newsIsrael at War

Israeli UN envoy: International law ‘not a suicide pact’

Israeli diplomats denounce the United Nations for comparing Gaza campaign to Hamas atrocities.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan at a U.N. Security Council meeting that discussed the war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Oct. 18, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of the Israeli Mission to the United Nations.
Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan at a U.N. Security Council meeting that discussed the war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Oct. 18, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of the Israeli Mission to the United Nations.

Israel’s envoy to the United Nations in Geneva on Thursday rebuffed diplomatic criticism likening Israeli military operations in Gaza to Hamas atrocities.

International law is “not a suicide pact,” said Ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and International Organizations in Geneva. She was commenting after a U.N. human rights official had briefed member states on the war.

If a state is not allowed to defend itself “or is criticized for doing so in line with international law, inevitably terrorist organizations will become more and more emboldened to continue to deploy these methods, confident in continued international support,” the ambassador added.

Shahar’s remarks came against the backdrop of a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted on Wednesday calling for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses” in Gaza. The resolution did not condemn Hamas for its Oct. 7 attack, during which it killed 1,200 people and kidnapped more than 240.

The ambassador’s comments also follow a stream of Israeli criticism leveled at the United Nations in recent days.

Speaking at the U.N’.s Geneva headquarters on Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen called for U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres to resign.

“Guterres does not deserve to lead the United Nations. Guterres did not promote any peace process in the region… Guterres, like all the free nations, should say clearly and loudly: ‘Free Gaza from Hamas,’” Cohen said at a press conference.

The secretary general raised Israeli ire at a Security Council meeting following Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre when he said, “It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum.”

Days later, Guterres called for a ceasefire by calling Gaza “a graveyard for kids.”

Also on Tuesday, a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused U.N. agencies of complicity in Hamas war crimes.

“For too long international agencies and officials have been tacitly complicit with Hamas’s long-standing abuse of hospitals as human shields,” said Prime Minister’s Office Spokesman Eylon Levy at a press briefing.

“We are demanding full accountability from them. What did you know? Why did you not say anything? Why do you continue to do propaganda for Hamas instead of doing your jobs?” he asked.

Levy singled out Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), and U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths for special censure.

The two criticized Israel Defense Forces operations near Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City on Wednesday, with Ghebreyesus tweeting that “the reports of military incursion into Al Shifa hospital are deeply concerning,” and Griffiths posting that he was “appalled by reports of military raids in Al Shifa hospital.”

Rebutted Levy, “No, what is disturbing is Hamas putting its headquarters in the basement and the fact that you are covering for it… No, What is appalling is that Hamas hijacked protected institutions and U.N. agencies did nothing.”

“To the alphabet soup of international agencies complicit with Hamas war crimes we say: Your negligence has put lives at risk and has cost innocent lives. Now that we have caught you in the act, can you please find the strength to condemn Hamas? Forget us—you have failed the Palestinian people. You have failed the world. You have all failed at your jobs,” Levy said.

U.N. agencies operating in Gaza have long been accused of corruption. UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the largest U.N. organization in the Gaza Strip, is staffed by Hamas loyalists, according to Kobi Michael, senior researcher at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).

Michael, who co-authored a report on UNRWA in 2020, said, “UNRWA is a very problematic organization. It is fully controlled by Hamas. Hamas uses the facilities of UNRWA for weapons storage and to launch rockets. All of the local employees of UNRWA are Hamas people. Nobody’s allowed to work in UNRWA without the permission of Hamas.”

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