Israel’s policies in the Palestinian territories amount to a crime against humanity, said Richard Falk (photo), the UN special rapporteur on human rights there.
His statement came as Israel has been urged by UN human rights delegates to take nearly 100 measures, such as ending its blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The UN must act in order to protect the Palestinian population, said Mr Falk, adding that they suffered what he called “collective punishment”.
The blockade is a necessary security measure to stem rocket salvos, says Israel.
Israel’s human rights record has been reviewed for two days by the UN Human Rights Council, under a new mechanism called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), in which the Council scrutinises the records of all UN member states every four years.
In March, Israel will report on how it plans to follow-up on 99 recommendations made by the Council. Freeing thousands of Palestinian detainees is part of the recommandations.
Violations of international criminal law
In his statement, Mr Falk called on the United Nations to make an “urgent effort” to “implement the agreed norm of a responsibility to protect a civilian population being collectively punished by policies that amount to a Crime Against Humanity”.
He added that the International Criminal Court should investigate whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law.
The last time there had been “such a flurry of denunciations by normally cautious UN officials” it was during the heyday of the apartheid government in South Africa, said Mr Falk.
He added : “And still Israel maintains its Gaza siege in its full fury, allowing only barely enough food and fuel to enter to stave off mass famine and disease.”
On Tuesday, Israel allowed dozens of trucks filled with humanitarian supplies into Gaza. It was the fifth such shipment permitted to enter the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory in the past month.
During the debate at the UN last week, there were heated exchanges between Israel and some of its adversaries.
Gaza has been described as “a hotbed for terrorist preparations” by Israeli officials. They also said that in the past four weeks, more than 200 rockets and mortars shells had been fired from there.
Palestinian militants say their barrages are a response to Israeli violations of a ceasefire in the summer.
Israel is committed to building on successes in human rights and dealing with any shortcomings, said the country’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva late on Tuesday. He also welcomed the “positive and productive” dialogue with the Human Rights Council.
But Mr Falk’s intervention has also been dismissed as “more anti-Israeli propaganda than truth” by a foreign ministry spokesman.
“The situation in Gaza is the direct result of the violence inflicted by Hamas, not only on Israeli civilians but the Palestinian population”, said Yigal Palmor in an interview with AFP news agency.