Israel is continuing its policy of not engaging with international investigations into human rights violations in Palestine. In a letter to the head of the international commission of inquiry, Navi Pillay, Israel’s representative to the UN Meirav Eilon Shahar refused to cooperate in the investigations to identify possible violations of human rights, war crimes and reasons for protraction of conflict in historic Palestine.
Accusing Pillay of bias against Israel, Meirav claimed that there is simply no reason to believe that Israel will receive reasonable, equitable and non-discriminatory treatment from the Council, or from this Commission of Inquiry.” Meirav added: “This [Commission of Inquiry] is sure to be yet another sorry chapter in the efforts to demonize the State of Israel.”
Shahar accused Pillay, a South African jurist and a former head of the UNHRC, of being biased against Israel after Pillay compared Israel’s systemic discrimination of Palestinians with South African apartheid. Shahar invoked Pillay’s support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement.
In a special session in May of 2021 on the “grave human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories,” the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) decided to constitute a permanent international commission of inquiry as per a vote of the majority of its members. The special session was called after a nearly two weeks-long Israeli offensive in Gaza that same month, which killed nearly 250 Palestinians and injured 2,000, causing massive destruction to civilian infrastructure.
The head of the UNHRC, Michelle Bachelet, along with several human rights groups, have stated that this episode of Israeli aggression may constitute “war crimes.”
Israel refuses accountability
Israel has a precedent of noncooperation with inquiries into possible human rights violations. The nation refused to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) when it decided early last year to investigate possible war crimes in Palestine, starting from Israeli attacks in Gaza in 2014. In response, Israel revoked the special travel permit of then Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki, after his visit to ICC headquarters.
125 countries out of a total of 197 members of the UN general assembly supported the institution of a commission on inquiry. The commission was put to vote due to Israeli objections against the UNHRC resolution to investigate war crimes in Palestine in December last year. Only eight countries voted against the proposed human rights investigations.
The scope of the commission includes the violations of human rights and war crimes in all of occupied Palestine and Israel, and will also investigate the actions of all parties involved, including Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. The commission was also expected to look into “all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity.”
Palestinian groups, including Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, have expressed willingness to cooperate with the commission of inquiry.