Human Rights Council urges bolstered UN presence in Palestinian areas

Human Rights Council urges bolstered UN presence in Palestinian areas

Members call to ‘deploy personnel and expertise necessary to document ongoing violations of international law,’ particularly in ‘occupied Gaza Strip’

An Israeli Merkava battle tank on the border with the Gaza Strip on March 15, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)
An Israeli Merkava battle tank on the border with the Gaza Strip on March 15, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The top UN human rights body on Friday asked its chief to strengthen her office’s presence in Palestinian areas following an investigation that said Israeli soldiers may have committed war crimes in the deadly response to Gaza protests last year.

The Human Rights Council made the request to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in a resolution that passed 23-8 with 15 abstentions, a vote loaded with political implications that quickly drew accusations of bias from the Israeli government.

“The Council requested the High Commissioner to strengthen the field presence of the Office of the High Commissioner in the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, and to deploy the personnel and expertise necessary to document the ongoing violations of international law, to follow up on the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the commission of inquiry, and to provide the Council with an oral update at its forty-second session,” it said.

Five central and eastern European countries joined Australia, Fiji and Brazil in opposing the measure. Britain and many EU countries abstained. Several Gulf Arab countries, with which Israel has claimed warming ties, voted in favor.

A picture taken on June 18, 2018, in Geneva, Switzerland, shows a general view during the opening of the 38th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. (AFP/Alain Grosclaude)

The resolution was the strongest among five considered by the council focusing on Israel and “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the only “country situation” considered at every council meeting. The issue made up more than one-sixth of the 29 resolutions considered at the four-week session that ended Friday.

The Trump administration last summer pulled out the United States, long one of Israel’s strongest backers at the 47-member Geneva body, from the council, in part alleging it has an anti-Israel bias.

The resolution comes after a three-person team of investigators commissioned by the council late last month issued an extensive report on violence during a string of violent Palestinian protests along Gaza’s border fence with Israel, which started nearly a year ago.

In it, the Independent Commission of Inquiry said Israeli soldiers between March and December 2018 intentionally fired on civilians and could have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. The crackdowns left over 180 people dead. The panel said over 6,000 people had been shot by military snipers using live ammunition to repel protesters.

A Palestinian uses a slingshot to fling back a tear gas canister thrown by Israeli forces during clashes at the fence along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on March 8, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The investigators specified that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli troops killed and injured Palestinians “who were neither directly participating in hostilities, nor posing an imminent threat.”

Israel has said the protests routinely devolve into violence, with rioters attacking troops with rocks, bombs and Molotov cocktails and attempting to sabotage and cross the border fence.

“The Human Rights Council repeated today its absurd and hypocritical ritual of creating a Commission of Inquiry singling out Israel, whose findings against Israel are predetermined, and then adopting them, all the while ignoring the reality on the ground,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Friday.

“Israel will continue to exercise its right of self-defense and will protect its citizens against terror and aggression,” it said.

The Israeli government did not cooperate with the authors of the report.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the council of “setting new records for hypocrisy and mendacity, out of an obsessive hatred of Israel.

“It is Hamas which fires missiles at Israeli citizens, throws explosive devices and carries out terrorist activity during the violent demonstrations along the fence. Israel will not allow Hamas to attack Israel’s sovereignty and its people, and will maintain the right of self-defense,” he said in February.

Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz denounced the report as a “theater of the absurd” based on false, poorly researched information.

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