UN goes easy on Israel for killing disabled Palestinian

Ibrahim Abu Thurayya in Gaza City in 2013. Abu Thurayya, who lost his legs in an Israeli airstrike in 2008, was shot dead by Israeli forces in what the UN human rights office called a “truly shocking and wanton act.”

Ezz Al-Zanoon APA images

The United Nations human rights chief has joined the condemnation of Israel’s killing of a disabled Palestinian man in the occupied Gaza Strip.

But while Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein calls the killing of Ibrahim Abu Thurayya “incomprehensible” and a “truly shocking and wanton act,” his office stops short of calling for any real accountability from Israel.

It thus demonstrates a double standard in which Israel is treated more leniently by the UN than other perpetrators of human rights crimes.

Abu Thurayya, 29, lost both his legs in an Israeli airstrike in 2008. Last Friday he was participating in demonstrations in Gaza near the boundary fence with Israel in protest of the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Abu Thurayya “was protesting around 15 metres from Gaza’s eastern fence when he was shot while sitting in his wheelchair,” the human rights group Al-Haq stated.

Shot dead in wheelchair holding flag

According to Al-Haq documentation and footage of the incident, Abu Thurayya “was only holding a Palestinian flag and did not pose any threat to the [Israeli occupation forces] when he was shot in the forehead in what appears to have been a deliberate act of killing.”

A statement on Tuesday from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein acknowledges these facts and states that “there is nothing whatsoever to suggest that Ibrahim Abu Thurayya was posing an imminent threat of death or serious injury when he was killed.”

The statement adds: “Given his severe disability, which must have been clearly visible to those who shot him, his killing is incomprehensible – a truly shocking and wanton act.”

Yet the statement falls far short of what should be expected in such a grave situation.

Mild language

The UN human rights office also said that Israel’s other killings and injuries to hundreds of Palestinians the same day raise “serious concerns as to whether the force used by Israeli forces was properly calibrated to the threat.”

This mild language appears to justify and rationalize an occupation army’s use of force against civilian demonstrators while appealing politely to the occupier to be slightly less brutal.

Most troubling, however, is the UN human rights office’s call on Israel “to immediately open an independent and impartial investigation into this incident, and into all others that have resulted in injury or death, with a view to holding the perpetrators accountable for any crimes committed.”

The UN knows full well that Israel is utterly incapable of investigating itself in any serious manner. The statement even acknowledges that a “preliminary internal Israeli army investigation has taken place” into the killing of Abu Thurayya.

That “investigation” already concluded that Israeli forces had done nothing wrong and had demonstrated “no moral or professional failures” in shooting dead a disabled man.

Zeid’s office certainly knows that this kind of impunity is systematic.

Human rights groups have handed masses of evidence of Israeli violations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

These are crimes that Israel has refused to investigate.

The International Criminal Court appears to be dragging its feet on cases involving Israel.

According to Al-Haq, Israel’s killings of Palestinian protesters on Friday “may amount to a wilful killing, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a war crime falling within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.”

Yet in its statement on Abu Thurayya, the UN human rights office fails to call for the International Criminal Court to robustly combat Israel’s systematic impunity.

Calls for intervention

This is in marked contrast to the human rights office’s calls on the court to get involved in other countries such as Syria, Burundi, North Korea and Myanmar

Zeid has also called for an “international investigation into the human rights violations in Venezuela” to hold perpetrators there accountable.

His call for intervention in Venezuela was based on his assessment that “the current mechanism is inadequate” and needed to be “reconfigured with the support and involvement of the international community.”

The statement on Abu Thurayya is worryingly not the only sign of a bias where the UN treats Israel with kid gloves.

Under the mandate of the UN Human Rights Council, Zeid’s office is compiling a database of companies doing business in Israel’s settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

The database was originally expected to be published this month, but Zeid’s office reportedly pushed it back amid intense pressure from Israel and the United States, prompting concern from human rights groups.

And in 2016, while saying it was “extremely concerned” about the extrajudicial killing of an injured Palestinian by an Israeli army medic, the UN human rights office appeared to insist that Palestinians under military occupation have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their occupiers.

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.