ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Israel forbids doctors from speaking to UN group investigating Oct. 7 atrocities

Officials say commission of inquiry formed by UN Human Rights Council in 2021 is led by three people with antisemitic and anti-Israel views

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

UN commissioners Chris Sidoti, left, Navi Pillay, center, and Miloon Kothari, right, discuss their probe into Israel and the Palestinians at the United Nations in New York, October 27, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
UN commissioners Chris Sidoti, left, Navi Pillay, center, and Miloon Kothari, right, discuss their probe into Israel and the Palestinians at the United Nations in New York, October 27, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

The Health Ministry on Monday instructed members of the healthcare system not to cooperate with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel, citing its perceived anti-Israel stance.

In recent weeks, senior physicians and hospital staff who treated October 7 victims and released hostages have received letters and emails from the commission, which operates under the UN Council for Human Rights. The commission requested information and interviews for its investigation of international and gender-based crimes since the beginning of the current Israel-Hamas war.

The findings of the commission’s investigations will be presented in its reports to the Human Rights Council in June and to the UN General Assembly in October.

Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported that the Justice Ministry instructed the legal department of the Health Ministry to tell Israeli doctors and others involved in the care of October 7 victims and released hostages not to speak with the committee of inquiry.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat called the commission “an anti-Israeli and antisemitic body” and said Israel would not cooperate with it.

When asked by The Times of Israel what these claims were based on, Haiat said, “The commission of inquiry is there to investigate Israel without any time limits, unlike any other commission of inquiry from the UN system.”

“Furthermore, the three people chosen to head it are famous antisemitic and anti-Israel people,” Haiat added.

Former United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay presents a report on the opening day of the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva on June 13, 2022. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

The commission’s chair is Navanethem (Navi) Pillay from South Africa, who served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008 to 2014 and is currently a judge ad hoc of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The commission’s other leaders are Miloon Kothari from India, the first UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, and Chris Sidoti from Australia, an international human rights consultant and an expert in national human rights institutions and international human rights law and mechanisms.

All three have made statements in the past that Israel has deemed to be incorrect, offensive, or defamatory regarding the Jewish state or the global Jewish community, or both.

Demonstrators gather outside the UN headquarters in New York City on December 4, 2023, to protest the international community’s perceived silence on sexual violence committed by Hamas terrorists against Israeli women during the October 7 massacre. (Carli Fogel)

In an October 25 videotaped UN press conference, Pillay noted the commission’s statement released on October 10 condemning the Hamas attacks and calling for a cessation of hostilities and the return of hostages. “We named and condemned Hamas, but we also unequivocally condemn Israeli military attacks that result inevitably in the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians in Gaza,” Pillay said.

“Because of this continuing mandate of ours, we are in the position to examine issues such as the right of defense. But as we see it played out here, it is more a matter of retaliation and revenge,” she said.

Pillay characterized the Israeli government’s military policies and plans in the current war as “activity with the intent of pursuing collective punishment on all of Gaza and all Palestinian citizens.”

Kothari, in an interview with the anti-Israel website Mondoweiss in July 2022, was asked about criticism of the UN Commission of Inquiry investigating rights abuses in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“We are very disheartened by the social media that is controlled largely by, whether it is the Jewish lobby or it is specific NGOs, a lot of money is being thrown into trying to discredit us,” he said in the interview.

He also said, the same month: “I would go as far as to raise the question of why Israel is even a member of the United Nations.”

IDF soldiers are seen operating inside the Gaza Strip in this undated photo released on December 29, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

In June 2022, Sidoti dismissed accusations of antisemitism against the commission and said these were being “thrown around like rice at a wedding.”

“It is a tragedy and a travesty to trivialize antisemitism for political purposes, to rob it of its content, to use it as a shield for ordinary criticism of the actions of a state,” he added.

While Israel has criticized the UN and international human rights organizations for not immediately calling out war crimes and gender-based crimes committed by Hamas against Israelis on October 7, it opposes an investigation by this particular body, which has a long history of perceived anti-Israel bias.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel was established by the UN Human Rights Council in May 2021, following Operation Guardian of the Walls. The conflict, sparked by rocket fire by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad from Gaza on Jerusalem and other Israeli cities, lasted 12 days. The conflict also involved violent civil unrest between Jews and Arabs within Israel.

The commission of inquiry was set up as “an ongoing, independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel, all alleged violations of international humanitarian law and abuses of international human rights law leading up and since 13 April 2021.”

The commission has an additional mandate to “investigate all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of [the] conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity.”

The commission has held several public hearings in Geneva, and in December 2022 welcomed the UN General Assembly resolution requesting an ICJ advisory opinion relating to “the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.”

In one of its reports, the commission condemned “attacks, restrictions, and harassment of civil society actors in Israel, and the Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem,” placing blame mainly on Israeli authorities.

It labeled this as “part of the Israeli government’s goal of ensuring and enshrining its permanent occupation at the expense of the rights of the Palestinian people.”

In an interview with South African Broadcasting Corporation in November, Pillay stated, “Israel’s increasingly militarized law enforcement operations in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and repeated attacks on Gaza, consistently violate international human rights law and international humanitarian law.”

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