UN begins anti-Israel hearings

The so-called independent Commission of Inquiry (COI) was established by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

By Erin Viner

Despite claims that it would be “impartial” and examine allegations from both Israelis and Palestinians,  the COI opened its five days of hearings with an inflammatory statement from the Al-Haq group.

Al-Haq is among 6 organizations Israel deemed as terrorist last year.

The group’s General Director, Shawan Jabarin, denied the terrorism charge and called the closure an “arbitrary decision,” while accusing Israeli security forces of using “mafia methods” against it in a years-long harassment campaign.

“They used all means, I can say. They used financial means; they used a smear campaign; they used threats,” he said, saying his office was sealed with a metal door on 18 August.

Israel has dismissed the process overseen by the panel as a sham, and has declined comment on the specific allegations.

“This (COI) and the convening of these sham trials shame and undermine the Human Rights Council,”  the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) declared in an earlier statement, saying the commission had an “anti-Israel” agenda.

The MFA rejected an 18-page UNHRC report released last June, entitled: “Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem and Israel,” as the first of what it said will be an annual report to the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“It is a biased and one-sided report tainted with hatred for the State of Israel and based on a long series of previous one-sided and biased reports,” said the Israeli ministry, stressing that, “the report disregards years of murderous terrorism by Palestinian terrorist organizations against Israeli citizens, as well as the Palestinians’ long-standing obstinacy and the vicious and antisemitic incitement carried out by the Palestinian Authority and its networks.”

Insisting that it “ignored the real reasons that led Israel to defend its citizens against the murderous terrorist organizations that are committing a double war crime: firing at Israeli civilians from within civilian areas in the Gaza Strip,” the MFA condemned both the COI and its brief as “the result of the Human Rights Council’s extreme anti-Israel bias.”

Moreover, “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,” stated the MFA, while emphasizing that, “The State of Israel will continue to protect its citizens in accordance with the highest international values and standards.”

The three-member COI was commissioned after the 2021 Operation Guardian of the Walls war between Israel and terror groups in Gaza. It maintained that Israel must do more than end “the occupation” of land Palestinians want for a state. The Islamist Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destructionopened the 11-day war with rocket attacks over claims of “Israeli violations” of the al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, built atop the ruins of both Biblical Temples in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The report accused Israel of having “no intention” of ending its presence in what it referred to as “the Occupied Palestinian Territory” -including the eastern side of Jerusalem, which was captured by the Jewish State in the 1967 Six Day War.

Israel boycotted the inquiry and barred entry to its investigators, based on longstanding accusations of deep bias demonstrated by the UNHRC.

The United States also condemned the report.

“As we have stated repeatedly, we firmly oppose the open-ended and vaguely defined nature of the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on the situation in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, which represents a one-sided, biased approach that does nothing to advance the prospects for peace,” said US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price, adding that the report “does nothing to alleviate our concerns.”

He went on to point out that, “Israel is the only country subject to a standing agenda item at the HRC and has received disproportionate focus at the HRC compared to human rights situations elsewhere in the world.  While no country is above scrutiny, the existence of this COI in its current form is a continuation of a longstanding pattern of unfairly singling out Israel. We reengaged with and later re-joined the HRC in part to be in a better position to address its flaws, including this one, and we will continue to seek reforms.”

The administration of former US President Donald Trump resigned from the organization in 2018 after repeated warnings against its anti-Israel bias.

Then-US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley observed that, “You know something is seriously wrong when the Council passes more than 70 resolutions against Israel – which has a strong human rights record – and just 7 resolutions against Iran, whose history is abysmal.” Haley further cautioned that if the UNHRC failed to alter its platform, it would risk becoming “a showcase for dictatorships” as well as a “cover for some of the worst atrocities being carried out” worldwide.

The administration of US President Joe Biden only fully re-joined the UNHRC earlier this year, after pledging it would seek to eliminate a “disproportionate focus” on ally Israel.

Hamas predictably welcomed the report and urged the prosecution of Israeli leaders in what it described as crimes against the Palestinian people. The Palestinian Authority (PA) also praised the report and demanded accountability “in a manner that puts an end to Israel’s impunity.”

One of the first items on the agenda during the current COI hearings will be the death of Al-Jazeera  reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in May. The UNHRC predictably said its own findings suggest that she was killed by Israeli forces, while an IDF investigation concluded she was likely to have been shot unintentionally by an Israeli soldier during a fierce firefight with Palestinian terrorists in the flashpoint West Bank city of Jenin.

Neither the hearings nor the UNHRC have any legal powers, but its probes are sometimes used as evidence before national or international courts.