UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Saturday called for strict respect for international law and appealed to all sides to take steps to de-escalate the increasingly alarming situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
“Over the past 10 days, the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel has deteriorated at an alarming rate. The situation in Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem, triggered by threats of forced evictions of Palestinian families; the heavy presence of Israeli Security Forces and violence around the al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan; the severe escalation of attacks from and on Gaza; and the shocking race-based incitement in Israel have all led to vicious attacks and mounting casualties in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in Israel,” High Commissioner Bachelet said.
“Rather than seeking to calm tensions, inflammatory rhetoric from leaders on all sides appears to be seeking to excite tensions rather than to calm them. Once again, we are seeing lives lost and terrified people being forced to flee or hide in their homes, subjected to attacks that are being carried out by both sides in what may amount to serious violations of international humanitarian law.”
Bachelet warned that the firing of large numbers of indiscriminate rockets by Palestinian armed groups into Israel, including densely populated areas, in clear violation of international humanitarian law, amounts to war crimes.
In Gaza, where there have been extensive Israeli airstrikes and shelling from land and sea into densely-populated areas, there are concerns that some attacks by the Israeli Defence Forces have targeted civilian objects that, under international humanitarian law, do not meet the requirements to be considered as military objectives.
The failure to adhere to the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in the conduct of military operations amounts to a serious violation of international humanitarian law and may constitute war crimes.
“I urge both sides to ensure strict respect for their obligations under international law. Israel, as the occupying power, has a duty to ensure unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance to the Gaza strip,” the High Commissioner said. “Those found to be responsible for violations must be held to account.”
The High Commissioner also called on the Israeli Government to take measures to stem the disturbing outbreak of violence between ultra-right wing groups, including Israeli settlers, and Palestinian citizens of Israel, in cities including Lod, Jaffa, Ramle and Haifa.
Of particular concern is the apparent highly organised nature of some attacks as well as inflammatory language that may amount to incitement to racial and religious hatred and violence.
Reports indicate that in some instances, settlers arrived in organized convoys from Israeli settlements in the West Bank to join local groups. Violent attacks have also been perpetrated by some Palestinian citizens of Israel. Mob violence has taken place in Bat-Yam, Jaffa and Acre this week, including attacks on places of worship and cultural heritage.
“I am particularly concerned at reports that Israeli police failed to intervene where Palestinian citizens of Israel were being violently attacked, and that social media is being used by ultra-right wing groups to rally people to bring ‘weapons, knives, clubs, knuckledusters’ to use against Palestinian citizens of Israel,” the High Commissioner said.
There are also reports of excessive and discriminatory use of force by police against Palestinian citizens of Israel, hundreds of whom have been detained in relation to incidents of violence.
“I remind the Government of Israel of its duty to protect all its residents and citizens without discrimination based on notions of ‘nationhood’, religious or ethnic origin, and to ensure equal treatment before the law,” Bachelet said. “Political leaders must refrain from any action that will inflame tensions, but must take action to prevent and address incitement to hatred and violence and ensure all citizens of Israel are fully and equally protected, including by taking preventive action.”
The High Commissioner said she was also deeply disturbed by the reported use of live ammunition by Israeli Security Forces in the context of protests and clashes in the West Bank, resulting in the death of 10 Palestinians on 14 May alone.
Any use of force by the ISF in the West Bank must adhere to the Basic Principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement, which state in particular that firearms can only be used against individuals representing an imminent threat to life or of serious injury, and only as a matter of last resort. In a situation of occupation, the unjustified and illegal resort to firearms by law enforcement officials may constitute a war crime.
Bachelet called for independent, transparent and thorough investigations into all allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
“We know from recent history how such a grave situation can advance with utterly catastrophic consequences for thousands of civilians,” Bachelet said. “There can be no winner, no sustainable peace resulting from the furtherance of the cycle of violence. I urge all sides – and States with influence – to take immediate measures to ensure respect for international law, ease tensions, and work to resolve – rather than fan – the conflict.”