Palestinian mourners carry the body of Nehad Bargouthi, 19, who was shot by Israeli fire during clashes between protesters and Israeli troops Tuesday in Nabi Saleh, during his funeral in the West Bank village of Kafr Ein, northwest of Ramallah, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. AP
The decision, delivered in a scathing letter to the commission's head, Navi Pillay, further strained what already is a tense relationship between Israel and the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council in Geneva.
``It is obvious to my country, as it should be to any fair-minded observer, that there is simply no reason to believe that Israel will receive reasonable, equitable and non-discriminatory treatment from the Council, or from this Commission of Inquiry,'' said the letter, signed by Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel's ambassador to the U.N. and international organizations in Geneva.
The council established the three-person investigative commission last May, days after an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. Over 260 Palestinians, including scores of women and children, were killed in the fighting. Fourteen people died in Israel.
At the time, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said that Israeli actions, including airstrikes in civilian areas, might have constituted war crimes.
Since then, a number of international rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have said Israeli attacks appear to have constituted war crimes. Both Bachelet and HRW have also said that indiscriminate Hamas rocket fire at Israeli cities also violated the international laws of war.
Israel blames Hamas for civilian casualties, saying the group uses residential areas for cover while carrying out military activities. Many rockets were fired from neighborhoods.
But the commission's responsibilities go well beyond the Gaza war. A ``Commission of Inquiry'' is the most potent tool of scrutiny of rights violations and abuse at the council's disposal. The assigned mandate of this one is to monitor alleged rights violations in Israel, Gaza and the occupied West Bank. It is the first such commission to have an ``ongoing'' mandate.
Israel has long accused the United Nations, and particularly the Human Rights Council, of bias.
Israel is the only country in the world whose rights record comes up for discussion at every council session. Israel has also raised concerns about the council's makeup, saying it includes countries with poor rights records or open hostility toward Israel. China, Cuba, Eritrea, Pakistan, Venezuela and a number of Arab countries sit on the 47-member council.
Israel also has repeatedly rejected international calls for investigations into its wartime conduct and treatment of the Palestinians. The International Criminal Court in the Hague has opened an investigation into possible Israeli war crimes -- a probe that Israel says is motivated by antisemitism and part of an international campaign to ``delegitimize'' it.
``This COI is sure to be yet another sorry chapter in the efforts to demonize the State of Israel,'' Eilon Shahar said.
Her letter took personal aim at Pillay, who is a predecessor of Bachelet as U.N. human rights chief. It said Pillay, a former South African judge, has endorsed ``the shameful libel'' branding Israel an apartheid nation and backed the international Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel.
The letter was in response to a Dec. 29 letter from Pillay to the Israeli government to ask it to ``reconsider its position of non-cooperation'' expressed right after the commission was created. In her letter, she said the commission would ``need'' to visit Israel and occupied Palestinian areas and requested a visit in the last week of March. She said the commission sought to travel along with six to eight staffers.
The ambassador's letter all but ensures the commission will not obtain such access or Israeli government cooperation.
Opponents of Pillay have highlighted what they allege is an anti-Israel bias shown by her. That included, for example, comments she made in 2017 to an interviewer about the definition of ``apartheid'' as a crime against humanity under the International Criminal Court's Rome Statute. She said that ``it means the enforced segregation of people on racial lines, and that is happening in Israel.''
Pillay also had said: ``The government of Israel really resents a comparison between apartheid South Africa and Israel.''
A growing number of rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and local Israeli groups, have said that Israeli treatment of Palestinians, including its own Arab minority, amounts to apartheid. Israel vociferously rejects the label as antisemitic.