By Saeb Erekat
A UN investigation into the 2018 Gaza protests has concluded that Israeli officers and their leaders may have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity. The human rights council’s commission of inquiry found that soldiers intentionally used live ammunition against civilians, who included children, women, journalists, health workers and people with disabilities.
The figures are telling: more than 6,000 people injured by Israeli bullets, with 183 killed. Renowned human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem and Al-Haq had already denounced this policy, with B’Tselem calling on Israeli soldiers not to follow orders to shoot civilians. The people of Palestine still wonder whether such findings will be used by the international community to implement policy aimed at ending the Israeli occupation, or whether it will be business as usual.
The killing of Palestinian civilians during 2018 is part of a long list of ongoing Israeli crimes and violations. Israel, the occupying power, often denounces any reporting on its treatment of the people of Palestine – going as far as pushing for the expulsion of the representative of Human Rights Watch and refusing UN commissions of inquiry or special rapporteurs access to the occupied territories.
Israel has long been targeting Palestinian civil society organisations and human rights activists for exposing its ongoing policies of colonisation that deny the right of the Palestinian people to be free. Sadly, if members of the international community don’t act, the results of this commission of inquiry will eventually be added to other investigations – including the recently released EU report on Israeli settlement construction – and Israel will continue to violate international law and UN resolutions through the complicity of a number of UN member states.
The EU, Israel’s main trade partner, has a consistent position for ending Israel’s occupation of Palestine – reaffirmed in a statement from the Arab-EU summit at Sharm el-Sheikh last month. But Israel also knows that, among its main trade partners, and particularly within the EU, products coming from illegal colonial settlements in the occupied territory are not being labelled, let alone banned. And while Israeli settlers enjoy the benefit of visa-free entry to Europe, Palestinians living only a few metres away still require them. Indeed, none of the countries who claim to be concerned about “fairness” have taken any significant step towards holding Israel accountable for its decades-long crimes and violations.
What we see on the ground reflects a deep culture of impunity. We see international companies working in Israeli settlements; countries continuing to sell arms to Israel despite its repeated violations of international humanitarian law; an increase in settler tourism, which contributes to the illegal colonial-settlement enterprise. Alongside this, Israel’s theft of natural resources and effective control over all aspects of Palestinian life, including the population registry, clearly show how the Palestinian right to self-determination is violated on a daily basis.
There is a legal and a moral responsibility for the international community to take decisive action towards respecting international law, UN resolutions and human rights in Palestine. This is most important now, while the Trump administration in the US is escalating its policies against our people. Among other steps, and in accordance with resolution 31/36, we have reiterated our call for the UN human rights commissioner to release the database of companies involved in the Israeli occupation.
There is now an opportunity to send the right message about the Israeli occupation in the upcoming human rights council discussions – and to take long-overdue steps towards a just and lasting peace by affirming the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.
• Dr Saeb Erekat is secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation
Source: The Guardian