Gaza Children Living in ‘Hell on Earth’ Secretary-General Tells General Assembly, as Calls for End to Violence Crescendo, News of Israel-Hamas Ceasefire Breaks
‘We Hope It Will Last,’ Egypt’s Representative Says, Citing Diplomatic Foray by Cairo, Calling for Swift Activation of Middle East Quartet
May 20, 2021
With the Security Council unable to respond to the worst round of fighting between Israel and the Palestinians in years, and as welcome news of a ceasefire agreement broke, speakers in the General Assembly today demanded an immediate halt to the violence and intensified efforts to restart peace talks that advance a two‑State solution to a conflict nearly as old as the United Nations itself.
The day-long special debate was convened by the President of the General Assembly following a request from the representatives of Niger and Algeria, in their capacities as Chairs of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Arab Group, respectively, in response to more than 10 days of deadly fighting in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
“If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza,” António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said in opening remarks. With every passing day, the risk that the violence could spread beyond Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory grows, he cautioned, calling on Israel to exercise maximum restraint and urging Hamas to stop the indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars. Describing the Organization’s diplomatic efforts — alongside Egypt, Jordan and Qatar — to secure a ceasefire, he also called on Member States to support its humanitarian efforts in Gaza.
Volkan Bozkir (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, echoed global calls for an immediate ceasefire and for swift action by the Security Council. He acknowledged that Israel’s decades-long occupation of Palestinian lands, coupled with a political impasse, has led to widespread feelings of hopelessness among Palestinians. Civilians in Israel are also being impacted and he called on that Government to comply with the principle of proportionate use of force.
Riyad al-Malki, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Observer State of Palestine, condemned Israel’s decision to break into one of the holiest places during the holiest month of Ramadan, during the holiest of nights of Al-Qadr. Israel’s criminal occupation has caused so much pain that the situation cannot be solved by a ceasefire. “Jerusalem is not for sale,” he insisted, as he reaffirmed the holy city’s cultural, legal and historical status.
Palestinians will not accept a peace process that “leaves Palestinians out” or attempts to “gift” Jerusalem to the occupier, he said. Israel, with its settlement activities, is seeking to displace forcibly Palestinian families from East Jerusalem to erase any Arab Palestinian presence in the city. To those who say that Israel has the right to defend itself, he asked: “How can an occupying Power have the right to defend itself when the people under occupation are deprived of the same right?” Israel’s Government does not believe in a two-State solution, he informed, and Member States should not acknowledge the illegal status created by its policies.
Israel’s representative said that “this is a war between Israel and Hamas, not Israel and Palestine,” adding that Hamas is an internationally designated jihadi terrorist organization. Quoting from its charter, he said that that Hamas is committed to the genocide of the Jewish people. Speakers who fail to condemn Hamas and who cannot distinguish between its war crimes and Israel’s legitimate right to self-defence are emboldening terrorist organizations, he stressed.
Hamas rockets are indiscriminate by design and have killed Jewish and Muslim Israelis, whereas Israel’s air strikes are precise and surgical, he said. A false moral equivalent is being drawn between Israel, which abides by international law, and a murderous terrorist organization with an ideology similar to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). Israel wants a ceasefire, but only after reducing the power of Hamas’s terrorist regime.
During the marathon debate, speaker after speaker called for an immediate ceasefire and reiterated their countries’ support for a two-State solution, with Israel and Palestine living in security side by side and East Jerusalem serving as the Palestinian capital. Many emphasized the humanitarian cost of the conflict on both sides, with some describing Gaza as the world’s biggest open-air prison. Speakers also voiced frustration at the Security Council’s lack of action.
Egypt’s representative took the rostrum as news of a ceasefire deal reached the Assembly in mid-afternoon, calling it the fruit of intensive efforts by Cairo and others. “We hope it will last,” he said. Looking ahead, he called for the swift activation of the Middle East Quartet and an international peace conference, under United Nations auspices, aimed at renewing negotiations for a Palestinian State with pre-1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital.
The United States representative said that no country is working more urgently for peace in the Middle East than hers. Pointing to some 60 diplomatic meetings in recent days, including a telephone conversation between President Joseph R. Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, she said the Security Council has met four times in the last 10 days to discuss the situation. Israel now is now in a position to de-escalate hostilities, she said, reaffirming its right to protect itself and condemning Hamas’s rocket launches.
The Russian Federation’s delegate, emphasizing that events in the Middle East have a direct impact on his country’s security, said that there is no alternative to a political solution. “We have no further margin of error,” he said, adding that Moscow also favours activating the Quartet, starting with a ministerial meeting with regional participation that would seek to restore calm and build trust.
Iran’s representative said that, with the United States obstructing action by the Security Council, the Assembly — as the “collective conscience” of the international community, should condemn Israel’s military aggression and hold it accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The only path to peace, he said, lies in a referendum among all residents of Palestine — including Jews, Christians and Muslims — in which displaced Palestinians would also have a vote.
Ireland’s speaker, whose country is a non-permanent Security Council member, was among many who candidly laid bare their frustration that, despite four rounds of discussions, no pronouncement has been forthcoming from that organ. Ireland will keep working in the Council so that it might find a collective voice on this matter. “We cannot return to business as usual after this,” she said. On that front, Germany’s delegate pointed out that high-level German officials are facilitating discussions between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and that France presented a draft resolution to the Council on the need for a cessation of hostilities, protection of civilians and resumed negotiations.
Cuba’s delegate, meanwhile, blamed the Council’s failure on the repeated obstruction of the United States — “in complicit silence with Israel”. Turkey’s delegate suggested the establishment of an international protection force for Palestine.
Senegal’s delegate, in his capacity as Chair of the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said Israelis and Palestinians, “as well as the region at large”, could be on the brink of a more dangerous conflict, with unthinkable consequences. Commending Egypt’s efforts to negotiate a ceasefire, he said “this is just a first step to stop the suffering on both sides”. Echoing that point, Venezuela’s representative accused Israel of orchestrating ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people. He described the fresh round of fighting as “a new phase in the colonial war against Palestine”.
Japan’s speaker, casting a spotlight on the humanitarian impact, said civilian facilities must be protected and aid permitted to reach the 2 million people of Gaza, while the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Maldives likewise emphasized that the United Nations commitment to “every right, for every child” must include Palestinian children.
The Head of Delegation of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, condemned indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, and expressed support for Israel’s right to self-defence, which must be exercised in a proportionate manner. He reiterated the bloc’s strong opposition to Israel’s settlement policy, adding that, to achieve peace in the region, a political horizon must be created that can provide meaningful re-engagement between the parties, build confidence, improve living conditions and open the path towards relaunching the peace process. In that context, the holding of Palestinian elections, including in East Jerusalem, must be a priority, he emphasized.
Algeria’s representative, speaking for the Arab Group, said the Palestinian people’s only fault is their refusal to accept occupation. Impunity for the occupation must stop, he said, calling on the Secretary-General to declare a state of humanitarian emergency. “We have to start calling the occupation by its name,” he said, pointing to a chain of broken promises, from the Madrid Peace Conference and the Oslo Accords to dozens of Security Council resolutions and hundreds of Assembly texts.
Also speaking today were representatives of Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Kuwait, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden (on behalf of the Nordic Group), Comoros (on behalf of the African Group), Azerbaijan (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Mexico, Morocco, China, Niger, France, Lebanon, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Germany, Ecuador, Ireland, Sudan, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Malaysia, Guyana, Canada, New Zealand, Somalia, Mauritania, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Australia, Kenya, San Marino, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Nepal, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Chile, Libya, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, South Africa, Malta, Peru, Italy, Republic of Korea, Albania, Luxembourg, Viet Nam, India, United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Bolivia, Estonia, Czech Republic, Uruguay, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Guatemala, Liechtenstein, Slovakia and Brazil.
The Observer of the League of Arab States also spoke.
The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 24 May, to take action on a draft decision related to participation in its high-level meeting on HIV-AIDS, submitted by its President, and a draft resolution on peacekeeping put forward by its Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization). The Assembly will resume its debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine, at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 25 May.
VOLKAN BOZKIR (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, condemning the attacks against civilians and religious sites, called it heart‑breaking that the escalation of violence began at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Urging respect for all places of worship, including the Aqsa Mosque compound, he noted that the fatalities in Gaza include 63 children and 35 women. The situation in the occupied West Bank is also dire, he said, noting that civilians in Israel are likewise impacted, with fatalities and hundreds of injuries. Sending thoughts and prayers to the families of those who died, he echoed the call for a ceasefire. Israel, as an occupying Power, must ensure compliance with its international human rights law obligations, including proportionate use of force. Pointing out that the insecurity that Palestinians experience has been exacerbated by the pandemic, he called for immediate humanitarian relief. United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) facilities have become refuges for thousands of Palestinians, he said, requesting Member States to ensure that the Agency, whose work is critical for regional security, receives support.
The Palestine question, he continued, is the longest‑standing issue on the United Nations agenda and has been around as long as the Organization itself. This latest escalation did not happen in a vacuum and cannot be divorced from the decades-long crisis, and the protracted military occupation of Palestinian territories. Coupled with the political impasse and lack of negotiations, such a sustained occupation has led to widespread feelings of hopelessness among Palestinians. Noting that the Organization’s position has been documented in countless reports and resolutions, he said: “We have to show the Palestinians and Israelis that there is light at the end of the tunnel.” The institutional record of the United Nations clearly prescribes the way forward — swift return to negotiations, with the goal of ending the occupation, addressing all final status solutions and achieving two independent, sovereign, viable States living side by side in peace and security. Stressing the role of ongoing negotiation efforts, including by the Middle East Quartet, he called on the Security Council to overcome its paralysis and demonstrate to the Palestinians that their legitimate aspirations will be heard.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, United Nations Secretary-General, recalled the surge of deadly violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory over the past 10 days and reiterated his call for an immediate ceasefire on both sides. The hostilities have caused serious damage to vital civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including roads and electricity lines, contributing to a humanitarian emergency. “If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza.”
He said UNRWA is providing drinking water, sanitation and electricity generators for those sheltering in its schools, while the World Food Programme (WFP) has provided electronic vouchers to 74,000 people in Gaza. In addition, he is working on an allocation from the Central Emergency Response Fund, and the Humanitarian Coordinator intends to release $14 million from the Humanitarian Fund for the occupied Palestinian territories, he said. Israel has a duty to allow and facilitate rapid and unhindered access for humanitarian aid including food, fuel and medical supplies into Gaza.
“Even wars have rules,” he insisted. “First and foremost, civilians must be protected. Indiscriminate attacks, and attacks against civilians and civilian property, are violations of the laws of war.” He called on Israel to exercise maximum restraint in the conduct of military operations, likewise urging Hamas and other militant groups to stop the indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars from highly populated civilian neighbourhoods into civilian population centres in Israel.
Turning to the violent clashes between Israel’s security forces and Palestinians in the West Bank, he urged Israel to cease demolitions and evictions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. With every day that passes, the risk that the violence could spread beyond Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory increases. The conflict creates an environment that is ripe for exploitation by radicals and extremists. He said he and the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process are undertaking “extensive” diplomatic efforts with Egypt, Jordan and Qatar, and engaging directly with the parties to conflict — including Hamas — in efforts to secure an end to hostilities.
“We know far too well that violence begets violence,” he said. “The unconscionable death, suffering and destruction of the past 10 days only serve to push the prospect of sustained peace further into the future.” He called for resumed negotiations to address final status issues, as well as an end to the occupation, allowing for the realization of a two-State solution on the basis of the 1967 lines, United Nations resolutions, international law and mutual agreements, with Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and Palestine.
RIYAD Al-MALKI, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Observer State of Palestine, said that the current meeting is a clear message to Israel to end the massacre. Families are being targeted as they sleep, he said, and Israel is not even pretending it was a mistake. Instead of apologizing, Israel is asserting that it has a right to kill innocent people and then blame the victims. Noting the deaths of 230 Palestinians and the destruction of 1,500 residential apartments and 50 schools, he said Israel also displaced Palestinians during the pandemic, despite clear calls against such actions from the United Nations. To those who say that Israel has the right to defend itself, he raised the question: “What right? Israel asks, ‘What would you have done if missiles were targeting your cities?’, but Israel forgets that the occupation is the root cause,” he asserted. “How can an occupying Power have the right to defend itself when the people under occupation are deprived of the same right?”, he asked.
The Palestinian people are facing many disasters and nakbas, he said, adding that they have never let go of their struggle. Israel is attempting to displace forcibly Palestinian families from East Jerusalem in order to erase any Arab Palestinian presence in the city, with the compliance of the military and settlers. Pointing to the obliteration of the Islamic and Christian identities of Jerusalem, he condemned Israel’s decision to break into one of the holiest places during the holiest month of Ramadan, during the holiest of nights of Al-Qadr. To those who were willing to make a peace that “left Palestinians out”, and were ready to make a gift of Jerusalem to the occupier, he said Palestinians responded that Jerusalem is not for sale. Reaffirming the cultural, legal and historical status of the holy sites, he said that Palestine has long accepted political and peaceful strategies to end the occupation.
However, he added, the occupying Power has procrastinated since the Oslo Accords of the 1990s and Israel’s current Government does not believe in the two‑State solution. Dealing with Israel as if it is above the law only encourages it to act as such, he warned, urging Member States not to acknowledge the illegal status created by its policies. Every country in the world has a responsibility to hold Israel accountable, he said, calling on the international community to not just “watch and idle”. Some accuse the United Nations of siding with the Palestinians when, in reality, it is siding with its own Charter and human rights. Condemning the former United States Administration’s “shameful deal that pretended that Palestine is not a relevant question anymore”, he said the international solidarity for Palestinians demonstrates otherwise. Israel’s criminal occupation has caused so much pain that the situation cannot be solved by a ceasefire, he said, recalling the stories of children in Gaza and West Bank, from Suzie who went to sleep with her family and woke up in the rubble, to Muhammad who now lives in a prison cell.
MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN BIN JASSIM AL THANI (Qatar) called on the international community bring an end to Israel’s aggression against Palestinian civilians and protect the holy sites of Jerusalem. Despite the condemnation of the international community in response to attempts by the Israelis to evict Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, those activities have continued. In addition, the numerous attacks on the Aqsa Mosque compound, with no respect for the Ramadan holiday, is a provocation towards millions of Muslims throughout the world.
He said the use of disproportionate force and attacks against civilian populations, including in refugee camps, must stop immediately. In Gaza, residential neighbourhoods continue to be targeted. When will the international community act to protect international law?, he asked, calling on Member States to ensure that the sanctity of holy sites is respected. Inaction is undermining the authority of the United Nations and its ability to maintain international peace and security, he warned.
AYMAN SAFADI (Jordan) said the conflict over the last 11 days has displaced 75,000 people in Gaza, most of whom took shelter in schools run by UNRWA, an agency that requires additional support. Israel’s practices push the region towards conflict, he cautioned, stressing that the occupation has turned the Aqsa Mosque compound into a centre for injustice, provoking millions of Muslims around the world. Furthermore, Israel attempts to alter the demographic character of East Jerusalem with evictions, where Palestinians have a clear right to live in their homes and the occupation has no authority. Jordan will continue to dedicate all its resources to protect the status and Hashemite custodianship of the holy sites in Jerusalem.
If left unchecked, he said Israel’s aggression will lead to more serious escalations. There are now more than 700,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, a sharp and unprecedented increase over the past several years and one that undermines the two-State solution. There will be no peace and security in a one-State apartheid regime, he insisted. Instead, one escalation will follow another in a deadly cycle of violence. Immediate action to address the root causes of the conflict is a both a strategic choice and regional necessity, he asserted.
SABRI BOUKADOUM (Algeria), speaking for the Arab Group, recalled the graphic images of killing and destruction, and said that the Palestinian people’s only fault is their refusal to accept occupation. Is it possible to stay silent after counting the victims and witnessing the destruction?, he asked, cautioning against equating the oppressed with the oppressor. Pointing to irrefutable evidence of houses being destroyed while innocent civilians were sleeping, he said that the impunity given to the occupying force must stop. The Arab Group believes that the Assembly must act quickly to reach a comprehensive cessation of violence against Palestinians and protect them and their holy sites. The gravity of the situation requires collective efforts, he said, pointing to the catastrophic humanitarian situation across the occupied territories.
Calling for accountability for the crimes against civilians, he requested the Secretary-General to declare a state of humanitarian emergency to allow the international community to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians and reconstruct Gaza. “We have to start calling the occupation by its name,” he said, adding that the Palestinian question cannot be solved without ending that occupation, and allowing Palestinians to practise their right to self‑determination. Though Al-Quds Al-Sharif remains occupied, he said, Jerusalem will forever be the capital of Palestine. Reaffirming the historic and legal status of Jerusalem and its holy sites, he noted the many promises to Palestinians that were not kept, from the Madrid Peace Conference and the Oslo Accords to hundreds of Assembly resolutions and dozens of Council resolutions.
MEVLÜT ÇAVUŞOĞLU, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey, said that the world must not remain silent in the face of unspeakable brutalities and oppression against Palestinian people, because such a silence is equal to complicity. Calling for a diagnosis of the root causes of the conflict, he pointed to the continuing Israeli provocations in Jerusalem, the desecration of the Aqsa Mosque compound and the forced evictions of the Palestinian people. All these acts of aggression took place during the holy month of Ramadan, he noted, adding that, not only high rises, but schools and hospitals were targeted. Not even the UNRWA buildings were spared, he said, noting the deaths of the Agency’s doctors. A land of 365 square kilometres with more than 2 million people is a prison, he said. Noting the disturbing lack of action from the Security Council, he said: “The world is bigger than five.” Recalling that the Assembly has adopted landmark resolutions in the face of the Council’s paralysis, he pointed to the need for establishment of an international protection force for Palestine with military and financial contributions from the international community. Calling for a revival of a two-State solution, he said that the status of Jerusalem is an important component of any lasting resolution.
MAKHDOOM SHAH MAHMOOD HUSSAIN QURESHI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, said Israel, emboldened by impunity, has launched attacks on Palestinian civilians with air strikes responsible for taking the lives of an entire family. With limited access to basic services, water and fuel for its power plants, “Gaza has plunged into darkness, literally and metaphorically”. In full view of the world, Israel’s strikes bring down entire apartment buildings. It is appalling that the Security Council has failed to exercise its primary responsibility. There is no moral or military equivalence between the beleaguered Palestinian people and the powerful Israeli military machine. Instead, it is a war between a military occupier and an occupied people. He called on the Assembly to mobilize all humanitarian help for the devastated population in Gaza and the other occupied Palestinian territories, stressing that Israel must open all access points to Gaza to ensure the delivery of aid. He went on to call for the deployment of an international protection force to the region. Short of that effort, a coalition of the willing can be built to observe and supervise the delivery of aid to the Palestinians. Cautioning against impunity for any violation of international law, he said the Human Rights Council, International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice should be activated to ensure accountability for Israel’s war crimes. The onus for restoring peace rests on Israel, he underscored. It is only through decisive action that the United Nations can restore its credibility as a keeper of international peace and security.
RETNO LESTARI PRIANSARI MARSUDI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, said the conflict in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is asymmetric by nature, with the issue of occupation at its core. The international community owes Palestinians a long‑overdue territory where they can live peacefully; it must be able to prevent the reoccurrence of atrocities. In that context, the Assembly should call for an international presence in Al-Quds to maintain peace and protect the holy sites there. In addition, the international community must step up efforts to provide aid to the Palestinian people and urge Israel to allow access to Gaza for its delivery.
SHEIKH AHMAD NASSER ALMOHAMMED AL-SABAH, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs of Kuwait, praising Palestinians for their tenacity in defending their rights, said the United Nations was established to spare future generations the scourge of war. The acts of hate perpetrated by Israel and Israeli settlers against innocent Palestinian civilians, within sight of the international community, are a blatant affront to the Charter of the United Nations. Condemning the seizure of Palestinian homes and properties, especially in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, he said the Palestinian cause is a key issue for all Arabs and Muslims. East Jerusalem has been and is an integral part of Palestine, he stressed, noting the special importance of the Aqsa Mosque compound. If the international community wishes to resolve the current surge of violence, it must also acknowledge that it is the consequence of the longest military occupation in the contemporary world. Drawing attention to the 86 Council resolutions concerning this issue, he stressed that it is time to activate international political and legal mechanisms to hold the occupying Power accountable.
ABDULLA SHAHID, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Maldives, noting that, while the Assembly has been discussing the question of Palestine and passing resolutions for seven decades, Palestinians are now waking up to the sound of bombs. Innocent people, including children, are dying, and buildings are crumbling under rocket fire, even during the holy month of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, usually, a time for celebration, family and kindness. While the COVID-19 pandemic may have normalized the term “isolation” globally, for almost 15 years, over 2 million people in Gaza have been forcibly isolated from the rest of the world. At just 41 kilometres long and 12 kilometres wide, it remains the world’s largest open-air prison. There is no safe place in Gaza, he said, adding that the United Nations commitment to “every right, for every child” must also include Palestinian children. Also stressing that Palestinian people depend on UNRWA’s support, for shelter, food, education and health care, he called for unhindered humanitarian access to the people of Gaza. The internationally accepted two-State solution is the only viable and long-term solution to find lasting peace in the region, he said, joining the global call for an immediate ceasefire.
OTHMAN JERANDI, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Tunisians Abroad of Tunisia, said that Israel’s refusal to de-escalate violence is not surprising given its lack of accountability for decades of ethnic cleansing and genocide. How many more martyrs will have to fall, how many more children have to be orphaned and how many families have to be homeless before the international community takes steps to end this unprecedented crisis?, he asked. No crime could be worse that killing innocent children, he said, noting the 65 children who died in the recent violence. The continuation of occupation and settlement is aimed at changing the composition of Palestinian towns, he said, adding that Israel will continue to act above the law unless held accountable. Since the beginning of this unjust occupation, Tunisia has supported Palestine and will spare no effort during its membership in the Council as well as through regional diplomatic efforts to put more pressure on the occupying force. One doesn’t need to be Arab or Palestinian or Muslim to understand the justness of this cause, he stressed.
FAISAL BIN FARHAN AL SAUD, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, said Israel’s recent aggression is a clear violation of international law and undermines the chance for two-State solution. At a recent meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Executive Committee, members condemned the occupation of the Palestinian territories and establishment of an apartheid regime there, he said. Israel’s expansionist policies in Palestinian territories only perpetuate a cycle of violence and further ignite the conflict. He called for an end to Israel’s military actions, as well as unhindered access to Palestinian territories to allow for the delivery of aid.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said no country is working more urgently or forcefully towards peace in the region than the United States, reporting that there have been 60 diplomatic meetings at the highest levels to discuss the recent escalation of violence, including a phone conversation between President Joseph R. Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While the United States stands by Israel’s right to protect itself, it is now in a position to de‑escalate hostilities, she said. The Security Council has met 4 times in the last 10 days to deliberate over the situation. Condemning rocket attacks by Hamas, she said the United States will champion every diplomatic effort towards peace. She urged the international community to step up contributions to meet the immense needs of Gazans, and more broadly ensure that aid delivery serves the Palestinian people, rather than Hamas.
BJÖRN OLOF SKOOG, Head of Delegation of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, condemning the indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups on Israeli territory, expressed support for Israel’s right to self-defence, but warned that it must be carried out in a proportionate manner. He went on to reiterate the bloc’s strong opposition to Israel’s settlement policy and said it will be important not to proceed with the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah. To achieve peace in the region, a political horizon must be created that can provide meaningful re-engagement between the parties, develop confidence-building measures, improve living conditions for ordinary people and open the path towards the potential relaunch of the peace process. In that context, the holding of Palestinian elections, including in East Jerusalem, must be considered a priority, he stressed.
ANNA KARIN ENESTRÖM (Sweden), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, said that a ceasefire must be reached without any delay. She strongly condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas or any other group in the Gaza Strip and recognized Israel’s legitimate right to protect itself and its citizens. However, the response must be in line with international law, with obligations under international humanitarian law strictly observed. Noting the large number of children who had died, she said that all minors must be protected from violence and harm, including psychosocial stress arising from the conflict.
She commended the pivotal humanitarian role that UNRWA is playing and urged donors to support that agency, as well as other humanitarian actors. Looking beyond the urgent need to achieve a ceasefire, she said that the international community must address the root causes of the conflict and facilitate steps towards realizing the two-State solution and ending the occupation. “We must draw lessons from the current events,” she said, adding that, while the destination is well-known, “the road itself needs to, once again, be paved”.
ISSIMAIL CHANFI (Comoros), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that the clashes in the occupied Jerusalem, including in the Aqsa Mosque compound, have caused the displacement of thousands of Palestinians, many of whom are seeking refuge with UNRWA. This crowding of people in shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the insecurity and danger that they face. Calling on Israel to uphold its many obligations, he said that, while the international community must intensify its efforts to find a just and lasting solution to the conflict, it must start with urgent action. African support to the Palestinian cause is premised on the values of humanitarian principles and freedom. Palestine must be able to exist as a viable State, he stressed, adding that the Assembly, Security Council, Middle East Quartet and the Secretary-General must recommit to finding a peaceful solution, which ensures a sovereign Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital
YASHAR T. ALIYEV (Azerbaijan), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, condemned all acts of aggression by Israel against Palestinians, including the clashes in the Aqsa Mosque compound. Attacks have also caused destruction of homes and infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, causing displacement during a pandemic. Calling for urgent protection for the Palestinian civilian population, he reaffirmed the Movement’s solidarity for the Palestinian struggle for their inalienable rights. Recalling relevant decisions and declarations of the Movement, he said that an immediate halt to the military aggression and settlements is crucial. Pointing to the massive collective punishment inflicted on Palestinians in Gaza, he also condemned all Israeli actions and policies that aim at altering the demographic character and legal status of East Jerusalem. Such actions constitute grave breaches of international law, he said, adding that Israel must respect the right of Muslims to worship in peace at the Aqsa Mosque compound.
Calling on the Council to uphold its responsibilities, he noted that Israel continues to not comply with Council resolutions. Respect for the Charter and the Organization’s resolutions is a cornerstone for global and regional peace. The international community must translate its long‑standing principles into urgent action, he stressed, also pointing to the need to provide humanitarian support to the Palestinians by funding UNRWA fully. The Agency’s financial needs are further exacerbated by the current attacks, he said, underscoring that emergency food, medicine and shelter needs must be met immediately. Reiterating the call for an immediate end to the current aggression, as well as the 54-year military occupation, he expressed the Movement’s continued support for the Palestinian people, including their right to return and self-determination.
GILAD ERDAN (Israel), stressing that Hamas is an internationally designated jihadi terrorist organization, quoted passages from its charter, contrasting its stated aims with those of the United Nations. In the current Assembly debate, there is no defence of the United Nations goals, but, rather, a defence of Hamas’s charter, which is committed to the genocide of the Jewish people. There is a false moral equivalent being drawn between Israel, which abides by international law, and a murderous terrorist organization with an ideology similar to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). Today’s debate should be about differentiating between those who are on the side of moderation and dialogue, and those who are on the side of extremism and hate. Every speaker who fails to condemn Hamas, who does not distinguish between its war crimes and Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself is emboldening terrorist organizations all over the world to use human shields and undermine peace and security.
While the United Nations usually works slowly, he pointed out that it took the General Assembly just 11 days to call a meeting to condemn Israel’s right to defend itself. “What a disgrace,” he said. “Hamas targets civilians; Israel targets terrorists.” Hamas rockets are indiscriminate by design and have killed Jewish and Muslim Israelis, as well as citizens from India and Thailand and numerous Gazan children. In fact, out of every 100 rockets fired by Hamas at Israel, 25 fall within Gaza, spreading death and destruction on its own people, he said. By contrast, Israel’s strikes are precise and surgical, going “above and beyond international law” to protect civilians, with warning phone calls and text messages sent to Palestinians before strikes.
As for the charge of disproportionate Israeli force, he wondered if the Assembly would have held meetings during the Second World War to condemn coalition force attacks against Germany. “This is a war between Israel and Hamas, not Israel and Palestine,” he stressed. Furthermore, the unprovoked Hamas assault had nothing to do with Sheikh Jarrah or the Aqsa Mosque compound conflicts, but was instead a result of Hamas frustration over President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to cancel elections in the West Bank. Israel wants a ceasefire, but only after reducing the power of Hamas’s terrorist regime, he said, adding that his country continues to work towards peace as evidenced this year when it signed agreements with four Arab nations. If the United Nations fails to condemn Hamas, it makes the likelihood of its spread across the West Bank much more likely, and with it the opportunity for dialogue and peace farther out of reach.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMIREZ (Mexico) noting the increasing number of civilians affected in Israel, as well as in Gaza, said that it is particularly tragic that fatalities included minors. While this spiral of violence is increasing day by day, the Council remains unable to take action, he pointed out, calling on it to rise to the occasion and uphold its responsibility as the principal guarantor of international peace and security. Voicing support for the efforts of the Special Coordinator and the Quartet, he said that, nevertheless, it is the Council that must take a position immediately. Expressing alarm about the intercommunity violence, he underscored that nothing justifies the violent interruption of religious worship. Jerusalem must maintain its special status and must be a place of harmonious coexistence, he said, condemning any measure to change the nature and demographic composition of East Jerusalem. Condemning the attacks launched by Hamas against Israel, he said that a lasting solution must make it possible to build a Palestinian State while also addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns.
OMAR KADIRI (Morocco), noting that the Israel-Palestine conflict has now become a direct threat to regional peace and security, said this is the inevitable result of an untenable situation, exacerbated by repeated provocations and hate speech against the Palestinian people. Condemning actions aimed at terrorizing the faithful in holy places and attempts to evict the inhabitants of Al Jarrah, he stressed the need to preserve the holy city, which is part of global heritage and a symbol of religious harmony. Calling on the Quartet and the Council to redouble diplomatic efforts and revitalize efforts to find a peaceful solution, he also spotlighted the importance of providing humanitarian assistance to Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. His country has sent food and medicine, he said, adding that this is part of Morocco’s sustained support for the Palestinian people. Reaffirming the centrality of the Palestinian question, he said that resolving this conflict is a strategic choice for peace in the region.
ZHANG JUN (China) said the Security Council held four meetings on the situation in the Middle East and proposed a draft statement to urge all parties to cease hostilities. Most Council members supported the call for a ceasefire, he said, emphasizing the importance of the international community speaking with one voice to find a just solution to the conflict. Israel, in particular, should exercise restraint, he said, emphasizing that no “so-called precise strike” can avoid civilian causalities. There is a need to earnestly implement United Nations resolutions and protect the rights of the Palestinian people. Israeli settlements are in violation of international law and are at the core of the Palestine question. The confounding effects of conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of aid has produced a dire situation on the ground in Gaza, he cautioned. As such, Israel should lift the blockade on Gaza and facilitate the supply of aid to the territory.
ABDOU ABARRY (Niger) said that, after four meetings, the Security Council has not been able to condemn the violence in Gaza and Occupied Palestinian Territory. The violence is a direct consequence of Israel’s settlement‑building policy over the last 54 years. No one would question Israel’s right to defend itself if its own territory was occupied, he emphasized. Both the military bombardments of Palestinian civilians and Hamas rocket launches against Israel must end, and he welcomed the intense diplomatic efforts of the United Nations in that regard. However, a true solution will only be found when Israel brings to an end its expansionist activities and a viable State for Palestinians is established. The destruction of buildings, housing, basic services, schools and hospitals in Gaza also hinder efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, he stressed, calling for increased support for UNRWA.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France), condemning the firing of rockets by Hamas, reaffirmed her country’s support for Israel’s security. Stressing the need to protect civilians, especially children, she also noted that it is vital to ensure safety for the staff and infrastructure of humanitarian agencies, as well as journalists. The current escalation must be placed in context, she said, adding that the cycles of violence will continue if there’s no movement towards the establishment of two States living in peace and security, each of them with Jerusalem as the capital. The international community must be totally committed to peace in the Middle East, she said, warning that the Palestinians and Israelis will pay the price each time the violence recurs.
Also expressing concern about the evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, she said that settlements are illegal and reaffirmed the special status of holy sites, and the role of Jordan in that regard. The Council must assume its responsibility under the Charter, she stressed, noting its primary role when it comes to maintenance of international security. Highlighting President Emmanuel Macron’s initiative with other world leaders to attain a solution, she noted that France is presenting a draft resolution in the Security Council. That text emphasizes the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities, protection of civilians and urgent resumption of negotiations, while also condemning the indiscriminate rocket attacks. The French initiative is complementary to other peace efforts, she said, urging the Council to act responsibly.
AMAL MUDALLALI (Lebanon) said that all seven of Israel’s military operations against Gaza since 2006 “started the same and ended with the same pain and suffering”. They turned Gaza into a large prison of 2 million people, with thousands of dead and wounded. Like previous operations, the current one will end in a ceasefire, but it will not end the conflict. Palestinian anger does not “come out of thin air”; rather, it is the result of decades of occupation, humiliation, dispossession, annexation and settlement activities aimed at liquidating Palestinian rights and land, with the attack on the Aqsa Mosque compound being another turning point. She emphasized that the postponement of Palestinian elections had more to do with Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians in Jerusalem to vote, than for any other reason. “The Palestinians and the world are demanding change.” She called on the Security Council to shoulder its responsibility under the United Nations Charter and end the war, and for the United Nations and the international community to renew their support and commitment to a settlement that guarantees the political rights of Palestinians and a solution based on international law, Council resolutions, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and the principle of land for peace. She went on to warn that extremism and radicalization are on the rise in Israel and that its Government bears a responsibility to protect Palestinians under the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), calling for an immediate ceasefire, voiced support for the ongoing mediation efforts spearheaded by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations. Unequivocally condemning the firing of rockets at civilian populations by Hamas, she said Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself. In doing so, Israel must make every effort to avoid civilian casualties and adhere to the principles of necessity and proportionality. Noting the alarming destruction of medical infrastructure and schools, she said the United Kingdom is donating £3.2 million to UNRWA’s emergency flash appeal to ensure that the Agency can provide life-saving support to those most in need. The historic status quo in Jerusalem must be maintained, she added, stressing Jordan’s role as the custodian of the holy sites. The current events demonstrate the urgent need for progress towards a two-State solution, she said, adding that her country will continue pushing for an end to the violence and a political pathway to peace.
Mr. ZAKI, observer for the League of Arab States, said Israel continues to present itself as the aggressed instead of the aggressor to justify its violence, describing forced evictions in Palestinian territories as a new form of ethnic cleansing. The current unrest was sparked in occupied East Jerusalem with a series of racist and deliberate measures on the part of the occupying forces, seizing the property of the indigenous people and replacing them with settlers, he said. Palestinians live under constant threat of expulsion and do not have the right to practise their religion or move freely. The recent violence represents a dangerous tipping point, marked by the increasing power of Israel’s extreme right, he stressed.
SAMUEL MONCADA (Venezuela), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, condemned the indiscriminate bombings by Israel against civilians in Palestinian territories. “We are witnessing a new phase in the colonial war against Palestine,” he said, adding that Israel continues to orchestrate ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people. He accused Israel of constantly disregarding United Nations resolutions as it continues to expropriate lands and expand illegal settlements, and warned that fuel, food and water shortages are being exacerbated by bombardments. Further, indiscriminate attacks against civilians are hindering COVID-19 recovery efforts. Still, the United States has paralysed efforts at the Security Council to cease hostilities, thus providing a framework that encourages the crimes of the Israeli Government.
GUENTER SAUTTER (Germany), associating himself with the European Union, warned that the recent escalation of violence has resulted in high levels of civilian casualties and condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel. “Our first priority must be the immediate cessation of all violence and the implementation of a ceasefire,” he declared, noting that high-level German officials are currently facilitating discussions between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He stressed the need to protect civilian infrastructure and that any military operation must respect the principle of proportionality. Germany remains highly concerned over the eviction of Palestinian families in Jerusalem, he said, urging Israel to end settlement‑expansion. All stakeholders must work to address the root causes of conflict to avoid future escalation, he noted.
CRISTIAN ESPINOSA CAÑIZARES (Ecuador), underscoring his country’s concern about the escalation of violence, called on the parties to avoid aggravating the conflict. He condemned attacks on civilians in Israel and Palestine, called on the two sides to immediately agree a ceasefire, and urged all parties to step up efforts to launch credible negotiations while also intensifying regional and international diplomatic efforts for a broad, lasting and just Middle East peace. He went on to call on the Security Council to adopt an urgent decision that would include an appeal for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), associating herself with the European Union and noting that her country is a non-permanent Council member, expressed regret that, despite four rounds of discussions, no pronouncement has been forthcoming from that organ. The Council is failing to live up to its responsibilities in the face of a grave situation. “Let’s be clear — this is an unconscionable human tragedy,” she said, pointing to the appalling number of civilian casualties, including scores of children. Calling for an immediate ceasefire, she added that Israel, as the occupying Power, is duty-bound to ensure safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip, whose 2 million inhabitants have nowhere else to go. For their part, Palestinian armed groups must allow the United Nations and humanitarian partners to bring in fuel, food and other supplies. Going forward, Ireland will continue to work in the Council so that it might find a collective voice on this matter. However, “we cannot return to business as usual after this — that is not an option”. The international community must reinvigorate efforts to being political engagement that will get the parties back to the negotiating table, she said.
MOHAMED IBRAHIM MOHAMED ELBAHI (Sudan) said the current violence in the Middle East stems from the provocation of Jerusalem residents worshiping at the Aqsa Mosque compound and the eviction of Palestinian residents from East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. The clashes quickly turned into a full-scale military offensive by Israel, he said, adding that such acts of aggression undermine the chances for peace in the region. He went on to call for the resumption of negotiations towards establishing a Palestinian State and an immediate cessation of violence, demolition and seizure of Palestinian homes.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), calling for an immediate ceasefire and a return to direct negotiations, said that peace in the Middle East will remain elusive and illusory unless the fundamental rights of the Palestinians are fully recognized and upheld. “Their pain and suffering, endured on a protracted quest for peace and freedom, remains an unfortunate stain on the international community and one that this august body must ignore no more.” The international community must revisit the question of Palestine’s full membership to the United Nations, she said, adding that recognition of the State of Palestine’s legitimate sovereignty and statehood forms an essential component of the two-State solution. She went on to say that Israel’s unquestionable right to exist in peace and to defend itself does not give it unfettered license to suppress the rights of the Palestinian people. “We must be mindful that apartheid is a crime against humanity, and we condemn all forms of discrimination that divide people based on race, class, religious belief or any other social construct,” she said.
SYED MOHAMAD HASRIN AIDID (Malaysia), associating himself with the non-Aligned Movement and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, said the excessive use of force in occupied Palestinian lands is inhumane and unacceptable. “The cycle of violence and bloodshed must end,” he declared, expressing regret over the absence of a unified voice in the Security Council about the plight of Palestinians. “The Council must respond swiftly to Israeli aggressions,” he stressed, urging the international community to pursue diplomatic channels to pressure Israel to cease hostilities. Citing Malaysia’s recent condemnation of hostilities, he reaffirmed support for a two-State solution and called for the deployment of United Nations‑mandated forces to improve the safety and well‑being of Palestinian civilians.
CAROLYN RODRIGUES-BRIKETT (Guyana) implored all parties to the conflict to behave responsibly, declaring: “We condemn all acts of violence and find repugnant the invasion of the Aqsa Mosque compound and attacks on medical facilities and media houses.” Recent events underscore the need to end Israel’s occupation that dates to 1967, as prolonged occupation of Palestinian lands has led to extremely challenging economic and social conditions. “Guyana stresses that constructive dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities is pivotal to advancing the peace process and to the realization of the two-State solution as the legitimate end to the conflict,” she noted, urging all concerned parties to do their utmost to secure a reconciliation between the Israeli and Palestinian sides.
ROBERT KEITH RAE (Canada) said that no issue since 1945 has preoccupied the Assembly more than the Israeli and Palestinian question. Canada has played an active role since the outset, supporting the principle of two States for two peoples. News that peace may be emerging is good news, but it can only be a start. All sides must demonstrate the utmost restraint, adding that Canada strongly supports efforts by the United Nations and others to negotiate a sustainable ceasefire and restore calm. Canada stands clearly with both the Israeli and Palestinian people and their right to live peace, security and dignity, without fear and with their human rights fully respected. Voicing concern at the humanitarian situation, he said violence against journalists is completely unacceptable. Turning to settlement expansion, he said that “they do not serve peace, to put it mildly, and they are a violation of international law”.
JUSTIN PETER FEPULEAI (New Zealand) said that, as the conflict rages, prospects for genuine peace are worse than at any time in recent memory. “This is not a time for political posturing, it is a time for urgent de-escalation,” he said, adding that prospects for the two-State solution look distant if both sides are unwilling to call a ceasefire. He urged the international community to take urgent action to preserve the two-State solution and advance the peace process, adding that, without progress in that regard, the violence that the world is witnessing now will simply reoccur later down the track.
ABUKAR DAHIR OSMAN (Somalia) said the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory shows the disproportionate and unlawful force used by the Israeli security forces. Citing more than 700 unrealized United Nations resolutions, he called for the recognition of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. In an environment affected by COVID-19 and compounded with the illegal blockade of Gaza, he expressed deep concern over the hinderance of aid to Gaza and lack of sufficient funding for UNRWA. The Palestine cause is not just a question, but a symbol of the collective will of humanity, he said.
SIDI MOHAMED LAGHDAF (Mauritania), citing violence and the death of hundreds of Palestinian civilians over the recent days, said the occupying Israeli Power cannot simply ignore resolutions from the international community. The resolution to the conflict in the Middle East will not be achieved through Israel’s violent tactics which do not present a sustainable viable solution for the region. Instead, they put the region in danger of a deepening cycle of violence and counter violence, he warned, calling on the international community to demand an end to Israeli aggression.
JAMAL FARES ALROWAIEI (Bahrain) called on the international community to uphold its humanitarian responsibility to ensure all States respect relevant United Nations resolutions on the situation in the Middle East. Rejecting attempts by Israeli settlers to evict Palestinian families from their homes, he warned that escalating tensions undermine regional security. Moreover, Israel must not change the legal or historic status of holy sites, he noted. “Bahrain expresses its flat rejection of the continued cycle of violence,” he declared, noting that innocent civilians bear the brunt of the violence. Calling for a comprehensive ceasefire, he voiced support for the Egyptian initiative to achieve a truce between parties to the conflict with the goal to achieve a cessation of hostilities. “Peace cannot be achieved without recognizing the right of Palestinians to establish an independent State,” he stressed.
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