The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Thursday called for a “genuine and inclusive peace process” to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and prevent a repeat of the recent deadly clashes.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, in comments to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, condemned the indiscriminate rocket attacks by Gaza’s de facto authority Hamas, which claimed 10 lives in Israel, and strikes inside the enclave by Israeli Security Forces that left 242 dead.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights also welcomed the May 21 ceasefire but warned that it is only “a matter of time” until the next flare-up, unless the root causes of this latest escalation were addressed.
Addressing the issue of possible war crimes, Ms. Bachelet reminded the Council’s 47 Member States that Israeli airstrikes in densely populated areas had “resulted in a high level of civilian fatalities and injuries as well as the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure”.
Such attacks may constitute war crimes ‘if found to be indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians and civilian objects”, the High Commissioner explained via video link to the Geneva-based forum, meeting in special session at the request of Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
The “heavy rocket barrage towards Israel” by Hamas and other armed groups also constituted “a clear violation of international humanitarian law”, Ms. Bachelet said.
Also addressing the Council, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, repeated his call for the latest escalation – the most serious since 2014 – to be investigated by the International Criminal Court.
Describing Gaza as “the world’s largest open-air prison”, Mr. Lynk added that the enclave was nothing more than a “tiny sliver of land, holding more than two million people under occupation, cut off from the outside world by a comprehensive and illegal air, sea and land blockade”.
Israel alone had the authority to determine “who and what enters and leaves the (Gaza) Strip”, insisted the Special Rapporteur, who is independent of the UN and answers to the 47 Member States of the Human Rights Council.
“When intensive violence revisits the Palestinians in Gaza, as it regularly does, there is no escape. That this medieval restriction on basic freedoms has gone on for 14 years, and counting, is a harrowing stain on our humanity.”
Israel would not end its occupation “without decisive international action” that is grounded in the framework of rights, the independent rights expert continued.
He insisted that Israel’s “occupation has become as entrenched and as sustainable as it has because the international community has never imposed a meaningful cost on Israel for acting as an acquisitive and defiant occupying power”.
Outside Gaza, the rights expert also noted how occupied East Jerusalem had also witnessed intense confrontations between Palestinians and Israelis over access to Al Aqsa Mosque to pray, during the last days of the holy month of Ramadan.
There had also been “a sustained campaign” by Israeli settler organizations to continue to evict Palestinian families from their homes in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, which Mr. Lynk described as the “ember” that started the latest violence.
Echoing the High Commissioner’s concerns over violence in the occupied West Bank, the Special Rapporteur also noted that demonstrations since 10 May at events in Gaza and in East Jerusalem had led to 27 Palestinians being killed by Israeli security forces and 6,800 injured.
Defending its actions, Israel’s delegation justified attacks on Gaza, claiming that more than 4,400 rockets had been fired “at Israeli civilians” by Hamas over a 10-day period beginning May 10.
The Israeli ambassador insisted that Hamas had fired rockets “indiscriminately, targeting civilians, to kill as many innocent people as possible. Israel takes all steps to adhere to the principles of distinction, proportionality, and necessity. We do so not only because of our obligations under the Law of Armed Conflict but also because it is our moral duty to protect innocent lives.” (Source: UN News)