19 May 2004
The following statement was given to the United Nations before the Security Council by Israel's UN ambassador.
We convene here as usual, at the urgent behest of the Palestinian Observer, under a barrage of information, misinformation and disinformation. In the interests of truth and objectivity, let us first get the facts straight. I wish to state emphatically that the numbers distributed by the Palestinians are exaggerated and totally false. I can only express my disappointment that some members of the international community, including in the statement attributed to the Secretary-General, have been misled by the Palestinian propaganda machine to false conclusions which do not reflect the facts on the ground.
So first, let us get the facts straight:
During a large procession of several hundred demonstrators, which included many gunmen, seven Palestinians were killed, of which four to five were armed terrorists. The incident occurred as the crowd left central Rafah along the main road towards IDF forces in Tel-Sultan. The demonstration was organized by none other than the Palestinian Authority, in violation of the established curfew.
While Israel regrets any loss of civilian life, these numbers put into proportion today's incident which itself took place under conditions of heavy fighting by Palestinian terrorists. Under the incredibly difficult circumstances in which Israel has taken action against the terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, terrorists operate amongst civilians and tragedy can strike. Israel has done and will continue to do everything it can to prevent harm to innocent civilians. Even during times of war, the death of innocent civilians is regrettable, but we cannot be deluded by false pretense and any ambiguity between the terrorists and those who fight this deplorable scourge.
We find it regrettable that certain members of the Council are galvanized to condemn Israel's response to the ongoing Palestinian terrorist campaign, and not those actions that have brought the region to despair and compelled Israel to take defensive measures.
Once again the members of the Council are forced to convene to debate a draft text that should absolve any careful observer of the illusion that the intent of its drafters is the improvement of the situation in the region and the encouragement of a fair, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement. The one-sided text before us this afternoon rebukes Israel but fails to expressly condemn - by name and not ambiguous terminology - the Palestinian terrorism that necessitated Israeli action. The Palestinian delegation has once again rejected any language that seeks to recognize any consideration for the legitimate aims of Israel's defensive counter-terrorist operation.
To be frank, this blatant and one-sided posture is more a blemish on the record of those who presented this draft resolution to the Council, much more a transparent exercise in double standards, than it is an admonition of Israeli conduct.
Today Israel stands at the gates of hell in the Gaza Strip.
The Security Council has never dealt with the dangers to peace and security of smuggling arms through the tunnels of Rafah from Egypt. It did not meet to condemn the horrendous desecration of the bodies of Israeli soldiers, young men who were killed during a defensive operation to dismantle these tunnels. It did not come together following the hijacking of an UNRWA ambulance by armed elements in Gaza last week. It did not stand up against the murder of a mother and her four daughters in the Gaza Strip or the continuing cultivation of a culture of hate and destruction by the Palestinian leadership.
The Council will not serve the cause of peace in the Middle East by condemning Israeli actions and ignoring the violence, terrorism, and incitement that continues to emanate from the Palestinian leadership. Such repeated rituals embolden the terrorists and not those that seek to dismantle it.
Today Israel stands at the gates of hell in the Gaza Strip. The southern city of Rafah serves as the "Arms Smuggling Gateway" of the Palestinian Authority and the main pipeline for transporting weapons and ammunition into Gaza. Since September 2000, subterranean tunnels constructed underneath the "Philadelphi Route" have been used by Iran and Hizbullah, as well as by Palestinian terrorist organizations like Hamas and the PFLP for turning the Gaza Strip into a base for missile and rocket attacks against Israeli targets.
These tunnels of terror provide the conduit for the smuggling of large amounts of diverse weapons, including among them, hundreds of kilograms of explosives, hundreds of rifles (mainly AK-47 Kalashnikovs), tens of thousands of ammunitions and dozens of RPG rockets and launchers, which are entirely incompatible with signed agreements and any plan for return to non-violent negotiations.
Israel views the illicit trade and trafficking in small arms and light weapons as a humanitarian issue, as well as a security issue. We cannot forget for a moment that the terrorists seek not only to harm civilians in the locations they target, but also in the locations in which they seek shelter and from where they launch their attack. The Rafah tunnels are typically dug inside residential homes to evade discovery by Israeli security personnel, in blatant disregard for the safety and well-being of Palestinian civilians. They are concealed under bathrooms, living rooms and kitchens. They are intentionally hidden under the beds of children and little babies, concealed by loose planks and rags.
The smuggling of massive arsenals and weapons at epidemic proportions, and the cynical use of civilian areas to launch terrorist attacks, invariably leads to the loss of innocent life and affects the basic right of people to lead their lives peacefully, without fear of getting killed for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Terrorized by these concerns, there has been growing opposition among local residents to the tunnel building and weapons smuggling in Rafah. Last year numerous demonstrations by local residents were staged outside the Palestinian Authority's Police and Preventive Security headquarters and other public buildings to protest the ongoing "policy of apathy" among the leadership of the PA.
Israel remains obligated to act in self-defense against a threat that poses a clear and present danger to innocent lives while upholding its obligations under international law.
Unfortunately, Israel does not have the luxury of pursuing this policy of apathy and inaction. Faced with the failure of the Palestinian leadership to comply with its obligations to fight terrorism, stop incitement and prevent the smuggling of weapons, Israel remains obligated to act in self-defense against a threat that poses a clear and present danger to innocent lives while upholding its obligations under international law.
The unhindered effort by terrorist organizations to smuggle high-quality weapons, including RPGs, Katyusha rockets, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, has already lead to an escalation in the security situation and can further lay burden on the population in the Gaza Strip. In recent months, Palestinian terrorist organizations operating in Gaza have commenced in executing a systematic plan to turn Gaza into a platform for launching rockets and missiles capable of reaching the entire aerial territory of Israel. In fact, the whole of Gaza, and Rafah in particular, is on the verge of becoming a missile base aimed at Israel's cities and civilian population. What would the international community have Israel do? Just sit back and wait for this horrific scenario to materialize?
As the Israeli Chief of Staff, Moshe Ya'alon, said last week, "It appears to us that although we are doing the best we can to prevent the smuggling of weapons to the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians have managed to smuggle RPG's, which they are not supposed to have. They have been successful in smuggling RPG's and quite a few too. We know for a fact that on the Egyptian side of the border, at the top of the Sinai Desert, there are weapons that have reached that area. As far as we are concerned, Iran, through Hizbullah, is responsible for the presence of these weapons in that area. They are the ones that promote the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, unfortunately through the Sinai. This has happened because they have found the other borders to be impossible to penetrate, either by land or water. This is what makes this region, at the Egyptian-Israeli border, the weakest link for weapons smuggling."
If Israel does not act today to fight against the weapons smuggled and manufactured in Gaza, next month Katyusha rockets will be aimed at the homes of its citizens.
The purpose of the current IDF action in Gaza is to terminate the transfer of all illegal weapons by underground tunnels to Gaza. One security measure employed in this regard is the demolition of structures that pose an operative security risk to Israeli forces. Recent actions have shown this counter-measure to be an effective and lawful way to minimize the occurrence of such attacks in general, and suicide terrorism in particular. Since April of this year, the IDF has exposed eight underground tunnels used for smuggling weapons in the area of Rafah, in addition to 11 underground tunnels since the beginning of this year and 90 underground tunnels since the beginning of the Intifada in September 2000. And just this week, the IDF discovered a new tunnel in Rafah already activated for use in smuggling arms into Gaza. The tunnel was 150 meters long, 5 meters deep and had 4 openings that led directly into Palestinian homes in the area.
IDF actions in Gaza have been criticized as collective punishment. Let me be clear: These tunnels are collective in their harm to all peoples in the area but require a response that is precise and decisive in its effect. While certain security measures taken in self-defense and necessitated by terrorist threats do unfortunately cause hardships to sectors of the Palestinian population, this is categorically not their intent.
Both customary law and conventional law make it clear that the use of civilian objects and dwellings to support a military attack, constitutes a war crime. The IDF does not demolish structures indiscriminately. Only those involved in terror and violence against Israeli civilians hold no immunity. When terrorists fire from within civilian structures, activate roadside charges from trees and fields or use a structure to conceal a weapons transfer tunnel, military necessity dictates the demolition of these locations. Under international law, these structures are considered legitimate military targets. Therefore, in the midst of combat, when dictated by operational necessity, Israeli security forces may lawfully destroy structures used by terrorists. This is common knowledge - and yet it is too often that for this Council is called upon to apply a different standard to Israel.
While operating against the terrorist infrastructure, Israel is doing its utmost to minimize the humanitarian impact on the civilian population. Israel refrains whenever possible from attacking terrorist targets from the air or with artillery, in order to minimize collateral damage. In so doing, Israel risks greater danger to the lives of its soldiers in order to lessen the risk to local residents. The death of 13 soldiers in ground operations in the Gaza Strip earlier this month is an example of the heavy price Israel pays for its commitment to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties. This was not the first time that the strict employment of such standards has resulted in the death of Israelis.
Israel's action in Gaza is all the more critical in the face of the failure of the Palestinian leadership to act determinedly against this threat. Today, weapons smuggling is run and managed by terrorist organizations with the approval and active participation of the Palestinian Authority. Amazingly enough, the PA has actually encouraged residents to conceal tunnels in their residences, which results in the demolition of their home. This brings with it an ample windfall: the construction of a new house by the Palestinian Authority.
Despite all of this, Israel's Prime Minister remains committed to promoting his plan for disengagement from Gaza. Earlier this month, leaders from the international community met here in New York to discuss ideas for implementing this Israeli initiative. There was a general agreement that the plan would improve the situation in Gaza for Palestinians and Israelis alike. However, the Palestinian response has been to increase violence and to renew its commitment to terror as a "solution." Just two days ago, Yasser Arafat addressed his people calling on them to "terrorize the enemy." What signal does rejectionist leadership, weapons smuggling, parading with body parts and shooting mothers and daughters send to those who desire peace in our region?
The complete and utter refusal of the Palestinian Authority to prevent these actions violates the most basic norms of human rights, morality, signed agreements and peace plans such as the Road Map. In the vacuum left by these willful violations, members of Yasser Arafat's own Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade and the Islamic Jihad were able to proudly and publicly claim responsibility for the "heroic" attack earlier this month on a pregnant Israeli mother and her four children - aged 2 to 11 -- gunned down at point blank range in Gaza.
These violations cost the lives of the Hatuel family and they will cost the lives of hundreds more unless the Palestinian leadership finally lives up to its responsibilities or, failing that, Israel undertakes the necessary defensive measures. If the Palestinian Authority had acted to fulfill its responsibilities, as stated in the First Stage of the Implementation of the Road Map, there would be no need for the current IDF activity.
It should be emphasized: it is the Palestinians, not Israel, that have turned civilian homes into military targets. And it is those in the Palestinian leadership that place a higher price on smuggling weapons than on the welfare of the innocent resident population, those that have abandoned all responsibility and allowed its civilians to be at the mercy of terrorist groups that use their homes and their bodies as shields, that have forced us to take these steps.
The suffering of the Palestinian population is a direct result of Palestinian terrorism aimed at innocent Israelis, and the need for Israel to protect its citizens from these abhorrent attacks.
The suffering of the Palestinian population is a direct result of Palestinian terrorism aimed at innocent Israelis, and the need for Israel to protect its citizens from these abhorrent attacks. Rather than criticizing Israel for damaging private property, those truly concerned for Palestinian welfare including humanitarian organizations in the area should instead demand that the terrorists stop using homes to shield their illegal operations.
Israel has no war with the Palestinian people. We have no war with the Palestinian aspiration for statehood. The Prime Minister has stated clearly that Israel believes in the vision of two states, side by side, in peace and security. We have a war with terror, and with those who are determined not to create the Palestinian state, but to destroy the Jewish one. For nearly four years, Israelis have been the victims of a relentless and ongoing campaign by Palestinian terrorists to spread death and destruction, condemning our region to ongoing turmoil, killing 977 Israelis and injuring more than 6000.
A genuine and responsible Palestinian leadership must be called finally and in clear terms - not in the faltering language of this typically one-sided resolution - to fight a war with terror too. It is time that we should ask the Palestinian leadership whether inciting terror, smuggling weapons and celebrating by dancing with the limbs of the dead are helping the cause of their people. It is time to make it clear that terrorism, even in the Palestinian cities of Gaza, is always unacceptable.
Achieving peace is simply not possible in an atmosphere of violence and terrorism. Characteristically, the Palestinian leadership has accepted this in principle and then proceeded to undertake every diversionary tactic it could conceive to avoid fulfilling its obligations. What was true in September 2000 remains true today: No progress is possible in the region so long as the Palestinian Authority continues to use its position and its resources to encourage a campaign of violence and terrorist against the citizens of Israel.
Thank you, Mr. President.