UN rights chief raises alarm over unlawful killings by Israeli forces in West Bank

UN's Volker Türk reports dramatic deterioration in West Bank, highlights serious concerns of unlawful killings.

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Image Credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The United Nations’ top human rights official has warned of a dramatically worsening situation in the West Bank, revealing that Israeli security forces and settlers have killed 528 Palestinians since October. Volker Türk, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, addressed the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, highlighting “serious concerns of unlawful killings.”

Speaking at the opening of a weekslong session, Türk expressed his alarm over the disregard for humanitarian law and human rights in the region. “We must urgently make our way back to peace,” Türk emphasized, pointing to the ongoing conflict in Gaza, where more than 120,000 people have been killed or injured since October 7, overwhelmingly women and children.

Türk’s remarks followed a report from his office in December that documented a surge in Israeli settler violence, supported by security forces. The report cited numerous instances of “unlawful killings” where Israeli forces reportedly killed bystanders and used “unnecessary or disproportionate force against Palestinians involved in confrontations and clashes.”

The U.N. report detailed the “dehumanization” of Palestinians, a trend Türk described as “very disturbing.” Despite calls for an immediate halt to Israeli settler violence and settlement expansion, the violence has continued unabated. Media outlets and human rights groups have regularly reported instances of Israeli aggression in the West Bank. For example, The New Yorker highlighted how West Bank settlers used wartime chaos as cover for violence and dispossession, and Amnesty International condemned violent attacks in April, describing them as part of an apartheid system. In May, Human Rights Watch issued a report on “Israeli forces’ unlawful killings of Palestinians.”

In response to Türk’s statements, Israel’s permanent mission to the U.N. in Geneva accused him of “completely omitting the cruelty and barbarity of terrorism.” While Türk did acknowledge that 23 Israelis had been killed by Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel, including eight security forces members, he focused on the disproportionate impact on Palestinians.

The humanitarian impact has been devastating. More than 37,400 people have been killed and over 85,400 injured in Gaza since October 7, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. Türk expressed extreme concern over the escalating situation between Israel and Hezbollah, noting that at least 401 people in Lebanon have been killed in the fighting, including paramedics and journalists, with more than 90,000 displaced.

Israeli forces have been conducting regular arrests and raids in the West Bank. Palestinian news agency Wafa reported the arrest of at least five Palestinians during recent operations in Ramallah and el-Bireh, as well as settler attacks on Palestinian farmland. Overnight, Israeli forces detained dozens of Palestinians in Qusrah near Nablus, holding them in a school for interrogation.

Palestinian prisoners’ groups report that Israeli forces have been rounding up an average of 35 Palestinians daily since the war began, with 9,112 Palestinians currently imprisoned in Israeli jails—nearly double the number from October 1.

Türk also highlighted the broader global impact of conflicts, stating that wars killed three times as many children and twice as many women in 2023 compared to the previous year. He noted a 72 percent increase in civilian deaths and injuries, urging warring parties to respect international laws and norms.

“The killings and injuries of civilians have become a daily occurrence. Children shot at. Hospitals bombed. Heavy artillery launched on entire communities. All along with hateful, divisive, and dehumanizing rhetoric,” Türk said, calling for a unified international response to address the growing humanitarian crises.

As the U.N. seeks to navigate these complex and worsening conflicts, the challenge of securing sufficient funding for humanitarian aid remains daunting. Türk highlighted a $40.8 billion gap between humanitarian funding requirements and available resources as of May 2024, contrasting it with the nearly $2.5 trillion in global military expenditure in 2023.

“We must urgently make our way back to peace,” Türk reiterated.

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