UN accuses Israel of illegal land grab
Sydney Morning Herals - March 29 2003
Against a background of fresh violence in the West Bank and a call for the United States to publish its "road map" for peace in the Middle East, the United Nations has questioned the legality of Israel's security wall.
A UN investigator said the wall Israel says is to protect its citizens from Palestinian gunmen and suicide bombers was an illegal "creeping annexation" of Palestinian territory.
"The wall is being used as a way of expanding Israel's territory," the special rapporteur, John Dugard, said on Thursday before presenting a report to the Geneva-based UN Commission on Human Rights. "It amounts to illegal territorial gain."
Israel's Defence Ministry this week proposed extending the fence, which roughly follows the frontier with the West Bank, deeper into the West Bank to protect the Jewish settlements of Ariel, Emmanuel and Keddumim.
"Israel claims this is a temporary security measure, but I think the reality is that this is a form of creeping annexation of Palestinian territory," Mr Dugard said.
In his report on the violation of human rights in the occupied territories he said neither party in the more than two-year Palestinian uprising for statehood had paid proper respect to civilian life.
While Israel had real security concerns which could not be ignored, its response was excessive and disproportionate to the Palestinian attacks, he said.
The huge number of deaths and injuries, the humanitarian crisis, property destruction and the expansion of Israeli territory into the West Bank were not justifiable, he said.
"In this age of anti-terrorism measures, Israel has succeeded in gaining tremendous sympathy for its argument that it is engaged in defensive action in response to Palestinian suicide bombers," Mr Dugard said. "It is a disproportionate response which can't be justified on the grounds of military necessity."
In fresh violence, Israeli troops shot dead a 20-year-old Palestinian man in a refugee camp in the West Bank town of Tulkarm yesterday, Palestinian witnesses said.
The shooting followed a strike by an Israeli helicopter gunship on Thursday that killed two Palestinian policemen in Gaza.
Israeli-Palestinian violence has continued sporadically despite Washington's appeal for calm after 30 months of conflict.
Witnesses said troops entered the Tulkarm refugee camp in jeeps and armoured personnel carriers shortly after midnight and searched several houses.
They said soldiers fired without provocation from one of the houses towards the street, killing a 20-year-old Palestinian passing by and wounding another man.
On the diplomatic front, Palestinian officials urged President George Bush to keep his promise and publish the so-called "road map" for peace between Israel and Palestine.
Mr Bush said at a meeting in Camp David with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on Thursday: "Soon we will release the road map that is designed to help turn that vision into reality," without specifying exactly when.
The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, called for concrete action, saying: "We hope that these promises are not just trying to soften us up ... and that we can expect action rather than words."
He noted that publication of the plan, drafted by the US, Russia, UN and European Union, had already been put back six times.
"I don't know what pretext he could find for putting it off a seventh time," Mr Erakat said.