South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls the fighting between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip a natural consequence of years of occupation. The archbishop, who headed a high-level fact-finding mission to the Palestinian town of Beit Hanoun in Gaza, has just submitted his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva where the Council is meeting.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu agrees the fighting between Hamas and Fatah increasingly looks like civil war. He says he is in despair over these events, but understands why these rival factions are fighting each other.
"When you are oppressed, it is so very easy to turn on yourselves," he said. "At home, we had horrendous instances of internecine conflict. And you would say, for goodness sake, do we not realize that it is, in fact, playing into the hands of those who are abusing us, who are oppressing us."
Archbishop Tutu says it is very difficult for those who have not been un-free to know what oppression and injustice do to people.
Late last year, the U.N. Human Rights Council asked Tutu to head a mission to investigate the killings of 19 civilians in Beit Hanoun, following Israeli military operations on November 8. The Israeli government refused to grant the visas for the Mission to enter Israel.
The report submitted to the Council is based on information gathered from sources outside the territory. It finds the Israeli attacks resulted in grave human rights violations, including loss of life, the destruction of homes, electricity and water.
It calls on Israeli and Palestinian authorities to prosecute people on both sides who attacked civilians in Beit Hanoun and in nearby Israeli towns.
Law professor and member of the mission, Christine Chinkin, says what happened in Beit Hanoun six months ago, feeds into the violence that is occurring now.
"It is important as well that the current focus on the internal violence in Gaza, in particular, does not distract attention from the ongoing human rights violations, such as those relating to health, to the movement of people outside the territories, the ongoing destruction of shelter, the access to social and cultural rights and an adequate standard of living," she said. "I think it is very easy for attention to get deflected away from those extremely important ongoing human rights."
Israel dismisses the report of the high level mission as one-sided and biased. The Israeli position is supported by a Canadian parliament member, Irwin Cotler, who says he turned down an invitation to join the mission, because the mandate violated fundamental principles of justice.