UN expert says Israeli settlements amount to a war crime

Special rapporteur for Palestinian territories calls for international pressure against 'illegal occupation'

A Palestinian labourer stands on a construction site in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Givat Zeev, near Jerusalem. Reuters
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank amount to a war crime, a UN human rights investigator said.

Michael Lynk, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, was addressing a session on Friday of the UN Human Rights Council.

The session was boycotted by Israel, which does not recognise his mandate or co-operate with him.

In my report, I conclude that the Israeli settlements do amount to a war crime
Michael Lynk, UN special rapporteur

"In my report, I conclude that the Israeli settlements do amount to a war crime," Mr Lynk said and called on countries to inflict a cost on Israel for its "illegal occupation".

He said the settlements breach an absolute ban on an occupying power transferring part of its civilian population into an occupied territory, thereby meeting the definition of a war crime under the Rome Statute founding the International Criminal Court.

"I submit to you that this finding compels the international community ... to make it clear to Israel that its illegal occupation, and its defiance of international law and international opinion, can and will no longer be cost-free," Mr Lynk said.

Many countries consider the settlements to be a breach of international law. Israel disputes this and cites Biblical and historical connections to the land, as well as security needs.

Israel's mission to the UN in Geneva rejected Mr Lynk's report as "the latest one-sided and biased report against Israel" and accused him of turning a blind eye to violations committed by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the group that rules Gaza.

Mr Lynk said Israel's demolition of Bedouin tent dwellings in a village in the West Bank on Wednesday left residents without food or water in the heat of the Jordan Valley, calling it "both unlawful and heartless".

"Progressive seizure of Palestinian lands together with the protection of the settlements is a further consolidation of Israel's de facto annexation of the West Bank," he said.

There are nearly 300 settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, with more than 680,000 Israeli settlers, he said.

The US, Israel's closest ally did not speak at the council, which it accuses of having an anti-Israel bias.

Lotte Knudsen, the EU's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said the settlements were illegal under international law.

"Such actions as forced transfers, evictions, demolitions and confiscation of homes will only escalate an already tense environment."

Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital, but the issue of Jewish settlements on land captured by Israel in a 1967 war has long been a stumbling block in the peace process.

The last round of peace talks collapsed in 2014.

Updated: July 10, 2021, 8:41 AM