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UN Expert Admonishes Humanitarian Conditions in Israel - 2003-07-18


A United Nations food expert calls the humanitarian conditions in the West Bank and Gaza appalling, but says he sees a change on the part of Israel.

UN Special Investigator Jean Ziegler says the Israeli government welcomed his visit and allowed him to talk to everyone he wished. He says this is the first time the Israeli government has agreed to cooperate with a United Nations human rights expert.

In the past, he says, the government refused to cooperate, even with visits requested by former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson. Mr. Ziegler says the change of heart in Tel Aviv may be the result of outside political pressure.

"Not because the discourse of the Israeli government has changed, but because the powers behind the road map [for peace] are applying real pressures on the two parties," Mr. Zeigler said.

Mr. Ziegler describes the humanitarian situation in the Palestine territories as catastrophic. Quoting World Bank figures, he says almost one child in 10 in the West Bank and Gaza is suffering from severe malnutrition. More than 60 percent of the Palestinian population lives on less than $2 a day and more than half of Palestinian families eat only once a day. He says the Palestinian people are reduced to begging, and most are dependent on international assistance for survival.

"Markets do not function," Mr. Zeigler said. "Peasants cannot go to the field. People cannot go to hospitals or schools, as they should normally, and they are humiliated in a very, very shocking way."

He says Israel is violating international law by failing to provide much needed aid to the Palestinians, but the government acknowledges the problems and the suffering endured by the Palestinians, and expresses regrets.

"They could have said, 'do not bother me with this. We do not care.' They say, 'we know.' And that is quite something. They say, 'we know it is a terrible problem. We regret very much. But, security concerns make necessary this kind of measures of occupation. And, we can do nothing,'" Mr. Zeigler said.

Mr. Ziegler says the road map, drawn up by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, offers a rare opportunity to try to improve the situation of the Palestinians. But, he says the international community must step up pressure on the two parties to the conflict for this to happen.

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