UN rights chief criticizes Israel’s ‘immediate dismissal’ of report on Gaza

Michelle Bachelet makes no mention of violence by Palestinians during their border protests against Israeli troops

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks at the opening of the 40th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, February 25,  2019. (UN Photo/Violaine Martin)
Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks at the opening of the 40th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, February 25, 2019. (UN Photo/Violaine Martin)

The United Nations’ new human rights chief on Wednesday said she was disappointed with Israel’s “immediate dismissal” of a report about deadly violence by its security forces against protesters in Gaza last year.

The comments by Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile, came during her first annual address to the Human Rights Council in Geneva since her appointment in September as UN high commissioner for human rights.

The report commissioned by the council alleges that Israeli soldiers intentionally fired on civilians and may have committed crimes against humanity in crackdowns that killed 189 people and wounded 6,000 by sniper fire.

“The end of this month will mark one year since the start of demonstrations which – as the Council’s Commission of Inquiry reported – have been met with deadly, disproportionate force by the Israeli Security Forces, leading to a very high toll of killings and injuries,” she said.

A transcript of Bachelet’s speech made no mention of Palestinian violence and breaches and destruction of the Israel-Gaza border fence during the protests. An Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper near the border.

The independent commission of inquiry mandated by the HRC that compiled the report acknowledged significant violence linked to the demonstrations, but said it did not amount to combat campaigns, essentially rejecting Israel’s assertion of “terror activities” by the Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers.

The probe investigated possible violations from the start of the protests on March 30, 2018, through December 31.

“The Commission found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities, knowing they were clearly recognizable as such,” the report said.

During the violence, mainly on Fridays, protesters have hurled explosives at troops, set tires alight and launched many explosive and incendiary balloons carried by the wind into Israel.

Ahmad Shami, a spokesperson for PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, welcomed the report and said it was “a right step in the right direction, yet is not enough for establishing comprehensive accountability. The international community must take its responsibility and provide international protection for the Palestinian citizens in every inch of Occupied Palestine.”

During the summer months, the incendiary balloons caused many fires that destroyed thousands of dunams of forests and farmland in areas close to the Gaza Strip.

The arson and bombing attacks largely stopped at the end of last year, following a de facto ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, but they returned earlier this month as this understanding began to fray.

“I was disappointed to see the immediate dismissal of that report by Israel, without addressing any of the very serious issues raised. All parties concerned should exercise restraint as the date of 30 March approaches,” Bachelet said on Wednesday.

She made “gross inequalities” in the world the theme of her speech and, in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she said: “The devastating impact of the occupation on economic and social rights is closely interlinked with violations of civil and political rights (of Palestinians).”

She also criticized the Israeli decision to cancel the mandate of the Temporary International Protective Presence in Hebron, which she said had “helped to prevent and mitigate some human rights violations in a frequently challenging context.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced in January that Israel would not extend the TIPH mandate following a number of incidents over the past year in which its officials clashed with settlers in Hebron.

The establishment of the TIPH was based on the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, which called for an international observer force in the West Bank town.

Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy and Turkey made up TIPH’s staff and the foreign ministers from those countries wrote a joint letter condemning the Israeli decision.

The international civilian observer group’s mandate tasked it with “monitoring and reporting efforts to maintain normal life in the city of Hebron, thus creating a sense of security among the Palestinians in Hebron.”

TIPH also reported alleged human rights abuses and violations of accords in the city between Israel and Palestinians. It had about a dozen staff operating locally and another 64 working abroad.

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