United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that Israel may have committed “war crimes” during its 11-day bombardment of Gaza in May. In her opening address to the UN Human Rights Council special session last Thursday, Bachelet condemned the high number of civilian fatalities and large-scale destruction of infrastructure and vital facilities in the densely-populated Gaza Strip, due to Israeli airstrikes. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, the attacks killed at least 253 Palestinians, 66 of them children, and injured over 1,900. Bachelet also called out Hamas for initiating rocket attacks on Israel, which killed at least 12 Israelis, including 2 children, according to an Aljazeera report.
While denouncing both Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rockets, Bachelet focused the majority of her concerns on Israel’s attacks on Gaza, which may be considered “war crimes” if “found to be indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians and civilian objects,” as she stated in her address. Consequently, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution during the special session calling for an international investigation into possible crimes and infringements of international law committed by Israel. The resolution also established a “Commission of Inquiry” that would monitor human rights violations in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel.
Bachelet’s statements and the actions taken by the UN Human Rights Council were met with both opposition and praise. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that the UN’s “shameful decision is yet another example of the UN Human Rights Council’s blatant anti-Israel obsession.” The United States, Israel’s closest ally, in a statement through the U.S. Mission to the UN, claimed the resolution “threatens to imperil the progress that has been made.”
Other figures applauded the UN, with the Palestinian Authority stating that the new resolution stands as “international recognition of Israel’s systemic oppression and discrimination against the Palestinian people.” Saleh Hijazi, the Middle East and North Africa Deputy Regional Director of Amnesty International, called the move by the UN “a real test, specifically for the European Union states, to walk the walk when they talk about accountability, to not make Israel an exception when it comes to human rights and respect for international law.”
The UN’s response comes after the ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, ending 11 days of fighting and one of the biggest flare-ups of the 73-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians rose during the past two months and peaked when news broke of several families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, who were at risk of being forcibly displaced from their homes by Israeli officials.
While Palestinians protested the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, Israeli police forces stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan, attacking and wounding over 330 civilians using tear gas and stun grenades, according to the New York Times. The situation on the ground escalated further when Hamas fired rockets at Israel in response to the recent incidents at Al-Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah, while Israel hit back at Gaza with airstrikes and disproportionately stronger military power.
Bachelet’s claims of Israel’s possible war crimes, and the UN’s decision to move forward with a resolution to monitor those violations are welcome, as they bring awareness to valid human rights concerns that must be addressed and looked into by the international community. However, it is unlikely that the statements and actions of the UN will lead to concrete change and progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The move by the UN to call out Israel can be seen as merely symbolic, since they cannot enforce laws or agreements.
Similar efforts have been made by the International Criminal Court (ICC) earlier this year to investigate war crimes committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Like the recent UN resolution, the ICC’s was also rejected and opposed by Israel, with Prime Minister Netanyahu responding that “Israel absolutely rejects the claim that it has carried out war crimes,” according to the BBC.
While the voice and input of the UN is important, the organization’s recent decisions may not lead to full accountability and justice in the aftermath of the attacks on Gaza, as long as there is active resistance and reluctance to heed their words. The UN resolution and the concerns of war crimes raised by human rights chief Michelle Bachelet this past week may serve as another wake-up call to the rest of the world, to re-assess the human rights violations occurring on the ground in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel. However, to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the 73-year occupation, the world needs more concrete solutions than merely resolutions.