What happened: The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva decided yesterday to launch an inquiry into Israel’s actions during Operation Guardian of the Walls.
- The investigation will focus on the Israel Defense Forces’ campaign in Gaza, as well as the clashes in Jerusalem, inside Israel and the West Bank.
- For the first time the council called for the creation of a permanent “Commission of Inquiry” into Israel’s actions.
- Twenty-four countries supported the resolution and nine opposed it, with fourteen abstentions. Among the supporters were Russia, China and Bahrain (who last year signed the Abraham Accords with Israel).
- The UK opposed the motion alongside Austria, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Czech Republic, Germany, Malawi, Marshal Islands and Uruguay. While all the other European members abstained.
- The UK Ambassador to the UNHRC, Simon Manley, said he “unequivocally condemned indiscriminate attacks by Hamas and other militant groups on Israel. We are clear that Israel has a legitimate right to self-defence”.
- The move was met with disdain in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision “shameful,” adding: “Once again, an immoral automatic majority at the Council whitewashes a genocidal terrorist organisation that deliberately targets Israeli civilians while turning Gaza’s civilians into human shields. This while depicting as the ‘guilty party’ a democracy acting legitimately to protect its citizens from thousands of indiscriminate rocket attacks. This travesty makes a mockery of international law and encourages terrorists worldwide.”
- Defence Minister Benny Gantz concurred, saying, “The UN Human Rights Council’s decision draws its basic legitimacy into question. There has never been an army that has overseen such a complex military operation with so little damage to the uninvolved, while facing an enemy that turned homes, medical clinics and the streets of Gaza into fighting grounds. There is no doubt: the leaders of Hamas are shameful war criminals with blood on their hands, and every peace-loving country should seek to stop them.”
- Israel’s Foreign Ministry stated: “Israel rejects outright the resolution adopted today by the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body with a built-in anti-Israel majority, guided by hypocrisy and absurdity. Any resolution that fails to condemn the firing of over 4,300 rockets by a terror organisation at Israeli civilians, or even to mention the terror organisation Hamas, is nothing more than a moral failure and a stain on the international community and the UN.”
- Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said that Israel’s strikes on Gaza might constitute war crimes, adding that Hamas had violated international humanitarian law by firing rockets into Israel.
- The US mission in Geneva said the decision was “deeply unfortunate … while we and others have been working to uphold and strengthen the ceasefire, ensure humanitarian assistance to Gaza. We will continue to advocate for Israel to be treated fairly in the Human Rights Council.”
Context: The UNHRC is viewed from Israel as an extremely biased, anti-Israel body. The council includes a permanent agenda (Item 7) that monitors, ‘the Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories’. This ensures that every quarterly session includes a condemnation of Israel. No other single issue, conflict or country has its own permanent agenda item.
- The Trump administration withdrew from the council and cut its funding because of its blatantly anti-Israel position, however the Biden Administration brought them back in, currently as an observer.
- Upon re-entering, Secretary of State Blinken acknowledged that the UNHRC “is a flawed body, in need of reform to its agenda, membership, and focus, including its disproportionate focus on Israel,” but argued, that by returning the US will be able to exert a positive influence.
- The council has a built-in bias against Israel, with much of its membership drawn from African and Asia-Pacific, many of whom vote as a bloc as part of the Organisation of Islamic States (OIC).
- According to UN Watch, an independent organisation, out of a total of 217 resolutions from 2006 through 2020, 90 focused on Israel, compared to 10 on Iran, 13 on North Korea, two on Venezuela, and none on China.
Looking forward: Israel is not expected to cooperate with the inquiry, due to the council’s antagonistic agenda and blatant bias against Israel.
- The committee set the remit of their investigation to start from April 13, in order to cover events in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
- The US is expected to return to full membership next year, with aspirations to reform the organisation. However, due to the in-built hostile majority, there is little hope that this can be achieved.
- The decision of the committee has no legal standing, but their conclusions could influence the International Criminal Court that opened in March 2021 a formal investigation into Israeli actions into the last conflict with Gaza in 2014.