Letter of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
New York, 12 March 2002
I have followed the escalation of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory over the past week with increasing distress. I believe that the latest round of violence—and the scores of tragic and meaningless deaths that have resulted from it— have confirmed that the only path to security, for Israelis and Palestinians alike, is the resumption of negotiations toward a durable peace settlement. Any other response to the events of recent days is sure to elicit only further pain and further bitterness.
In this connection, I feel obliged to call your attention to disturbing patterns in the treatment of civilians and humanitarian relief workers by the Israel Defense Forces . . . Judging from the means and methods employed by the IDF—F-16 fighter bombers, helicopter and naval gunships, missiles and bombs of heavy tonnage—the fighting has come to resemble all-out conventional warfare.
In the process, hundreds of innocent noncombatant civilians—men, women, and children—have been injured or killed, and many buildings and homes have been damaged or destroyed. Tanks have been deployed in densely populated refugee camps and in towns and villages; and heavy explosives have been dropped mere meters from schools where thousands of children were in attendance and have even caused severe damage to a school for the blind.
I am especially dismayed by the IDF’s failure to protect and respect ambulances and medical personnel. In recent days, several medical relief workers were killed when Israeli soldiers fired on clearly marked ambulances, including Mr. Kamal Hamdan, an UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) staff member. In addition, Israeli forces repeatedly declined to grant medical personnel access to conflict areas to treat and evacuate the wounded, despite formal protests from UNRWA and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
I am also troubled by the repeated and, to the best of my knowledge, unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations by Israeli government spokespersons that ambulances have been used to smuggle Palestinian militants and weapons. These allegations can only result in further damage to medical workers and further impede their vital mission.
Israel is fully entitled to defend itself against terror. But this right does not discharge it of its obligation to respect the fundamental principles and rules of international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict with respect to the treatment and protection of civilians in occupied territories, the protection to be accorded facilities such as hospitals, schools, and the Red Crescent emblem, and proportionality in the means and methods of warfare. As I am sure you will agree, these rules are to the benefit of all concerned and warrant scrupulous compliance.
It is incumbent on all parties to take urgent steps to de-escalate the level of violence. Israel should contribute to this effort by ensuring that the IDF uses only weapons and methods that minimize the danger to the lives and property of Palestinian civilians, in conformity with its humanitarian obligations and as recommended by the Sharm al-Shaykh Fact-Finding Committee almost a year ago.
I also request that you initiate a full investigation into the incidents last week involving IDF fire at ambulances and medical personnel and that you take immediate steps to ensure that they are not repeated in the future.
Source: Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. xxxi, no 4, Summer 2002.