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Palestinian women persecuted for being Palestinian and women: UN rapporteur

By Syed Zafar Mehdi

Israel is inflicting “reproductive violence” on Palestinian women, newborns, babies, infants and children that could qualify as acts of genocide under the Genocide Convention, says a United Nations special rapporteur.

In an exclusive interview with the Press TV website on Tuesday, Reem Alsalem, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, said the violence inflicted on Palestinian women and children could qualify as acts of genocide under Article 2 of the Genocide Convention, namely acts that relate to “imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group.”

More than 32,300 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli genocidal aggression on the besieged Gaza Strip since October 7 – over 70 percent of victims being children and women.

The crippling siege on the coastal territory and lack of access to food and clean water has also spawned the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, with women and children bearing the brunt.

Last week, UNICEF in a report said one in three children in Gaza is now malnourished. Still worse, UN Population Fund (UNFPA) representative for Palestine, Dominic Allen, at a video news conference from the occupied al-Quds last week said there are no more “normal-sized babies” in Gaza.

There have also been credible reports about sexual violence against Palestinian women, which was documented in detail by the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor recently.

The Geneva-based rights group said female Palestinian detainees from Gaza were being subjected to sexual violence, torture, inhuman treatment, strip searches, sexual harassment, etc.

Amid the Israeli regime’s weeks-long siege on the Al-Shifa Hospital in western Gaza, which has assumed alarming proportions, some medics reported rape of Palestinian women at the medical complex.

Alsalem said Palestinian women have been persecuted for decades “for being Palestinian and for being women” – “systematic violations of their individual and collective rights as Palestinians” and “targeted in a very gendered manner because they are women.”

“So in addition to the forced starvation, ethnic cleansing, torture, executions, arbitrary detention, indiscriminate bombardment and forced displacement they have also been subjected to reproductive/obstetric violence, sexual violence and targeted as mothers,” the Jordanian independent consultant on gender issues and former civil servant who has been serving as a UN expert since August 2021 told the Press TV website.

Pointing to the impact of the 173-day war against Palestinians in Gaza, particularly women, Alsalem said around 50,000 women are pregnant in Gaza and miscarriages have increased by 300 percent.

“Many pregnant women have to deliver in these inhumane conditions where there is no water, no anesthetics for women needing cesarean and no hygiene to deliver. Over 183 women per day give birth without pain relief, sanitary precautions and often necessary surgical intervention,” she stated.

Pregnant women, she hastened to add, are not receiving adequate nutrition and healthcare, putting their own lives and their unborn children’s lives at risk. In addition, there are at least 700,000 menstruating women and girls whose specific health and hygiene needs are not met.

Babies have also been dying as incubators’ electricity supplies are being cut by Israeli forces, the UN rapporteur noted with concern, adding that many newborns are putting up in makeshift tents where “basic hygiene is scarce and mothers are starving and struggling to produce breast milk.”

The Israeli regime, Alsalem asserted, has “specifically targeted women and children with genocidal language in order to justify and legitimize targeting and killing them.”

“As if this was not horrific enough, they have now experienced large-scale and what appears to be systematic sexual assault and violence by the Israeli Occupation Forces,” she told the Press TV website.

“As we have said in our press release, we have received alarming reports of sexual assault, stripping women naked, body searching them including by males, taking their veils off, taking their images without consent in degrading and humiliating positions and sharing these amongst themselves.”

The UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls further said that they have also received reports of rape, emphasizing that these reports are “not new” and “not a post-Oct. 7 phenomenon.”

 The Gaza Government Media Office in a report on Sunday documented Israeli war crimes in 170 days of the war and said 14,280 children and 9,340 women have been killed since October 7, 2023.

There are thousands more still trapped under the rubble and unaccounted for, according to reports.

On whether the genocidal war on Gaza is essentially a war against women and children, which constitutes a war crime and genocide under international law, Alsalem answered in the affirmative.

“With 70% of the dead being women and children, and as I said at the opening of the commission on the status of women earlier this month, this is in a way a war on women and children. As the UN Women mentioned, 36 women are killed every day, 2 mothers are killed every hour. 19,000 children are estimated by UNICEF to be orphaned, which means they have lost both parents,” she stated.

“The coining of the acronym - WCNSF (wounded child, no surviving family) is another illustration of how many mothers, sisters, and grandmothers have been killed. Entire families have been and continue to be wiped out.”

Francesca Albanese, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, in a report on Tuesday said there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that Israel is involved in three of the five acts that constitute genocide.

“The overwhelming nature and scale of Israel’s assault on Gaza and the destructive conditions of life it has inflicted reveal intent to physically destroy Palestinians as a group,” Albanese wrote in the report.  

Alsalem told the Press TV website that many international law experts, including UN special rapporteurs, have said that they believe there is an unfolding genocide against the Palestinian people.

“My colleague, the Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPt), Francesca Albanese, is presenting today her report to the 55th session of the Human Rights Council on this issue. She explains in the report the conclusion that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold of Israel committing genocide has been met,” she said, commenting on Albanese’s latest report.

She also called out the double standards of Western media in covering the Israeli genocidal crimes in Gaza in general and the sexual violence perpetrated against Palestinian women in particular.

“Many have pointed out how a number of major (media) outlets have become complicit in the genocide. They have downplayed or erased Palestinian suffering, death toll, repeated unfounded allegations used by Israel to justify its all-out onslaught on Palestinians and on UNRWA – almost all of which have been debunked,” the UN expert remarked.

“Palestinians have been dehumanized. Some of them are trying to play “catch up” now when it comes to more balanced reporting, however, it is too little too late. This has severely affected their credibility. I do not know how or if they will be able to recover.”

On the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopting the Gaza ceasefire resolution on Monday, after 172 days of war, Alsalem said the UNSC resolutions are binding in international law, terming it “troubling” that the US referred to it as non-binding “in clear disregard of Article 25 of the UN Charter.”

 “The language of this Security Council Resolution 2728 is clearly mandatory (it uses words such as “demands”). This is also confirmed by the ruling of the International Court of Justice in its Namibia opinion where it rejected that obligations of Member States under Article 25 to carry out Security Council decisions applied only to enforcement measures adopted under chapter VII of the UN Charter,” she told the Press TV website.

However, she noted, Israel has already made known its unwillingness to abide by the UNSC resolution, which was adopted by 14-0 votes, with only the US abstaining.

“The resolution must not only be implemented without delay but it must lead to a more durable ceasefire and the entry of humanitarian aid,” Alsalem said.

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