Report: ‘Perpetual’ Israeli occupation at the root of violence

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GENEVA — Investigators commissioned by the UN’s top human rights body say tensions between Palestinians and Israelis are underpinned by Israel’s “perpetual occupation” of Palestinian territories with no apparent intent to end it.

The findings came Tuesday in the first report of a commission of inquiry, led by a three-member team of human rights experts. It was established last year by the UN-backed Human Rights Council after an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The UN human rights agency says the war has killed at least 261 people – including 67 children – in Gaza, and 14 people, including two children, in Israel.

The commission, led by former UN human rights chief Navi Pillay, is the first to have an “ongoing” mandate from the UN rights body. Critics argue that permanent scrutiny reflects an anti-Israel bias in the 47-member council and other UN bodies. Supporters say the commission is needed to keep an eye on the ongoing injustices faced by Palestinians during decades of Israeli rule.

The report largely summarizes the efforts of UN researchers over the years to address the causes of violence in the Middle East, and the authors acknowledged that it was, in part, an “overview” of previous UN findings.

“What has become a situation of perpetual occupation was cited to the committee by Palestinian and Israeli stakeholders as the only common problem” representing the “underlying cause” of recurring tensions, instability and protracted conflict, the authors wrote. They said “impunity” for perpetrators of violence fueled resentment among Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

The Israeli government, which opposed the creation of the commission, refused to allow its members entry into Israel or the Palestinian territories, and testimonies of Palestinians and Israelis were collected from Geneva and Jordan.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the report as “an essential part of the witch-hunt being conducted against Israel by the Human Rights Council”.

It called the report biased and one-sided and accused the committee members of ignoring Palestinian violence, incitement and anti-Semitism. “The members of the Commission, who claim to be objective, were appointed to their posts only because of their public and known anti-Israel positions, in direct opposition to the rules set out by the United Nations,” it said.

The State Department reiterated its opposition to the “open and vaguely defined nature” of the commission, saying the report “does nothing to advance the prospects for peace” between Israelis and Palestinians.

The report’s authors cited “credible” evidence that “indicates convincingly that Israel has no intention of ending the occupation” and plans to ensure full control of the Palestinian territories. The Israeli government, it added, “has acted to change demographics by maintaining a repressive environment for Palestinians and a favorable environment for Israeli settlers.”

They also criticized Palestinian leaders, saying that the Palestinian Authority, which manages autonomous areas in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, often refers to the occupation as justification for its own human rights violations. It also points to the occupation as the main reason for not holding parliamentary and presidential elections, the authors said. The PA has been widely criticized for corruption and intolerance of dissent.

Despite the criticism, the Palestinian Authority welcomed the report. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said the report “shows beyond any doubt that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and discrimination against Palestinians are the root causes behind the recurring tensions, instability and ongoing conflict in the region.”

As for the Hamas authorities in Gaza, the commission said they show little commitment to upholding human rights and little adherence to international law. Since taking control of Gaza in 2007, Hamas has shown little tolerance for political dissent and has been accused of torturing opponents.

Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt in the 1967 Middle East War.

It has annexed East Jerusalem and claims the area – home to the city’s main holy sites – as part of the capital. It considers the West Bank a “disputed” area and has built dozens of Jewish settlements there. More than 700,000 Israeli settlers now live in the two areas.

The internationally recognized Palestinian Authority aims for an independent state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. The international community overwhelmingly considers all three territories occupied by Israel.

Rights groups have accused both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during last year’s fighting. Israel vehemently denies the allegations, accusing Hamas of endangering civilians by using residential areas as cover during military operations.

Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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