middle East today, namely, the latest attempt by the present Israeli Government to consolidate its occupation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. These goals were to be achieved through securing the blessing of Washington to its so-called unilateral initiative, while concurrently continuing the construction of the separation wall, in spite of the world’s outcry and strong opposition.

    The Arab League strongly supported the adoption of the General Assembly resolutions adopted at its special sessions. In the view of the Arab League the request by the General Assembly for an advisory opinion on the case of the wall underlined the United Nations recognition of the importance of the rule of law in the solution of the Palestinian problem. Israel’s consent to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice was not required. Moreover, the Court should clearly declare the grounds for the illegality of the wall, which stemmed from the fundamental rules and principles of the United Nations Charter, international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

    The Ambassador said the wall constituted a further violation of international humanitarian law, in particular the law of belligerent occupation, which prohibited an occupying power from destroying private property. Israel must stop its construction immediately, provide reparation through restitution of land and compensation for other damages. Other States were obliged as parties under the Fourth Geneva Convention to take measures to ensure that the breach ceased and that reparations were provided. The wall was undermining all efforts for achieving a two-State solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The role must be assumed by the United Nations as guardian of international legitimacy, the Arab League, guardian of Arab legitimacy, and all other intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and civil society committed to the mission of peace.

    MOZI RAZ, Director of Palestinian-Israeli Peace Coalition, said he fully supported almost everything said over the past two days, especially the illegality of the wall and the violations of human rights which it had caused. Mr. Raz expressed his support of the construction of a fence on the Green Line since it was the right of Israel to do so politically. The fact remained that this was the first time in history that there was an Israeli recognition of two States, as well as the border between the two States. For the short term, the wall on the Green Line was the best solution.

    Mr. Raz referred to the Israeli wall in the Golan Heights, as well as between Israel and Jordan, a majority of which was built in occupied territories. The issues of these walls, he noted, were not brought before the United Nations since they were not considered a problem. The suffering came because of the root of the barrier, but not the barrier itself.  The speaker recalled the statements made earlier in the meeting about the suicide bombings coming from in or around checkpoints. If the fence prevented 30 or 40 per cent of such attacks that was a significant development, he added. In the last six months, there had been much fewer casualties as a result of the wall. If human life was important, people would support his view of a wall on the Green Line. The solution was a peace treaty and not a wall unto itself. The role of civil society in both nations was very important. Mr. Raz also called on the international community to join the efforts of bilateral agreements for a peaceful settlement.

    VICTOR DE CURREA-LUGO, Legal Analyst at the Palestinian Environmental NGO Network (PENGON), presented the anti apartheid wall campaign and based his presentation on the question of human rights, international non-governmental organizations and the international community. The campaign focused on the struggle against the wall as part of the Palestinian struggle against occupation. The campaign called to an end of the construction of the wall; dismantling of all parts of the wall; the return of the lands confiscated; and the compensation of damages and the restitution of land. The campaign further developed its strategies according to the decisions and needs of the communities affected by the wall. It was clear that the conflict went beyond the borders and, therefore, it was necessary to create activities bearing in mind Europeans, Americans and Latin Americans. The campaign’s international advocacy had created great awareness on the issue. Among other things, the campaign proposed to commemorate 9 November as the “Day against the Wall”.

    Looking at the wall map, the two-State solution became impossible, as it seemed that no real pressure on Israel to stop the wall would take place. With the wall, Palestine did not have a State. Moreover, the one-State solution would fail if such a State would not guarantee the same rights to everyone as was happening now in Israel where non-Jews did not enjoy the same rights. The vulnerability in Palestine was based on access to food distribution systems and the employment opportunities which guaranteed the capacity of Palestinians to buy food. Palestinians did not need the so-called “classical humanitarian aid”, but it was easier to convert the Palestinian struggle into a food aid solution.

    In conclusion, Mr. Currea-Lugo said any kind of agreement or accord, even if signed by the Palestinian Authority and supported by the international community and the United Nations itself, could not erase or disregard international law.

    During the question-and-answer session that followed, a representative of a non-governmental organization said she could not support the position of Mr. Raz on the building of a wall on the Green Line since it was not an internationally recognized border. The Palestinian Authority and civil society, as well as a number of countries had supported sending a protection force to the region, which would depend on the blessing of the United Nations. In that regard, she asked to what extent it was possible for resolutions to be imposed on Israel in the form of sending in a protective force.

    DALIT BAUM, a peace activist with the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, mentioned that a 17-year-old Palestinian man was killed today on the wall and called on participants to go back to their countries to demand an explanation for this killing as a demonstration of their commitment to finding a solution to the crisis.

    Another non-governmental organization delegate asked if the two-State solution was the United Nations platform or if it was a one-State solution. He added that Mr. Raz’s statement revealed the difficulties encountered by the Israeli population, yet a wall on the Green Line was not a solution. To put Syrians, Lebanese and Jordanians on the same footing as Palestinians was not appropriate, she added. The suffering of the Palestinian people was not really because of the wall, but began at the moment of dispersion of the Palestinian people all over the world; even the passport carried by Palestinian people was not an internationally recognized document. The recognition of a Palestinian State should provide measures taking into consideration international law.

    In response to questions and comments raised, Mr. RAZ said he condemned the killing of the Palestinian today. He reiterated that the building of a wall on the Green Line was not illegal. Moving even one settler was more problematic than moving 600 kilometres of a wall. He asked how a wall on the Green Line could affect so terribly the lives of the Palestinians. He said it was a terrible crime to build a wall in Abu Dess and other towns inside the occupied territories. In the West Bank the majority of the wall already existing was on the Green Line.

    Mr. CURREA-LUGO said for many people the wall was a 100 per cent reality. Mr. HASSOUNA said there were many arguments to the legalities of the wall and referred to the provisions of the International Criminal Court statute which said the Israeli settlements were a war crime and, therefore, the wall surrounding these settlements were also a war crime.  He referred to what the Pope had said about the wall saying “we need bridges and not walls” and added that there had been attempts in the past in the Security Council to establish a peacekeeping force in the occupied territories yet they had not been passed because of a United States veto since Israel did not want an international force presence. What was needed was the political will of the international community and of Member States, which could only come about as a result of a public campaign. Ms. AMRA added that more than 200 villages were totally isolated as a result of the wall and called on all people in the region to challenge their governments and to work together to raise awareness.

    A representative of Syria said the Golan Heights was still under occupation and United Nations resolutions had yet to be implemented by Israel, including its withdrawal from all territories which it occupied. If Israel really loved peace, it could withdraw and return to the borders of pre-1967. Israel did not understand the language of international law. Syria was committed to international law and legality and was committed to the armistice and hoped the international community would apply pressure on Israel. The suffering of the Syrian people in the Golan was comparable to the Palestinian people’s suffering.

    Mr. RAZ acknowledged that Israel had still occupied the Golan and said he hoped that Israelis and Syrians would accept the Arab League initiative.

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