Tutu hits out at Israel over blocked mission

South African Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Monday sharply criticised Israel’s failure to cooperate with a United Nations human rights fact-finding mission into the killing of 19 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Tutu, who is leading the inquiry, confirmed that Israeli authorities had effectively thwarted the mission by failing to grant travel visas in time.

The mission had been planning to head to Israel and the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

“It is for all these reasons and more that we find the lack of cooperation by the Israeli government very distressing, as well as its failure to allow the mission timely passage to Israel,” Tutu said in joint statement with British law Professor Christine Chinkin, the other member of the mission.

“This is a time in our history that neither allows for indifference to the plight of those suffering, nor a refusal to search for a solution to the present crisis in the region,” he told a press conference.

The UN Human Rights Council voted on November 15 to set up the fact-finding mission into the deaths during an Israeli artillery bombardment in Beit Hanun. The mission was intended to assess the situation of victims and make recommendations on ways “to protect Palestinian civilians against further Israeli attacks”.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mark Regev said Israel was concerned about the mission’s platform, adding it “advances a biased anti-Israeli agenda”.

Regev nevertheless said Israel was “still considering the request” for the authorisation to travel. However, Tutu pointed out the mission had to report back to the UN council by mid-December.

“Sometimes not making a decision is making a decision,” he commented.

Israel has blocked similar UN human rights missions in the past, a UN official said.

Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, chaired the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the end of the apartheid regime.

He and Chinkin revealed on Monday that they had firmly ruled out crossing directly into Gaza through Egypt precisely because they wanted to meet senior Israeli officials and avoid bias.

“We did make a very definite decision, that it would be one-sided it would not give us the full picture.
It would also look in a way that we were going in through the back door,” Chinkin remarked.

Broader context

Tutu noted there was no dispute over the “basic facts” of the shelling at Beit Hanun. “The broader context, however, is complex, and this warranted that we also visit Israel, where in the pursuit of our mandate we had hoped for meetings with members of the government at a high level.”

Outgoing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has criticised the Human Rights Council’s focus on the Middle East conflict.

The Israeli ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Itzhak Levanon, accused the council of being silent on Palestinian violence.

“In my meeting with Reverend Tutu, I stressed the fact that our decision has nothing to do with the persons involved in the mission, but rather with the council itself, which has been hijacked by member states whose sole purpose is to criticise and besmirch Israel,” Levanon said in a statement.

In the three special sessions called since the council was set up earlier this year, it has exclusively condemned Israeli human rights violations in Palestinian territories and in Lebanon following appeals by Arab states.

Thirty-two countries in the 47-member council, mainly from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, voted for the resolution setting up the mission headed by Tutu. Western countries either opposed the mission or abstained in the vote.

The Israeli military has blamed a technical malfunction for the shelling of private homes in Beit Hanun on November 18.—Sapa-AFP

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