The following statement was made in Jerusalem on International Human Rights Day, 10 December 2023, by Lynn Hastings, United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Today could have been a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, born from the atrocities of two world wars. Instead, human rights are assaulted in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The violations perpetrated on both populations will bring neither peace nor security to either of these nations.
In Israel, the killings, sexual violence and kidnappings by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups on 7 October traumatized an entire nation. Elderly, disabled, and children have not been spared. Non-state armed actors have obligations under international law, too. Perpetrators must be held accountable. All hostages should be released unconditionally but in the interim, access should be granted so their conditions can be verified.
In Gaza, the response from Israel has been disproportionate. The air strikes against civilians and civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, and UN facilities and the repeated displacement of the civilian population cannot be justified. Nor can the siege, depriving the entire Gaza population of food, water, health care and hygiene. We are now seeing reports of men and boys, from the age of 15 and older, rounded up in Gaza, stripped to their undergarments, blindfold, and taken somewhere unknown. Access to all detainees and prisoners should be granted to verify their conditions.
This crisis is not about the number of trucks going into Gaza. Israel has the obligation as the occupying power to ensure that sufficient hygiene and public health standards as well as the provision of food and medical care are available to the population under occupation. Israel must allow the humanitarian community to deliver aid safely inside and throughout Gaza.
This crisis is also not about safe zones. A unilateral declaration by an occupying power that patches of land where there is no infrastructure, food, water, health care, or hygiene are “safe zones” does not mean they are safe. This is especially true when there is no guarantee of freedom of movement nor for the humanitarian community to deliver wherever there is need.
A ceasefire – the terms of which must be consulted with humanitarians and human rights defenders – is needed.
In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, unprecedented levels of Israeli state and settler violence against Palestinians, their displacement, movement restrictions, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment, have been reported in 2023 and compound the already discriminatory and coercive environment. 265 of the 464 Palestinians killed in the West Bank in 2023 were killed since 7 October; at least three killed were disabled. And at least 1,000 people have been forcibly displaced from their land citing settler violence and the inability to access their land.
Civil society organizations in Palestine and Israel who fight daily to protect human rights are needed now more than ever. Instead, they are under attack. They must be protected by all of us.
In 2023, I should not have to issue such a statement. It is as if we have learned nothing in the past 75 years.