Israel has strongly opposed the statements of the Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres that the terrorist attacks of the Palestinian radical movement Hamas on Israel on October 7 “did not take place in a vacuum”. The Jewish state called on the UN chief to resign and, in response to his words, also stopped issuing new visas for representatives of the organization.
The diplomatic rift exposed decades-long rifts between Israel and the United Nations. The list of reports asked Middle East expert Azriel Bermant from the Prague Institute of International Relations to explain the relationship. In the past, he worked at universities in Israel and Great Britain.
“Israel feels singled out. He feels that he is being disproportionately targeted by the UN compared to other countries, such as China, which faces charges of genocide, or Russia, which invaded Ukraine,” explains Bermant.
Why did Guterres’ statements anger Israel so much?
First, I think Israel is exaggerating. Yes, I think Guterres’ choice of words was unfortunate, he should have thought it through more carefully beforehand. But if you look at what he actually said, you’ll realize that he really, very clearly condemned Hamas’s horrific attacks on civilians, saying that nothing could justify the deliberate killings, hostage-taking, and rocket attacks.
He also mentioned the suffering of the Palestinians, the occupation, the demolition of houses and settlements. However, he said their suffering cannot justify the actions taken by Hamas. And at the same time, the actions of Hamas cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. It is very clear from this that this is not an excuse for what Hamas has done.
What did Guterres say?
“I have unequivocally condemned the horrific and unprecedented terrorist acts committed by Hamas on October 7 in Israel. Nothing can justify the deliberate killing, wounding and abduction of civilians – nor the firing of missiles at civilian targets,” António Guterres said at the UN Security Council meeting in New York on Tuesday.
He subsequently added that it is, however, “important to realize that the attacks by Hamas did not take place in a vacuum.” “The Palestinian people have been subjected to a suffocating occupation for 56 years. They have seen their land steadily engulfed by settlements and plagued by violence, their economies crippled, their people displaced and their homes demolished. Their hopes for a political solution to their dire situation have disappeared,” said the UN chief.
“Palestinian suffering cannot justify the horrific attacks by Hamas. And these horrific attacks by Hamas cannot justify the collective punishment of Palestinians,” he added.
I think his intention was not bad, but his words about the attack not happening in a vacuum sounded like a justification for Hamas’s actions. I don’t think that was his intention, but it sounded wrong and it made the Israelis very angry.
Israel has a major problem with the UN that has been going on for decades. The UN is a punching bag for the Israelis. This was basically an opportunity for Israel to strike at the UN.
In response to Guterres’ words, Israel announced that it would not grant new visas to UN officials, and also called for Guterres to step down as Secretary-General. Can we expect further escalation?
I personally think it was a mistake for Israel to do this.
I think the situation is likely to get worse as the humanitarian situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate. And when Israel launches a ground operation in Gaza, the situation will get even worse. The UN is thus likely to sound the alarm and appeal to Israel to stop and allow a humanitarian ceasefire or pause. But Israel’s priority will be to eliminate Hamas, to get it out of Gaza. Therefore, the situation between the UN and Israel is likely to worsen.
How Israel reacted to Guterres’ words:
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, called Guterres’ statements “shocking”, “horrible” and “completely detached from the reality of the region”.
“His statements (…) are justifications for terrorism and murder,” Erdan said. “It is sad that a person with such views leads an organization that was created after the Holocaust,” he added.
“Mr. Secretary-General, what kind of world do you live in?” Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Kohen asked Guterres at the Security Council. “Evidently not in ours,” answered the head of Israeli diplomacy.
“As we sit here, young children are being held with other hostages in Gaza,” Kohen began the speech. “These children have witnessed horrors beyond words. This massacre will go down in history as more brutal than the massacres of ISIS,” the minister said, referring to the Islamic State organization. “Hamas are the new Nazis,” he concluded.
Is it possible that the stoppage in issuing visas will disrupt humanitarian operations in the Gaza Strip?
The United States and other countries are pressuring Israel to allow humanitarian aid deliveries. Israel insists it will let water and medicine into the country, but not fuel. He argues (and I think reasonably) that if the fuel gets to Gaza, Hamas will seize it and use it to build tunnels and transport weapons. He diverts deliveries instead of sending them to hospitals. Of course, some of it would be used for humanitarian purposes, but Israel claims that Hamas would gain control over it.
The UN’s counter-argument is that hospitals are dangerously low on supplies and fuel is crucial for humanitarian purposes.
As you have already outlined, Israel has a historically complicated relationship with the UN. What is at the heart of their disputes?
Israel feels singled out. He feels he is disproportionately targeted by the UN compared to other countries, such as China, which faces genocide charges, or Russia, which invaded Ukraine. Therein lies one of the problems.
Israel feels that the UN is obsessed with it and does not take into account that Hamas has killed almost 1500 Israelis, taken women, children and elderly citizens hostage and dragged them to Gaza, committed the most horrific rapes, atrocities and war crimes, and that Israel faces a major security threat.
He feels that the UN is singling him out while allowing countries like Iran, which fund terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, to carry out attacks. He talks about bias, hypocrisy and double standards.
Some of Israel’s complaints are valid. If you look at the UN Human Rights Council, this is an organization where countries like Russia, China, Saudi Arabia were elected, where there is an appalling human rights record. There is a lot of hypocrisy, there is a double standard. There is a standing agenda item where the treatment of the Palestinians is regularly discussed, it makes Israel feel singled out.
On the other hand, there is a deteriorating situation not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank. There is a lot of violence. For example, settlers attack Palestinians and nobody does anything about it. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank has been going on for 56 years and radicalization is occurring there. The situation is really problematic. Of course there are human rights issues there.
Over the past day, the Israeli army has made further limited incursions into the Palestinian territory of the Gaza Strip. On Thursday, she spoke of a reconnaissance operation that precedes a ground offensive.
And why do you think the UN is so focused on Israel?
First, because while there are many Arab, Muslim countries in the region, there is only one Jewish state.
Israel recently signed peace accords with Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. Basically, there was a turning point there, when the so-called Abraham Accords were signed in 2020. But the development of the situation in Gaza changed everything.
In addition, the countries of the Global South tend to vote against Israel in the UN, there is an automatic majority against it. Russia also has a hostile attitude towards him in this conflict, does not sympathize with him, although (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has talked in the past about his special relationship with (Russian President) Vladimir Putin.
This is not a new situation, it is a decades-long situation. I think that until the Palestinian issue is resolved, as long as the occupation continues, the problems between Israel and the UN will continue.
What is Israel’s relationship with the United Nations Office for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)? How does their collaboration work?
They don’t have a good relationship. There are regular problems there as UNRWA has to supervise civilians in the area where the fighting is going on.
Are Israel and Hamas following the rules of war?
Images from Israeli kibbutzim invaded by Palestinian terrorists, as well as images of devastation in the Gaza Strip, which was attacked by the Israeli army in retaliation, reopen the debate about the rules of armed conflict and the necessity of observing them.
What are the rules of war and do Israel and Hamas follow them? We have prepared a list of questions and answers.
Israel claims that Hamas uses civilians as human shields, using schools, hospitals and other civilian facilities to launch rockets and attack Israel. When Hamas fires a rocket from near a school, Israel targets where the rocket came from. He defends himself by saying he has the right to self-defense and accuses Hamas of attacking from civilian areas.
Meanwhile, UNRWA is trying to protect these civilians. He stands in the middle, and this is the cause of many reproaches.
And what are UNRWA’s relations with Hamas?
Hamas abuses UNRWA, exploits the suffering of Palestinians living in Gaza to damage Israel’s image. He doesn’t really care about people’s suffering. It is a very cynical, murderous organization.
It’s problematic because Hamas controls Gaza, rules it, and whether UNRWA likes it or not, it has to somehow work with Hamas, maintain certain relationships with it.
UNRWA has the thankless task of caring for the people who live in Gaza, where there is a truly tragic humanitarian situation. He is in a very difficult, basically impossible, situation.