Last Tuesday, in his speech in front of the UN Security Councilafter unequivocally condemning the attacks of Hamas against Israel, including rocket fire and hostage taking, Antonio GuterresSecretary General of the United Nations, told the international community that these attacks “did not come out of nowhere.”
Despite the fact that three sentences later Guterres assured that “the suffering of the Palestinians cannot justify the terrible attacks by Hamas,” Eli Cohen, Foreign Minister of Israel, reacted angrily and told the Secretary General: “What world do you live in? Definitely not ours.”
But Israel’s response did not stop there. In a statement after the meeting, the Israeli ambassador to the UN in New York, Gilad Erdan, He said that, with his comment, Guterres was “tolerating terrorism” so he asked him to resign.
Neither the foreign minister nor the ambassador attended a bilateral meeting with Guterres, scheduled for that afternoon.
Israel’s response, however, did not stop there either. The next morning, according to the Israeli press, Erdán announced on an Army radio station that they would reject visas to United Nations representatives because “it is time to teach them a lesson.” In the same statement, he assured that Israel had already begun to apply that policy, which is why he denied a visa to Martin GriffithsUN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs.
Since September 2020, Israel stopped renewing the visas of our international staff, who had to leave the Occupied Palestinian Territory
Griffiths is the organization’s highest-ranking humanitarian official. Israel decided, according to the ambassador, to deny him a visa at a time when the situation in the Gaza Strip, already completely dependent on humanitarian aid before this crisis, has been described as catastrophic by local and international organizations.
In Gaza alone, in 21 days, more than 8,300 people have been killed, at least another 18,000 injured, 1,600 missing, probably dead under the rubble, more than a million internally displaced, almost half of the homes damaged or destroyed, a collapsed health system and almost absolute restriction of food, medicine and water.
According to the Ministry of Health, 66% of those killed in Gaza, or around 4,600, are women and children.
All this in an enclave where 2.2 million people live without electricity, and almost without fuel, which Israel has bombed incessantly since last October 7, when groups of Palestinian militiamen, mainly from Hamas, entered Israel and brutally murdered About 1,400 people, most of them civilians, injured more than 5,000 others and took at least 200 others hostage, including children, women and the elderly.
EL TIEMPO consulted with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), headed by Griffiths, about the veracity of the visa denial and the travel plans that the undersecretary had before the ambassador’s announcement. As of press time, he has not received a response.
“The UN maintains contact through the usual channels with Israel”
The head of the OCHA mission in Jerusalem, Lynn Hastings, said this Friday at a press conference with journalists in Geneva that Israel’s threat to deny visas is not new, that so far the suspension has not been made effective and that it is necessary wait to find out if anyone will be affected.
Given the possibility that Israel may deny visas to other people, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the secretary general, said Thursday at his daily press conference in New York that the organization “continues to maintain contact through the usual channels with the Israeli authorities to obtain visas required for UN personnel.”
Other agencies that could be affected
Other UN agencies operate in Gaza and the West Bank that are indispensable for the survival of the Palestinians, most of whom are refugees in their own land. The work of these agencies could be affected if Israel begins to deny visas.
This is what happened to the UN Human Rights Office, who were denied visas long before this situation. As one of his spokespersons in Geneva confirmed to EL TIEMPO, “Since September 2020, Israel stopped renewing the visas of our international staff, who had to leave the Occupied Palestinian Territory and temporarily move to other countries in the region.”
For this reason, the 35 workers they have in Gaza and the West Bank are nationals, so they do not require a visa. Its international staff works from Jordan.
Some of the other agencies working in the area are the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, Unicef and, above all, the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), responsible among other things for operating 183 schools and 22 medical centers in Gaza, in 150 of which more than 600,000 civilians are currently crowded trying to take shelter from the bombs.
UNRWA, which is also in charge of distributing the little humanitarian aid that Israel has authorized to enter since October 21, has suffered this violence firsthand: as of this Friday, 63 of its workers have been killed in Israeli bombings. .
“Israel resorts to arguments ad hominem”
For Nicolas Boeglin, professor of International Law at the University of Costa Rica, beyond the issue of visas, which if fulfilled could have serious consequences, the most notable thing is the reaction of Israeli diplomacy in the sense of asking for the resignation of Guterres.
“I think that this reaction from Israel is unprecedented. Since 1945, no State, no matter how upset it may be with the statements of a Secretary General, has publicly proposed its immediate resignation,” said Boeglin, for whom Israel “is running out of arguments when it is made to see that it has the right to defend itself, but respecting international humanitarian law.”
According to the professor, Israel seeks to intimidate Guterres “so that he is not so critical of what we are seeing today, which is an open massacre: a war crime because aerial bombardments fail to discriminate the military objective of the population. civil. I repeat: Israel is running out of arguments and finds nothing better than resorting to ad hominem arguments.”
If the visa denial materializes, Boeglin is concerned about the possibility that international UN staff would have to leave Palestine due to the population’s dependence on humanitarian aid.
“If these officials withdraw, the Palestinian population will be at the mercy of nothing, no one: access to Gaza has been controlled by Israel for 16 years and that is not going to change now that the situation is so tense,” he added. .
Regarding the phrase that unleashed Israel’s reaction, the academic maintained that it cannot be interpreted “in any way” as a justification of terrorism. “The phrase that is so annoying tries to explain that this hatred, this barbarity and this thirst for revenge that Hamas showed on October 7 come from an accumulation of occupation and colonization.”
That hatred, according to him, will only continue to grow in the midst of this bombing campaign that disproportionately affects the civilian population and the infrastructure that makes their lives possible.
CARMEN LUCÍA CASTAÑO
FOR THE TIME