A draft report from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has incurred the wrath of Israeli delegates to the United Nations. Jean Ziegler, the UN's special envoy, visited the Occupied Territories in July 2003 and was to present his report to the U.N. General Assembly in New York on November 18. However, with the support of the United States' diplomatic representatives, Israel has called for the UN Human Rights Commission to discipline Mr Ziegler for exceeding his mandate. Mr Ziegler was also criticised for producing a "highly political" document.
In response to these attacks, Mr Ziegler is unapologetic: "The High Commission hoped that I would soften it. I will not. I will defend it." "My mandate is precise - the respect of the right to both solid and liquid food. That is my only concern. I saw a horrifying humanitarian disaster which worsens because of the occupation. I have carried my mandate to the letter; I have reported drastic deterioration of the dietary situation of the Palestinian population and the reasons for its being. I have merely pointed out the obligations an occupying force has to the population under its control. Therefore I have only done my job".
"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 imposition of curfews, roadblocks and travel permits is the source of the humanitarian crisis."
Ziegler highlights "the huge difference between reality on the ground and our perception as onlookers; whereas the media report the targeted assassinations and suicide bombings with stunning regularity, not a word is said of this unseen tragedy". De-humanisation of Palestinian culture and society has long been a feature of political discourse justifying Israeli expansionism in Palestinian territory, from the days of a 'land without a people' to the images of 'lice' and 'cancer' at the heart of the Israeli nation. Latterly, we have the image peddled ad nauseam of shadowy 'terrorists' propagating a 'terrorist infrastructure' - an abstraction that seeks to smother Palestinian distress in global antipathy.
The draft report characterises the military operations of closure and containment throughout the Occupied Territories as "starvation policies", alleging that hunger and malnutrition are consequences of the IDF's governance of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Quoting from the draft: "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." Mr Ziegler contends that this outcome has been purposefully managed and amounts to "collective punishment" of Palestinians. As a result "over 22% of children under five are now suffering from malnutrition . . . compared to 7.6% in the year 2000 . . . Around 15.6%-suffer from acute anemia, which for many will have permanent negative effects on their physical and mental development." Gross national product is estimated to have fallen to a half of its 2001 level, while "around 60% of Palestinians are now living in acute poverty." "Food consumption has fallen by more then 30% per capita" with "over 50% of Palestinians completely dependent on food aid."
Israel wants the draft report dismissed on the technical grounds that protocol has been breached by it being leaked to the French newspaper Libération before the government was able to inspect it. "We arranged meetings for him with our political and military authorities at the highest level. We did everything we could to help him in his work, and all he has found to do is to abuse all this," a spokesperson complained. Unofficial sources are alleged to have stated that publication has now been delayed until the spring of 2004. Interested parties can read the draft report now at http://www.reseauvoltaire.net/IMG/pdf/fr-ZieglerReport.pdf