| 19 April 2024, Friday |

UN rights investigator aims to probe growing Israeli settler violence

A member of a UN-mandated independent commission of inquiry said on Tuesday that increasing Jewish settler violence in the occupied West Bank was a “major concern” and announced plans to investigate further.

The West Bank, among territories taken by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians seek for a state, has seen an increase in violence over the past 15 months with stepped-up Israeli raids amid a spate of Palestinian street attacks. On Tuesday, Palestinian gunmen opened fire near an Israeli settlement, killing four people.

US and European officials have also repeatedly raised the issue of settler attacks on Palestinians, which reached record levels last year and has continued to increase since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist government took office in January and accelerated settlement expansion.

“We are very disturbed that violent settler activity has considerably increased in the last months and it’s… becoming, in fact, the means through which (Israeli) annexation is insured,” said Miloon Kothari, a member of a Commission of Inquiry mandated by the UN Human Rights Council.

The COI addressed the Geneva-based Human Rights Council earlier on Tuesday, accusing Israel’s government of placing growing restrictions on Palestinian civil society groups.

Israel, which left its seat empty, said in a statement by its Foreign Minister Eli Cohen that the COI was a “stain on the UN and on the Human Rights Council”.

At the same meeting, Israel’s closest ally the United States issued a statement on behalf of 27 countries criticizing the COI which, unusually, has an open-ended mandate. The United States left the body in 2018 over what it described as its “chronic bias” against Israel, and only fully rejoined last year.

“We believe the nature of this COI is further demonstration of long-standing, disproportionate attention given to Israel in the Council, and must stop,” said US Ambassador Michele Taylor.

Kothari later riposted: “As long as the occupation continues, the United Nations needs to continue to rigorously investigate the situation and therefore, we would like to see a sunset of the Israeli occupation.”

The COI was opened in 2021. The council cannot make legally binding decisions, but evidence collected by the inquiries it establishes is sometimes used by international courts.

  • Asharq Al-Awsat