Commission asked to produce a final report next March

UN Human Rights Council votes to investigate Israel for Gaza protest deaths

After 29-2 vote, with US and Australia opposed, Israel rejects council’s ‘hypocritical, absurd’ attempt to undermine right to self-defense, dismisses probe as ‘foregone conclusion’

A television screen at the UN Human Rights Council shows how countries voted on a resolution approving an investigation into Israel's handling of deadly clashes on the Gaza border, on May 18, 2018. (Foreign Ministry)
A television screen at the UN Human Rights Council shows how countries voted on a resolution approving an investigation into Israel's handling of deadly clashes on the Gaza border, on May 18, 2018. (Foreign Ministry)

GENEVA, Switzerland — The UN Human Rights Council on Friday voted to establish an investigation into Israel’s killing of Palestinians during protests along the Gaza border, in a move Israel rejected as being an attempt to undermine Israel’s right to self-defense.

The council voted 29 in favor and two against with 14 countries abstaining. Australia and the US were the two countries to oppose the decision. The council also condemned “the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians.”

The “independent, international commission of inquiry” mandated by the council will be asked to produce a final report next March.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the vote and the council as “irrelevant.”

“The organization that calls itself the Human Rights Council again proved it is a hypocritical and biased body whose purpose is to harm Israel and back terror, but mostly it proved it is irrelevant,” he added. “The State of Israel will continue to defend its citizens and soldiers,” he said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said Israel would not cooperate with the investigation.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in Washington, November 2017. (Shmulik Almany/MFA)

“The UN Human Rights Council prefers to back Hamas instead of supporting Israel’s right to defend itself from terror,” tweeted Hotovely. “We have no intention of cooperating with an international investigative committee that wants to dictate results without a connection to facts.”

Israel rejected the decision, saying all that it proved was that the council had “an automatic anti-Israel majority, where hypocrisy and the absurd held sway.”

“The results of this investigation are a forgone conclusion and are written in the text of the decision itself,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “It is clear to all that the aim of this council is not to investigate the truth, but to undermine Israel’s right to self-defense and to uniquely demonize the Jewish state.”

Israel accused the council of systematically ignoring real human rights violations around the world and instead “adopting for more resolutions against Israel than against all the rest of the countries in the world combined.”

Israel pointed out that the vast majority of the 60 people killed in Monday’s protest “were Hamas members, as even the leaders of the terror group have acknowledged in their own voices.”

The Israeli statement said Israel’s actions were completely legal and intended to “protect our sovereignty and prevent a mass assault against the border with the intention of killing Israelis and carrying out terror attacks.”

Israel is not a member of the UNHRC, and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday called on the US to leave it. “We need to stop lending a hand to this hypocrisy-fest,” he said.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein attends a special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on May 18, 2018 in Geneva. (AFP/Fabrice Coffrini)

Earlier, the UN human rights chief  slammed Israel’s actions as “wholly disproportionate” and backed calls for an international investigation.

Addressing a special session of the UN Human Rights Council on the violence, which the council said has claimed more than 87 Gazan lives in six weeks, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned that “killing resulting from the unlawful use of force by an occupying power may also constitute willful killings, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

He pointed out that while 60 Palestinians were killed and thousands injured in a single day of protests that coincided with Monday’s move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, “on the Israeli side, one soldier was reportedly wounded, slightly, by a stone.” Hamas later acknowledged that 50 of the fatalities were its members.

“The stark contrast in casualties on both sides is… suggestive of a wholly disproportionate response,” Zeid told the council.

“Nobody has been made safer by the horrific events of the past week,” he said.

“Israel, as an occupying power under international law, is obligated to protect the population of Gaza and ensure their welfare. But they are, in essence, caged in a toxic slum from birth to death; deprived of dignity; dehumanized by the Israeli authorities to such a point it appears officials do not even consider that these men and women have a right, as well as every reason, to protest,” said Zeid.

Zeid placed no responsibility on the Hamas terror group whose leader openly called to breach Israel’s border and violently attack the people living there.

Israel, US slam UN

Zeid said he supported the call for an investigation “that is international, independent and impartial, in the hope the truth regarding these matters will lead to justice.”

Israeli ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Aviva Raz Shechter, slammed the special session Friday, saying it was “politically motivated and won’t improve the situation on the ground by even one iota.”

“The unfortunate outcome of Monday’s riots can only be attributed to Hamas’s cynical exploitation of its own population, in a violent campaign against Israel,” she said.

The council session would only serve to “empower Hamas and reward its terror strategy and its use of civilians as human shields to advance its terror activities against the citizens of Israel.”

“Israel is conducting independent and transparent investigations on any credible accusation or reasonable suspicion of alleged wrongdoing,” she added. “The IDF maintains a robust, multi-layered investigations system, with numerous checks and balances to ensure impartiality.”

US representative Theodore Allegra also charged that the UN session was “blatantly taking sides and ignoring the real culprit for the recent outbreak of violence, the terrorist organization Hamas.”

Zeid insisted that many of those injured and killed on Monday “were completely unarmed, (and) were shot in the back, in the chest, in the head and limbs with live ammunition,” he said, saying there was “little evidence of any (Israeli) attempt to minimize casualties.”

He said, “some of the demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails, used slingshots to throw stones, flew burning kites into Israel and attempted to use wire-cutters against the two fences between Gaza and Israel.”

But he added: “These actions alone do not appear to constitute the imminent threat to life or deadly injury which could justify the use of lethal force.”

Israel detailed several incidents in which it said soldiers came under fire, including what it said was a gun battle in which it said 8 armed Hamas members were killed.

A handgun, knife, crowbars and wire cutters found in possession of eight suspected Hamas terrorists who the army says opened fire at Israeli troops in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

‘Establish the facts’

The special UN session came after seven straight weeks of mass protests and clashes along the Gaza border with Israel.

Israel has blamed the Hamas terror group that rules the Strip for the violence in Gaza, saying it co-opted the protests and has used them as cover to attempt border infiltrations and attacks on Israelis. On Wednesday, a Hamas official said 50 of the 62 killed on Monday and Tuesday were members of the group and the Islamic Jihad terror group claimed another three as its members.

Hamas’s Salah Bardawil (right) acknowledges 50 Hamas fatalities among the 62 killed on Israel-Gaza border, May 16, 2018 (Screenshot)

The council  had called for the urgent dispatch of “an independent, international commission of inquiry” — the UN rights council’s highest-level of investigation.

The draft resolution, which was presented by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and backed by 47 UN member states, said investigators should probe “all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law … in the context of the military assaults on large-scale civilian protests that began on 30 March 2018.”

It said the aim should be to “establish the facts and circumstances” around “alleged violations and abuses including those that may amount to war crimes and to identify those responsible.”

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