to the UN General Assembly Tenth Emergency Special Session –
Illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territories
New York, December 8, 2003
I should stress at the outset that my comments are without prejudice to our clear position of principle that that the convening of this emergency special session, at the behest of Syria and other delegations, is in violation of fundamental conditions of the Uniting for Peace procedure and the United Nations Charter. As you know, Mr. President, we have raised this concern with you and with other delegations.
The Palestinian side has expressly claimed, both orally and in writing, that this meeting takes place under the Uniting for Peace procedure. But one of the fundamental preconditions for that procedure, namely the failure of the Council to meet its responsibilities, is patently unfulfilled. This requirement was not met last month when the Assembly convened after the Security Council rejected a resolution on the security fence, not due to a lack of unanimity amongst permanent members, but due to the refusal of the sponsors of the draft resolution to engage in any genuine negotiations on their blatantly one-sided text. And this same requirement is not met today, barely a week after the Council unanimously adopted resolution 1515 on the road map.
This is far from the only defect with this meeting. Let us leave aside for the moment the obvious legal and political abuse involved in this never-ending 10th emergency session, the procedural invalidity of which is clear. Among other failings, this so-called emergency session has taken place despite the fact that the issue of requesting an advisory opinion from the ICJ was not even raised before the Council, despite the fact that the Assembly is presently in regular session and despite the fact that a majority of members have not requested that an emergency session be convened.
Let me be clear. We consider the resolutions adopted by this so-called 10th emergency session to be ultra vires and an abuse of the powers of the General Assembly under the Charter.
We need not repeat in detail our arguments regarding the legality and necessity of the security fence. Our position has been set forth both in the Council and in the Assembly, as well as in correspondence with the Secretary General and in a variety of other official documents and statements. As we have stated before, Israel does not deny that in exercising its inherent right to self-defense against terrorism of the most brutal kind, it must act within the limits of international law. But we do reject attempts to incorrectly and selectively apply that law, to misrepresent the nature and purpose of the security fence, and to ignore the context in which Israel’s actions are taken.
Let me be perfectly clear. This is the Arafat Fence. This is the fence that Arafat built. His terrorism initiated it, and made its construction inevitable. If there were no Arafat, there would be no fence! My comments in regard to the fence will be brief and non-exhaustive. The security fence is a temporary, proven, necessary and non-violent measure adopted, in accordance with international and local law, to defend the people of Israel from a continuing and vicious campaign of terrorism that has killed hundred of innocent civilians and will kill thousands more, if not prevented. As long as the Palestinian leadership continues to flout its most basic obligations to fight terrorism, there is simply no alternative to it. Indeed, the only reason for the construction of the fence is the Palestinian strategy of terrorism – as soon as the terror ends, the fence will no longer be necessary.
The fence is not a border, and has no political significance. It does not change the legal status of the territory in any way. Israel remains committed to determining the final status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including the issue of borders, through negotiations as has been agreed by the parties. As we have proven before, we will be ready to dismantle or alter the route of the fence in accordance with any political settlement reached.
If built along the 1949 Armistice Line (the so-called Green line), which was never intended to, nor ever has, enjoyed legal status as an international boundary, the fence would constitute an arbitrary and artificial line that simply would not adequately fulfill its sole function – the prevention of terrorist attacks against civilians. The route of the fence is determined not by politics, but by a difficult and painful balance between security, humanitarian and topographical considerations.
Israel is working to ensure that the fence does not cause undue hardship to local Palestinian residents, both through extensive consultations with the local population over the route of the fence, and through an active process of appeals and judicial review. And we will continue to engage in this process and to seek individual solutions to problems that arise. At the same time, we reiterate that the fence will allow a significant reduction in the presence of Israeli forces in the West Bank, thus improving overall humanitarian conditions for the majority of Palestinian residents. And we stress that while the rights of local residents are legitimate and important, we should not forget that the right not to be murdered by terrorists is a right which is certainly no less important and, if violated, is impossible to redress.
Some have argued that the fence is counterproductive to the peace process and to future negotiations. We believe this assessment to be mistaken and unjustified. If anything, by reducing the capacity of Palestinian terrorists to infiltrate and carry out acts of terror, the fence will help take terrorism out of the equation, restore calm, and encourage an environment in which negotiations and the implementation of the Road Map can take place. In those areas in which it has been erected, the fence has already significantly reduced the terrorist threat, and it has aided in preventing multiple suicide attacks just in the last few weeks. If, because of the fence, terrorism ceases to be a tool readily available to the enemies of peace so as to derail the process, the chances of making progress at the negotiation table can only be enhanced.
In fact, in spite of what some may perceive as a recent calm, the terrorists have not stopped for one minute to try and carry out their barbaric acts. Since the horrific bombing in Haifa on October 4th, until December 4th, the Israeli security forces have foiled 27 attempts to bring death and destruction to Israel’s cities. Fourteen of them were suicide attempts stopped just before being carried out.
To give but one example, just last Wednesday Israeli forces arrested two suicide bombers, who were members of the Palestinian Authority’s own security services and at the same time affiliated with the terrorist organization Islamic Jihad, headquartered in Damascus, Syria. The two terrorists, Munir Rabiah and Murad Zietun, were on their way to perpetrate a suicide attack against Israeli schoolchildren at a school in Yoknea’m near Haifa. If this is not shocking enough, the terrorists are reported to have told investigators that in order to infiltrate into Israel they had sought out an area where the security fence had not yet been constructed. Had they succeeded in their horrific plan, innocent school children would have been murdered in cold blood and attempts to restart the peace process would have been seriously harmed. In this reality, where PA employees seek to murder schoolchildren, how can it be seriously argued that the fence is counterproductive to the peace process, when it is crucial to stopping the terror that seeks to destroy that very process.
The fence, Mr. President, is neither an obstacle to a two-state solution, nor to the creation of a contiguous, viable and democratic Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security with Israel. It will help create a terror-free environment in which a peace can be agreed through negotiations. And when the terrorism has ended and negotiations bear fruit, the fence can make way to any territorial solution agreed upon by the parties.
Prompted as it was, by a clearly one-sided resolution, it is hardly surprising but very unfortunate that the Secretary-General’s report issued last Friday should lack fairness, balance and perspective, even in its presentation of Israel’s own legal position. The Report makes virtually no reference whatsoever to the brutal and calculated campaign of terrorism being waged against Israel, which the fence is specifically designed to counter.
Since the outbreak of the latest wave of Palestinian violence in September 2000 there have been literally thousands of separate terrorist attacks – bombings, rocket attacks, stabbings and shootings – directed against both Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel by Palestinian terrorist groups. The planning and preparation of such terrorist attacks, including mega-terror attacks against targets such as skyscrapers, fuel depots and chemical plants, continues unabated, and unrestrained by the Palestinian leadership and its security personnel. The silence of the Report on the threat posed by Palestinian terrorism, and the complicity of the Palestinian leadership, is incomprehensible given that the construction of the fence is a response to that threat.
The question whether Israel’s defensive measures are permissible, depends on whether they are proportionate to the threat faced by Israel and its citizens. As numerous leading scholars and judicial bodies, including the Yugoslavia Tribunal, have found, the determination that a defensive measure is disproportionate in any given circumstance is a particularly complex and delicate one, to be measured against the amount of force, or other defensive action, necessary to remove the threat that is posed. It requires legal, operational and security expertise and a close familiarity with the extent and the nature of the threat.
And yet this fundamental principle of proportionality, accepted in the PLO legal position attached to the Report, sadly is quite absent from the Report itself. To the contrary, the Report’s conclusion seems to rewrite the international law of self-defense in a quite alarming manner. "I acknowledge and recognize Israel’s right and duty to protect its people against terrorist attacks", the Report concludes. But it then goes on to qualify this principle, saying that not only must this duty be carried out in a way that is accordance with international law, but also it must not "mak[e] the creation of an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state more difficult, or increase suffering among the Palestinian people". In other words, any Israeli measure, however many innocent lives it may save, however much it may serve to release the stranglehold of terrorists on Palestinian society – if it has any impact, even temporary, on the lives of Palestinians, it is unacceptable.
This is not just bad law, it is bad morality. Let us be quite frank. There is no way of protecting the lives of the innocent from terrorists who hide in the heart of civilian areas, without having some impact on the lives of those they have chosen to hide amongst and those that have chosen to offer them shelter. At a time when every Israeli, and every Jew, is a declared target for Palestinian terrorist organizations, the question is how to allocate, humanely and effectively, the balance of hardships, between those who are blown up on buses and those who are held up at checkpoints or are otherwise disadvantaged. This is not an easy balance, and the painful dilemma it poses is one Israel struggles with every day. But it is one with which this Report seems not to have struggled with for one moment.
The approach of this Report, like that of this emergency session – ignoring the brutality of Palestinian terror, and which does not even mention the fundamental Palestinian obligation – restated in every Israeli-Palestinian agreement, and at the very outset of the Road Map – to fight terrorism and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, is profoundly troubling. Not only will we not call on the Palestinian side to stop the terror, it tells us, but we will not allow you to do it yourselves.
Given the abundant energy and resources devoted to examining Israeli defensive counter-terrorist measures, it may be instructive in this regard to consider the Assembly’s response to other actions embarked upon by states in fighting terrorism. In past decades, literally thousands of civilians, including Palestinian civilians, have been killed by certain Arab states in the Middle East, often in the name of fighting terrorism – and yet, the Assembly has been silent. In 1982, one state in the Middle East, claiming to be fighting terrorist insurgents, murdered some 20,000 of its own civilians in the towns of Homs and Hama – and yet, the Assembly was silent.
Since that time and to this day, countless counter-terrorist operations have been embarked upon, with a greater or lesser degree of legitimacy. Whole cities have been razed to the ground, thousands have been killed, maimed or tortured by various countries around the globe – and yet, the Assembly has been silent.
This sacred silence has been broken only in the case of Israel. And each time the Assembly has been galvanized into action not to condemn the brutal acts of terrorism but to condemn Israel’s response to it. After a two state solution was rejected by the Palestinian side at Camp David; and after 3 years unending terrorism; Israel has reluctantly adopted a non-violent defensive measure to protect its citizens from death. It has done so while seeking to balance security and humanitarian considerations and exhibiting infinitely more concern for the welfare of innocent civilians than either the terrorists or other States that have been spared the scrutiny of this Assembly.
The double standard is astounding. Just last week in the Third Committee, Israel was denied the opportunity to present to a vote a resolution on Israeli children, even after a resolution on Palestinian children was adopted. We were told then that Israeli children deliberately targeted by terrorists would not receive the protection of the Assembly. Today we are being told that we cannot protect them ourselves.
How dare the people who would not even consider protecting Israeli children by words, tell Israel that it cannot protect them by deeds. How low, how deep and how callous can the duplicity, hypocrisy and double standard of this body deteriorate to?
These are the children we are talking about. This is Tomer Almog, aged 9, who was brutally murdered by a double suicide bomber at a restaurant in Haifa on October 4th. He was slain together with his grandparents, his father and his cousins while his family was peacefully sitting down to lunch in a beachfront restaurant. And this is his brother, Oran Almog, who lost his eyesight in the same attack. One of his eyes was shattered, and while we were all sitting here in this hall last month having the same cynical debate in yet another Emergency Special Session, a world-renowned surgeon in Birmingham, Alabama was operating on his second eye, trying to save it.
Oran can now barely distinguish, with one eye, between light and dark. But he is watching us all today, to see whether we can distinguish between the forces of light that seek to protect our children, and the forces of dark, that try to extinguish them.
But the double standard does not end there. If the professed concern of the Assembly for the welfare of Palestinian civilians were genuine we would have seen by now a plethora of resolutions condemning Palestinian terrorism, and requesting the Secretary General to submit detailed reports on such things as the misuse of funds by the Palestinian leadership, the incitement of children to suicide terrorism, Palestinian human rights violations, and the policy of encouraging and funding terrorist groups adopted by regimes in the region.
Let us take corruption as an example. The Palestinian economy has been plundered for years by its own leadership, to the grave detriment of the Palestinian people, without the General Assembly so much as raising the issue for discussion. About one month ago, an International Monetary Fund audit uncovered the fact that between 1995 and 2000 Yasser Arafat diverted fully $900 million from the PA budget into a special bank account under his personal and unmonitored control. Recent reports indicate that Arafat’s office receives some 9 million dollars a month, a full 2 million more than the entire amount allocated per month to the Palestinian health system. European Union audits have disclosed that $20 million in Egyptian funds meant to build low-income housing was instead turned into a luxury apartment complex that was given over to top PA officials and Arafat cronies. Money designed to feed, house, clothe, and educate Palestinian civilians has been diverted not just for personal gain but to fund terrorist groups, including, as recently revealed, the direct payment by the PA of $50,000 dollars a month to members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, responsible for scores of suicide attacks in the past three years.
The majority of the Palestinian people who suffer greatly as a result of this unprecedented corruption are denied full knowledge of these facts because of the lack of free press, and free access to information in Palestinian society. But these facts are known to the world and to this Assembly. And yet, where is the indignation? Much of this stolen money that perpetuates and greatly exacerbates the humanitarian suffering of innocent Palestinians is donor money. It is your money. And yet, where are the resolutions, the Secretary-General reports the demands that this policy be, to use a familiar phrase, ceased and reversed? Donor money flows into the pockets of Arafat and his wealthy accomplices; terrorism and incitement continue unabated; and all the while anti-Israeli initiatives led by states that treat the UN as their private property take up hugely disproportionate amounts of the organization’s time and resources, while poor and developing countries must scramble and plead for the attention of the Assembly and the assistance of the international community.
Israel is not immune, Mr. President, from legitimate and balanced criticism. But we have the audacity to demand that some of the repressive regimes in our neighborhood that sponsor terrorism and systematically violate human rights should be of equal, let alone greater, concern to the international community. At the very least the representatives of these regimes should not be allowed to dictate the conduct of this Assembly. This is not justice or fair criticism – it is hypocrisy and double standard. It is self-righteous, self-serving and deeply counterproductive. It is the UN at its worst. And it rewards terrorism.
The resolution presented for adoption at this meeting yet again hopelessly fails to reflect the reality on the ground or to help the Israeli and Palestinian peoples move closer to peaceful settlement. In the resolution we are presented, yet again, with the harmful, divisive, illegal and diversionary tactic of a request for an advisory opinion. Instead of rejecting this destructive idea out of hand, delegations are yet again expected to plead, barter and compromise on principle in the hope that it will be removed from the table. Surely by now delegates must be aware that unless and until we stop playing this game, the exploitation and extortion will only continue. Israel will vote against this resolution and we strongly urge delegations that care about peace, about the International Court of Justice, and about restoring the credibility and reputation of the United Nations, to do the same.
The ridiculous nature of the resolution presented today is highlighted by the fact that the draft resolution pretends to seek guidance from the ICJ on the very issues on which the General Assembly has already determined its response. If this initiative was reckless and irresponsible when introduced a month ago, it is patently absurd today. What guidance is sought here? How exactly is it relevant to the work of the Assembly? And how is it fair or just to purport to seek legal advice on a non-violent defensive measure adopted by Israel to protect against terrorism, while ignoring the terrorism itself that destroys lives in cold blood and without discrimination?
This is an abuse of the ICJ, and of the Advisory Opinion procedure of the highest order, and it constitutes a dangerous precedent for all states. The politically biased text, rife with supposed legal conclusions, makes a mockery of the Court and threatens to undermine its status. Moreover it raises a question that directly relates to matters fundamentally in dispute between various parties in the region, when the parties have already agreed, and the Road Map itself affirms, that these issues can only be resolved by negotiations.
At a time when there is hope for renewing the negotiating process through the Road Map this proposal and the attempt to involve a new actor in the conflict, is especially counterproductive. It will severely complicate, undermine and delay, if not halt altogether, current efforts to restart the implementation of the Road Map. Indeed, it contradicts the very letter and spirit of the Road Map, and the UN’s role as one of its main sponsors.
Either the Palestinian side can finally get serious about complying with their obligations, or they can continue to abuse multilateral fora to try to score political and propaganda points. They cannot keep doing both. It is our genuine hope that, after seeing the misery and despair, on all sides, that their current strategy has created, the Palestinian side will finally act to confront terrorism and end incitement. The moment they do so, they will find in Israel a willing partner. Until then, the Arafat Fence – the fence that Arafat’s actions necessitated – will stand to protect our children from further terrorism.
Today, Mr. President, the delegates in this room must ask themselves one more question. The 58th General Assembly is coming to an end. Looking back on it, we must ask ourselves, are we proud of it? Have we accomplished anything? Have we made the world a better place? Have we lived up to the high standard and noble aims you, Mr. President, set for us in September?
And today, especially, we must ask one more question – do we lead, or are we being misled? Do we do right or are we being manipulated? Do we stand for what is right and just, or do we side with evil?
I raise these issues only to emphasize a point we have made repeatedly in this Assembly. Peace, prosperity and security for both Palestinian and Israeli people will not be found in this Hall or in any other organ of the United Nations. It is only the end of the morally bankrupt strategy of terror, that glorifies murder as martyrdom, which would obviate the need for Israeli security measures, including the security fence, pave the way for peaceful negotiations and concessions, and end the suffering of both peoples.
No amount of UN debate, distorted texts, or abusive diplomatic maneuvers can alter that basic reality. No one-sided resolution, no ill-conceived and harmful attempt to request an advisory opinion, and no report can substitute for it, unless, miraculously, we find the courage to change. We all have the opportunity to start doing so, today, by rejecting this cynical resolution!
Thank you, Mr. President.
||Request for Advisory Opinion transmitted to the Court pursuant to General Assembly Resolution A/RES/ES-10/14 (A/ES-10/L.16) adopted on 8 December 2003|
||Saving Lives: Israel’s Security Fence|