Commission of Inquiry on Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel asks for greater access to address allegations of bias
Ending the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory is essential to stopping the conflict and halting the persistent cycle of violence said the independent experts charged by the Human Rights Council with investigating the root causes of conflict, who today made a plea for better access to the people and locations most affected by the conflict.
“The root cause is clearly the occupation, and the occupation must end”, said the Commission’s chair, Ms. Navi Pillay, at a news conference in Geneva.
The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had presented the report to the Human Rights Council yesterday. “We call this a ‘perpetual occupation’ and we say that's the core underlying root cause of ongoing violence displayed in terms of the force displacement, the threats of forced displacements, demolitions, settlement construction and expansions, settler violence and the blockade of Gaza,” Ms. Pillay said.
“As we all know, this has endured for decades, and there's a sense of despair and hopelessness within the Palestinian population, as well as in Israel and the Diaspora,”
The report by the three-member commission has generated a lot of media interest but has also has been rejected by many supporters of Israel, who have complained of bias by the Commission.
“We are listening to all stakeholders of whatever political point of view”, said Ms. Pillay, in response to these allegations of bias.
The three-member panel said it regretted Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the Commission, and maintained that the allegations of bias could be addressed if only they were given access to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory in order to interview people and gather information.
“We are disappointed that Israel has not permitted us to visit Israel”, said Ms. Pillay. “To see for ourselves, to talk to victims, particularly of the Hamas rocket attacks, it's very important that we have a balanced report reflecting the situation of all victims. I constantly hear murmuring that we are very biased, and we only represent the one side, that’s the anti-Israel side. So, I cannot understand why they wouldn't let us in. and interview appropriate witnesses.”
The Commission released its 18-page report after conducting an assessment of recommendations made by previous Commissions of Inquiry and Fact-Finding-Missions, as well as other United Nations mechanisms and its own hearing.
According to Miloon Kothari, member of the Commission of Inquiry, “we are not looking only at individual events of human rights violations, but we are trying to establish patterns, patterns that are historical patterns that are very inimical to the occupation that are leading to these constant cycles of violence and conflict.”
The Commission undertook two missions to Geneva and one to Jordan, and held consultations with various stakeholders, including Israeli and Palestinian civil society organizations.
“We are very concerned about this issue of double standards”, said Mr. Kothari. “And now it has sharply come out in the context of the crisis in Ukraine. And we are very clear that these are double standards, and the international community is rightly appalled in the face of aggression and occupation and has correctly moved to act swiftly and collectively and forcefully to ensure compliance with international law”, he said. “But in the case of Israel and Palestine”, so Mr. Kothari, “there has been inaction for decades and it continues.”
The former South African jurist Navi Pillay stressed the importance of the future work of the Commission to look also for solutions. “We want everyone to take this Commission seriously because it’s the first time it can look into political questions which you can't do under the Human Rights Council regular mandates. And we are all very keen to find solutions. We're not here just to say, how bad things are. People on the ground know it's bad,” she said.
“There is a possibility in the next couple of years for the first time in a generation of new people and new ideas and new openings,” said Commission member Chris Sidoti, on a more hopeful note. “I'm not naive. I'm not utopian. I don't say that this window is wide open. But I say that it's opened a little bit. And that places a grave responsibility on the international system and individual states to take advantage of what may be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pressure for change, push for change, reopen possibilities that have been locked.”