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Press releases Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territory: UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk calls for the “illogic of escalation” to stop

03 February 2023

GENEVA (3 February 2023) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk on Friday urged an end to the “illogic of escalation that has been building up, to the detriment of the human rights of Palestinians and Israelis”.

“Rather than doubling down on failed approaches of violence and coercion that have singularly failed in the past, I urge everyone involved to step out of the illogic of escalation that has only ended in dead bodies, shattered lives and utter despair,” Türk said.

“I fear that recent measures being taken by the Government of Israel are only fuelling further violations and abuses of human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law.”

“Last year saw record numbers of Palestinians killed in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem – and the highest number of fatalities of Israelis inside Israel and in the occupied West Bank in many years. Already this year, we have seen more bloodshed, more destruction, and the situation continues to grow more volatile,” he added.

In 2022, the UN Human Rights Office documented 151 killings of Palestinians by Israeli security forces in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem, plus one boy who was killed by either the Israeli security forces or a settler. Another two Palestinians were killed by Israeli settlers. In many of the cases involving security forces, there are serious concerns of excessive use of force and arbitrary killings.

So far this year, 32 Palestinians have already been killed in the occupied West Bank by Israeli security forces, with two more killed by settlers.

In 2022, 24 Israelis were killed inside Israel and in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem by Palestinians, and seven more have been killed so far this year.

Israeli authorities on 29 January announced measures to seal off immediately family homes of those suspected of having perpetrated attacks on 27 and 28 January in occupied East Jerusalem, including an attack in a settlement near a synagogue. More than 40 people, including family members, were arrested purportedly in relation to the attacks. Two families of the suspected attackers were forcibly evicted from their homes. Other proposed measures include revoking identity documents, citizenship and residency rights and social security benefits of family members of suspected attackers, and accelerating demolitions of houses for lack of building permits. If implemented, these may amount to collective punishment.

“Measures of collective punishment – including punitive forced evictions and house demolitions – are expressly prohibited under international humanitarian law and are incompatible with international human rights law provisions,” Türk said.

“Plans by the Government of Israel to expedite and expand the licensing of firearms, with the stated intention of ‘adding thousands of (Israeli) civilians carrying firearms’ – coupled with hateful rhetoric – can only lead to further violence and bloodshed.”

“We know from experience that the proliferation of firearms will lead to increased risks of killings and injuries of both Israelis and Palestinians. The Israeli authorities must work to reduce the availability of firearms in society,” the High Commissioner added.

There have already been several reports of violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians, particularly in the occupied West Bank over the past week.

“Rather than fuelling a worsening spiral of violence, I urge all those holding public office or other positions of authority – indeed everyone – to stop using language that incites hatred of ‘the other’,” Türk said. “Such fomenting of hatred is corrosive for all Israelis, Palestinians, all of society.”

The High Commissioner called for urgent measures to de-escalate tensions, including – crucially – ensuring that killings and serious injuries are investigated in accordance with international standards.

“Impunity has been rife, sending a signal that excesses are allowed,” he said. “The obligation under international human rights law is to investigate loss of life in any context of law enforcement – credibly and effectively – regardless of whether there was an exchange of fire between security forces and armed individuals.”

Türk called on Israel to ensure that all operations of its security forces in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem, are carried out with full respect for international human rights law, in particular the rules regulating the use of force in law enforcement operations. Use of firearms is allowed only as a last resort, when there is an imminent threat to life or serious injury.

“The people of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory need their leaders to work – urgently – to create conditions conducive to a political solution to this protracted, untenable situation,” Türk stressed.

For more information and media requests, please contact:

In Geneva

Ravina Shamdasani - + 41 22 917 9169 / [email protected]
Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / [email protected]

In Nairobi

Seif Magango - +254 788 343 897 / [email protected]

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