UN rights chief concerned about Israel's moves amid violence

A young Bedouin girl looks to of a car window at the West Bank hamlet of Khan al-Ahmar, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. The long-running dispute over the West Bank Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, which lost its last legal protection against demolition four years ago, resurfaced this week as a focus of the frozen Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel's new far-right ministers vow to evacuate the village as part of a wider project to expand Israeli presence in the 60% of the West Bank over which the military has full control. Palestinians seek that land for a future state. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. human rights chief expressed concerns Friday that steps taken by the new Israeli government, the most far-right in the country’s history, could fuel further violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the wake of a recent spike in bloodshed in the region.

Volker Türk cited steps such as forced evictions of Palestinians from their homes and government moves to expedite Israelis’ access to firearms. He called on leaders, officials and everyone else on both sides to stop using language that incites hatred, and to shun violence.

“Rather than doubling down on failed approaches of violence and coercion that have singularly failed in the past, I urge everyone involved to step out of the illogic of escalation that has only ended in dead bodies, shattered lives and utter despair,” said Türk, who took office in October as the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Israel's ambassador in Geneva accused the rights office of condemning a “legitimate response” by her country — instead of condemning “heinous terrorist attacks” against Jewish worshippers and Israeli civilians.

The region is facing one of the deadliest periods of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in years. An Israeli military raid last week killed 10 Palestinians — most of them militants — but also a 61-year-old woman. A Palestinian gunman in a shooting attack a day later outside an east Jerusalem synagogue killed seven people, including a 14-year-old.

Israel’s firebrand national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, responded by taking steps to demolish the home of the gunman and other Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem built without permits, and called for granting more gun licenses to Israelis.

On Thursday, Israeli aircraft struck a rocket production workshop in the Gaza Strip, after Palestinian militants fired a rocket toward Israel. Over the weekend, a shooting in east Jerusalem by a 13-year-old Palestinian wounded two Israelis.

“I fear that recent measures being taken by the government of Israel are only fueling further violations and abuses of human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law," Türk said.

Such laws prohibit “collective punishment,” including punitive forced evictions and demolition of homes, he said, warning that expanded licensing of firearms to civilians plus a rise in hateful rhetoric "can only lead to further violence and bloodshed.”

Israel has long accused United Nations institutions of anti-Israel bias, and the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council — a 47-member-state body, which like the rights office is based in Geneva — has passed more country-specific resolutions involving Israel than any other single country.

The office of Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, lashed out at the statement from Türk's office, saying that he broke his silence over the attacks against Israeli civilians “not by condemning these acts of terrorism, not by offering his condolences to the victims’ families, not by even describing these attacks as acts of terrorism, but by solely condemning the State of Israel.”

The statement from Türk’s office “does not even have the decency to describe the attacks last week for what they were, acts of Palestinian terrorism targeting the Jewish people,” Eilon Shahar said.

“Its prejudice towards Israel means it chooses to turn a blind eye to the daily incitement of children by the Palestinian Authority and their support for terrorism," she added. "This must end now.”