NEW YORK — Israeli and Palestinian representatives at an emergency gathering Thursday of the United Nations General Assembly on the ongoing violence hurled accusations of “genocide” at one another, with the former insisting that Hamas instigated the latest round of fighting in Gaza as part of an intra-Palestinian power struggle.
“You all know, and even the Palestinian representative here today knows, that Hamas’s premeditated assault had nothing to do with any Israeli action,” Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan said in a speech.
“This was all the result of Hamas’s frustration with President [Mahmoud] Abbas’s decision to cancel the [Palestinian] elections [on April 29] and its desire to increase its political influence in East Jerusalem and the West Bank,” Erdan accused.
“Hamas seeks to replace the Palestinian Authority, and take control of the Palestinian territories. So after the elections were canceled, it decided to launch a war of aggression against Israel.
Erdan was one of the few speakers at the General Assembly session to speak unequivocally in defense of Israel’s operations in Gaza in response to Hamas rocket fire. Representatives from 95 missions, including 12 ministers from Arab and Islamic countries, addressed the gathering, with the vast majority reiterating support for Palestinian self-determination, demanding an immediate ceasefire, and lamenting the destruction and loss of life in Gaza.
The latest round of fighting between Israel and the Gaza-based terror group began with a volley of rockets from Gaza toward Jerusalem last Monday. Over 4,000 rockets have since been fired at Israeli towns.
Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, have been killed in rocket fire, and hundreds have been injured over the past ten days.
Israel, in response, launched an extensive bombing campaign in the Strip.
On Thursday, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry updated the death toll in the Strip to 232, including 65 minors. It was not immediately clear if the ministry tally included all of those killed or if there were Hamas operatives not included in the count.
According to the IDF, more than 120 of those killed were members of Hamas and over 25 were members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as of Monday night. The IDF says some of the Gaza civilian fatalities were killed by the terror groups’ own rockets falling short and exploding in Gaza.
“The whole world stays silent and turns a blind eye to the genocide of whole Palestinian families,” said Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki, during whose speech Erdan walked out.
Israel’s Mission to the UN always knows where to position that camera to capture Amb. Gilad Erdan walking out of the UN chambers in fury. Here he is leaving today in the middle of Palestinian envoy Riyadh Mansour’s speech today before the General Assembly pic.twitter.com/cIXnAHEkzm
— Jacob Magid (@JacobMagid) May 20, 2021
“How can an occupying power have the right to defend itself when a whole people under occupation is deprived of the very same rights?” said the Palestinian minister, concerning Israeli claims of self-defense.
Maliki urged the assembly to ensure that Israel is held accountable for what he described as the targeting of innocent Palestinians, and asked that countries not provide Israel with arms.
“Let’s stop this massacre,” Maliki added.
Speaking later before the assembly, Erdan alleged there was indifference to “Hamas’s charter, which, like the Nazis, is committed to the genocide of the Jewish people.”
“We see an attempt to create a false moral equivalence,” Erdan said. “Israel makes every effort to avoid civilian casualties. Hamas makes every effort to increase civilian casualties.”
Erdan said Israel “did everything to de-escalate the situation” and still favors a ceasefire, “but only after significantly degrading Hamas’s terror machine. We are looking for a cure and not a bandaid.”
“I have heard voices in this hall, accusing Israel of a disproportionate response based on the different number of Israeli and Palestinian casualties,” he said.
“If the UN General Assembly had existed during the Nazi regime, would it have held a special session to condemn the Allies for their disproportionate response and the large number of German casualties? Would it have urged them to show restraint in the face of Hitler, the Nazi army and their supporters?” Erdan asked.
The Israeli envoy employed several props during his lengthy address, holding up pictures that included a quote from the Hamas charter calling for Israel’s annihilation and another showing Palestinian worshipers in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque using the site to gather rocks to hurl during clashes with Israeli police earlier this month.
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield used her speech to push back against growing claims in the international community that Washington has not done enough to weigh in on the violence and help bring it to an end.
Thomas-Greenfield’s office has blocked three Security Council joint statements calling for an immediate ceasefire and has hinted that it will oppose a more weighty French resolution with the same goal, even though it also includes condemnation of indiscriminate rocket fire.
“I don’t believe that there is any country working more urgently, and more fervently, toward peace,” the US envoy told the General Assembly, “This is not a slight. And it is not silence. It’s a fact.”
Thomas-Greenfield highlighted over 60 meetings that US officials have had with relevant players in the region aimed at bringing about a deescalation.
The envoy went on to defend Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas rocket fire while lamenting the civilian toll of the conflict on both sides.
Speaking at the opening of the session, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. He called on all members of the international community “to do everything in their power to enable the parties to conflict to step back from the brink.”
Guterres implicitly criticized Israel and Hamas for violating “the laws of war” which ban indiscriminate attacks and attacks against civilians and civilian property as well as attacks on military targets that cause disproportionate civilian casualties. He said “counter-terrorism or self-defense” are not justifications.
He urged Israeli authorities to abide by the laws, “including the proportionate use of force” and called on them “to exercise maximum restraint in the conduct of military operations.” He urged Hamas and other terror groups “to stop the indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars from highly populated civilian neighborhoods into civilian population centers in Israel.”
“I am deeply shocked by the continued air and artillery bombardment by the Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza,” said Guterres. “If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza today.”
Separately, the UN’s top human rights body said Thursday it will hold a special session next week to address “the grave human rights situation” in Palestinian areas in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The Human Rights Council will convene the May 27 meeting following a request presented by Pakistan, as coordinator of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.
The session at the 47-member state body in Geneva paves the way for a day-long debate.
More than 60 states — including member states and observer states — have so far expressed support for the special session, council spokesman Rolando Gomez said.
The United States, under president Donald Trump, quit the council in mid-2018 — partially over the administration’s allegations that the council has an anti-Israel bias. President Joe Biden has returned the US to participation at the council, and the US plans to seek a seat next year.
Israel’s ambassador in Geneva, Meirav Eilon Shahar, called on member states to “strongly oppose this meeting.”
“The convening of yet another special session by the Human Rights Council targeting Israel is testament to the clear anti-Israel agenda of this body,” she wrote on Twitter.