At the outset, I would like to convey my congratulations to you on the assumption of the Presidency of the Council for this month, though I wish I could be doing so under different circumstances.
On 29 September 2004, the eve of the Sukkot holiday, two Israeli children, Dorit Aniso, age two, and Yuval Abedeh, age four, were murdered by Qassam rockets fired at their home in the Southern Israeli town of Sderot. The Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.
The murder of these two young children is only the latest in a continuing onslaught of such terrorist incidents in which the innocent civilians of Sderot and neighboring communities have been targeted without respite. These rocket attacks, like other acts of Palestinian terror, are employed with the specific intent of killing and injuring as many civilians as possible. In a similar incident, on June 28, four rockets on Sderot killed two Israeli civilians, Afik Zahavi, aged 4, and Mordechai Yosopov, aged 49, landing near a nursery school and damaging a nearby coffee shop.
Indeed, as part of the broader Palestinian terrorist campaign that has brought untold suffering, more than 460 of these Qassam rockets have been indiscriminately fired at Israel’s civilian population, causing numerous deaths, many injuries and extensive destruction of property. Qassam rocket fire from Gaza continues – even as we speak – to be deliberately directed against the civilian community, targeting and terrorizing innocent civilians as they lie in their beds, sit in their living rooms or take their children to school.
Terrorist groups, operating with complete freedom and impunity from Palestinian Authority territory, have every intention of escalating and intensifying this campaign with ever more sophisticated weapons. Palestinian terror organizations have been producing Qassam rockets in lathes dispersed throughout the Gaza Strip. Hamas has developed these new rockets using knowledge gathered over the years by international terror groups. The ease with which these rockets are hidden, transported and launched and the ability to mass produce them have made them a weapon of choice. .Hamas is currently seeking to develop the Qassam 4 rocket to enhance the range of the missile and increase the impact of its explosion. As a recent statement issued by Hamas operatives declared, "We are sending a clear message to the Zionists that Qassam rockets will continue and will reach their targets, God willing… And tell those occupying Ashkelon that your turn is coming soon.”
This is an insufferable situation that no country, including those sitting around this table, could or would tolerate.
Despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority has thousands of police and security personnel in the northern Gaza Strip, they are doing nothing – and have done nothing for years – to halt the firing of Qassam rockets on Israeli communities. Indeed, just yesterday Yasser Arafat belittled the attacks and the murder and injury they have caused, callously declaring that Qassam rockets “only make noise”.
The fact remains that the Palestinian leadership still refuses to fulfill any of its obligations to confront and dismantle the Palestinian terrorist network in an ongoing and egregious violation of basic international norms, signed commitments and the explicit terms of the Road Map’s very first clauses. Instead, the Palestinian leadership continues to offer encouragement and support for these actions, glorifying murder as martyrdom, and pursuing a campaign of incitement to hatred and violence. The Palestinian leadership continues to choose an alliance of violence with the terrorists, over a partnership for peace with Israel, based on mutual obligation and mutual compromise – and the Israeli and Palestinian peoples pay the price of this cruel choice every day.
Try as some might to confuse consequence and cause, most Palestinian representatives and most Palestinian people know that if not for the terrorism there would be no Israeli defensive action, and there would have been a two-State solution long ago. It is this terrorism, and the Palestinian leadership’s complicity in it, that is the greatest single obstacle to peace and the enemy of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. It is this terrorism – motivated by opposition not to Israel’s conduct but to its existence – that fuels hatred and dis-empowers those yearning for peace.
As Council members are aware, Israel intends to disengage from the Gaza Strip as part of Prime Minister Sharon’s disengagement initiative that has been welcomed by the Quartet – most recently in its September 22nd statement – and by the international community as a whole, as an important opportunity to restart the Road Map process. The disengagement plan promises greater stability and security for both Israelis and Palestinians, and a platform from which mutual implementation of the Road Map can proceed.
Against this background, the firing of Qassam rockets and the continuation of Palestinian terrorism constitute an attempt both to thwart the disengagement plan and to perpetuate terrorism and violence as a strategic tool. They represent yet another case in which the Palestinian leadership chooses terror and the suffering of its own people, over exhausting the avenues for peace. This Council should not allow that strategy to be rewarded by addressing the response to terrorism, instead of the terrorism itself. It must be rejected, not appeased.
These continued rocket attacks from Gaza constitute a grave violation of international humanitarian law not only because they target innocent Israeli civilians. Palestinian residents’ lives are also put at risk, and held hostage, by the continued and despicable tactic adopted by Palestinian terrorists by which innocent Palestinians are used as human shields and civilian areas are used as staging grounds for terrorist atrocities. Virtually all terrorist fire directed from Gaza against Israeli targets emanates from crowds or residential buildings, and hundreds of explosive charges and mines are planted within the civilian infrastructure.
In one recent grave incident, on 22 July 2004, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy, Hassan Jameel Al-Zaanin was killed in cold blood by Fatah Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade terrorists when he tried to stop them from launching a Qassam rocket attack near his family home. In yet another example of fabrication and misrepresentation by Palestinian spokesman, the death of Hassan Al-Zaanin was presented in a letter to the Secretary General as though he were killed by Israeli forces.
These kinds of blatantly false allegations should come now as no surprise. We have heard many of them today. They are part of a long pattern of Palestinian presentations which refer to murderers as "martyrs", armed terrorists as though they were innocent civilians and the innocent victims of Palestinian terrorism on both sides as though they were non-existent. It is part of a mantra constantly repeated before this Council – that is no more true for its repetition – that ignores both Palestinian responsibilities and Israeli rights and fails to recognize the excruciating difficulties faced by Israeli forces in trying to protect their citizens — and minimize harm to Palestinian civilians — when the terrorists they confront show as little concern for Palestinian lives as they do for Israeli ones. And yet, while this disingenuous and disrespectful presentation comes as no surprise, it should remind Council members of the importance of distinguishing just claims from merely noisy ones.
In the face of this complex and gruesome reality, Israel is compelled to act in accordance with its recognized right and duty of self-defense in an effort to halt the firing of these rockets and the murder of its citizens. The Israel Defense Forces is taking action against those responsible for launching Qassam missiles from amongst the Gaza civilian population. While the present operation is broader than its predecessors, it is relatively limited, with the aim of refraining from deeply penetrating densely populated areas. In this context, and faced with a brutal Palestinian strategy that seeks to maximize civilian casualties on both sides, Israeli forces are making every effort to avoid to avoid harming non-combatants or their property in accordance with their legal obligation. But there should be no doubt that the primary responsibility for tragic civilian casualties lies with those terrorists who have so heartlessly abused the protected status of Palestinian civilians and put them deliberately in harm’s way in direct violation of the most basic humanitarian norms.
There has also been disturbing information that Palestinian terrorists are once again attempting to cynically exploit not only civilian areas, but also United Nations’ vehicles, ambulances, facilities and personnel. This would hardly be the first time that Palestinian terrorists have abused the immunity of UN facilities and ambulances in order launch attacks, move weapons or transfer operatives, thereby endangering UN personnel and operations. This worrying pattern of activity is a matter of grave concern that threatens to seriously undermine the integrity of UN operations. It requires the utmost vigilance from all sides, including UN officials on the ground, to do all in their power to prevent such misuse and investigate any alleged misconduct.
In this regard, today’s reported admission by UNWRA Commissioner, Peter Hansen, to a Canadian television station that members of the Hamas terrorist organization are “on the UNRWA payroll”, and thus being funded by UN member States, is especially alarming. As Council members are aware, the Hamas organization is officially recognized by numerous States as a terrorist organization, without any artificial distinctions between its various wings. Its countless brutal acts of terrorism against innocent civilians, for which it has itself taken credit, have been condemned repeatedly by United Nations member states, by the Secretary General and in this very Council.
It should be recalled that by the admission of Hamas’s own leaders, members of the political wing are involved in planning, directing and providing the support infrastructure and financing for the acts of terror for which this organization is responsible. In recent statements, for example, Hamas’s so-called political wing has declared that “the political apparatus is sovereign over the military apparatus” and that “the political leadership has freed the hand of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam brigades to do whatever they want against the brothers of monkeys and pigs”. It is precisely this support infrastructure that the Road Map requires be dismantled, as the Quartet – of which the UN is member – reiterated just on September 22nd when it called for “the dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure”. The very idea that individuals with clear links to the Hamas network are “on the UNRWA payroll” is totally unacceptable and should be properly investigated. [One wonders how any other State would react if informed that members of an organization devoted to their destruction, were hired as part of a UN operation in their region.]
Mr. President, let me be clear, Israel reaffirms its support for the humanitarian work being carried out by UNWRA and other international organizations on the ground in very difficult conditions. Israel continues to facilitate, to the best of its ability, the carrying out of the mandate of these organizations, despite the obstacles faced as a result of the continuing terrorism and violence carried out by the Palestinian side.
In the lead up to this operation, preparations were made in order to respond effectively to the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian civilian populations, including the appointment of liaison officers and the opening of a special route to provide easy access to the vehicles of international humanitarian organizations. Palestinian liaison officials, representatives of the local Palestinian council and representatives of international organizations were notified as to the opening of this special humanitarian route. In addition, representatives of district coordination offices are stationed at the various points along the route in order to provide all necessary humanitarian assistance. Thus far, over 35 trips along the route have been coordinated, including convoys of medical supplies, maintenance crews, vehicles belonging to international organizations and local ambulances. At the same time, it is vitally important that humanitarian activities and cooperation are not compromised and abused by the illegal actions of Palestinian terrorist groups.
The cost of the Palestinian leadership’s morally bankrupt strategy of terrorism is paid in the lives of innocents, the stagnation in the peace process, and the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians. By entertaining initiatives that effectively reward that strategy, the Council would only embolden extremists and undermine the letter and spirit of the Road Map.
As Foreign Minister Shalom stated in the General Assembly Debate just a few days ago: “The Palestinians are not exempt from the imperatives of the global war on terror. On the contrary, it is in their clear interest to join it. To stand up against Hamas and Islamic Jihad is to stand up for Palestinian rights, not against them.”
Sadly, the current Palestinian leadership has shown that it is as incapable of being a partner in peace as it is of offering its people reform and democratic rule. They have preferred rhetoric at the UN, to responsibility at home. But this is not a path the Council should condone by entertaining additional one-sided resolutions. We would urge the Council to stand by the side of the Israeli and Palestinian people, and remind the Palestinian side, as the Quartet recently did, that the path to peace and security lies in the end of terrorism and in reform, it lies in taking responsibility and not in shifting blame, it lies in Ramallah and in Gaza, not in New York.
Thank you Mr. President