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Calls for Israeli Accountability Dominate UN Session on Palestinians

By Lisa Schlein May 27, 2021

A U.N. human rights council special session to address the human rights situation in Palestinian territory was dominated by calls for Israel to be held accountable for alleged abuses. No European or North American country was among the more than 60 member and observer states that supported the request.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet opened the proceedings by recapitulating what she called the appalling events that led up to the special session. She noted 242 Palestinians, including 63 children, were killed by Israeli strikes on Gaza, and another 28 Palestinians, including five children, were killed in East Jerusalem.

At the same time, she reported indiscriminate rocket fire launched by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups from Gaza killed 12 Israeli citizens, including two children. She said the heavy rocket barrage triggered the 11-day clashes between Israel and Palestinians.

She deplored the huge number of injuries and extensive damage to Gaza's infrastructure. She welcomed the May 21 cease-fire but warned unless the root causes of this violence were addressed, future deadly eruptions would occur.

"There must be a genuine and inclusive peace process to address these root causes and bring the occupation to an end…In the meantime, I reiterate my call on Hamas and all armed groups to refrain from use of indiscriminate rockets and mortars, for which there must be accountability," Bachelet said. "And, once again, I urge Israel to ensure accountability in accordance with its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights laws."

Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territory Michael Lynk acknowledged the indiscriminate attacks on civilians by both Israel and Hamas almost certainly violated international humanitarian law. But added the damage done by Hamas in Israel paled in comparison to that caused by Israel Defense Forces.

"If we are not to have to meet again in yet another special session in a year or three years from now…then decisive steps must be taken now to fully end the occupation," Lynk said. "Accountability is the key that can alone unlock the titanium cage that is the occupation."

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva Meira Eilon Shahar accused many countries at the session of presenting a moral equivalence between Israel, a democracy that abides by international law, and Hamas, an "extremist terrorist organization." She said the U.N. council was biased against Israel.

"Since the council's inception, 30 percent of all special sessions have targeted Israel," Shahar said. "Instead of the council being a moral voice, unequivocally stating that Israel has the right to defend itself and condemning Hamas for the terrorist activities, we have witnessed a ritual where Israel is targeted and singled out. It does not matter what are the facts and what is the reality on the ground."

Palestinian participants at the meeting, however, urged council members to adopt a draft resolution calling for an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of international humanitarian law in the Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem and in Israel.



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