UN commission slams Israeli ‘occupation,’ moves to have it declared illegal

The UN General Assembly may vote next week to seek the International Court of Justice’s legal opinion.

By Associated Press and World Israel News staff

Experts with the U.N.’s top human rights body on Thursday decried Israel’s occupation of territories Palestinians seek for their future state, saying it was “unlawful under international law” and increasingly entrenched.

The experts, members of a special commission, also appealed to the International Court of Justice to offer its opinion on the matter. Their statement came in a report to the U.N. General Assembly, which is to discuss the report next week. The General Assembly may vote to seek the ICJ’s legal opinion.

The commission was established to examine last year’s 11-day Gaza conflict, but it was given unprecedented an open-ended mandate to monitor Israeli actions. No UN inquiry has ever been tasked with an ongoing investigation, and Israel refuses to cooperate with the commission.

The 28-page report highlights gaps in international humanitarian law regarding occupation and is meant to ratchet up international pressure on Israel to end settlements and other forms of control over Judea  and Samaria.

The commission cited “reasonable grounds” to conclude that the “occupation” of the Palestinians “is now unlawful under international law due to its permanence” as well as the Israeli government’s “de-facto annexation policies.”

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“By ignoring international law in establishing or facilitating the establishment of settlements, and directly or indirectly transferring Israeli civilians into these settlements, successive Israel governments have set facts on the ground to ensure permanent Israeli control in the West Bank,” said Navi Pillay, a former U.N. human rights chief who chairs the commission.

The panel, which Israeli leaders have repeatedly accused of anti-Israel bias, reviewed the impact of many years of Israeli “occupation and de-facto annexation policies” on the human rights of Palestinians.

It looked into issues such as destruction of homes and property, excessive use of force by security forces, violence by settlers, mass incarceration, and the impact of an air, land and sea blockade of Gaza.

Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas violently seized control of the Strip in 2007.

Israeli Prime Minister denounced the commission on Friday morning.

“Precisely because I was not prime minister at the time of Operation ‘Guardian of the Walls,’ I feel obliged to emphasize: The UN report on the operation is biased, false, inciting, and blatantly unbalanced,” Lapid said on Twitter, referencing the 2021 conflict.

“Not all criticism of Israel is antisemitism, but this report was written by antisemites (as Israel has already revealed) and is a distinctly antisemitic report,” the Prime Minister added.

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The U.N. commission’s three members have faced harsh criticism and accusation of bias against Israel.

Pillay, a South African jurist, for years has supported BDS and Palestinian efforts to label Israel a criminal state “through the language and mechanisms of international law.”

Miloon Kothari, a human rights scholar from India, apologized in a letter to the president of the Human Rights Council for using the term “Jewish lobby” in an interview published over the summer. Israel rejected Kothari’s apology.

The commission’s third member, Australian human rights lawyer Chris Sodati, is closely associated with non-governmental organizations in Ramallah and Australia that advocate for BDS.

Israel’s diplomatic mission promptly slammed Thursday’s report, especially for making no allusion to the May 2021 conflict, Hamas or “acts of terrorism,” and alluded to “blatant antisemitic comments” of a commission member — a reference to Kothari.

“Commissioners who made antisemitic comments and who proactively engaged in anti-Israel activism, both before and after their appointment, have no legitimacy nor credibility in addressing the issue at hand,” the Israeli mission said in a statement. “They are part of the anti-Israel agenda that sadly still exists at the United Nations.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price did not address the findings of the experts’ report but reiterated standing U.S. concerns about the U.N. commission.

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“Israel is consistently unfairly targeted in the U.N. system, including in the course of this commission of inquiry,” he told reporters. “No country, the record of no country, should be immune from scrutiny, but no country should also be targeted unfairly. And that’s the principle that we seek to uphold.”