UN rights chief slams Israeli minister’s ‘unfathomable’ comments

AFP  /  March 3, 2023

Outrage after finance minister calls for Palestinian town to be ‘wiped out’.

The UN human rights chief on Friday denounced the “unfathomable” call by an Israeli minister for a flashpoint Palestinian town to be “wiped out”, calling for an end to the violence.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich made his comments on Wednesday, days after two settlers were shot dead in Huwara — killings that led Israeli settlers to attack the northern West Bank town.

“I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out,” Mr Smotrich said. “I think the state of Israel should do it.”

Later, he tweeted that he “didn’t mean to erase the village of Huwara, but only to act in a targeted way against the terrorists”.

But rights chief Volker Turk, speaking before the UN Rights Council in Geneva, denounced Mr Smotrich’s original comments as “an unfathomable statement of incitement to violence and hostility”.

Washington, a staunch ally of Israel, was even more blunt in its response to Mr Smotrich’s comments.

“They were irresponsible, they were repugnant, they were disgusting,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“Just as we condemn Palestinian incitement to violence, we condemn these provocative remarks that also amount to incitement to violence.”

A French foreign ministry statement also condemned the comments as “unacceptable, irresponsible and unworthy coming from a member of the Israeli government”.

“These comments only fuel hatred and fuel the spiral of current violence,” the statement added, appealing for calm.

Mr Smotrich, an extreme-right settler, spoke during a surge in violence in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and specifically in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since the war of 1967.

The attack on Huwara late on Sunday saw hundreds of settlers set homes and cars ablaze and hurl stones, while a Palestinian man was killed in the nearby village of Zaatara.

More than 350 Palestinians were injured, most suffering from tear gas inhalation, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said.

On Monday, gunmen shot dead an Israeli-American motorist, and on Wednesday, Israeli forces searching for suspects in the Aqabat Jabr refugee camp near Jericho killed a Palestinian man.

Presenting his office’s latest report on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, Mr Turk warned the council on Friday that the “increasing violence is condemning innocent people on all sides to further tragedy”.

He called on “decision-makers and people on all sides … to step back from the precipice to which increasing extremism and violence have led”.

Since the start of the year, the conflict has claimed the lives of 65 Palestinian adults and children, including militants and civilians.

Thirteen Israeli adults and children, including members of the security forces and civilians, and one Ukrainian civilian have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.

The upsurge in violence comes after last year saw the highest number of Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces in 17 years, and the highest number of Israelis killed since 2016, Mr Turk pointed out.

“I condemn the violence that has killed and harmed so many people on both sides, and which generates overwhelming despair,” he said.

Many country representatives echoed Mr Turk’s concerns on Friday, while Palestinian ambassador Ibrahim Khraishi took the rights council floor to urge the international community to take “punitive steps” against Israel.

Israel, which routinely accuses the UN and especially the Human Rights Council of bias against it, meanwhile did not have a representative in the room for Mr Turk’s presentation.

The UN rights chief called on both sides to adhere to a commitment to de-escalation reached following talks on Sunday in Jordan.

“In the near future, there must be an end to settlements in occupied land. And within a foreseeable horizon, there must be a two-state solution,” Mr Turk insisted.

“For this violence to end, the occupation must end. On all sides, there are people who know this.”


Israeli minister inciting violence with remarks: UN rights chief

Al-Jazeera  /  March 3, 2023

Volker Turk slams Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s comments calling for the Palestinian village of Huwara to be ‘wiped out’.

The human rights chief of the United Nations has criticised Israel’s far-right finance minister for remarks in which he called for the Palestinian village of Huwara to be “wiped out”, describing the comments as “an unfathomable statement of incitement to violence and hostility”.

“The situation in the occupied Palestinian territory is a tragedy, a tragedy above all for the Palestinian people,” Volker Turk told the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council on Friday as he formally presented a report on the situation in the occupied territories.

He was referring to remarks by Bezalel Smotrich, the head of a pro-settler party in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition government. Smotrich made the comments on Wednesday after a spate of deadly Palestinian attacks and Jewish settler violence in the occupied West Bank.

“My report finds that over the reporting period, lethal force has been frequently employed by the Israeli security forces (ISF) regardless of the level of threat and at times even as an initial measure rather than as last resort,” Turk said.

“My office has also documented several cases of apparent extrajudicial targeted killings by members of the ISF,” he said. “The report finds that 131 Palestinians were killed by ISF personnel over the past year in a context of law enforcement that is outside any context of hostilities. This includes 65 people who we understand were not armed nor engaged in any attacks or clashes.

“The occupation is eating away at the health of both societies on every level, from childhood to old age and in every part of life. For this violence to end, the occupation must end. On all sides, there are people who know this.”

EU envoy calls for accountability

 The European Union’s envoy to the Palestinians also called on Friday for accountability and for perpetrators to be brought to justice after a rampage by Israeli settlers this week in the occupied West Bank in which one Palestinian was killed and dozens of houses, shops and cars were torched.

Ambassador Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff, heading one of the biggest EU delegations to visit the West Bank, said the officials wanted to see with their own eyes the damage left by Sunday’s violence in and around Huwara. The rampage followed a Palestinian gun attack that killed two Israeli brothers.

“It is absolutely necessary for us that accountability is fully ensured, that the perpetrators be brought to justice that those who lost property be compensated,” Kuhn von Burgsdorff said.

Local media reported that in a rare move, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday signed administrative detention orders for two suspects over the rampage after a Jerusalem court ordered police to release all seven people who had been detained in connection with the rampage.

Amnesty International condemned the release of the suspects on Friday. It also condemned the use of administrative detention, which it said was a practice that violates international law.

Israeli rights group Yesh Din found that 93 percent of investigations into settler attacks in the occupied West Bank between 2005 and 2022 were closed without indictments.

Israeli Major General Yehuda Fuchs, who commands the Israeli military in the area, said on Tuesday that his forces had prepared for attempted settler retribution over the gun attack but had been surprised by the intensity of the violence, which he said was perpetrated by dozens of people. He called it a “pogrom carried out by outlaws”.

The United States has also demanded that Netanyahu disavow Smotrich’s call for Huwara to be erased.

On the night of the rampage, Netanyahu urged people not to take the law into their own hands, but he has not publicly addressed Smotrich’s statement or responded to the unusual criticism by Washington, a close ally.

Rising tensions in West Bank

Late on Thursday, Palestinian officials said Israeli forces fatally shot 15-year-old Mohammad Nidal Saleem in the back in the occupied West Bank town of Azzoun.

Ahmad Enaya, the town’s mayor, said an Israeli military vehicle drove into town and when teens hurled rocks at the car, soldiers responded with live fire.

The Israeli military said in a statement that soldiers shot at suspects who hurled explosives at them while they conducted a search in the area for people who launched fireworks at Israeli vehicles passing near Azzoun.

It said it was aware of reports of people being wounded but did not confirm any Palestinian fatalities.

Violence in the West Bank has surged as the Israeli military has intensified raids and killed more than 60 Palestinians since January.

The US, Jordan and Egypt have appealed for calm as concerns grow about an escalation ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover festival in late March and early April.

In his remarks in Geneva, the UN rights chief said decades of the Israeli occupation of Palestine have led to “widening dispossession … and recurring and severe violations of their [Palestinians’] rights, including the right to life”.

“Nobody could wish to live this way or imagine that forcing people into conditions of such desperation can lead to an enduring solution,” he said.