A senior UN official investigating human rights issues in the Palestinian territories urged Israel to immediately lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip to avoid a coming crisis.
Haniff Hussein, acting chair of a UN special committee investigating Israeli practices affecting human rights in Palestinian territories, said during a press conference in Cairo on Thursday that the UN’s prediction that the enclave would be “unliveable” by 2020 may be “too optimistic.”
Hussein cited problems with the water supply, a food crisis, and soaring unemployment as results of Israel’s blockade of the strip, and said that Gazan fishermen and farmers were being deprived of their livelihoods.
“It is hard to predict how long Gazans can continue living under current conditions,” Hussein said.
The special committee – which is composed of representatives of Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Senegal – was established in 1968 to examine the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.
On Thursday, the committee presented its preliminary findings based on an annual mission to the territories earlier this month.
Palestinian detainees on hunger strike
Hussein also expressed serious concerns regarding the 75 Palestinian hunger striking detainees in Israeli custody who have been hospitalised.
On Sunday, AFP reported that Palestinian and Israeli rights groups wrote to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton demanding her "urgent intervention" on behalf of 125 prisoners on long-term hunger strike.
The letter was sent as the overall number of Palestinian prisoners refusing food climbed to 290, an Israel Prisons Service spokeswoman told AFP.
The special committee appealed to the Israeli authorities on Thursday to allow the 5,000 Palestinian detainees in Israeli custody, especially women and minors, to be seen by Palestinian doctors with greater regularity.
Women and children in the occupied territories
Hussein said that, in some cases, Palestinian women and children who are detained were experiencing very poor living conditions.
He also argued for stronger protection of women and minors.
“Women and children always suffer the most, because the woman is essential to Palestinian culture and the children cannot be brought up in such conditions. Which is why they need protection the most,” he said.
Fode Seck, the permanent representative of Senegal to the UN in Geneva, said that the special committee was recently informed that the youngest doctor in the world is a Palestinian woman, arguing that the fate of Palestinian women and children could be very different from current circumstances, if they were protected.
“The committee will look in to doing something to help protect women and children, as their rights…are essential to the UN,” Hussein concluded.
Turning a deaf ear
Hussein claimed that Israeli authorities were “turning a deaf ear” to the issues raised.
“Israel does not recognise this special committee in the first place,” he added.
“Even our attempt to visit the West Bank was rejected by the Israeli government.”
Hussein said that UN’s role now is to focus on collecting information on the situation and making it widely available.
A committee report is to be submitted to the 69th session of the UN general assembly this autumn.
The committee also mentioned that it welcomes the resolution on the part of the Palestinian leadership to unify the West Bank and Gaza under a single government.
A Palestinian unity government was sworn in on Monday after a landmark reconciliation deal with the Islamist movement Hamas that Israel plans to boycott but Washington said it will work with.