Sputnik reported last week that the UN Commission of Inquiry's February 28 report found that, by using live ammunition to suppress the Great March of Return protests on the border between Gaza and Israel, Tel Aviv gave the Human Rights Council "reasonable grounds to believe that… Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law."
Tel Aviv blasted the commission's findings, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying, "The council is setting new records for hypocrisy and mendacity out of an obsessive hatred of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East."
This prompted UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to tell the UN Human Rights Council at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, that she was "disappointed to see the immediate dismissal of that report by Israel, without addressing any of the very serious issues raised. All parties concerned should exercise restraint as the date of 30 March approaches."
March 30 is known to Palestinians as Land Day, commemorating a mass strike that occurred in 1976 in response to the Israeli government's plan to expropriate roughly 5,000 acres of mostly Palestinian-owned farmland in Galilee. Six Palestinians were killed by Israeli police in those protests, according to the New York Times.
The Great March of Return protests began in Gaza on Land Day 2018, only the latest in what have become nearly annual protests on that day, although these have continued up to the present.
The commission report estimates that as many as 23,000 Palestinians were injured by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during the protests, while only 29 of the 189 Gazans killed in the event could be clearly identified as members of one of Gaza's armed political factions. The vast majority of the Palestinians killed "did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious injury to others when they were shot," according to the report.
"In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the devastating impact of the occupation on economic and social rights is closely interlinked with violations of civil and political rights," Bachelet told the HRC. "In Gaza, the Israeli blockade — now in its 12th year — has led to negative economic growth; environmental degradation; over 50 percent unemployment, even higher for youth; and the reliance of more than 70 percent of people on humanitarian assistance, primarily food."
"It could be said that the major product of Gaza's economy is despair," she said.
"The end of this month will mark one year since the start of demonstrations which — as the Council's Commission of Inquiry reported — have been met with deadly, disproportionate force by the Israeli Security Forces, leading to a very high toll of killings and injuries," Bachelet said.
She also noted that in the West Bank, Israeli settlements, which have repeatedly been condemned by numerous international bodies associated with the UN, including the Security Council, "affect all aspects of Palestinians' daily lives, including significant negative impact on freedom of movement, and access to work, education and healthcare. Imposing economic hardship on Palestinians does not make Israelis safer."
"We regret Israel's decision to cancel the Temporary International Protective Presence in Hebron, which has helped to prevent and mitigate some human rights violations in a frequently challenging context. It will be essential to ensure continued humanitarian access and protection."
Richard Becker, West Coast ANSWER Coalition coordinator and author of the 2013 book "Palestine, Israel and the US Empire," told Sputnik Wednesday that Bachelet's statement was "not only tepid," but that "there should be more than statements, there should be action against Israel because of its extreme brutality in regards to its treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank."
"The way that things work at the United Nations, and particularly in regard to Palestine and the actions of Israel against the Palestinians, is that the Israelis feel that they have a green light and full protection because they are under the protection of US power, which is the dominant power, still, in the world and the dominant power at the United Nations in particular," he explained.
Becker, whose brother Brian Becker hosts Loud and Clear on Radio Sputnik, noted that while the UN has been critical of Israel as of late, the country has faced much harsher criticism from the international body in the past.
"I think that the reality now is that it's hidden from much of the world — the fact that this is the biggest open-air prison on the face of the Earth — that is, Gaza. The Gazans are trapped," he said.
"Despite the fact that now more than 240 people have been killed by live ammunition, more than 18,000 wounded by live ammunition, so-called ‘rubber bullets' and tear gas, but the Palestinians keep fighting, and there should be much greater publicity given — and this could be done at the United Nations and other international bodies — to this kind of suffering. If we compare the kind of attention that the opposition in Venezuela is getting, where there's nothing that approaches the brutality against the Palestinians, nothing at all, you can see the double standard that exists." International institutions should give more publicity to the plight of the Palestinians, Becker said.
He told Sputnik that while statements like Bachelet's and the HRC report do take grist to the mill of opposition inside of Israel, ultimately "the whole political landscape there continues to shift further and further to the right," so the real movement to end Palestinian oppression has to take place outside of official political bodies.
"But definitely there are still people inside Israel — and there is a growing movement worldwide, a grassroots movement, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] movement, that has grown and has great importance." Likewise, the Israeli government has waged a PR war against BDS for years, "trying to combat that movement that is focused on ending the occupation," Becker said.
"[G]overnments are not going to do it," Becker said. "It's really up to the people here and around the world, but especially in the United States, because of the US role, to take action to end the terrible oppression of the Palestinians."