The human rights chief of the United Nations has criticised Israel’s far-right finance minister for remarks in which he called for the Palestinian village of Huwara to be “wiped out”, describing the comments as “an unfathomable statement of incitement to violence and hostility”.
“The situation in the occupied Palestinian territory is a tragedy, a tragedy above all for the Palestinian people,” Volker Turk told the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council on Friday as he formally presented a report on the situation in the occupied territories.
He was referring to remarks by Bezalel Smotrich, the head of a pro-settler party in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition government. Smotrich made the comments on Wednesday after a spate of deadly Palestinian attacks and Israeli settler violence in the occupied West Bank.
“My report finds that over the reporting period, lethal force has been frequently employed by the Israeli security forces (ISF) regardless of the level of threat and at times even as an initial measure rather than as last resort,” Turk said.
“My office has also documented several cases of apparent extrajudicial targeted killings by members of the ISF,” he said. “The report finds that 131 Palestinians were killed by ISF personnel over the past year in a context of law enforcement that is outside any context of hostilities. This includes 65 people who we understand were not armed nor engaged in any attacks or clashes.
“The occupation is eating away at the health of both societies on every level, from childhood to old age and in every part of life. For this violence to end, the occupation must end. On all sides, there are people who know this.”
EU envoy calls for accountability
The European Union’s envoy to the Palestinians also called on Friday for accountability and for perpetrators to be brought to justice after a rampage by Israeli settlers this week in the occupied West Bank in which one Palestinian was killed and dozens of houses, shops and cars were torched.
Ambassador Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff, heading one of the biggest EU delegations to visit the West Bank, said the officials wanted to see with their own eyes the damage left by Sunday’s violence in and around Huwara. The rampage followed a Palestinian gun attack that killed two Israeli brothers.
“It is absolutely necessary for us that accountability is fully ensured, that the perpetrators be brought to justice that those who lost property be compensated,” Kuhn von Burgsdorff said.
Local media reported that in a rare move, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday signed administrative detention orders for two suspects over the rampage after a Jerusalem court ordered police to release all seven people who had been detained in connection with the rampage.
Amnesty International condemned the release of the suspects on Friday. It also condemned the use of administrative detention, which it said was a practice that violates international law.
Israeli rights group Yesh Din found that 93 percent of investigations into settler attacks in the occupied West Bank between 2005 and 2022 were closed without indictments.
Israeli Major General Yehuda Fuchs, who commands the Israeli military in the area, said on Tuesday that his forces had prepared for attempted settler retribution over the gun attack but had been surprised by the intensity of the violence, which he said was perpetrated by dozens of people. He called it a “pogrom carried out by outlaws”.
The United States has also demanded that Netanyahu disavow Smotrich’s call for Huwara to be erased.
On the night of the rampage, Netanyahu urged people not to take the law into their own hands, but he has not publicly addressed Smotrich’s statement or responded to the unusual criticism by Washington, a close ally.
Rising tensions in West Bank
Late on Thursday, Palestinian officials said Israeli forces fatally shot 15-year-old Mohammad Nidal Saleem in the back in the occupied West Bank town of Azzoun.
Ahmad Enaya, the town’s mayor, said an Israeli military vehicle drove into town and when teens hurled rocks at the car, soldiers responded with live fire.
The Israeli military said in a statement that soldiers shot at suspects who hurled explosives at them while they conducted a search in the area for people who launched fireworks at Israeli vehicles passing near Azzoun.
It said it was aware of reports of people being wounded but did not confirm any Palestinian fatalities.
Violence in the West Bank has surged as the Israeli military has intensified raids and killed more than 60 Palestinians since January.
The US, Jordan and Egypt have appealed for calm as concerns grow about an escalation ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover festival in late March and early April.
In his remarks in Geneva, the UN rights chief said decades of the Israeli occupation of Palestine have led to “widening dispossession … and recurring and severe violations of their [Palestinians’] rights, including the right to life”.
“Nobody could wish to live this way or imagine that forcing people into conditions of such desperation can lead to an enduring solution,” he said.