NEWYORK, Friday, December 9, 2022 (WAFA) – The Israeli occupation authorities withheld entry visas for United Nations staff visiting the occupied Palestinian territories.
The United Nations said it was aware of the occupation authorities’ decision to refuse visas for the newly appointed personnel of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Occupied Territories.
There are around 20 international employees working for OCHA, who monitor and document Israeli human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories.
UN spokesperson Stephane expressed concerns that this would have significant long-term ramifications on OCHA’s ability and that of the broader humanitarian community to support Palestinians in need.
"The impact of this on OCHA's work in planning the humanitarian response for 2023 is already being felt," he added.
He pointed that the United Nations was engaged with the Israeli authorities on this issue and expressed his hopes that it would be resolved.
Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, had admitted the existence of "a system of sanctions in Tel Aviv against United Nations employees who criticize Israeli policy and speak against it."
Erdan said that the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs refuses to grant permits and entry visas to employees who purportedly “run a policy of lies against Israel and distort reality”.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet slammed in August Israel’s failure to process visa applications that are necessary for the access of UN Human Rights staff in the occupied Palestinian territories.
“In 2020, the 15 international staff of my Office in Palestine – which has been operating in the country for 26 years – had no choice but to leave,” Bachelet noted.
She added that subsequent requests for visas and visa renewals have gone unanswered for two years.
“During this time, I have tried to find a solution to this situation, but Israel continues to refuse to engage.”
As a member state, Israel must cooperate in good faith with the UN and grant its officials the privileges and immunities necessary for them to independently exercise their functions, she stressed.
“This includes an obligation to exempt UN officials from immigration restrictions and to deal with applications for visas for UN officials as speedily as possible.”
“Israel’s failure to process visa applications that are necessary for my staff’s access is inconsistent with these standards,” she stated, calling on the government to meet its international obligations.
“Israel’s treatment of our staff is part of a wider and worrying trend to block human rights access to the occupied Palestinian territory,” Bachelet said.
“This raises the question of what exactly the Israeli authorities are trying to hide.”
According to Erdan, whose chances to obtain the Foreign Ministry portfolio in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are weak, the UN personnel distort the reality and ignore the fact that most of the Palestinians killed are “terrorists” who tried to kill Israeli civilians.
Bachelet refused this accusation and affirmed that despite its international staff being barred, the UN Human Rights Office in Palestine is delivering on its mandated work in monitoring the State’s compliance with its international human rights obligations and providing technical assistance on human rights.
“We will continue to deliver on our mandate, and we will continue to demand access to the occupied Palestinian territory for our staff, in line with Israel’s obligations as a UN member state.”
Israeli media had indicated that there are sanctions against UN employees, saying Israel was angered by the UN listing companies with activities in illegal Israeli colonial settlements.
The UN rights office in February 2020 released a list of over 100 companies with activities in Israeli colonial settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.
Therefore, Israeli authorities abstained from issuing or renewing any visas since June 2020.
Israel had not formally refused any of the office’s visa applications, but had simply not acted on new requests or requests for renewal.
The first international staff member had to leave in August after her visa expired, and nine international staff members had been forced to leave after their visas were not renewed.
Only three international staff members of the agency still have valid visas to work in the country.