On 15 September 2005, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon disregarded the opinions of the 60 year-old United Nations (UN) and other international peacekeeping bodies when he stated, moments into his speech before the fully-convened UN General Assembly, that Jerusalem will remain the "undivided and eternal capital of the State of Israel." During his speech, he also stated, wrongly, that Israel ended its control of and responsibility for the Gaza Strip with the "last Israeli soldiers leaving Gaza last week." Sharon further disregarded numerous UN resolutions when he announced that Israel will complete the construction of the separation wall it is building in the Occupied Palestinian Territory ("the Wall").
The UN Position on Jerusalem
The United Nations recognizes East Jerusalem as occupied territory in accordance with the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It therefore rejects Israeli claims of full sovereignty over East Jerusalem. Moreover, customary international law, as reflected in the UN Charter (Art. 2, Para. 4), rejects the admissibility of acquisition of territory by force, making Israel’s annexation and authority over East Jerusalem illegal under international law.
In 1967, in response to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the UN Security Council called for the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" through its adoption of Resolution 242. The following year, the Security Council stated its opposition to Israel’s expansion of Jerusalem’s borders when it adopted Resolution 252, which "considers that all…actions taken by Israel…which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot change that status."
Thirteen years later, the Security Council again stated that "all…actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which purport to alter the character and status of…Jerusalem have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East" (UNSCR 476).
Gaza Still Occupied Territory
Only hours after Sharon delivered his address at the United Nations, the Israeli Defense Ministry announced plans to establish a new "security zone" 150 meters wide in the south of the Gaza Strip. Even as Palestinians are rejoicing that Israeli soldiers no longer control Gaza’s roads and traffic intersections through the checkpoints once bisecting the improvised and densely populated Strip, they must now prepare for a new "security zone" that violates Palestinian sovereignty in the region.
Regardless of this new development, the departure of Israeli soldiers from within Gaza did not end Israel’s control over the territory, contrary to Sharon’s statement. Israel continues to control the borders and people of the Gaza Strip militarily and politically. In particular, the Israeli army controls the northern Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel even as it does the southern Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. It also patrols the sea waters and airspace around Gaza. Israel has not started talks with the Palestinian Authority over the reopening of either, despite their singular importance to Palestinians’ economic development and freedom of movement.
Israel also maintains its control over the fate of the Erez Industrial Estate as well as the "safe passage," or territorial link that once existed between Gaza and the southern West Bank. People and goods wanting to leave or enter Gaza still need Israel’s permission, must apply for Israeli-issued permits, and must pass through border checkpoints. As Karen Koning AbuZayd, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said recently, the only thing Israel did in Gaza during its occupation of the territory was to protect the settlements and build checkpoints. The causes of Palestinian poverty and statelessness thus remain despite the removal of its soldiers and settlers from inside the Gaza Strip.
In his speech, Sharon also told the General Assembly that the Wall is "vitally indispensable," and "saves lives." The statement is the first public admission from Israel that the Wall is not a temporary fixture but rather a permanent fact on the ground. This mirrors Israel’s public statements regarding its plan to retain and expand the West Bank settlements.
By announcing that his government intends to complete the construction of the Wall, Sharon brazenly reaffirmed Israel’s dismissal of the advisory opinion that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued on 9 July 2004, in response to UN General Assembly Resolution Es-10/14. The ICJ ruled that, inter alia, the construction of Israel’s Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory contravenes international law and that Israel is obliged to stop construction and make reparations for all the damage it has caused.
Sharon’s claim that the Wall has saved lives is premised on the belief that the only lives who matter are Israeli’s. The Wall impairs access to hospitals for Palestinians’ living in isolated areas, such as East Jerusalem and the northern West Bank cities of Tulkarem and Qalqilya.
The Ramallah-based Health, Development, Information & Policy Institute has found that 71 primary health clinics are isolated from the rest of the West Bank because of their location between Israel’s border and the Wall. These clinics are under-funded and inadequately equipped to serve their constituencies despite the essential service they provide. They often do not have delivery rooms or specialized doctors because of their limited financial resources. The Wall thus increases the likelihood of Palestinian deaths due to preventable causes-whether a lack of specialized doctors, inaccessibility to hospitals for the injured and sick, or a stagnant economy.