GENEVA -- Investigators commissioned by the U.N.’s top human rights body say tensions between Palestinians and Israelis are underpinned by Israel's “perpetual occupation” of Palestinian areas with no apparent intention of ending it.
The findings came Tuesday in the first report by a Commission of Inquiry, headed by a three-person team of human rights experts. It was set up last year by the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council following an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The U.N. human rights office says the war killed at least 261 people — including 67 children — in Gaza, and 14 people, including two children, in Israel.
The commission, headed by former U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay, is the first to have an “ongoing” mandate from the U.N. rights body. Critics allege that permanent scrutiny testifies to an anti-Israel bias in the 47-member-state council and other U.N. bodies. Proponents say the commission is needed to keep tabs on persistent injustices faced by Palestinians under decades of Israeli rule.
The report largely recaps efforts by U.N. investigators over the years to grapple with the causes of Mideast violence and the authors acknowledged it was in part a “review” of previous U.N. findings.
“What has become a situation of perpetual occupation was cited by Palestinian and Israeli stakeholders to the commission as the one common issue” that amounts to the “underlying root cause” of recurrent tensions, instability and protracted conflict, the authors wrote. They said “impunity” for perpetrators of violence was feeding resentment among Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.
Israel’s government, which opposed the creation of the commission, refused to grant its members access to Israel or Palestinian territories, and testimonies from Palestinians and Israelis were collected from Geneva and Jordan.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry rejected the report as “part and parcel of the witch hunt carried out by the Human Rights Council against Israel.”
It called the report biased and one-sided and accused the commission members of ignoring Palestinian violence, incitement and antisemitism. “The Commission members, who claim to be objective, were only appointed to their roles because of their public and well-known anti-Israel stances, in direct opposition to the rules set out by the United Nations,” it said.
The State Department reiterated its opposition to the “open-ended and vaguely defined nature” of the commission and said the report “does nothing to advance the prospects for peace” between Israelis and Palestinians.
The report's authors cited “credible” evidence that “convincingly indicates that Israel has no intention of ending the occupation” and has plans to ensure complete control of Palestinian areas. Israel’s government, it added, has been “acting to alter the demography through the maintenance of a repressive environment for Palestinians and a favorable environment for Israeli settlers.”
They also voiced criticism of Palestinian leaders, saying the Palestinian Authority, which administers autonomous areas in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, frequently refers to the occupation as a justification for its own human rights violations. It also points to the occupation as the core reason for failure to hold legislative and presidential elections, the authors said. The PA is widely criticized for corruption and intolerance for dissent.
Despite the criticism, the Palestinian Authority welcomed the report. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said the report found “beyond any doubt, that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and discrimination against Palestinians are the root causes behind the recurrent tensions, instability and prolongation of conflict in the region.”
As for Hamas authorities in Gaza, the commission said they show little commitment toward upholding human rights and little adherence to international law. Since seizing control of Gaza in 2007, Hamas has shown little tolerance for political dissent and been accused of torturing opponents.
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Gaza Strip from Egypt in the 1967 Mideast war.
It has annexed east Jerusalem and claims the area — home to the city’s most important holy sites — as part of its capital. It considers the West Bank to be “disputed” territory and has built scores of Jewish settlements there. Over 700,000 Israeli settlers now live in the two areas.
The internationally recognized Palestinian Authority seeks the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza for an independent state. The international community overwhelmingly considers all three areas to be 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 for cover during military operations.
Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.