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Gaza: Israel’s censure of rights expert should not distract from possible war crimes

As Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Francesca Albanese has a mandate from the Council which includes investigating violations, undertaking regular visits or missions and reporting on findings.

Israel’s Foreign Minister and Interior Minister announced this week that she was prohibited from entering the country following recent comments made online about the 7 October Hamas attacks that sparked the current hostilities in Gaza.

‘Symbolic and misleading’ 

“Since Israel’s 2008 detention and deportation of then UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, the State of Israel has prevented the entry of all UN Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. Israel’s recent announcement to ‘officially ban’ my entry is therefore symbolic and misleading,” Ms. Albanese said in a statement

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Israel’s announcement must not serve as a diversion from the situation in Gaza,” she continued, before listing some of the devastating toll of the current conflict, including more than 28,500 Palestinians killed, mainly women and children. 

“Israel claims that the ban follows my comments concerning the context in which Hamas’s attacks on 7 October took place. My comments were prompted by the French President’s description of the attacks as ‘the largest antisemitic massacre of our century’”, she said.

‘Heinous attacks’ condemned 

I have strongly and consistently condemned these heinous attacks as war crimes, which cannot be justified in any way and for the fear and distress they have spread among Israelis,” she said.

“I continue to express my sorrow and solidarity with the victims, including the hostages still held captive, and with Jewish communities worldwide. I also call for accountability for these crimes.”

Challenging ‘persistent misinterpretation’ 

While underlining her unequivocal condemnation of the attacks, Ms. Albanese said that she “also felt compelled to challenge a persistent misinterpretation of the root causes…particularly in Western countries”, namely that they were primarily motivated by antisemitism. 

As prominent Holocaust and antisemitism scholars have warned, this assumption is both false and dangerous as it evades the critical underpinnings of the conflict and disavows the role of Israel in fuelling it,” she said. 

“These scholars have recently argued that ‘appealing to the memory of the Holocaust obscures our understanding of the antisemitism Jews face today, and dangerously misrepresents the causes of violence in Israel-Palestine’.  So, while antisemitism could have played a role in the attacks at an individual level for some, their main determinants are to be found elsewhere.” 

Context matters 

Ms. Albanese insisted that context does matter. She cited UN Secretary-General António Guterres who has stated that “it is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum; the Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.”

The rights expert stressed that fundamentally, no crime ever justifies another.  

“There is no justification for the horrific attacks of 7 October. However, the ‘56 years of suffocating occupation’ referred to by the Secretary-General is the very context that fuels the hatred and violence that endangers Israelis and Palestinians alike. This context is obscured by the framing of 7 October as primarily driven by antisemitism,” she said. 

Ms. Albanese noted that she has sought to establish formal relations with Israel since the early days of her mandate, adding that “unfortunately, Israel has responded with hostility and slander that is often amplified by politically aligned organizations and media.” 

She recalled that as a UN Member State, Israel is obligated to respect international law and uphold the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Charter.  

“Although a long and challenging endeavour, respecting international law and ending the system of apartheid that Israel imposes on the Palestinians is the only way to achieve lasting peace, human security and regional stability, for no one can be safe until everyone is safe,” she said. 

About Special Rapporteurs 

Special Rapporteurs like Ms. Albanese are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, which is the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system.

They are appointed by the Council to monitor and report on either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.

Experts work on a voluntary basis and are independent of any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and are neither UN staff nor are they paid for their work.

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