Human Rights Council issues unprecedentedly harsh review

UN panel, for first time, backs boycott of settlement products

HRC’s report is ‘utterly misguided… and widely out of line,’ Foreign Ministry spokesman tells Times of Israel

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Israeli soldiers protect Palestinian olive pickers near Hebron in 2011 (Photo credit: Najeh Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers protect Palestinian olive pickers near Hebron in 2011 (Photo credit: Najeh Hashlamoun/Flash90)

A United Nations fact-finding mission into the Israeli settlement enterprise appears to promote an international boycott of goods produced by Israeli Jews in the West Bank, in what would be the first time the organization officially backed such a call.  

The mission, which conducted its probe from Jordan since Israel did not let its members enter Israel or the Palestinian territories, issued a scathing report Thursday, lambasting Israel for intentionally breaking international law and systematically violating human rights of Palestinian men, women and children in order to drive them away from their lands.

“Private companies must assess the human rights impact of their activities and take all necessary steps — including by terminating their business interests in the settlements — to ensure they are not adversely impacting the human rights of the Palestinian People in conformity with international law,” the report states.

Headed by French-born human rights lawyer Christine Chanet, the mission calls upon the UN’s 193 member states to “ensure that business enterprises domiciled in their territory and/or under their jurisdiction, including those owned or controlled by them, that conduct activities in or related to the settlements respect human rights throughout their operations.”

Virtually the entire international community — including the United States — agrees that Israeli settlements beyond the pre-1967 lines violate the 1949 Geneva Conventions and are thus illegal under international law.

But so far no Western country nor multi-state organization has officially called for a boycott of Israeli products originating in the West Bank. The European Union excludes such goods from tax and customs benefits it extends to products from Israel proper, and has reportedly considered sanctioning Israel for expanding settlements by banning imports of West Bank goods. But so far no Western state or confederation has indicated support for a boycott as explicitly as Thursday’s UN report.

Israel reacted angrily at the report’s not-so-tacit encouragement of a boycott.

“The report is so utterly misguided that it steps widely out of line in recommending a boycott that would harm Palestinians and Israelis alike,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Times of Israel. “The authors seem so enraged that they forget they have no authority on such issues, and their hubris leads them to decree as states, rather than opine as individuals.”

Last March, the United Nations Human Rights Council decided to dispatch an international fact-finding mission to “investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.” Furious over the UNHRC’s apparent over-obsession with Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians, Jerusalem cut all ties with the Geneva-based body, ceasing all cooperation and barring its fact-finders from entering Israeli territory.

Unable to come to Israel or the Palestinian territory, the mission —  which besides Chanet included Asma Jahangir of Pakistan and Unity Dow of Botswana — interviewed over 50 people about the human rights situation in the West Bank in early November. Interviewees included “victims of human rights violations, Jordanian Foreign Ministry officials, Palestinian Authority officials, international organisations, NGOs and UN agencies,” according to the report.

The three fact-finders walked away with an emphatically negative impression of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, accusing Jerusalem of deliberately harming the Palestinian civilian population under its control.

“The magnitude of violations relating to Israel’s policies of dispossessions, evictions, demolitions and displacements from land shows the widespread nature of these breaches of human rights,” Dow said. “The motivation behind violence and intimidation against the Palestinians and their properties is to drive the local populations away from their lands, allowing the settlements to expand.”

Even children suffer “multiple violations of their rights to liberty and security and fair trial through interrogation, arbitrary detention and abuse, trial and sentencing,” the report states.

“Children suffer harassment, violence and encounter significant obstacles in attending educational institutions, which limits their right to access education,” the report charges. The mission therefore demands that Israel “must …cease all settlement activities without preconditions” and immediately start withdrawing “all settlers” from any territory beyond the pre-1967 lines.

In a first response, Israel’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the report as biased and unhelpful.

“The only way to resolve all pending issues between Israel and the Palestinians, including the settlements issue, is through direct negotiations without pre-conditions,” a statement released Thursday read. “Counterproductive measures — such as the report before us — will only hamper efforts to find a sustainable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The UNHRC has “sadly distinguished itself by its systematically
one-sided and biased approach towards Israel,” the statement continued. “This latest report is yet another unfortunate reminder of that.”

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