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Rights groups denounce 50-year Israeli occupation as 'ugly,' 'festering wound'

June 6, 2017 5:27 P.M. (Updated: June 7, 2017 12:10 P.M.)
Israeli soldiers stand in front of Palestinian stone throwers during clashes in Bethlehem. (AFP/Thomas Coex, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Denouncing 50 years of Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip and its “ugly” impact on generations of Palestinians, United Nations officials and human rights groups called for renewed efforts to achieve a two-state solution.

June 5 is remembered by Palestinians as “Naksa” Day, meaning “setback,” marking the Israeli invasion and occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai, and the Golan Heights that began on June 5, 1967 during the Six-Day War, displacing some 300,000 Palestinians, as well as thousands of Syrians, from their homes.

A two-state solution made elusive by the occupation

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated in a statement on Monday the UN’s support for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state along pre-1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“The world still awaits the birth of an independent Palestinian state,” Guterres said, adding that “now is not the time to give up on this goal” of achieving a two-state solution.

Guterres went on to stress the UN’s belief in a two-state solution as the only way to ensure lasting peace between Israel and Palestine, and denounced the continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, as well as “incitement” in the besieged Gaza Strip, for creating a “one-state reality.”

Meanwhile, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi wrote in an op-ed published in The New York Times on Monday that “Palestinians desire peace, but peace cannot exist as long as the occupation and the denial of Palestinian rights continue.”

Ashrawi denounced the imbalance of power between Israel and Palestine in all existing peace efforts, which she said have “served to promote Israel’s interests and security, not to recognize the Palestinian people’s rights and humanity, nor to guarantee an independent state.”

She notably called on US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly expressed his desire to achieve a “deal” between Israelis and Palestinians, to “draw the proper conclusions from the failures of the past” and value ending the occupation and respecting Palestinians’ human rights as “central” demands in any peace agreement.

While the PA and the international community do not recognize the legality of the occupation of East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank since 1967, many Palestinians consider that all historic Palestine has been occupied since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

A growing number of activists have criticized a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace given the existing political context, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.

Generations of Palestinians affected

As the prospects for a two-state solution to the conflict have become dimmer over the years, humanitarian organizations deplored the devastating impact of half a century of Israeli occupation.

“It should be obvious, but it bears repeating, that occupation is ugly,” UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities Robert Piper said in a statement on Tuesday. “Living under foreign military rule for years on end, generates despair, suffocates initiative and leaves generations in a kind of political and economic limbo.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) denounced on Tuesday various Israeli policies entrenching the occupation, which include excessive and deadly use of violence; forced displacement; the blockade of the Gaza Strip; unjustified restrictions on movement; and the expansion of illegal settlements across the occupied Palestinian territory.

NRC notably highlighted Israel’s policies of forcible transfer, stating that while 1,000 Palestinian homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were demolished in 2015, an estimated 350,000 Palestinians were currently at a risk of seeing their homes destroyed, most of which for lacking nearly impossible to obtain Israeli construction permits.

NRC also evoked the effects of Israel’s “crippling” ten-year siege of the Gaza Strip, which has isolated the small coastal enclave from the rest of the world and caused some 80 percent of Gaza residents to be dependent on humanitarian aid.

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem meanwhile denounced the long-term consequences of decades of occupation on generations of Israelis and Palestinians.

“It is a reality in which a third and fourth generation of Palestinians don’t know what it’s like to live free; and a third and fourth generation of Israelis don’t know what it’s like not to be occupiers,” B’Tselem wrote on Friday. “It is a reality that no matter how you tilt your head at it means that Israel cannot be called democratic.”

‘Gross failure’ of leadership pinpointed as enabling ongoing occupation

In their statements marking the anniversary of the Naksa, all mentioned the shared responsibility of Israeli and Palestinian leadership, as well as of the international community, for the occupation’s longevity.

“From a humanitarian’s perspective, 50 years of occupation represents a gross failure of leadership by many -- local and international, Israeli and Palestinian,” Piper said. “Too many innocent civilians -- Palestinian and Israeli alike -- are paying for this abject failure to address the underlying causes of the world’s longest-running protection crisis.”

Piper went on to describe the “increasing obstacles” facing humanitarian workers operating in the occupied Palestinian territory, listing “increased movement restrictions, the exhaustion of legal processes, the confiscation of our aid, or understandable donor fatigue.”

“This 50-year-old festering wound is a reflection of a capitulation of Israeli, Palestinian, and international leadership in the search for peace and reconciliation,” NRC Secretary-General Jan Egeland said on Tuesday at a press conference in East Jerusalem, echoing Piper’s statements.

“It is important that Europe, the United States, and other international actors hold Israel to account for its ongoing breaches,” Egeland added. “We are tired of documenting violations, and building and rebuilding through foreign funding what is then destroyed by (Israeli) armed men. Fifty years of occupation must end. Only then will we have a peaceful resolution between mutually respectful neighbors.”

B’Tselem, meanwhile, called out the general Israeli indifference to the blatant human rights violations carried out against Palestinians in their name.

“The occupation doesn’t really affect us in our day-to-day lives as Israeli citizens: we created a law enforcement system that ensures that none of those responsible for the continued occupation or its attendant human rights violations will be held accountable,” the Israeli NGO said.

“The effort to achieve a different future here is not only a pressing moral task, lives depend on it. Working together we trust that we will yet see the realization of a different future, one based on liberty, equality and human rights.”
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