Israeli Ambassador Pushes Back on U.N. Rights Chief Saying Israel 'May' Have Committed War Crimes

Israeli Ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar pushed back when U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet proposed that Israel allow an investigation for possible war crimes the country may have committed, the Associated Press reported.

Bachelet said that rockets are indiscriminate between military and civilians and that their use "constitutes a clear violation of international humanitarian law." She added Hamas would also be guilty, saying that "the actions of one party do not absolve the other from its obligations under international law."

Shahar's responded by saying Hamas, a designated terrorist organization by the U.S. and its allies, had 4,400 fired rockets at Israeli civilians. "Each one of these rockets constitutes a war crime."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Street Destruction in Haifa Israel
HAIFA, ISRAEL - MAY 13: Firefighters put out a fire that was lit by rioters in the Hadar neighborhood on May 13, 2021 in Haifa, Israel. Several Israeli cities have experienced clashes between Jewish and Arab mobs in recent days, with hundreds of people being charged with rioting offenses. The violence follows days of cross-border fighting between militants in the Gaza Strip, who have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, and Israeli airstrikes that have killed dozens across the Palestinian coastal enclave. Daniel Rolider/Getty Images

Bachelet detailed to the Human Rights Council the "most significant escalation of hostilities since 2014" that left devastation and death in the Gaza Strip before a cease-fire last week.

The 11-day war killed at least 248 in Gaza, including 66 children and 39 women. In Israel, 12 people also died, including two children.

"Air strikes in such densely populated areas resulted in a high level of civilian fatalities and injuries, as well as the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure," Bachelet said.

"Such attacks may constitute war crimes," she added, if deemed to be indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians. Bachelet urged Israel to ensure accountability, as required under international law in such cases, including through "impartial, independent investigations" of actions in the escalation.

She also derided tactics of Hamas that included locating military assets in densely populated civilian areas, and firing rockets from them.

She cautioned that unless the "root causes" of the violence are addressed, "it will certainly be a matter of time until the next round of violence commences with further pain and suffering for civilians on all sides."

The day-long debate involved personal accounts from Palestinians — such as that of a young woman journalist from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem, an early flashpoint that triggered the violence — as well as statements from the council's 47 member states and also observer states.

The Organization of Islamic Conference has presented a resolution that, if passed by the council, would mark an unprecedented level of scrutiny authorized by the council by setting up a permanent commission to report on human rights violations in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

A vote on the draft resolution was likely at the end of the session, which is largely virtual.

Israel — backed at times by the United States — accuses the council of anti-Israel bias and has generally refused to cooperate with its investigators.

"What would you do if rockets were fired at Dublin, Paris, or Madrid," Shahar asked.

Riad al-Maliki, the Palestinian foreign minister, sought to highlight years of suffering by Palestinians in the lands controlled or occupied by Israel.

The Israeli war machinery and terrorism of its settlers continue to target our children who face murder, arrest and displacement, deprived of a future in which they can live in peace and security," he said by video message.

Man Standing in Gaza City Carnage
Mohammed Elfarawi stands in the severely damaged room that belonged to his son Adam who was killed when an airstrike targeted the apartment below prior to a cease-fire that halted an 11-day war between Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel, Thursday, May 27, 2021, in Gaza City. John Minchillo/Associated Press