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Bachelet Appeals For De-escalation Amid Increasingly Alarming Situation In Occupied Palestinian Territory And Israel


GENEVA (15 May 2021) – UN High Commissioner for Human
Rights Michelle Bachelet on Saturday called for strict
respect for international law and appealed to all sides to
take steps to de-escalate the increasingly alarming
situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian
Territory.

“Over the past 10 days, the situation in
the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel has
deteriorated at an alarming rate. The situation in Sheikh
Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem, triggered by threats of
forced evictions of Palestinian families; the heavy presence
of Israeli Security Forces and violence around the al Aqsa
mosque during Ramadan; the severe escalation of attacks from
and on Gaza; and the shocking incitement to racial hatred
and violence in Israel have all led to vicious attacks and
mounting casualties in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
and in Israel,” High Commissioner Bachelet
said.

“Rather than seeking to calm tensions,
inflammatory rhetoric from leaders on all sides appears to
be seeking to excite tensions rather than to calm them. Once
again, we are seeing lives lost and terrified people being
forced to flee or hide in their homes, subjected to attacks
that are being carried out by both sides in what may amount
to serious violations of international humanitarian
law.”

Bachelet warned that the firing of large
numbers of indiscriminate rockets by Palestinian armed
groups into Israel, including densely populated areas, in
clear violation of international humanitarian law, amounts
to war crimes. In Gaza, where there have been extensive
Israeli airstrikes and shelling from land and sea into
densely-populated areas, there are concerns that some
attacks by the Israeli Defence Forces have targeted civilian
objects that, under international humanitarian law, do not
meet the requirements to be considered as military
objectives. The failure to adhere to
the principles of distinction, proportionality and
precaution in the conduct of military operations amounts to
a serious violation of international humanitarian law and
may constitute war crimes.

“I urge both sides to
ensure strict respect for their obligations under
international law. Israel, as the occupying power, also has
a duty to ensure unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance
to the Gaza strip,” the High Commissioner said. “Those
found to be responsible for violations must be held to
account.”

The High Commissioner also called on the
Israeli Government to take measures to stem the disturbing
outbreak of violence between ultra-right wing groups,
including Israeli settlers, and Palestinian citizens of
Israel, in cities including Lod, Jaffa, Ramle and Haifa. Of
particular concern is the apparent highly organised nature
of some attacks as well as inflammatory language that may
amount to incitement to racial and religious hatred and
violence. Reports indicate that in some instances, settlers
arrived in organized convoys from Israeli settlements in the
West Bank to join local groups. Violent attacks have also
been perpetrated by some Palestinian citizens of Israel. Mob
violence has taken place in Bat-Yam, Jaffa and Acre this
week, including attacks on places of worship and cultural
heritage.

“I am particularly concerned at reports
that Israeli police failed to intervene where Palestinian
citizens of Israel were being violently attacked, and that
social media is being used by ultra-right wing groups to
rally people to bring ‘weapons, knives, clubs,
knuckledusters’ to use against Palestinian citizens of
Israel,” the High Commissioner said. There are also
reports of excessive and discriminatory use of force by
police against Palestinian citizens of Israel, hundreds of
whom have been detained in relation to incidents of
violence.

“I remind the Israeli Government of its
duty to protect all its residents and citizens without
discrimination based on notions of ‘nationhood’,
religious or ethnic origin, and to ensure equal treatment
before the law,” Bachelet said. “Political leaders must
refrain from any action that will inflame tensions, but must
take action to prevent and address incitement to hatred and
violence and ensure all citizens of Israel are fully and
equally protected, including by taking preventive
action.”

The High Commissioner said she was also
deeply disturbed by the reported use of live ammunition by
Israeli Security Forces in the context of protests and
clashes in the West Bank, resulting in the death of 10
Palestinians on 14 May alone. Any use of force by the ISF in
the West Bank must adhere to the Basic Principles on the use
of force and firearms by law enforcement, which state in
particular that firearms can only be used against
individuals representing an imminent threat to life or of
serious injury, and only as a matter of last resort. In a
situation of occupation, the unjustified and illegal resort
to firearms by law enforcement officials may constitute a
war crime.

Bachelet called for independent,
transparent and thorough investigations into all allegations
of violations of international human rights law and
international humanitarian law.

“We know from recent
history how such a grave situation can advance with utterly
catastrophic consequences for thousands of civilians,”
Bachelet said. “There can be no winner, no sustainable
peace resulting from the furtherance of the cycle of
violence. I urge all sides – and States with influence –
to take immediate measures to ensure respect for
international law, ease tensions, and work to resolve –
rather than fan – the
conflict.”

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