Tutu to head UN rights mission to Gaza

Goal is 'to protect Palestinian civilians against Israeli assaults.'

beit hanun 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
beit hanun 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has in the past compared Israeli policies with those under apartheid, has been named to head a United Nations fact-finding mission to the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanun, where an IDF artillery barrage killed 19 civilians earlier this month, UN officials said Wednesday. The Nobel Peace laureate will travel to Gaza to "assess the situation of victims, address the needs of survivors, and make recommendations on ways and means to protect Palestinian civilians against further Israeli assaults," according to the president of the UN Human Rights Council, Luis Alfonso De Alba. The mission will report its findings to the Geneva-based body by mid-December, the statement said. The Beit Hanun tragedy on November 8, which the IDF said was caused by stray shells, came after troops wound up a week-long incursion aimed at curbing Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel from the town. The 47-state council earlier this month approved a resolution that condemned "gross and systematic" human rights violations by Israel in the occupied territories" and ordered an investigation into the Beit Hanun incident. Tutu has not kept his opinions secret against Israel regarding its policies dealing with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. He has said that Zionism has "very many parallels with racism." In one article entitled "Apartheid in the Holy Land" published in London's Guardian newspaper in April, 2002, he thanked the Jews for their support of black South Africans in overthrowing apartheid, but condemned the Israeli policies shown through "the violence of military incursions in the occupied lands, and the inhumanity that won't let ambulances reach the injured." In an article in The Nation entitled "Against Israel" in June, 2002, Tutu and co-writer Ian Urbina compared the "Israeli occupation" to the former apartheid government. They said they actively supported the practice of divestment from Israel as a form of protest "aiming at the end of Israeli occupation." And they drew an additional parallel to the "similar moral and financial pressures on Israel" that were used to protest the apartheid government. Speaking in a Connecticut church in 1984, Tutu said that "the Jews thought they had a monopoly on God; Jesus was angry that they could shut out other human beings." In the same speech, he compared the features of the Temple in Jerusalem to the features of the apartheid system in South Africa. In conversations during the 1980s with the Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Eliahu Lankin, Tutu "refused to call Israel by its name, he kept referring to it as Palestine," Lankin recalled. Tutu, a renowned anti-apartheid activist, was chairman of the much-respected Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed after the fall of apartheid. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his efforts to end the apartheid regime. A graduate of King's College in London with a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Theology, he has also been awarded numerous honorary degrees from Universities across North America and Europe. In South Africa, Tutu was ordained in 1960 as an Anglican priest. Since then has been elected and served as the first black priest in many leadership roles of national and international Christian organizations. These posts included vice-director of the Theological Educational Fund of the World Council of Churches, Anglican dean of Johannesburg, and Anglican archbishop of Cape Town.