- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

NEW YORK — A U.N. report that blames Israel for causing starvation in Gaza and the West Bank has infuriated the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and frustrated U.N. efforts to improve relations with Israel.

The leaked report by Jean Ziegler, a Swiss sociologist and U.N. special envoy, blames Israel’s security policies for “collective punishment” of the Palestinians. Mr. Ziegler spent 10 days in the occupied territories in July and was due to present his report to the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Nov. 18.

Angry Israeli officials, however, have denounced the report as “highly political” and said Mr. Ziegler had gone beyond his mandate.

With support from American diplomats at the United Nations, Israel has called for the report to be rejected before it reaches the floor of the General Assembly and asked the U.N. Human Rights Commission — for whom Mr. Ziegler was working as a food rights specialist — to discipline him. According to newspaper reports in France, Mr. Ziegler’s report now will not be published until the spring.

Tuvia Israeli, Israel’s deputy representative to the United Nations, said: “Mr. Ziegler’s behavior has been a bitter blow to our relations with the U.N., which were already extremely strained.” He also said Mr. Ziegler’s silence about the rampant corruption at the heart of the Palestinian Authority was unacceptable.

Privately, U.N. 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 Mr. Ziegler had been “carried away by his indignation.”

But Mr. Ziegler is unrepentant. “It is a very explosive report about the silent tragedy behind the visible tragedy of the Palestinian territories,” he said over the weekend. “The High Commission hoped that I would soften it. I will not. I will defend it.”

In the 25-page report, a copy of which was seen by the Sunday Telegraph, Mr. Ziegler says 22 percent of Palestinian children younger than 5 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,” his report warns.

Mr. Ziegler was one of the first U.N. envoys to be allowed to report on conditions in the occupied territories with cooperation and assistance from Israel. “We invited him ourselves even after we had refused to invite the High Commissioner Sergio Vieira de Mello himself in April,” Mr. Israeli said.

“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.”

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

Mr. Ziegler said his report was passed to Liberation by an Israeli humanitarian organization after it was sent to Israeli agencies that had helped his research.

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