Israel has used the expansion of Jewish settlements to pursue a creeping annexation of the occupied Palestinian territories and committed multiple violations of international law in its treatment of Palestinians, the United Nations Human Rights Council said in a report on Thursday that called for an immediate halt to all settlement activity.
Presenting its findings after a nearly six-month investigation, the panel of three jurists led by a French judge, Christine Chanet, said Israel’s settlements had clearly violated the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit a state from transferring its own civilian population into territory it has occupied.
Israel “must cease all settlement activities without preconditions” and begin the withdrawal of all settlers from the occupied territories, the jurists said their report, which is to be debated at the Human Rights Council in March.
A statement by Israel’s foreign ministry called the report “counterproductive and unfortunate” and a reminder of the Human Rights Council’s “systematically one-sided and biased approach towards Israel.”
The panel examined 67 submissions from academics, diplomats, Israeli civil society and Palestinians, Ms. Chanet said, but Israel refused to cooperate with the mission, which was unable to visit the West Bank and instead went to the Jordanian capital, Amman, to hear testimony.
The Human Rights Council voted a year ago to investigate the impact of settlements on Palestinian rights, which prompted Israel to break off cooperation and castigate the panel as a political platform used “to bash and demonize Israel.” The report came two days after Israel boycotted the council’s review of Israel’s human rights record, becoming the first country to withhold cooperation from a process in which all 193 United Nations member states have previously engaged.
The United States also opposed creating the fact-finding mission on the grounds that “it does not advance the cause of peace and will distract the parties from efforts to resolve the issues that divide them.”
Washington has opposed Israel’s creation of further settlements and construction in East Jerusalem as “unhelpful” and an obstacle to a two-state solution of the Palestinian issue.
Reviewing Israel’s settlements policy since 1967, the panel said that Israel, with the full knowledge and compliance of successive governments, had established some 250 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967. The settlements now have an estimated 520,000 settlers and are growing much faster than the population of Israel. The result is “a mesh of construction and infrastructure leading to a creeping annexation that prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state and undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” the report said.
These actions fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, the panel said, and if Palestine ratified the Rome Statute that created the court, Israel could be called to account for “gross violations of human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the report said.
The settlements are maintained through “a system of total segregation” between the settlers, who enjoy a preferential legal status, and the rest of the population, the report said. It found Palestinian rights to freedom of movement, equality, due process of law and access to education, water, housing and natural resources “are being violated consistently and on a daily basis.”
The panel reported that violence and intimidation by “a small minority” of settlers continued with impunity and expressed grave concern at the high number of children who are detained. They were “invariably mistreated, denied due process and fair trial,” the report said and many were transferred to detention centers in Israel, also a violation of international law.