UN experts decry Israeli occupation of Palestinian areas

GENEVA (AP) — 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 commission of inquiry on the occupied West Bank, Gaza, east Jerusalem and Israel was set up last year in the wake of an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers. The fighting at the time killed at least 261 people in Gaza and 14 people in Israel, according to the United Nations.

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 Palestinian areas — though there are no signs Israel has any intention of doing so.

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

“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 justifies its policies, including the blockade, as security measures needed to stop militants. The Palestinians claim the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza — territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war — for their state, a position that has wide international backing.

Israel claims east Jerusalem part of its capital and says the West Bank is disputed territory and that its final status should be determined in negotiations. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but maintains the blockade.

The U.N. commission has also faced harsh criticism. One of its members, Miloon Kothari, recently 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’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.

“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.”

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Associated Press writers Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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