Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan said there are sanctions in Tel Aviv against UN employees who criticize and speak out against Israeli policy.
He affirmed that the Foreign Ministry refuses to issue entry permits and visas for the employees at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) who “run a policy of lies against Israel and distort reality.”
“The fault is not in our actions, but rather in their actions, which are considered a disgrace for the UN.”
Erdan said he informed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about it but nothing has changed so far.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet slammed in August Israel’s failure to process visa applications that are necessary for the access of UN Human Rights staff in the occupied Palestinian territories.
“In 2020, the 15 international staff of my Office in Palestine – which has been operating in the country for 26 years – had no choice but to leave,” Bachelet noted.
She added that subsequent requests for visas and visa renewals have gone unanswered for two years.
“During this time, I have tried to find a solution to this situation, but Israel continues to refuse to engage.”
As a member state, Israel must cooperate in good faith with the UN and grant its officials the privileges and immunities necessary for them to independently exercise their functions, she stressed.
“This includes an obligation to exempt UN officials from immigration restrictions and to deal with applications for visas for UN officials as speedily as possible.”
“Israel’s failure to process visa applications that are necessary for my staff’s access is inconsistent with these standards,” she stated, calling on the government to meet its international obligations.
“Israel’s treatment of our staff is part of a wider and worrying trend to block human rights access to the occupied Palestinian territory,” Bachelet said.
“This raises the question of what exactly the Israeli authorities are trying to hide.”
Israel protested in 2021 UN reports stating that its forces killed 320 Palestinians, a 10-fold increase on the number killed in 2020, and injured 17,042 people, six times the 2020 figure.
The UN recorded the highest number of incidents of settler violence since recording began in 2017, and arrests of Palestinians doubled. So far in 2022, Israeli forces have killed at least 111 more Palestinians.
According to Erdan, whose chances to obtain the Foreign Ministry portfolio in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are weak, the UN personnel distort the reality and ignore the fact that most of the Palestinians killed are “terrorists” who tried to kill Israeli civilians.
Bachelet refused this accusation and affirmed that despite its international staff being barred, the UN Human Rights Office in Palestine is delivering on its mandated work in monitoring the State’s compliance with its international human rights obligations and providing technical assistance on human rights.
“We publicly report on violations by Israel, but also on violations by the State of Palestine, by Hamas in Gaza and Palestinian armed groups. We also provide the principal support to the Palestinian government to help it improve its compliance with international human rights obligations,” she argued.
“We will continue to deliver on our mandate, and we will continue to demand access to the occupied Palestinian territory for our staff, in line with Israel’s obligations as a UN member state.”
The Yedioth Ahronoth Hebrew news website had indicated that there are sanctions against UN employees, saying Israel was angered by the UN listing companies with activities in illegal Israeli settlements.
The UN rights office in February 2020 released a list of over 100 companies with activities in Israeli settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.
Therefore, Israeli authorities abstained from issuing or renewing any visas since June 2020.
Israel had not formally refused any of the office’s visa applications, but had simply not acted on new requests or requests for renewal.
The first international staff member had to leave in August after her visa expired, and nine international staff members had been forced to leave after their visas were not renewed.
Only three international staff members of the agency still have valid visas to work in the country.