Francesca Albanese says crisis is result of failing to heed concerns about Israel’s repression of Palestinian human
7 November 2023// The Guardian
Israel’s attempt to wipe out Hamas in response to the attacks of 7 October is likely to breed only further radicalisation, besides being unlawful, the UN special rapporteur on theoccupied Palestinian territories has said.
In an interview with the Guardian, Francesca Albanese also said the international community was “reaping the whirlwind” of failing to heed the concerns of those, including herself, who had criticised Israel’s “systematic repression of Palestinian human rights”.
“We raised the alarm in the international community, the human rights community, but no one has really listened,” Albanese said. “Now it has reached a dangerous point of no return where the chances of peaceful coexistence have dropped vertically off a cliff. In fact, we are staring into an abyss.”
Albanese, an Italian academic, has often been accused by Israel of displaying pro-Palestinian bias, a charge she denies.
She challenged Israel to consider what is in its own self-interest. “Half the infrastructure of Gaza has been destroyed. 9,000 people have been killed, 3,500 of them are reported to be children, over 1,000 of them are still under the rubble. How on earth is that going to lead to peace?”
She doubted it was possible to eradicate Hamas, which she described as “not just a military presence but a political reality”.
“Even if it was possible to eradicate Hamas, if [Israel] was to exterminate everyone, everyone, so not just the militants, but anyone who works for Hamas including service providers, even if that was possible, but Israel’s occupation remained in place, all the grievances would continue to grow and another resistance will emerge. It’s natural, it’s almost a law of physics. History confirms that.”
Her most recent report as UN special rapporteur was on children in the occupied territories, and she said she fears for the further psychological damage inflicted over the last month.
“When you see children there, a profound trauma has gone across their tiny bodies,” she said. “They can speak like adults, they speak of the rights, they speak of the world they know and the world they want. They live with fear, and their major fear is not to see their mother and father any more, either because they are killed or because the children themselves get killed.
“The parents of these kids say that they’re scared because they see what it is like for them, that there are fewer alternatives to armed resistance. And it’s difficult to keep the kids away from that path because so many hopes have been destroyed. … When they resist peacefully, and use international law such as the International criminal court or the international court of justice, the international community has been deaf. People feel left with nothing and this is a huge responsibility for the international community to reflect upon.”
Albanese said she feared the space was shrinking for voices that still cultivate peace.
“October 7 has thrown all of us out in an uncharted territory, it’s much murkier. Before October 7 those who advocated for Palestinian rights, including many Israelis, felt that the debate about apartheid was on the cusp of gaining legitimacy. Now that space has dropped vertically.
“Many of the civilians killed heinously by Hamas or taken hostage were from the left, and have been advocating for peace and respect for human rights for years.”
Albanese’s references to apartheid, occupation and description of the settlements as colonies have led to her being accused of being anti-Israeli. She says the term “settlements” for her is too neutral a word for an illegal act. She insists she is not an advocate for Palestinians, but for human rights, and justice for Israelis and Palestinians, while recognising the asymmetry in power, agency and responsibilities of the two sides.
The Israeli government has demanded her dismissal, labelling her language as hate-filled, that of an antisemite, and symptomatic of an anti-Israeli mindset that underplays the country’s legitimate security concerns. It refuses to cooperate with her as it has done so with her predecessors. She was appointed to a six-year term in 2022.
However much Israel abhors her, Albanese’s arguments have gained traction and a wide audience in Arab and parts of the western media.
She argues that Israel cannot invoke the right to self-defence under the UN charter since the threat comes not from a state, but a military group, in a territory that Israel occupies militarily. Israel rejects the idea that it has occupied Gaza since withdrawing its forces in 2005, but the UN and other global bodies consider the occupation to have continued since then as it has maintained effective control over the small territory by land, sea and air.
She said that even if Israel did have a right to invoke self-defence, the attack on Gaza could not be justified under the law of war. “The attacks are clearly indiscriminate, disproportionate and violate the principle of precaution. One cannot bomb hospitals hosting hundreds of patients and sheltering thousands of refugees. Sorry, we need to look for another solution, and not to bomb hospitals. Absolutely not. This is criminal.”