EMHRN’s Mission to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory including Gaza: impunity is intolerable

Gaza Strip, Impunity/Accountability, International Human Rights Law (IHRL), International Humanitarian Law (IHL), Israel / OPT, Press Release

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On 2-5 March 2015, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) conducted a mission to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory headed by EMHRN President Michel Tubiana. The mission aimed at expressing solidarity with EMHRN’s members and other civil society organisations on-the-ground and supporting their tireless reporting and documenting activities following Israel’s military operation “Protective Edge”.

The Israeli authorities denied two members of EMHRN’s delegation access into Gaza, Michel Tubiana and Rayan Jalal. In so doing the Israeli authorities confirmed their intention to maintain the closure of the Gaza Strip and to restrict any links between this territory and the rest of the world. This behavior, which it undertakes arbitrarily and with the aim of humiliating people, demonstrates once again the Israeli authorities’ sheer disregard towards their obligations as an Occupying Power.

As the only member of the delegation that was granted access into Gaza, Anitta Kynsilehto participated in several field tours and met local and international experts working with the guidance of EMHRN members, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR). She collected shocking testimonies of victims that detailed many of the violations of international law that Israel subjected Palestinians to during Operation Protective Edge. She also took stock of the daily plight endured by Gaza’s civilian population, under Israel’s suffocating closure.

Anitta Kynsilehto was deeply dismayed at the extent of the devastation and the human toll on Gaza’s civilian population. Beyond the destruction of entire districts and largely civilian infrastructure, there are indications that suggest indiscriminate attacks were carried out on civilians and that Israel’s military have been guilty of disproportionate use of force.

“The past few days I have borne witness to the indescribable horror endured by Gaza’s civilian population and blatant evidence of war crimes committed by Israeli forces during Operation Protective Edge” she said.  “The only thing more intolerable than the suffering I have seen is the complete lack of accountability for such crimes and the virtually inexistent reconstruction process, now six months since the war ended”.

Indeed, more than 100,000 Palestinians remained displaced this winter, most of whom live in shelters unfit for long-term accommodation. “Not only have people lost family members and all their lives with their houses in ruins, but also hope for the future remains an open question when complete livelihoods have been destroyed.”  

Despite their denied entry into the Gaza Strip, Michel Tubiana and Rayan Jalal met with EMHRN members and partner organisations in Ramallah, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  This included Al-Haq, B’tselem, Adalah, the Public Committee against Torture in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, the Negev Coexistence Forum and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.  EMHRN expressed its appreciation of these organisations’ crucial work despite the various restrictions they face and reassured them of EMHRN’s commitment to continue to engage with the EU in order to ensure all parties are held accountable.

The delegation also took part in a tour of the Naqab/Negev where they met with members of the unrecognized Arab Bedouin Village of Umm alHieran in the Naqab. The inhabitants of this village are facing displacement from their lands, with appeals pending before the Israeli Supreme Court and the Be’er Sheva District Court against the state’s plans to evict the residents and demolish all homes in the village, in order to establish a new Jewish town called “Hiran” over its ruins.  This is a stark reminder of the continued erosion of the rule of law in Israel and Israel’s discriminatory policies towards Palestinian Arab citizens. “Israel’s gross breaches of IHL and IHRL are a symptom of the occupation and extend beyond the Gaza Strip into the West Bank and Israel. As Israel seeks to separate, the best response is Palestinian unity. The Palestinians must be adamant in their pursuit of intra-Palestinian unity and the EU must do all it can to support this process” said Michel Tubiana.

At the end of the mission, EMHRN commended its members for their vital documenting and reporting activities. “In the absence of credible investigations at domestic level and as long as independent international investigative bodies continue to be denied access while the EU turns a blind eye, your work remains the only available means to get to the truth and achieve justice”, declared Michel Tubiana in his address to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, PCHR and Al-Haq.