The UN human rights chief sharply criticized Israel on Monday, calling recent killings by its soldiers during Palestinian demonstrations along the Gaza border fence “shocking.”
Recent months have seen an uptick in violence on Israel’s border with Gaza and violent clashes at weekly protests. Friday saw the killing of an IDF soldier by terrorists, massive airstrikes in Gaza and the firing of hundreds of rockets and mortars into Israel.
In addition, Palestinians in Gaza have launched many hundreds of kites, balloons and inflated latex condoms bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, into Israeli territory, sparking near-daily fires that have burned thousands of acres of farmland, parks and forests.
However, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said it was vital to address the root causes of the Gaza demonstrations. Zeid placed no responsibility on the Hamas terror group, which rules the Gaza Strip and openly calls for the destruction of Israel.
In a video address to the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, he said that the situation in Gaza has escalated dramatically in recent months with “the potential to generate threats to peace across a far broader region.”
Zeid, who heads the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said it is essential for all parties to cooperate with the independent, international commission of inquiry into the recent deadly events in Gaza that his office is helping to establish. It was authorized by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council on May 18 “to advance accountability” for the killings and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, he said.
He claimed that there are “serious concerns” that Israeli accountability mechanisms don’t comply with international standards of “independence, impartiality, and effectiveness.”
“Very few investigations ever occur,” he said. “In the rare cases where an investigation has led to an indictment, the sentence has been extremely lenient in light of the gravity of the crime committed.”
Since the organized protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30, more than 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire. Dozens of the fatalities were members of terror groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have said. More than 4,000 were wounded.
Israel says its troops are defending the border and accuses Hamas of trying to carry out terror attacks under the cover of the protests.
The Israeli military says it has insisted its soldiers adhere to the rules of engagement to defend Israeli civilians and security infrastructure from attacks cloaked by the protests.
In addition to “grossly inadequate living conditions” caused by Israel’s blockade for the residents of Gaza, most of whom are descendants of refugees, restrictive measures have also been imposed by Egypt that have “exacerbated these conditions,” Zeid said.
Israel says it maintains the blockade to prevent Gaza’s Hamas rulers from importing weaponry. Hamas openly seeks to destroy Israel.
Zeid added that the situation in Gaza may be “severely aggravated” in the coming months by the financial crisis facing the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, as a result of dramatic cuts to its budget by the Trump administration in the US.
Zeid also criticized last week’s approval by Israel’s parliament of a bill defining the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people. He said that it “anchors inherent discrimination against non-Jewish communities,” most notably the Arab citizens of Israel and residents of East Jerusalem, and warned that it “could also further inflame tensions.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the bill’s passage a “historic moment in the history of Zionism and the history of the State of Israel,” saying: “Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, which honors the individual rights of all its citizens.”
Zeid also criticized Israel’s approval, planning and construction of settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.
Furthermore, he called Israel’s detention of hundreds of Palestinian children, some without charge under a system of “administrative detention,” a “fundamental human rights violation.”
“It should be absolutely clear that international law requires detention only be used for children as a last resort,” he said.
And whether for children or adults, Zeid said, detention without trial “contravenes Israel’s obligations under international law.”
“An estimated 440 Palestinians are being held in ‘administrative detention,’ according to the latest figures,” he said. “Israel should immediately charge, or release, all of them.”
In an op-ed published Sunday, four senior Trump administration officials lauded “the beginning of a paradigm shift” in the United Nations General Assembly, citing voting patterns on a June resolution on violence in the Gaza Strip.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, senior adviser to US President Donald Trump Jared Kushner, US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, and US Ambassador to Israel David Freidman said the organization, which in the past has been “relentlessly and blindly anti-Israel,” had shown promise by considering Hamas’s role in the conflict.