UN rights chief appeals for Israelis and Palestinians to end ‘illogic of escalation’
As violence mounts between Israelis and Palestinians, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk on Friday called for an end to the “illogic of escalation”, appealing for leaders to urgently work to resolve their decades-long conflict.
“Rather than doubling down on failed approaches of violence and coercion that have singularly failed in the past, I urge everyone involved to step out of the illogic of escalation that has only ended in dead bodies, shattered lives and utter despair,” he said in a statement.
Record killings in 2022
Mr. Türk reported that record numbers of Palestinians were killed in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 2022, which also saw the highest number of Israeli fatalities inside Israel and the occupied West Bank in years.
So far, the new year has brought “more bloodshed, more destruction, and the situation continues to grow more volatile”, he added.
In 2022, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) documented 151 killings of Palestinians by Israeli security forces in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, plus one boy who was killed by either the Israeli forces or a settler. Another two Palestinians were killed by Israeli settlers.
Many of the cases involving security forces spark serious concerns of excessive use of force and arbitrary killings.
During the same period, 24 Israelis were killed inside Israel and in the occupied West Bank by Palestinians.
A deadly start
Meanwhile, 34 Palestinians and seven Israelis have been killed since the start of this year.
Mr. Türk feared recent Israeli measures “are only fuelling further violations and abuses of human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law.”
Following attacks last weekend in East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities moved to seal off the homes of the suspected perpetrators. More than 40 people were arrested, and two families were forcibly evicted.
Israel has proposed other measures, including revoking identity documents, citizenship and residency rights, and social security benefits of relatives of suspected attackers, as well as ramping up house demolitions.
Fuelling further violence
Mr. Türk said such measures, if implemented, may amount to collective punishment, which is “expressly prohibited” under international humanitarian law and “incompatible” with international human rights law.
Furthermore, Israeli Government plans to expedite and expand the licensing of firearms for civilians, coupled with hateful rhetoric, “can only lead to further violence and bloodshed”, he added.
“We know from experience that the proliferation of firearms will lead to increased risks of killings and injuries of both Israelis and Palestinians. The Israeli authorities must work to reduce the availability of firearms in society,” said the High Commissioner.
Stop fomenting hatred
Mr. Türk noted that there already have been several reports of violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians, particularly in the occupied West Bank over the past week.
“Rather than fuelling a worsening spiral of violence, I urge all those holding public office or other positions of authority – indeed everyone – to stop using language that incites hatred of ‘the other’,” said Mr. Türk. “Such fomenting of hatred is corrosive for all Israelis, Palestinians, all of society.”
The UN rights chief called for urgent measures to de-escalate tensions, including ensuring that killings and serious injuries are investigated in accordance with international standards.
Appeal to leaders
“Impunity has been rife, sending a signal that excesses are allowed,” he said. “The obligation under international human rights law is to investigate loss of life in any context of law enforcement – credibly and effectively – regardless of whether there was an exchange of fire between security forces and armed individuals.”
Mr. Türk urged Israel to ensure that all operations of its security forces in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are carried out with full respect for international human rights law.
“The people of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory need their leaders to work – urgently – to create conditions conducive to a political solution to this protracted, untenable situation", he said.