GENEVA (Reuters) - Israel drew fire regarding its human rights record on Thursday at a United Nations forum where its neighbors accused it of committing systematic violations against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
Delegations from Syria, Egypt and Iran raised concerns about Israel’s security wall, its detentions of young Palestinians, and what they called “illegal” Jewish settlements during the regular review by the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Western countries, including Australia, Britain, Canada, France and Germany, urged Israel to lift its blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip which they said had led to a worsening humanitarian situation.
Palestinian ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Ibrahim Mohammad Khraisi, called for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, removal of the blockade on Gaza, and a halt to what he called “collective punishment” of Palestinians.
Iran’s Ambassador Ali Reza Moaiyeri said the debate could not sufficiently address the “gross and systematic human rights violations committed against the Palestinians.”
These included targeted killings, torture, the demolition of houses, and “racist and discriminatory practices,” he said.
But Aharon Leshno Yaar, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, told the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session there was a “certain sense of pride at the culture of human rights that we have managed to develop in the six short decades since the founding of our state.”
“Our record is not perfect but the advantage of being a democracy is that multiple mechanisms exist for critical dialogue and oversight. The UPR is one such mechanism,” he said.
The 47-member U.N. Council has held three special sessions looking at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians since the body was created in 2006, and Israel has allowed eight U.N. human rights investigators to visit in the past three years.
Malkiel Blass, deputy attorney general in Israel’s justice ministry, told the Geneva session that Israel faced continuous security threats and had to build its security fence and wall after “waves of suicide bombings” began in 2002.
Israeli interrogations of security suspects are subjected to “scrupulous oversight” and torture is prohibited, said Daniel Taub, senior deputy legal adviser in the foreign ministry.
“The Gaza Strip has become a hotbed for terrorist preparations and a launching pad for repeated missile attacks,” Taub said, adding that more than 200 rockets and mortar shells were fired on Israel from Gaza in the past four weeks.
Israel said it opened its border crossings with the Gaza Strip on Thursday for the first time in a week to allow in limited amounts of food, medical supplies and fuel.
It also is allowing foreign journalists to enter for the first time since November 4, when an armed raid into the coastal enclave triggered a surge in cross-border rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.
Israel’s main ally, the United States, did not speak during the three-and-a-half hour debate which continues on Tuesday.
Palestinian envoy Khraisi said: “We are looking forward to the establishment of an independent sovereign state of Palestine...which will provide us with the opportunity and honor of participating in the UPR process as a fully-fledged member of the U.N.”
Editing by Laura MacInnis and Michael Roddy