UN Human Rights Body Calls for International Inquiry in Gaza – U.S. and Australia Object

Gazans are 'caged in a toxic slum from birth to death,' UN rights chief says ■ Jerusalem blasts 'anti-Israeli' council ■ Turkey rips into U.S. for defending Israel: 'Must be held accountable for massacre of innocent people'

United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Palestine, Michael Lynk delivers a video message on May 18, 2018 in Geneva, during a special session of the UN Human Rights Council to discuss "the deteriorating human rights situation" in the Palestinian territories, after Israeli forces killed 60 Palestinians.
The UN human rights chief slammed Israel's deadly reaction to protests along the Gaza border as "wholly disproportionate", backing calls for an international investigation. / AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP

The UN human rights body on Friday called for an international inquiry into the state of human rights in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, calling out Israel for its killings of protesters in the Strip. Jerusalem blasted the decision and the council as being biased against Israel.

The special session of the Human Rights Council was convened after the bloodiest day for Palestinians in years last Monday, when 60 were killed by Israeli gunfire during demonstrations that Israel said included attempts to breach its frontier fence. 

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ripped into the UN organization, saying that "the body that calls itself the human rights council has once again proven that it is a hypocritical and biased organization whose goal is to harm Israel and support terrorism. More than anything, it shows how irrelevant it is. Israel blatantly rejects this anti-Israel decision and will continue to defend its citizens and soldiers as part of our right to self-defense."

The council voted 29-2 with 14 abstentions to back a resolution that also condemned "the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians." The "independent, international commission of inquiry" mandated by the council will be asked to produce a final report next March.

"Nobody has been made safer by the horrific events of the past week," UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein told the Council. 

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He said Israeli forces had killed 106 Palestinians, including 15 children, since March 30. More than 12,000 were injured, at least 3,500 by live ammunition. Israel is an occupying power under international law, obliged to protect the people of Gaza and ensure their welfare, he said.

"They [Gazans] are, in essence, caged in a toxic slum from birth to death; deprived of dignity; dehumanized by the Israeli authorities to such a point it appears officials do not even consider that these men and women have a right, as well as every reason, to protest," al-Hussein said.  

Israel says the deaths took place in protests organized by Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, which intentionally provoked the violence, an accusation Hamas denies. 

"In the ensuing discussion, delegations called on all parties to show restraint and condemned the disproportionate and unrestrained use of force against civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories.

"They agreed that an independent inquiry should be conducted in the recent events in the Gaza Strip to prevent future impunity and guarantee redress. An independent and transparent investigation of human rights violations committed by all parties would shed light on what had happened and why," a statement said.

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Only the U.S. and Australia voted against the resolution, with the U.K., Germany, Hungary and others in the EU abstaining. Spain and Belgium voted in favor.

"Other delegations," the statement noted, "while concerned about the recent outbreak of violence along the Gaza fence, observed that the special session was blatantly taking sides and that it ignored the real culprit for it, the terrorist organization Hamas. They expressed a view that Israel had legitimate security concerns, and that it had the right to protect its population," it added.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Friday he will take events in Gaza to the United Nations General Assembly. 

Erdogan, speaking at the start of an extraordinary summit of Muslim nations held in Istanbul in response to this week's events, said the United States blocked every step toward justice in the United Nations Security Council. 

"Israel must certainly be held accountable for the innocent people it has massacred in front of international law. We will follow this issue in the United Nations General Assembly as well," he said.

Blame Hamas

Israel and the United States complain that the Human Rights Council, made up of 47 states chosen by the General Assembly, has a permanent anti-Israel bias because of the disproportionate number of countries hostile to Israel with UN seats. A few weeks ago, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called out the council for a string of resolutions targeting Israel.

Israel's Ambassador Aviva Raz Shechter gestures during a special session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council to discuss "the deteriorating human rights situation" in the Palestinian Territories, on May 18, 2018 in Geneva, after Israeli forces killed 60 Palestinians.
The UN Human Rights Council will meet on May 18, 2018 to decide whether to send international war crimes investigators to probe the deadly shootings of Gaza protesters by Israeli forces. The special session of the UN's top rights body will consider a draft resolution calling for the council to "urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry", the UN's highest level investigation.
 / AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP

Israel's Foreign Ministry issued a statement blasting the UN body, saying it "totally rejects the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council that once again has proven itself to be a body made up of a built-in anti-Israel majority, guided by hypocrisy and absurdity.

"The results of the commission of inquiry set up by the UNHRC resolution are a foregone conclusion inherent in the wording of the resolution. It is clear to all that the purpose of the commission is not to arrive at the truth, but rather to impair Israel's right to self-defense, and to demonize the Jewish state."

Israel further said it acted "legally and correctly in protecting its sovereignty," adding "Israel has an independent, professional judicial system that has already begun investigating the events along the Gaza Strip-Israel border, in the accepted manner. Israel rejects the attempt to impose an external investigation driven by inappropriate political motives."

Israel's ambassador Aviva Raz Shechter said the Council had relapsed to its worst form of anti-Israel obsession. The call for an inquiry was "politically motivated and won't improve the situation on the ground by even one iota," she said. 

"The loss of life could have been avoided had Hamas refrained from sending terrorists to attack Israel under the cover of the riots, while exploiting its own civilian population as human shields," she said. "It is Israel, certainly not Hamas, which makes a real effort to minimize casualties among Palestinian civilians." 

Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Ibrahim Khraishi looks on during a special session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council to discuss "the deteriorating human rights situation" in the Palestinian Territories, after Israeli forces killed 60 Palestinians, on May 18, 2018 in Geneva.
The UN Human Rights Council will meet on May 18, 2018 to decide whether to send international war crimes investigators to probe the deadly shootings of Gaza protesters by Israeli forces. The special session of the UN's top rights body will consider a draft resolution calling for the council to "urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry", the UN's highest level investigation.
 / AFP PHOTO / Fabrice COFFRINI
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP

Avi Gabbay, head of the Zionist Union and Labor party, condemned the UN announcement, implying that the UN overstates Israel's human rights abuses as opposed to other member states. "There are people on the UN Human Rights council who believe that Israel is the source of trouble for the whole world. It is not," he said. 

"Israel protects its borders, as any member state of the council does. I suggest the representatives look a bit closer at what happens beyond our Northern border, and I thank our allies, the U.S. and Australia, who stood by our side against this decision," he concluded.

The United States has stood by Israel during the past week's violence, which coincided with the opening of a new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. U.S. chargי d'affaires Theodore Allegra said the Council was ignoring the real culprit of the violence: Hamas. 

"The one sided action proposed by the Council today only further shows that the Human Rights Council is indeed a broken body," he said. 

Two million people live in Gaza, most of them stateless descendants of refugees who fled or were driven from homes in what is now Israel at its founding in 1948. 

The territory has been run by Hamas since 2007, during which time Israel has fought three wars against the militant group which denies Israel's right to exist. Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade of Gaza for security reasons, which the United Nations says has plunged Gaza's economy into a collapse.