Israel blocks Tutu mission to probe Beit Hanoun massacre
Israel has blocked a UN human-rights fact-finding mission led by South African Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu into the killing of 19 Palestinians in their homes in the Gaza Strip, a UN official in Geneva said Monday. Israeli authorities will not grant Tutu and his team the necessary travel authorization, added the official, who declined to be identified, added.
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 Hanoun.
The mission was aimed at assessing the victims’ situation, addressing the survivors’ needs, and making recommendations on ways "to protect Palestinian civilians against further Israeli attacks."
"We find the lack of cooperation by the Israeli government very distressing, as well as its failure to allow … timely passage to Israel," Tutu said.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said that Israel was concerned about the mission’s platform, saying it "advances a biased anti-Israeli agenda."
Regev nevertheless said Israel was "still considering the request" for the mission’s authorization to travel.
Israel has blocked similar UN human-rights missions in the past, the UN official said.
"At times not making a decision is making a decision,"
said Tutu, who added that he had accepted the mission on behalf of the UN Human Rights Council "at short notice."
"We canceled important commitments to make ourselves available for this task and to submit a report by mid-December to the council," Tutu added.
Because of the failure of Israel to approve the mission in time, the mission team had had to cancel its appointments in Israel and the Gaza Strip with people involved in the conflict.
Tutu’s team was supposed to report its findings to the UN Human Rights Council by Friday.
The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Itzhak Levanon, said he had met Tutu to explain the decision and 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 criticize and besmirch Israel," Levanon said in a statement.
Levanon added that there was strong public resentment in Israel at the Council’s perceived bias.
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.
Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, chaired the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the end of the apartheid regime. – AP, AFP