NEW YORK – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon slammed Israel on Wednesday for attacking his organization’s facilities during the Gaza war even in situations where Hamas fired rockets near such facilities.
Finding arms and seeing rockets fired from UN facilities does not justify under any circumstances an attack on those facilities, Ban said: “Let me be clear: The suspicion of military action does not justify jeopardizing the lives and safety of many thousands of innocent civilians.”
He spoke at a special UN session on Gaza held two days into the humanitarian cease-fire, as Israel pulled its troops from the Gaza Strip. At that session UN officials, including High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and members of the UN General Assembly, slammed Israel and Hamas for weeks of fighting that has resulted in more than 1,800 deaths, thousands of wounded and increasingly poor humanitarian conditions in Gaza.
Opening the meeting, Ban expressed relief that the cease-fire was holding but spoke in the harshest terms when condemning the attacks on UN Relief and Works Agency facilities that resulted in the deaths of dozens of Palestinian refugees and 11 UN workers, calling them “outrageous, unacceptable and unjustifiable.”
Although the secretary-general acknowledged Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens against the threat of rocket attacks by Hamas, he said that the current round of fighting has raised concerns that Israel’s use of force has been disproportionate.
“This cease-fire has come at a price that is almost too much to bear. The massive death and destruction in Gaza have shocked and shamed the world,” Ban said. “People on both sides have the right to life, but also the right to life free from fear.”
The only way to achieve a peaceful future in the Middle East, Ban said, is to negotiate a political settlement between both sides.
“The nightmare of the last four weeks has been a terrible reminder that only a negotiated political settlement can bring sustainable peace and security to Israelis and Palestinians alike,” the secretary- general said, repeating the statement and underscoring its importance.
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry told the assembly the reality in Gaza and Palestine is bleak, stating that the current one-state reality is not sustainable.
The envoy advocated that all parties take this moment, in the wake of fighting, as the cease-fire appears to be holding, to begin negotiations that would result in a two-state future.
“With all eyes on Gaza,” he said, “we must not lose sight of the bigger picture.”
Commissioner Navi Pillay is a controversial figure for Israel, and two weeks ago she and the UN Human Rights Council called for Israel to be held to account for war crimes.
Speaking remotely to the assembly, Pillay said, “Actions by one party do not absolve the other party of its obligations under international law.”
After Ban, Pillay, and officials from UNRWA and the United Nations Development Program spoke, Ambassador Ron Prosor and Riyad Mansour, the PLO’s permanent observer at the UN, recounted their grievances to the assembly, criticizing the international community’s handling of the recent conflict.
Mansour called on the Security Council to adopt the draft resolution proposed by Jordan at the end of July, and reiterated his concern that Israel had not respected international law in carrying out Operation Protective Edge.
On Tuesday morning, after a meeting of the Security Council, Jordanian Ambassador Dina Kawar told the press that she hoped the resolution regarding Israel and Palestine would be adopted this week.
Citing Winston Churchill’s criticism of the international community in the 1930s for waiting while Germany rearmed itself, Prosor criticized the modern United Nations and the international community for failing to quell violent attacks by the likes of Boko Haram, Islamic State and Hamas.
“This institution was founded to stand for truth, for justice and for moral clarity. This is no longer the case,” Prosor said about the UN. “It might be too much to ask you to stand on our side in this battle between civilization and barbarism, but at least have the decency to swallow your selective outrage while Israel wages war against the extremist groups seeking to eradicate the values that we all hold very dear.”
Questioning the values of the UN, Prosor called on members of the assembly and the UN to examine what he called their complicity in allowing organizations like Hamas to continue to exist in the Middle East, and insisted that Israel is on the front line of the battle against religious extremism.
“In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Arab states passed a resolution saying that the terror tunnels were simply an irrigation system, and that the rockets were nothing more than shooting stars,” he said, reiterating that Israel was left with no choice but to go into Gaza and to disassemble Hamas’s infrastructure.
Prosor called the inclusion of Hamas in the Palestinian unity government absurd: “It’s like inviting ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and in Syria] to participate in the Iraqi government.”
During the nearly four weeks of fighting, rockets were found in UNRWA facilities on three occasions.
In a period of a week and a half, three UNRWA facilities, which had been set up in schools, were attacked, resulting in the deaths of refugees and UN workers.
At UN headquarters in New York, officials condemned in the harshest possible terms the bombing of UN facilities, and mourned the deaths of their co-workers.
Shortly after the second attack on a UNRWA facility housing refugees, in a live interview with Al Jazeera, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness broke down sobbing.
The secretary-general has since added, “Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children.”