UN undermines justice by tiptoeing around Israel

A home hit by an Israeli artillery shell in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip (Ashraf Amra - APA Images)

Maureen Clare Murphy

The Electronic Intifada  /  August 25, 2020

As Gaza reported its first cases of COVID-19 outside of quarantine centers, the United Nations agency that serves Palestinian refugees sounded the alarm over the closure of the territory’s sole power plant.

In a statement on Tuesday, UNRWA pointed to 14 years of “illegal blockade” and more than 10 consecutive nights of bombing on the territory – including the targeting of one of its schools.

But it did not say who cut off the flow of donor-funded fuel to Gaza, forcing the power plant to shut down and reducing electricity availability to only two or three hours per day.

The agency did not name the state violating international humanitarian law by denying the free passage of “relief consignments, in this case, fuel for electricity.”

And it did not identify the military whose warplanes have been terrorizing Gaza’s civilian population, some 1.4 million of them refugees, night after night.

Erasure of Israeli responsibility

The erasure of Israel’s responsibility for Gaza’s woes by UNRWA and others undermines the repeated calls for accountability coming from the human rights experts and investigators commissioned by the United Nations.

Subsequent commissions of inquiry formed by the UN Human Rights Council investigating Israeli crimes in the West Bank and Gaza have pointed to the lack of access to justice for Palestinians in Israeli courts.

And yet during his address to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN secretary-general’s Middle East peace envoy, called on Israel to investigate recent street executions of Palestinians who did not pose an imminent threat.

Mladenov willfully ignores the human rights organization B’Tselem’s characterization of the Israeli military’s self-investigation system as “a fig leaf for the occupation.”

The military’s investigations only probe the conduct of low-ranking soldiers. Orders are never placed under investigation – only alleged breaches of orders.

A shoot-to-kill policy against Palestinians comes from the very top of the Israeli government.

Some 465 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli occupation forces since the beginning of 2015, nearly half of them during unarmed protests along the Gaza-Israel boundary.

UN investigators have called on third party states to arrest those responsible for international crimes related to Israel’s use of lethal force against Gaza demonstrators.

The number of Israeli soldiers convicted over the death of a Palestinian during the past decade can be counted on one hand. For Mladenov to call on Israel to investigate the street execution of Palestinians is to willfully ignore this culture of impunity and tacitly encourage it.

Two-state absolutism

Mladenov has not thrown his support behind Palestinian endeavors to seek justice at the International Criminal Court, though he unhesitatingly supported such efforts in other country situations.

Instead, he and the UN secretary-general continue to practice the absolutist doctrine of a negotiated two-state solution, despite the disaster such an approach has wrought when not coupled with any measures toward accountability.

He applauded the freshly inked UAE-Israel agreement to formalize relations and the afterthought of a commitment by Israel to suspend the official annexation of West Bank land in return.

“Annexation would constitute a most serious violation of international law, effectively close the door to a renewal of negotiations and destroy the prospect of a viable Palestinian state and the two-state solution itself,” Mladenov said.

Never mind that de facto annexation proceeds apace on the ground.

As the director of B’Tselem has pointed out, displeasure over Israel’s proposed formal annexation of West Bank land but not the current reality of annexation on the ground signals consent to the existing, unjust situation.

Objecting to existing injustices would require holding those responsible to account.

The cruel and illegal siege on Gaza is Israeli policy. Why is UNRWA afraid of saying so?

Maureen Clare Murphy is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago