GENVE (AP) – Experts from the UN’s top human rights body on Thursday condemned Israel’s occupation of areas Palestinians seek for their future state, saying it was “illegitimate under international law” and becoming increasingly entrenched.
The experts, members of a special commission, also appealed to the International Court of Justice to express their views on the matter. Their statement came in a report to the UN General Assembly, which will discuss the report next week.
The Commission of Inquiry into the occupied West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and Israel was established last year in the wake of an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers. At least 261 people in Gaza and 14 in Israel were killed in the fighting, according to the United Nations.
The 28-page report highlights gaps in international humanitarian law related to occupation and aims to ramp up international pressure on Israel to end settlements and other forms of control over Palestinian territories – although there are no signs that Israel intends to do so.
The commission cited “reasonable reasons” for concluding that the occupation “is now illegal under international law because of its permanence,” as is the Israeli government’s “de facto annexation policy.”
“By ignoring international law in establishing or facilitating the establishment of settlements, and by direct or indirect transfer of Israeli citizens to these settlements, successive Israeli governments have established facts to ensure permanent Israeli control of the West Bank,” it said. Navi Pillay, a former UN human rights chief who chairs the commission.
The panel, which has been repeatedly accused by Israeli leaders of anti-Israel bias, assessed the impact of many years of Israeli “occupation and de facto annexation policies” on Palestinians’ human rights.
It examined issues such as the destruction of homes and property, excessive use of force by security forces, settler violence, mass incarceration and the impact of an air, land and naval blockade of Gaza.
Israel justifies its policies, including the blockade, as security measures necessary to stop militants. The Palestinians claim the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza—areas captured by Israel in the 1967 war—for their state, a position that enjoys broad international support.
Israel claims East Jerusalem as part of its capital and says the West Bank is a disputed territory and its final status is to be determined in negotiations. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but maintains the blockade.
The UN commission has also faced harsh criticism. One of its members, Miloon Kothari, recently apologized in a letter to the President of the Human Rights Council for using the term “Jewish lobby” in a interview published in the summer.
Israel’s diplomatic mission promptly rejected Thursday’s report, mainly because it made no allusion to the May 2021 conflict, Hamas or “acts of terror”, and alluded to “blatant anti-Semitic remarks” by a committee member — a reference to Kothari.
“Commissioners who made anti-Semitic remarks and who were proactively involved in anti-Israel activism, both before and after their appointment, have no legitimacy or credibility in addressing the issue,” the Israeli mission said in a statement. “They are part of the anti-Israel agenda that unfortunately still exists at the United Nations.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price did not comment on the expert report’s findings, but reiterated the US’s ongoing concern about the UN commission.
“Israel has been consistently unfairly targeted by the UN system, including in the course of this commission of inquiry,” he told reporters. “No country, no country’s record, should be immune from scrutiny, but no country should also be unfairly attacked. And that is the principle we are pursuing.”
Associated Press writers Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
JOIN THE CALL