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Israel breaks with UN Human Rights Council over settlement inquiry

The Israeli government broke ties with the United Nations Human Rights Council after the international body announced it was sending investigators to the West Bank. How bad is the human rights situation in Israel?
Westbank rights 3272012Enlarge
Palestinian protestors run away from tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers during clashes between Israeli soldiers and a group of Palestinian and foreign demonstrators in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah on March 23, 2012, following a protest against Palestinian land confiscation to build a Jewish settlement Hallamish nearby. (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

The United Nations Human Rights chief couldn't even get through to Israeli diplomats on the phone yesterday after Israel cut all ties and communication to protest a UN fact-finding mission to the West Bank that would focus on Israeli settlements.

According to Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, "The Foreign Ministry ordered Israel's ambassador to Geneva to cut off contact immediately, instructing him to ignore phone calls from the commissioner," which sparked international befuddlement. “It means that we’re not going to work with them. We’re not going to let them carry out any kind of mission for the Human Rights Council, including this probe,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said to AP

The UN's last human rights mission to Israel was in Feb. 2011, and a press release about High Commissioner Navi Pillay's visit reported she believed, "the settlement of Israeli citizens in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories] 'should be stopped altogether' and described how Pillay had seen for herself the 'intensely negative impact the fragmentation of the West Bank by the Wall, settlements and checkpoints is having on human rights, peace, development and the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.'"

Now, Israel has stated they will no longer cooperate with the Human Rights Council and its members will not be admitted into the country because of what Israel perceives as a pro-Palestinian bias of the UN. 

"The secretariat of the human rights council and Navi Pillay sparked this process by establishing an international investigative committee on settlements, and we will thus not work with them any more and will not appear before the council," an unnamed official told Haaretz.

Read more from GlobalPost: Israel bars United Nations Human Rights Council from West Bank

This action has sparked confusion and outrage among rights groups and member states of the UN, who insist Israel is guilty of both rights abuses and war crimes. Earlier this week, those things were voted on in the Human Rights Council through "Resolutions on the Human Rights Situation in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories" (the United States was the only vote against), and the resolutions included the following snippets:

Concerning the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and in the Occupied Syrian Golan, the Council demanded that Israel cease all of its settlement activities, condemned the firing of rockets against Israeli civilian areas and called upon Israel to cease prolonged closures and economic and movement restrictions, including those amounting to a blockade on the Gaza Strip. 

...the Council calls upon Israel to desist from its continuous building of settlements, the most recent of which is the settlement campaign being conducted by the so-called Golan Regional Council under the slogan “Come to the Golan”...

In a resolution (A/HRC/19/L.33) regarding the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, adopted by a vote of 46 in favour, 1 against and no abstentions, the Council reaffirms the inalienable, permanent and unqualified right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including their right to live in freedom, justice and dignity and to establish their sovereign, independent, democratic and viable contiguous State...

So how big is Israel's human rights problem in the Occupied Territories? Let's look at some of the most recent offenses, all of which Israel shrugged off in the name of self-defense: 

The West Bank, unlike fortified Gaza, is open to Israeli people and corporations, and the settlements, which are one of the major contentious issues facing peace negotiations, is something Israel is unwilling to discuss despite begging from the international community. 

But besides "illegal" settlements that displace thousands of Palestinian residents of the territory, Israeli human rights abuses in the West Bank include a violation of international law that forbids a country to use resources of occupied land without compensation. Israel and Israeli corporations own at least eight quarries and regularly mine in the area and, according to Human Rights Watch, "They export around 94 percent of their production to Israel with no compensation to the occupied population for this natural resource."

There has also been an Israeli lock-down on free speech. In July, Israel passed a law that would punish anyone boycotting the West Bank settlements, a blatant affront to freedom of expression. The BBC reported, "The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (Acri) described it as 'deeply anti-democratic'" and Amnesty International said it "will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Israel." This is in addition to a troublingly regular suppression of pro-Palestine demonstrations which often include IDF use of rubber bullets and excessive force.

Israel has also taken to declaring areas closed military zones and delaying activists attempting to deliver medical and food supplies to areas in need, most recently in the occupied Golan Heights, where Syrians aren't able to leave to visit family members, and prisoners of conscience are imprisoned and held without being charged with anything other than opposing the occupation, according to the Damascus Center for Theoretical Civil Rights Studies and the Arab Commission for Human Rights. The UN Human Rights Council included this matter in their list of resolutions and asked Israel to allow members of the International Red Cross access to these prisoners. 

MJ Rosenberg, a senior foreign policy fellow at Media Matters Action Network and an outspoken critic and tweeter of Israeli policies, wrote in his Huffington Post blog, "Unless one is wearing ideological blinders, it is impossible to look at what the Israeli government is doing in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza (yes, Israel still controls the air, sea and land entry and exits to and from Gaza) and not react with outrage. The occupation must end, and the United States should do everything in its power to help end it rather than simply do whatever Prime Minister Netanyahu dictates."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/israel-breaks-un-human-rights-council-over-settlement-inquiry

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