End-of-Mission Statement of the UN Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices


The United Nations Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (the “Special Committee”) concluded its annual mission to the region today. The Committee visited Cairo, Egypt from 8-10 June, prior to travelling to Amman, Jordan until 16 June 2023.

During its mission, the Special Committee met with senior Palestinian government officials, UN organisations, and representatives of civil society organisations from the occupied Palestinian territory and occupied Syrian Golan. The Special Committee regrets that since it was established in 1968, Israel has not responded to the Committee’s annual requests for consultations with Israeli authorities, nor granted access to Israel, the occupied Palestinian territory, or the occupied Syrian Golan.

Pending complete termination of the Israeli occupation, the Special Committee is mandated to investigate Israeli policies and practices in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and the Syrian Golan. This year, the Special Committee was presented with the clearest evidence it has seen in its 55-year history of Israeli policies that systematically violate the human rights of the Palestinian people, in a manner many interlocutors see as akin to apartheid.

The Special Committee was briefed on the Israeli government’s Coalition Agreement, which states that “the prime minister will work towards the formulation and promotion of a policy whereby sovereignty is applied to Judea and Samaria” (biblical names for the occupied West Bank.) The Document of Principles and Division of Responsibilities and Authorities signed on 23 February 2023 between Israel’s Minister of Defence, Yoav Gallant, and Additional Minister in the Ministry of Defense, Bezalel Smotrich, goes further, establishing a “Settlement Administration”, which oversees, instructs, and directs the activities of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and of the Israeli Civil Administration.

The Israeli government therefore intends to transfer “temporary” military control of the occupied West Bank to a civilian Minister and will attempt to formally annex the occupied West Bank. The Special Committee notes that the prohibition on the annexation of territory is fundamental to international law.

Within a week of signing this Coalition Agreement, Minister Smotrich told Israeli media that “the village of Hawara needs to be wiped out. I think that the State of Israel needs to do that – not, God forbid, private individuals.” This statement followed an Israeli settler rampage through Hawara and nearby villages on 26 February 2023, where over 400 settlers torched Palestinian homes, businesses, a school, and dozens of vehicles, and shot dead a 37-year-old Palestinian man, Sameh Aqtash, and wounded over 100 others. The military commander responsible for the region, Major General Yehuda Fuchs, described the settler rampage as a “pogrom.” However, except for the temporary detention of two settlers, to date all other perpetrators have enjoyed complete impunity, as is the case in almost all instances of Israeli settler violence.

The Special Committee notes a direct correlation between the policies of the Israeli government, as articulated in its Coalition Agreement, and Israeli practices on the ground. The Special Committee was briefed that under the current Israeli government, settler attacks have increased from an average from two a day in 2022, to three a day in 2023.

The Special Committee is appalled that the number of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, killed by Israeli Forces in the first five months of 2023 was more than double (124 percent higher) than in the same period in 2022, noting Israeli Forces killed more Palestinians in the occupied West Bank in 2022 than any other year since the UN began compiling these statistics in 2005. The number of Palestinian injuries from live ammunition in the West Bank was almost double (94 percent increase) than in the same period in 2022, suggestive of a further loosening of Israel’s Rules of Engagement this year.

The Special Committee deplores the conduct of Israel’s “Operation Shield and Arrow” from 9-13 May, which commenced with the targeted killing of three Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders in airstrikes on Gaza that also killed 10 civilians, including three children. Israel’s latest war of choice on Gaza followed extensive lobbying by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, whose ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit party boycotted cabinet meetings and threatened to quit the government until the operation commenced.

As in previous rounds of Israeli attacks on Gaza in August 2022 and May 2021, this May, Israel turned its 17-year air, sea and land blockade of Gaza into a siege, closing the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossing points and denying humanitarian access, medical referrals, medical supplies, and fuel for the Gaza Power Plant whilst it bombarded Gaza’s residents with high explosives in one of the most densely populated regions on the planet. Children constitute 47 per cent of Gaza’s population, and most Gazans are not old enough to remember life before the blockade. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted on 20 May 2021, “if there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza.”

The Special Committee expresses concern that the Israeli settler population in the occupied Syrian Golan has now surpassed the local population for the first time. Israeli policies and practices on the Golan isolate the population from their familial and cultural links to Syria and enforce integration into the Israeli economy and education system, for lack of any alternative. The Special Committee notes that the notoriously violent Netzah Yehuda Battalion, was transferred to the occupied Syrian Golan in January 2023 for an 11-month deployment, posing grave human rights implications for the local population. It is recalled that this Battalion was disciplined for negligently causing the death of 78-year-old Palestinian-American Omar Abdalmajeed As’ad north of Ramallah in January 2022.

The Special Committee expresses its gratitude to the governments of Egypt and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for hosting its visit, and Palestinian officials for briefing the Committee. The Special Committee also expresses its gratitude to the Palestinian human rights defenders, who continue their essential work despite unrelenting attacks by the Israeli government, human rights defenders working on the Syrian Golan, and the Israeli human rights defenders who demand an end to the occupation, in the face of their government’s increased suppression of civil society and human rights on both sides of the Green Line.

The Special Committee is particularly grateful for the work of UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which continues to provide highly efficient service delivery to the Palestinian people despite extremely difficult financial and operational circumstances. The Special Committee implores all UN member states to provide UNRWA with predictable and sustainable funding. Anything less will inevitably result in a regional humanitarian and security crisis that we cannot afford.

The committee will present its next report to the General Assembly in October 2023.

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