GENEVA — Israel defended its treatment of Palestinians and others on the world stage Tuesday, resuming a relationship it broke off more than a year ago with the UN’s top human rights body.
The appearance by Deputy Attorney General Shai Nitzan and UN Ambassador Eviatar Manor before the UN’s Human Rights Council marked the first time Israel has participated in the 47-nation body in more than a year.
Nitzan said Israel is again “open to constructive criticism” from a forum that it has long believed has an anti-Israel bias reflected in a disproportionate focus on the Jewish state’s policy toward the Palestinians.
Manor began the afternoon session by calling attention to an impending release of a set of Palestinian prisoners that coincides with the day of the review and was agreed to as part of the peace process. The 26 prisoners had been convicted of killing Israelis between 1984 and 1994, and most were serving life sentences.
“All of them have blood on their hands; all of them have murdered Israelis,” Manor told diplomats. “Their release, I believe, illustrates Israel’s determination to reach an agreement with our Palestinian neighbors that will, once and for all, end the conflict.”
Nitzan said Israel already has made “extensive efforts to accommodate Palestinians” during the Muslim month of Ramadan, and that it has reduced the restrictions on movement between Palestinian villages and towns.
Palestinian envoy Ibrahim Khraishi, however, told diplomats that Israel’s renewed participation in the council “has no value” because the country had failed to address all the concerns raised in the first review in 2008.
Dozens of nations sounded off with a litany of complaints and recommendations. Typical of the speeches was the condemnation by Egypt’s UN Ambassador Wafaa Bassem of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, and her nation’s demand for the immediate release of all political prisoners and free movement for Palestinian refugees.
“We condemn Israel’s stubbornness,” Qatar’s representative said.
In its defense, Israel said that it has reduced the use of administrative detention but reserved the right use what it said is a lawful procedure. In addition, there has been an improvement in movement in the West Bank with only a few checkpoints remaining. Also, the number of permits for entry into Israel granted to Palestinians has been increased with over 100,000 Palestinians working in Israel, the delegates said.
The Israeli delegation interrupted the Iranian representative during his address and called him to task for referring only to the “regime” and asked for clarification as to which country was being referred to. However, the Iranian envoy ignored the question and continued to use the term “regime”.
Iraq, following Iran, also made no mention of Israel and spoke instead about the plight of the Palestinians.
After the Syrian envoy called for Israel to allow “Syrian citizens” living on the Golan Heights to visit their homeland, Manor fired back that Syria should be more concerned at the more than 100,000 people who have died in the country’s civil war.
Aside from Israel’s record in the West Bank and East Jerusalem another issue raised by several countries is the lack of civil marriage laws for Jews and that the Rabbinate controls Jewish marriages.
The United States recommended that Israel evaluate laws that give Orthodox rabbis control over religious and non-religious Jews and Germany recommended that Israel legislate civil marriage.
On Tuesday, the Yesh Atid parliamentary faction put forward a bill that would address the issue by creating a civil marriage option.
Each of the UN’s 193 member nations must submit to a review of its human rights record by the Geneva-based council once every four years. But because the council is less than a decade old, the second cycle of reviews for all nations is not yet complete.
Israel was supposed to have its second UN human rights review nine months ago, but it did not participate because it cut working relations with the council over its intention to launch an investigation into Jewish West Bank settlements.
On Sunday, Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Germany had sent a letter to Israel warning of diplomatic harm if Israel failed to submit to the review. Earlier in the year, Pakistan had called for punitive measures against Israel if it did not cooperate.
Advocacy group Human Rights Watch said Israel’s resumption of cooperation with the council must now be extended by engaging with the UN’s human rights team in the West Bank and allowing visits to Israel by UN rights experts.