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UN moves forward with unprecedented open-ended probe against Israel

United Nations General Assembly approves budget for investigation set up after Gaza conflict in May; envoy Gilad Erdan calls commission ‘despicable and biased’

Illustrative: Smoke rises following Israeli missile strikes on Gaza City on May 13, 2021. (AP/Khalil Hamra)
Illustrative: Smoke rises following Israeli missile strikes on Gaza City on May 13, 2021. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday approved an open-ended international investigation into Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, which was first set up following Israel’s conflict with the Hamas terror group earlier this year.

In May, the UN’s Human Rights Council voted to create the investigation after the UN rights chief said Israeli forces may have committed war crimes and faulted the Hamas terror group for violations of international law in their 11-day conflict earlier that month.

The resolution called for the creation of a permanent “Commission of Inquiry” — the most potent tool at the council’s disposal — to monitor and report on rights violations in Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It would be the first such commission of inquiry with an “ongoing” mandate.

The Human Rights Council approved the measure at the time with 24 countries voting in favor, nine against and 14 abstentions.

On Thursday, the commission came up before the UN General Assembly for budgetary approval.

It passed with 125 countries supporting it, eight opposing and 34 abstentions.

Israel, the US, Hungary and the Pacific nations of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Papua New Guinea opposed the move. Australia, Austria, Canada, Brazil and Germany were among the abstentions.

Israel’s representative at the meeting said the commission was “yet another example of a grossly discriminatory and fraudulent body that this distinguished forum should be working to abolish.”

She said experts involved in the commission had made statements revealing a bias against Israel, and that the commission “pre-assumes Israeli violations of international law rather than presuming innocence as is required.”

The open-ended nature of the commission could also have severe budget implications, she said.

“I would hope that this body would not play a hand again in wasting limited and precious resources to fund yet another mock court,” she said.

Israel’s UN envoy Gilad Erdan said in a statement: “The UN fell to a new low and approved a budget for a despicable and biased commission that has no right to exist.”

He said the commission of inquiry ignores Hamas war crimes, including the 4,000 rockets fired at Israeli civilians.

The commission was blasted by Israeli leaders when it was announced in May, including by then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then president Reuven Rivlin and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Besides the Israel-Hamas conflict, the commission is also to investigate “all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability, and protraction of conflict” including discrimination and repression, according to the text.

The 11-day war in May, called by Israel “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” began with Hamas firing rockets at Jerusalem, followed by towns in south of Israel and the Tel Aviv area. Israeli retaliatory airstrikes on targets in the Strip killed some 250 people, including 66 minors, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, which does not differentiate between terror group members and civilians. Twelve people were killed in Israel, all but one of them civilians, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl.

Israel has said the majority of those killed were terror operatives and insists it did everything to avoid civilian casualties while fighting armed groups deeply and deliberately embedded in populated areas.

Israel — backed at times by the United States — has long accused the council of anti-Israel bias and has generally refused to cooperate with its investigators.

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