Benjamin Netanyahu has his back to the wall with the UN’s rights chief, Michelle Bachelot, making it explicit that the recent Israeli strikes in Gaza constitute “war crimes”, specifically that the offensive resulted in extensive civilian deaths and major destruction in the besieged enclave, home to two million people.
That observation by a senior representative of a global rights body lends a new dimension to the eleven-day war, one of the worst hostilities in the recent tortuous narrative of the Middle East. The likes of the Israeli Prime Minister need to reflect on the point that Israel’s recent attacks on the Gaza Strip that killed more than 200 Palestinians constitute “war crimes” if they are shown to be disproportionate.
Bachelet’s comments on Thursday came as she opened a special session of the UN Human Rights Council, called at the request of Pakistan ~ on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation ~ and Palestine. Arguably with the moral support of the United Nations, an Islamic bloc has begun to germinate against the predominantly Jewish Israel. Ms Bachelot’s message is indirectly addressed to the “friends” of Israel and the comity of nations.
“Although reportedly targeting members of armed groups and their military infrastructure, the Israeli attacks resulted in extensive civilian deaths and injuries, as well as large-scale destruction and damage to civilian objects,” she said, highlighting the scale of the destruction in Gaza, which has been under a 14-year Israeli blockade.
“There is no doubt that Israel has the right to defend its citizens and residents. However, Palestinians have rights too. The same rights.” Considering the number of casualties and the extent of destruction, that message must resonate in the echo chambers of Jerusalem. The enclave of two million people has been dubbed by the UN as the world’s “largest open-air prison”.
The imminent expulsion of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah led to widespread protests from Palestinians, which drew a harsh Israeli crackdown and raids on Al-Aqsa Mosque ~ considered the third holiest site in Islam. Palestinian factions in Gaza, including Hamas, said they fired rockets against Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem.
Israel launched the military offensive after the rocket attacks began, but it has been criticised for use of disproportionate force in the Palestinian territory. The UN Human Rights Council is debating a draft resolution to launch a broad, international investigation into violations surrounding the latest Gaza violence, but also of “systematic” abuses in the Palestinian territories and inside Israel. Israel, Palestine and the world must keep their fingers crossed.