A new report issued by a number of Palestinian human rights organisations has revealed details of the effects of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian women. The result of 3 years of work by Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights, Al-Haq, the Women's Affairs Technical Committee, the Women's Centre for Legal Counselling and the Society for Culture and Free Thought, the report was one of the activities of a project carried out by the organisations under the broader heading of "Protection of women in armed conflicts in the Arab region".
Three Israeli violations are considered in particular: house demolitions, the apartheid wall and domestic displacement. Each has been allocated a specific chapter in the report, with legal analysis focused on international humanitarian law, international human rights law and UN Security Council Resolution 1325.
House demolitions may occur as a result of bombing, as in the case of the Gaza Strip, or under the pretext of the building being erected without a permit, which is the case in the West Bank. Researchers based their evidence on field work with information coming from women who have lost their homes. Personal testimonies, surveys and focus groups in different areas provided the raw data. Documentation supplied by Al-Mezan provided statistics about demolitions and forced displacement of local Palestinians.
Prepared by the Women's Centre for Legal Counselling, the second chapter looks at the apartheid wall and its effects on women, especially those living in the "point of contact" zone close to the structure. A general overview about the wall details its impact on all aspects of daily life for Palestinian women along with an analysis of the whole edifice from a legal point of view; the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice was used in the latter. The report explains how the wall affects living conditions and the right to have a suitable residence, access to natural and public resources, access to health services, ways to earn a living, the social and family conditions of women and education.
The third chapter has been written by Al-Haq and discusses the effects of family displacement resulting from Israel's policies and how they affect Palestinian women; a qualitative analysis is provided to demonstrate the effects. It divides events which have led to the break-up of Palestinian families into two stages: the first, between 1948 and 1967, was when the ethnic cleansing of the 1948 Nakba was the most prominent incident, with nearly 800,000 Palestinians being driven from the area that is now known as Israel; they fled beyond the borders of mandatory Palestine or to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The second stage started with the occupation by the Israelis of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967 and is ongoing; yet more Palestinians were displaced beyond the borders of their homeland and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were isolated from each other. The resulting restrictions on freedom of movement and having to choose between living in one or the other area of historic Palestine; the annexation of East Jerusalem and the resulting restrictions against Palestinians in the city; and the construction of the apartheid wall have all added to the displacement of Palestinians, depriving them of the right to family life.
The report also sheds some light on the process of family unification, especially between Palestinians living in Jerusalem and those in the other cities of occupied Palestine. It gives information about the difficulties and insults that women in particular are subjected to when they apply to the Israeli authorities for reunification. The authors of the report believe that this procedure has a negative impact on Palestinian' right to a family life, reducing it to a series of individuals' problems to be considered separately.
The report makes a number of conclusions:
- Women are the group most affected by home demolitions; they also bear additional social burdens post-demolition.
- As the number of marital disputes increases after a house demolition, women are forced to look for work.
- Palestinians, especially women, are frequently unable to access basic services because of the proximity or route of the apartheid wall, resulting in daily abuse and suffering as they pass through Israeli checkpoints in order to have such access.
- Many young women are forced to leave school at 16 because of the daily harassment to which they are subjected at Israeli checkpoints.
- Family displacement places a continuous burden on all Palestinians, but mainly women.
- The procedure to reunify families reduces the right of Palestinians to return to their land and their right to a normal family life into a problem of individuals; again, it is the women who are most affected.
- All Israeli procedure that lead to displacement, especially the 2003 law regarding citizenship and entry to Israel, violate the Palestinians' right to family life and discriminate against non-Jews; the policies and procedures must be amended.
The report stresses that Palestinians have the right to choose where they live without any harassment from the occupying forces; this includes those Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes as a result of the Nakba, who have the right to return to their land and live within mandatory Palestine, reuniting with their families no matter where they are within the whole geographic area. The right to return is an inalienable individual right that cannot be negotiated away collectively. Palestinians who were forced to leave the West Bank and Gaza Strip have the right to go back and reunite with their families if they choose to do so.
Recommendations of the report include the following:
- The report calls on the international community to fulfil its legal and moral obligations towards the protection of civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories in general, and women and children in the Gaza Strip in particular.
- The international community must fulfil its obligations regarding accountability by prosecuting those responsible for serious violations of international law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention, especially those that claim the lives of women and children or cause them injury or disability.
- It calls upon the UN agencies focused on women to work towards the protection of women in occupied Palestine; to strengthen the protection of women in all armed conflict zones; and to take measures to expose the Israeli practices and crimes committed against women in the Gaza Strip.
- The UN Under-Secretary General for women's affairs should activate the role of the Secretary General in stopping the repeated Israeli violations against women, and to ensure respect for the related conventions and Security Council resolutions.
- The international community should work on the implementation of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice to ensure that Israel stops construction of the apartheid wall and dismantles those sections that have already been built.
- The international community should work to raise the issues contained in this report with the special rapporteurs and other bodies and mechanisms within the UN, including the Secretary General, the Human Rights Council and the Security Council.
- These issues should be raised with the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Convention, to compel Israel to comply with the obligations arising from the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Translated from Arabs48, 13 January, 2015
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