Thank you for the opportunity to brief the Security Council on the current situation in the Middle East which unfortunately remains extremely concerning.
Today we witnessed yet another example of the escalating violence when a large group of Palestinians set fire to the compound containing the holy site of Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus. Fortunately there were no reported injuries but the site sustained major damage.
As with the many deadly incidents over these past weeks, the Secretary- General strongly condemns this reprehensible act and calls on those responsible to be swiftly brought to justice. The United Nations welcomes President Abbas’ condemnation of the arson attack and his announcement that a committee has been established to conduct a full investigation into the crime.
This incident represents a particularly troubling development in light of its religious dimension. We call on all sides to respect the sanctity of all holy sites and reject the extremist elements that are pursuing a political agenda seeking to transform the current situation from a national to a religious struggle. If they are successful in their efforts it could have catastrophic consequence for Palestinians and Israelis alike, with serious reverberations in the region
This latest incident comes on the heels of a deadly week in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. There were 11 reported attacks against Israelis and Israeli security forces leaving four Israelis and nine Palestinians dead and 16 Israelis and four Palestinians wounded. There were also three reported stabbing and ramming attacks on Israelis in Israel, leaving 10 Israelis injured and three Palestinian suspects wounded.
In Gaza, a seventh Palestinian succumbed to his wounds on 10 October after clashing with the IDF near the security barrier the previous day. On 11 October, a Palestinian woman and her 4-year-old child in Gaza died after Israeli airstrikes on Hamas sites caused a building to collapse. The airstrikes were in response to rocket fire on southern Israel the day before, on 10 October.
Palestinian militants fired at least eight rockets toward Israel during the past week alone, with most falling short and landing within Gaza territory, and one being intercepted by Iron Dome. Another rocket was test fired at the sea, to which the IDF responded with warning shots, injuring one Palestinian.
As of yesterday, a total of seven Israelis and 32 Palestinians (including those that conducted or allegedly conducted/attempted attacks) were killed, some 124 Israelis (including ISF personnel) and more than 1,118 Palestinians were reportedly injured since October 1st.
Since these latest attacks, Israel’s security cabinet has passed a broad range of new security measures which are already being implemented. The Israeli Defense Forces have significantly bolstered their presence in Israeli city centers, while many Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem have been surrounded by security forces with access roads blocked and checkpoints established.
Following the deterioration that began on 1 October, the Israeli authorities have also reinstated a number of movement restrictions in the West Bank, in particular, re-staffing 16 checkpoints that had been previously left unstaffed. Ad-hoc checkpoints have been erected at over 100 West Bank sites for varying periods of time.
Additional measures are being introduced with the goal of deterring would-be terrorists from carrying out attacks. Homes of those accused of carrying out terror attacks will be demolished within days of any attack and their families, if residents of East Jerusalem and not Israeli citizens, will have their permanent residency status revoked. Already this month, two structures were blown up and a third partially sealed, however, these were related to attacks that took place in 2014. A total of 30 Palestinians, including 20 children, were displaced as a result of the demolitions.
The United Nations has maintained a consistent position on these issues. Collective punishments, including house demolitions, are counter-productive and contravene international law. We urge Israel to immediately cease this damaging practice.
What is clear is that the current crisis cannot be resolved through security measures alone. The persistence of the occupation and the diminishing prospects of achieving Palestinian aspirations for statehood have transformed long-simmering Palestinian anger into outright rage. This stark reality has been compounded by the increasingly dire economic circumstances, including the bleak prospects for youth employment. The continued and expanding settlement activities further diminish the hope and the potential for creating a viable Palestinian state. Such loss of political perspective is the single most damaging factor which contributes to the anger and frustration driving the violence we are seeing today.
Against this backdrop, there have been a number of factors that sparked the current crisis:
Tensions at the holy sites in Jerusalem were the main instigator. Reckless statements by Palestinian and Israeli extremist elements, reinforced by some mainstream voices as well, have instigated that Israel is aiming to change the status quo at the holy sites. This fear has reverberated widely across the Muslim world.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated assurances that Israel has no intention of changing the historic status quo at the holy sites are welcome. But perceptions will only change when concrete actions, based on the agreements between Israel and Jordan, follow the words.
A second factor feeding the escalation has been the apparent heavy-handed approach by Israeli security services. Wide dissemination of video footage of several incidents fueled more attacks and has raised serious questions as to the appropriate level of force used by the IDF and police. The Secretary-General has called for a thorough investigation of all such cases. It is clear that such incidents serve only to exacerbate the situation, leading to a vicious cycle of needless bloodshed. We appreciate Israeli efforts to reduce the lethality of response, particularly, in Gaza after the indefensible killings of protesters behind the separation fence and we encourage greater restraint whenever there is no imminent threat to life or serious injury.
Finally, we have seen that the impact of social media and irresponsible rhetoric has played a dramatic role in escalation. On this count, both sides have much to be blamed for, but we welcome efforts by leaders in the past days to tone down their statements. We call on community, religious and political leaders, on all sides, to calm the language they use and to work together to de-escalate the situation.