The UN human rights chief on Tuesday decried 50 years of Israeli control of the West Bank, “which has denied the Palestinians many of their most fundamental freedoms,” invoking the Jewish Holocaust while simultaneously asserting that he was not comparing the experiences of the two peoples.
In a statement marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Palestinians “deserve freedom, as all peoples do. They deserve to bring up their children safe in their homes, on their land, exercising their rights in their state, free from this long and bitter occupation.”
He noted, however, that “Israelis also deserve freedom — a different sort of freedom, for they have long had their state, but they too have suffered grievously.”
“The Israeli people have long endured unlawful attacks against their own civilian population,” he said, “attacks which are often vicious, in clear violation of international humanitarian law, and also worthy of condemnation. Israelis too need to be free from this violence, from any existential threat posed to them.”
Zeid, who formerly served as Jordan’s representative to the UN, said Palestinian suffering should not be likened to the experiences of the Jews in the Holocaust, but began his speech by recalling his own contacts with Palestinian refugees and visits to sites of concentration camps.
“Some will respond, mechanically almost, that the experiences of the two peoples are not equivalent, how could I mention them in one breath? Indeed, I agree — the Holocaust was so monstrous and so mathematically planned and executed it has no parallel, no modern equal,” he said.
“Yet it is also undeniable that today, the Palestinian people mark a half-century of deep suffering under an occupation imposed by military force,” he added.
This week marks 50 years since Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights during the 1967 war, which broke out after Egypt, Syria and Jordan mobilized to attack Israel.
Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt after signing a peace treaty in 1979, de facto annexed the Golan Heights in 1981 and withdrew its troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Its current government maintains that its military control of the West Bank is not an occupation, though the international community and some Israeli leaders disagree.
Zeid charged that Israel’s control of the West Bank is brutal and has denied “Palestinians many of their most fundamental freedoms,” and violations of international law were “systematic.”
“The end of the occupation must now be brought about, and soon. Maintain the occupation, and for both peoples there will only be a prolongation of immense pain…the weeping by loved ones for loved ones, the prayers, the curses, the hatreds and vengeance, the impossibility of a secure life for all. This can be ended,” he said.
On Monday UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres criticized Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and called for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The UN chief said Israel’s military control of Palestinian areas endangers both Israelis and Palestinians. He called for the establishment of a Palestinian state through “direct negotiations to resolve all final status issues on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, agreements and international law.”
“This occupation has imposed a heavy humanitarian and development burden on the Palestinian people,” the statement said. “Its perpetuation is sending an unmistakable message to generations of Palestinians that their dream of statehood is destined to remain just that, a dream; and to Israelis that their desire for peace, security and regional recognition remains unattainable.”