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UN investigators accuse Israel of 'delegitimizing' Palestinian human rights group with terrorism accusations

Investigators commissioned by the U.N.’s top human rights body on Thursday accused Israel of “delegitimizing and silencing civil society” by outlawing Palestinian human rights groups and labeling their members as “terrorists.”

The findings came in the annual report by the Human Rights Council’s “Commission of Inquiry.” The commission, led by a three-member team of human rights experts, was established in 2021 following an 11-day war between Israel and the Hamas militant group in Gaza. Israel accuses the rights council, and the commission, of being unfairly biased.

The report also accused both Hamas and the rival Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank of committing rights violations. But it said most of the violations it had uncovered were committed by Israel as part of a campaign it says is aimed at “ensuring and enshrining its permanent occupation at the expense of the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Former U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay, who leads the commission, accused Israeli and Palestinian authorities of “limiting the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful association.”

Israel says the groups are connected to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — a secular, left-wing movement with a political party as well as an armed wing that has carried out deadly attacks against Israelis. Israel and its Western allies consider the PFLP a terrorist organization.

The rights groups deny any connection to the PFLP, and a number of European nations have rejected the Israeli claims, citing a lack of evidence.

Locator map of Israel

Investigators commissioned by the United Nations accused Israel of “delegitimizing and silencing civil society” by labeling members of a Palestinian human rights group as “terrorists.” (AP Photo)

Thursday’s report said the Israeli crackdown on the groups was “unjustified and violated fundamental human rights, including the rights to freedom of association, expression, opinion, peaceful assembly, privacy and the right to a fair trial.”

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“The Commission of Inquiry against Israel has no legitimacy. It never had,” it said.

It accused the commission members of having “pre-existing biased prejudices” and compared the commission’s public hearings to gather information for the report to “kangaroo trials.”

Proponents say the commission is needed to keep tabs on persistent injustices faced by Palestinians under decades of Israeli rule.

In the report, the commission also criticized the rival Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza, accusing them of targeting human rights activists “with the aim of silencing dissenting opinions.”

It said authorities in both areas have forcibly closed civil society activities.

It said it had received information about “torture and ill-treatment to punish and intimidate critics” both in Gaza and the West Bank.

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“The frequency and severity, and the absence of accountability indicate that such cases are widespread in nature,” it said.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a step that is not internationally recognized and says the West Bank is disputed territory, and that its fate should be determined through negotiations. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

The international community overwhelmingly considers all three areas to be occupied territory.

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