by Thalif Deen
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS --
water and medicine are being used as weapons of war in the Israeli military onslaught on Palestinian refugee camps, according to UN agencies and international humanitarian and human rights organizations.
The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said Wednesday that although outside groups had "limited access" to refugee camps, Israeli military authorities were selectively blocking UN teams from handing out food and water.
"The food and water supply that UNRWA did manage to distribute was delivered to crowds of mostly women and children who were desperate for aid after being trapped for 14 consecutive days," said Richard Cook, UNRWA's director of operations.
The Israelis have specifically blocked the delivery of relief supplies to men, particularly in the Jenin refugee camp where the Israeli military is accused of "massacring" hundreds of civilians last week, according to published reports.
Cook said that UNRWA, the only UN agency on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza, "urgently needs to gain unlimited access to the camp to allow it to care for the large number of people in need of basic supplies".
"UNRWA still has not been given full access to the camp, where we believe many thousands of people are still in dire need of food, water and medical attention. We implore the Israeli authorities to open up the camp to allow our relief teams to help its desperate population," he added.
It is clear that what is happening in the occupied territories is a form of collective punishment, said Marty Rosenbluth of Amnesty International USA. The international community has an obligation to guarantee that civilians have food, water and medical care, he told IPS.
"We have asked the UN Security Council to send a team of international experts to investigate the alleged human rights abuses that took place in Jenin within the last 12 days," added Rosenbluth.
According to international law, when deaths have occurred in disputed circumstances, there must be an impartial investigation with the co-operation of all sides, he said.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan "wants to know the full truth" about what happened in Jenin, his spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters Wednesday.
Eckhard acknowledged there was only "controlled access to refugee camps".
A professor of law at Ohio State University told IPS that "Israel has committed serious violations of humanitarian law" by preventing outside medical and food aid from reaching Palestinians. "Regardless of military objectives, it is impermissible to deprive a civilian population of the means of sustenance and health maintenance", said John Quigley, author of "Genocide in Cambodia and Palestine and Israel."
"These are serious violations for which Israel should be held accountable as a state, and for which individual Israeli officials responsible should be held accountable," he said.
Israel should be required to pay monetary damages to victims and to families of victims, added Quigley. "Targeting civilians -- like having helicopters fire missiles at residential areas, as Israel is doing -- is a war crime," he said.
The World Bank says that Israeli damage to Palestinian infrastructure, funded mostly by the European Union, is estimated at between $600 million and $800 million. The loss in gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated at about five billion dollars since the Israeli attacks began in September 2000.
Ali Abunimah, vice president of the Chicago-based Arab-American Action Network, pointed out that the UN Security Council has repeatedly demanded that Israel abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention, which lays down the rules of warfare.
"By deliberately denying food, water and medical aid, and wantonly destroying public and private property, and deliberately destroying the economy in the occupied territories, Israel is in flagrant breach of this Convention," he added.
The great irony, he said, is that the Convention was passed in 1949 in direct response to Nazi atrocities in Europe.
The legal obligation to enforce the Convention lies with a group of countries known as the 15 High Contracting Parties, including the United States. "Unfortunately, we are seeing the world turn a blind eye to atrocities being committed under its nose," Abunimah added.
Last year the United Nations received widespread complaints about Israel using food as a weapon of war.
In a 26-page report, the UN special rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights said that Israel, along with Afghanistan and Myanmar, stood accused of violating the right to food as a basic human right.
Jean Ziegler said he received a joint submission -- from Palestinian, Israeli and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) -- accusing Israel of denying access to food and water for communities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
"Several NGOs allege that the Israeli government policies have created hunger and threaten starvation of the most destitute, and have documented long-term or permanent damage to the nutritional needs of especially vulnerable groups, including children and refugees," the report noted.
At a UN meeting in Cyprus on Tuesday, Nabil Shaath, minister for planning and international co-operation of the Palestinian Authority, told delegates the destruction of the water system in the occupied territories had nothing to do with security.
"It was meant to humiliate the Palestinian people and reflected Israeli greed to take over all the water, beyond the 82 percent they had already confiscated," he said.
Israel had also destroyed the harbour, along with Palestinian hopes for international trade, he added.
Shaath called the massacre at the Jenin refugee camp a "war crime". The Israelis took six days to complete the massacre and six more days to clean up, he said.
"Although one might accept that there were security concerns during the fighting, what was the reason for preventing people from going in during the six days of clean up?" he asked.
April 17 2002 (http://albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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