Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, payed an official visit to Palestine in July 2003. This was the first time a UN rapporteur was allowed to investigate the situation in the occupied territories.
Jean Ziegler submitted his report in early August to the High Commission for Human Rights, as well as to the two parties concerned. He is due to present it to the General Assembly in New York in the autumn –unless Israel succeeds in having its presentation postponed sine die: Tel Aviv understands all too well the threat posed by this report and is doing all it can to undermine Ziegler’s findings it has already complained to the UN that the High Commission made the report public before Israel had the chance to officially acknowledge it.
The report states that the hunger and malnutrition present since the beginning of the occupation are directly linked to Israel’s punitive and apartheid-style policy, and are in no way induced by natural causes. The report shows with extreme precision how Israel has attempted to cow Palestinians in the territories it occupies through combined military might and a deliberate starvation policy.
“Around 60-percent of Palestinians are now living in acute poverty … and are now completely dependent on food aid; less than one in two households has access to one meal a day.” You cannot fail to understand the despair of a parent who has no means to feed his family.
In his 25-page report, Jean Ziegler doesn’t mince words. He shows great courage, firmness and directness – qualities all too rarely present at the United Nations. His assertions, as precise as they are striking, should make waves and land Israel in the dock, if the media would only give the report the importance it deserves. All is there: violations of the right to food, human rights the wall of apartheid, confiscation of land and water sources, humiliations, deportations …
According to Ziegler, the escalating food crisis in the occupied territories is definitely meant by Israel. As a result “over 22 percent of children under five are now suffering from malnutrition … about 15 percent suffer from acute aneamia, which for many will have permanent negative effects on their physical and mental development.” These statistics are all the more disturbing as they apply to a fertile land that was always self-sufficient before the Israeli occupation.
Ziegler has compiled evidence that Israel has resorted to the silent weapon of hunger and slow death while simultaneously launching sporadic attacks.
Continuous destructions of Palestinian homes and the closing-off of entire parts of the territories, preventing people from reaching their work places and farmers from getting to their fields, have brought the economy to its knees. These measures alone are “directly responsible for the slow agony of the martyred people of Palestine”.
The members of the mission led by Jean Ziegler returned in a state of shock and were astounded, by the massive difference between reality on the ground and perceptions of onlookers. “whereas the media report the targetted assassinations and suicide bombings whith tunning regularity, not a word is said of this unseen tragedy.”
Appalled by such a humanitarian catastrophe – “worse than I imagined”, Ziegler hasn’t felt inclined to pull his punches. The wall under construction, he writes, “constitutes yet another violation of the right to food by Israel, which, de facto, confiscates thousands of hectares of fertile land at a time”. “This eight-metre-high wall is Sharon’s latest idea when pushed by the international community to accept the creation of a Palestinian state.
“It is unacceptable that military measures meant to protect the Israeli population are imposed in such a way that they endanger the food security of the whole Palestinian population,” Ziegler adds. “There can be no justification for harsh internal closures that prevent people from having access to food and water; otherwise the imposition of such military measures amount to what has been called a ‘policy of starvation’. The widespread impositions of curfews, roadblocks and travel permits is the source of the humanitarian crisis.”
Furthermore, “the totally disproportionate security measures … bantustanisation of Palestine, unprecented destruction of trees, irrigation systems and infrastructures, deprive many Palestinians of their right to food”, thus making their very survival impossible.
As I write these words, the debate is raging and gaining momentum about Jean Ziegler’s report. The Israelies do not accept its content, judging it to be polically biased are accusing Jean Ziegler of a ‘political attack that will lead nowhere’ and have announced they will be lodging protests with the UN.
For his part, Jean Ziegler is unflappable – a man for whom only truth and justice count. “My mandate is precise: the respect of the right to both solid and liquid food. That is my only concern. I aw a horrifying humanitarian disaster which worsens because of the occupation. I have carried my mandate to the letter; I have reported the drastic deterioration of the dietary situation of the Palestinian population and the reasons for its being. I have merely reminded the obligations of an occupying force as regards the population under its control. Therefore I have only done my job”.
All those who have fought hard over the years inside Palestine and from outside Palestine for the truth to come out can take their hats off to Jean Ziegler. He will undoubtedly be Israel’s next target and will know the fear and intimidation of all who dare speak out against its criminal policies.
Jean Ziegler knew what he was letting himself in for. He could have chosen a less intimidating region; many other countries await his arrival. But after Brazil and Bangladesh, he has chosen to go to occupied Palestine and to give a hint of justice to the Palestinian people.
He is ready to pay the price from his courage.
Translation from French to English by : Dominic Fitzgerald