The U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and Israel, began a weeklong series of public hearings Monday by focusing on closure orders and terrorism designation by Israel of several Palestinian organizations.
In opening the proceedings, the chair of the three-member Commission of Inquiry, Navi Pillay, said the hearings were being held to investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law leading up to and since April 13, 2021. This was when the recent bout of violent clashes involving Palestinians, Israeli settlers and Israeli forces came to a head.
Pillay said the commission aimed to investigate the underlying causes of recurrent tensions and instability, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity. She said a limited number of victims, witnesses, civil society organizations, and legal representatives will testify during the week.
"The hearings are not judicial. The commission is not a court, nor a truth and reconciliation commission. During the hearings, questions may be put by all three commissioners to the witnesses. The aim is to allow victims and survivors on all sides to speak for themselves to the international community in a formal, but comfortable setting," Pillay said.
At Monday's hearings, three of six non-governmental organizations designated by Israel as terrorist groups testified. In his testimony, Shawan Jabarin, general director of Al-Haq, said since it was founded in 1979, the group's mission has been to respect and defend human rights and the rule of law in the Palestinian territories.
Over the years, he said, Al-Haq has documented many human rights violations and other crimes allegedly committed by Israeli forces. He accused the Israelis of starting a smear campaign to undermine and silence Al-Haq because they did not like the nature of its work.
"When they failed to silence us, when they failed to dry our resources, they failed to close us. When they failed to disseminate the fear, I think they came to the last thing, the political decision. I look at it as a political decision to declare Al-Haq and other organizations as terrorist organizations," Jabarin said.
Israel branded Al-Haq, together with five other non-governmental organizations, as terrorist groups in October 2021. Two of these groups, Defense for Children International – Palestine along with Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, testified Monday.
The Israeli mission in Geneva issued a statement likening the proceedings to that of a "kangaroo court." It accused the U.N. Commission of Inquiry of choosing to focus on its anti-Israel agendas by playing judge, jury and executioner.
The Israeli mission said no public hearing can be taken seriously when it is evidently based on predetermined conclusions. The mission called these sham trials and said they shamed and undermined the Human Rights Council. The mission also said the council should not be used to convene unofficial courts.