Violence in Israel, West Bank ‘must stop,’ UN rights chief says

Volker Turk calls for end to violence after Jenin operation and Tel Aviv terror attack, criticizes Israeli airstrikes

United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk answers AFP journalists' questions during an interview at his office, in Geneva, on January 4, 2023. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)
United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk answers AFP journalists' questions during an interview at his office, in Geneva, on January 4, 2023. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

The UN human rights chief on Tuesday decried the cycle of violence in Israel and the West Bank, insisting that the fighting must come to a halt.

“The recent operation in the occupied West Bank and car-ramming attack in Tel Aviv worryingly underscore an all too familiar pattern of events: that violence only begets more violence,” Volker Turk said in a statement.

“The killing, maiming and the destruction of property must stop,” he said.

The ramming and stabbing terror attack in Tel Aviv wounded seven people on Tuesday before the suspect was shot dead, on the second day of Israel’s biggest military operation in years in the West Bank. One of the wounded was a pregnant woman who lost her child due to her injuries.

The Israeli military is operating in Jenin to crack down on terror groups there, after a string of deadly attacks in recent months. Jenin and its environs are seen by security forces as a hotbed of terrorism.

The Palestinian terror group Hamas praised the “heroic” Tel Aviv car attack as “an initial response to crimes against our people in the Jenin camp.”

Palestinian health officials said Tuesday that 11 people were killed and at least 100 others were wounded in Jenin, including 20 listed in serious condition, during Israeli airstrikes and in clashes with Israeli forces the previous day.

All of the slain Palestinians were involved in the fighting, but there were some noncombatants among the wounded, according to the IDF.

Turk said the scale of the Jenin operation, including the use of repeated airstrikes, along with the destruction of property, raised serious issues regarding international human rights norms and standards.

Some of the methods and weapons used “are more generally associated with the conduct of hostilities in armed conflict, rather than law enforcement,” he said.

“The use of airstrikes is inconsistent with rules applicable to the conduct of law enforcement operations. In a context of occupation, the deaths resulting from such airstrikes may also amount to willful killings,” he said.

Turk said the Israeli forces in the West Bank needed to abide by international human rights standards on the use of force.

“These standards do not change simply because the goal of the operation is stated as ‘counter-terrorism,'” he said. Turk’s statement did not make any other mention of terror groups operating out of the city. IDF forces recovered large quantities of weapons, explosives and other military equipment during the operation, including some stored inside a mosque.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday that he was “deeply concerned about the developments in Jenin,” according to a statement released by his office.

Guterres “affirms that all military operations must be conducted with full respect for international humanitarian law,” the statement said.

The UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council have long had a lopsided focus on Israel, with the Jewish state and the US accusing the world bodies of bias and, in some cases, antisemitism.

Top UN human rights officials involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have made a number of antisemitic statements, and the General Assembly condemned Israel more than all other countries combined last year.

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers the opening speech on the first day of the Ukraine Recovery Conference in London on June 21, 2023. (Henry Nicholls/Pool/AFP)

Other world leaders issued similar statements about the Jenin operation on Tuesday.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urged Israel to protect Palestinian civilians.

Sunak reiterated UK support for Israel’s right to self-defense, and condemned Palestinian terrorist attacks as he was grilled by members of parliament on an array of issues.

“We would say the protection of civilians must be prioritized in any military operation, and we urge the IDF to demonstrate restraint in its operation and for all parties to avoid further escalation in both the West Bank and Gaza, both now and in the days ahead,” Sunak said.

Sunak said the UK “also called on Israel to adhere to principles of necessity and proportionality when defending their legitimate security interests.”

Germany insisted on Israel’s right to self-defense, but urged it to observe “proportionality.”

The German foreign ministry said it was watching the latest flare-up of violence in the region with “great concern” but stressed that “Israel, like every state, has the right to defend itself against terror.”

However, a ministry spokesman said in a statement that “the principle under international law of proportionality must be respected” in Jenin.

A number of countries also condemned the terror attack in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

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