Israel accused of starving West Bank

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Israel accused of starving West Bank
New York |By Charles Laurence and Kim Willsher | 05-10-2003

A United Nations report which blames Israel for causing starvation in Gaza and the West Bank has prompted a furious diplomatic row with the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon.

The leaked report by Jean Ziegler, a Swiss sociologist and UN special envoy, blames Israel's security policies for "collective punishment" of the Palestinians. Ziegler spent 10 days in the occupied territories in July and was due to present his report to the UN General Assembly in New York on November 18.

Furious Israeli officials, however, have denounced the report as "highly political", saying that Ziegler had gone beyond his mandate. With support from American diplomats at the UN, Israel has called for the report to be rejected before it reaches the floor of the Assembly, and asked the UN Human Rights Commission, for whom Ziegler was working as a food rights specialist, to discipline him.

According to newspaper reports in France, Ziegler's report will not now be published until the spring.

Tuvia Israeli, Israel's deputy representative to the UN, said: "Ziegler's behaviour has been a bitter blow to our relations with the UN which were already extremely strained." He said that Ziegler's silence about the rampant corruption at the heart of the Palestinian Authority was unacceptable.

Privately, UN officials in Geneva, where the Human Rights Commission is based, also expressed frustration at having "wasted a golden opportunity" to improve cooperation with the Israeli government. They regretted that Ziegler had been "carried away by his indignation".

Ziegler appeared yesterday ready to lock horns with the UN. "It is a very explosive report about the silent tragedy behind the visible tragedy of the Palestinian territories," he said.

In the 25-page report, a copy of which has been seen by The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Ziegler says 22 per cent of Palestinian children under the age of five suffer severe malnutrition, and most families have only one meal a day.

He describes that as "absurd" in a historically fertile land, blaming the "apartheid" security fence, the seizing and destruction of Palestinian farmland, and roadblocks for preventing food from reaching Palestinian communities.

"The Occupied Palestinian Territories is on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe as a result of the extremely harsh military measures imposed by the occupying Israeli military forces since the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000," the report warns.

Ziegler became one of the first UN envoys to be allowed to report on conditions in the occupied territories with co-operation and assistance from Israel.

Israel wants the report to be dismissed on technical grounds, claiming that Ziegler breached protocol because the report was leaked to the French newspaper, Liberation, before their government had a chance to lodge a reaction.

Ziegler defended his report yesterday as "the truth" and said the leak had been beyond his control. He said that the draft report had been sent to Israeli agencies that had helped his research at the same time as it was submitted to the Human Rights Commission.

© The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2003