UN criticizes Israel for human rights violations in territories

By The Associated Press and Shlomo Shamir

, Haaretz Correspondent and Haaretz Service

Tishrei 30, 5765

Israel is guilty of severe human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including "wanton destruction" of houses and infrastructure, according to a United Nations report obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

The annual human rights report is to be presented to the UN General Assembly later this month.

The 18-page report was prepared by John Dugard, the UN representative for human rights. It charges that while some of Israel's actions in the Palestinian areas can be explained by security concerns, many cannot.

During operations in the Gaza Strip, Israel engaged in "massive and wanton destruction of property," the report said. "Bulldozers have destroyed homes in a purposeless manner and have savagely dug up roads, including electricity, sewage and water lines."

The report is dated August 12, well before the current Israeli operation in northern Gaza, the largest in four years of fighting. On Thursday, Israeli forces pulled out of the Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, leaving behind a swath of destruction.

The report criticizes repeated Israeli operations in the Rafah refugee camp on the Gaza-Egypt border. Israel has said its forces were looking for arms smuggling tunnels.

The document said that over four years, "1,497 buildings have been demolished in Rafah, affecting over 15,000 people." Some of the destruction, along the border, was for operational reasons, the report said. "Often, however, the destruction is wanton," it charged.

The UN report concentrates on Israeli violations, according to the mandate given by the world body, and does not cover Palestinian attacks against Israelis, beyond noting that nearly 1,000 Israelis have been killed during the conflict.

Israeli Foreign Ministry legal adviser Daniel Taub said the fact that the document glossed over the Rafah gunrunners' tunnels and ignored the suicide bombings that Israel says the West Bank fence is meant to stop, means the report "has nothing to contribute to any serious discussion about finding the right balance between security and human rights."

The report also criticizes Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza next year, as well as the separation barrier Israel is building along the line between Israel and the West Bank, dipping into the territory in some places.

Israel's disengagement plan is designed to allow Israel to say that its occupation of Gaza is over, and it is no longer bound by terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention governing occupied territories - but since Israel would retain control of border crossings and air space, it remains an occupier, the document said.

Israel does not recognize application of the Geneva Conventions to the West Bank and Gaza, calling them disputed areas, not occupied.

Some of the harshest criticism in the report was aimed at the separation barrier, called "the Wall" in the document.

Israel has said the complex of walls, fences, trenches and electronic surveillance devices is necessary to keep Palestinian suicide bombers out of Israel, after hundreds of Israelis were killed.

The UN report charges that Israel's real goals are to incorporate Jewish settlements into Israel, confiscate Palestinian land and force Palestinians to move - echoing Palestinian charges.

"The Wall is responsible for much of the suffering of the Palestinian people," the document charged. It noted that the UN world court ordered Israel to tear it down, but Israel is ignoring the ruling, following instead its own Supreme Court instructions to move the barrier to reduce hardships on Palestinians.

The report notes that "terrorist attacks inside Israel" dropped 83 percent in the first half of 2004 compared to the same period a year before, but "there is no compelling evidence that this cannot have been done with equal effect by building the Wall along the Green Line," the 1949 cease-fire line between Israel and the West Bank.

Israel does not recognize the Green Line as a boundary and insists on negotiating its permanent border in peace talks.

The report called for international action against Israel because of the barrier. "This is no time for appeasement on the part of the international community," the document said twice.

UN figure calls on EU to freeze Israel's special trade status
A United Nations food expert called on the European Union to freeze Israel's special trade partner status, in order to pressure Jerusalem into ceasing a policy that the expert says is interrupting the distributrion of foor to Palestinians in the territories.

According to Israel Radio, the demand was made by Jean Ziegler, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, who is stationed in Geneva.

Ziegler said he approached the former President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi on the matter, and that he will also contacted the new president, José Manuel Barosso. Ziegler said he would submit a report at the next United Nations General Assembly meeting , according to which 22 percent of Palestinian children in the territories were suffering from malnutrition.

Ziegler, a Swiss citizen, was a member of the Swiss parliament in the past, representing a far left party. He is a controversial figure, and several Jewish organizations have claimed he is hostile to Israel. A Geneva-based Jewish group that monitors UN activity asked the chairman of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Micheal Smith, to dismiss Ziegler, citing his one-sided approach to Israel.

Ziegler has previously called on Europe to break off trade with Israel, and accused Israel of conducting policies that were interrupting food distribution in the territories, and compared the West Bank and Gaza to concentration camps.

A classified foreign ministry report that was published Wednesday warned that the international standing of Israel could worsen in the next decade, and that its situation could resemble apartheid-era South Africa.

The report states that Europe is gaining international strength, which influences Israel's standing, given Europe's criticism of Israel's policy in the territories. Europe is strongly opposed to the route of the separation fence, and EU foreign ministers demanded this week that the Israel Defense Force cease its operations in the northern Gaza Strip.

According to documents compiled by the foreign ministry, if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not resolved, in the next decade Israel and Europe will find themselves on a collision course that will gravely harm Israel politically and economically.

The report also states that a new wave of anti-Semitism is developing in Europe, which denies the legitimacy of Israel as a sovereign Jewish state.