Regrettably, peace in the holy land today is no closer than a year ago, when we appealed to the International community represented by the UN and its security council to stop Israel’s slaughter of innocent Palestinian children, women and men and wanton destruction of homes, schools, hospitals and vital civilian infrastructure, which terrorized and traumatized the entire civilian population in the Gaza Strip (1.7 million) and left hundreds of thousands of lives and entire communities shattered and in ruins in an inhumane aggression conducted by Israel the occupying power.
On the 23 July – last year, the death toll from that Israeli aggression had already reached 660 Palestinians and was rising. We alerted the whole world to the shocking fact that, even at that stage – two weeks into the Israeli offensive – a third of the casualties were children, more than half children under 12 years old, exposing the occupying forces’ brutality and the false Israeli claims about respect for civilian lives and international humanitarian law.
These facts were later corroborated by the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry (COI) and the Secretary’s Report on Children and Armed Conflict, which confirmed that by the end of Israel’s assault on Gaza the occupying forces, had killed at least 55 children – from 1 week old babies to 17 years of age – and killed 299 women among the more than 2,251 Palestinians killed, the majority civilians. The reports also confirmed that over 11,000 Palestinians were injured, including 3,540 women and 3,436 children, with injuries so severe due to the lethal weaponry and wide-impact explosives used by Israel that an estimated 10% of injured civilians will suffer life-long disabilities.
The COI also found that Israel persisted with its onslaught even after early knowledge of the high casualty figures, indicating a deliberate decision on the part of Israeli government and military officials to inflict such harm, a fact also confirmed by the testimonies of numerous Israeli soldiers instructed to kill without mercy anyone they encountered in Gaza, man, woman or child.
One year on since the horrific devastation mercilessly and deliberately inflicted on Gaza by Israel, the occupying Power, not a single Israeli official or soldier has been held accountable for these crimes, committed so wantonly before the eyes of the world, the vast human and physical wounds remain unhealed, and hopes are rapidly fading for any relief from this appalling injustice.
Families remain traumatized by indescribable loss, including 1500 children orphaned by the killing of their mothers and fathers, and more than 110,000 people remain homeless, forcibly displaced by Israel’s massive destruction of homes and dependent on aid for their survival. And, as Israel’s blockade continues in collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.8 million Palestinians and continues to obstruct reconstruction and recovery, humanitarian conditions are worsening beyond measure, with unemployment and food insecurity at unprecedented levels and evermore difficult to alleviate as donor support becomes harder to secure. While Gaza is being suffocated and dehumanized, the rest of Occupied Palestine continues to be ravaged by Israel’s vicious settlement campaign, settler terror and repression. Confiscation of Palestinian land, demolition of Palestinian homes and construction of Israeli settlements and the wall and related infrastructure persist, in grave breach of international law, in violation of Security Council resolutions. The dire situation now faced by Palestinians in Khirbet Susiya in the southern hills of Al-Khalil, who are being threatened with destruction of their entire community and forced displacement as extremist settlers and illegal settlements further encroach on their land and rights, and the plans for forced transfer of thousands of Palestinian Bedouins from areas in and around Occupied East Jerusalem, are just two examples of this rabid Israeli colonization. Israeli occupying forces also continue to cause civilian casualties in military raids and attacks on protesters. The killing of 17-year old Mohammed Kasbah, who was shot by Israeli soldiers last week at the Qalandiya checkpoint, brought unbearable tragedy to yet another Palestinian family, this time to a family that had already lost two of their other young sons, Samer, age 15, and Yasser, age 11, to the brutality of this occupation.
Moreover, not a single day passes where Palestinian civilians are not intimidated, arrested and detained, including children, adding to the nearly 6,000 illegally imprisoned by Israel under inhumane conditions and subjected to constant abuse and torture. The plight of our prisoners and detainees has again been highlighted by the 55-day hunger strike of Khader Adnan, who was recently released from detention, clearly, at the moment that Israel launched its war last summer, and considering all the illegal actions perpetrated thereafter, it had intentionally aimed to sabotage the prospects for peace, intensify its collective punishment of the Palestinian people, and strip them of any hope for an end to this cruel occupation and for realization of their inalienable rights and national aspirations.
That is why – despite the global calls for a just solution based on two States on the pre-1967 borders; despite the historic compromise made by the Palestinian leadership more than a quarter century ago; despite over two decades of negotiations; and despite passage of more than 48 years since resolution 242 (1967) – the dangerous political impasse continues and peace remains elusive. This is the direct outcome of Israel’s illegal, combative behavior by which it continues to deny the Palestinian people their rights and entrench its occupation in violation of international law and all norms of morality and decency.
It is also a direct outcome of the Israeli Government’s rejection of peace, bad faith, and obstruction of all attempts to revive negotiations based on clear and credible parameters rooted in the Security Council’s resolutions. In reality, it has not only undermined the efforts to salvage the two-State solution, but is actively destroying it.
As a result, the humanitarian and security situation continues a downward spiral and tensions continue to rise, threatening total destabilization, which we repeatedly draw the Council’s attention to in vain. As the region experiences unprecedented turmoil and extremism, imperiling entire States and endangering international peace and security, we reiterate that continued destabilization poses grave risks that must be averted. Human lives must be saved and the potential of peace be restored.
While some believe that regional crises necessitate turning away from Palestine to focus on other matters, many also believe that solving the conflict now is imperative for the future of the Middle East and beyond.
A just, peaceful solution to the Palestinian¬ Israeli conflict, the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, would open doors for a new era in the region: one of stability, cooperation and collective action for our common goals and also our common problems. The promise of the Arab Peace Initiative, one of the most important peace initiatives the region has ever witnessed, is at the center of this belief. Regrettably, that initiative has never been reciprocated by Israel, which continues to distort it and reject it.
In 2015, as we witness the distress and instability in Palestine and the region as a whole, we do not have the luxury to continue delaying peace. The Palestinian people can no longer delay realization of their fundamental human rights, which they have been so wrongly denied, nor accept rationales asking them to endure more violations, suffering and indignities, while the occupying Power is placated and appeased, not even being held accountable for its most egregious crimes. Palestine seeks peace and coexistence with Israel, but this must be based on freedom and justice.
The Palestinians, continue to welcome and support the French initiative, and call on the Security Council members to move forward now on reaffirming the parameters for peace, based on the internationally-recognized terms of reference enshrined in the relevant UN resolutions, the Madrid principles and the Arab Peace Initiative, as well as a clear time frame for an end to the Israeli occupation, international monitoring and support for implementation of a peace agreement.
Israel must be compelled to cease all of its illegal policies and measures. Whether the blockade or aggression against Gaza, or the colonization and de facto annexation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, or the collective punishment of the Palestinian people, all must be halted and compliance with the law must be demanded. Moreover, Israel must be held responsible for its crimes.
Despite so many failures and setbacks, the Palestinian people still look to the International community represented by the UN and its Security Council to act with conscience to contribute to the attainment of peace and realization of their rights, including to independence in their State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on the 1967 borders, stressing that the Palestinian demand for freedom is non-negotiable and a prerequisite for lasting peace and security.