The UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories has said he will examine the treatment of human rights defenders in the region in light of “the severe reaction by the Israeli government” to the appearance of watchdog B’Tselem before the UN Security Council earlier this month.
Michael Lynk, who submitted his first report to the UN General Assembly on Friday, said “human rights defenders and humanitarian workers perform an indispensable role in bringing to our attention violations of human rights, and there is no way that they should be threatened in any manner or intimidated in any manner.”
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, responded by slamming the UN Human Rights Council to which Lynk reports as a biased organization whose authority Israel does not recognize.
B’Tselem was denounced by many in the Israeli government, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after its executive director Hagai El-Ad gave a speech to the UN Security Council calling on the UN to take action against Israel over its settlement policies in the West Bank.
In response to El-Ad’s speech, coalition chairman and Likud MK David Bitan called for stripping El-Ad of his citizenship and said he would advance legislation that would forbid Israeli citizens from urging action against Israel at international bodies. Bitan was widely criticized for his proposal by lawmakers across the political spectrum, who called it undemocratic, ignorant, and short-sighted.
“The fact that some cabinet ministers in the Israeli government threatened to revoke the citizenship of the executive director of B’Tselem is a particularly worrying path for Israel to wind up taking,” he said.
As for his report, Lynk said that “Not only the occupation is getting deeper, more entrenched, more embedded, more anchored — but the social and economic situation of Palestinians under occupation is steadily getting worse.”
This, he claimed, had led to the creation of “a disfigured and stifled Palestinian economy that Israel, the occupying power, decisively controls and exploits for its own benefit.”
Lynk said the “occupation is dripping in human rights violations.” He spoke of growing poverty, recurring incidents of “collective punishment” including home demolitions, geographic closures and “the almost decade-long comprehensive blockade of Gaza.
“Israel’s occupation is denying Palestine’s right to development and severely hampering its ability to attain even the minimum targets of the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said. “Poverty is rising. Unemployment is rising to epic levels. Food insecurity is becoming more acute. The Palestinian economy is becoming more stifled and less viable under the occupation.”
He lambasted the “steady incurrence of violence and lack of accountability by Israeli security forces, in reaction to either demonstrations or to attempted attacks by Palestinians.”
A wave of Palestinian terrorism and violence since October 2015 has killed at least 234 Palestinians, 36 Israelis, two Americans, one Jordanian, an Eritrean and a Sudanese national, according to an AFP count. Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, according to Israeli authorities. Others were shot dead during protests or clashes, while some were killed in Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.
Lynk noted that he had been denied access by Israel to the Palestinian territories
“This was also the case for my two immediate predecessors as special rapporteurs,” he said, “I would remind the world that the cooperation of all member states is a fundamental obligation of UN membership.”
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danon blasted Lynk’s comments and said they “underscore the great damage committed by extreme Israeli groups who slander us on the international stage.
“The nonsense spouted by those extreme groups provide ammunition for enemies of Israel and provide legitimacy for actions against Israel.”
Lynk, he added, “represents a one-sided, biased organization and we do not recognize its credibility or authority.”
Israel has a tense relationship with the Human Rights Council, which it accuses of having a built-in bias against it.
When Lynk was nominated to the post in March, critics, including the monitoring group UN Watch, rejected the appointment, with the NGO calling the Canadian a biased choice for the post and “a travesty of justice and a breach of the world body’s own rules.”
CEO Hillel Neuer said at the time that Lynk has long been a vocal critic of Israel, condemning the Jewish state for alleged “war crimes” in Gaza in 2009 and calling for a solution to the conflict by going “back to 1948, the date of partition and the start of ethnic cleansing.”