Francesca Albanese, the United Nations special rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, has warned of a “dangerous” narrative about the Israel-Hamas conflict that ignores the history of violence against Palestinians.
At least 1,100 people have been killed since Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls the blockaded Gaza Strip, launched an assault on Israeli towns on Saturday and took hundreds of people hostage.
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Israel retaliated by declaring a state of war and pounding densely-populated Gaza, killing hundreds of people.
Albanese said the international community should be “wise and even-handed” when tackling the result of “decades of oppression imposed on the Palestinians, brutalisation, structural violence of course punctuated also by eruptive violence”.
“Like many, I am totally petrified by what is happening. I am totally shocked and appalled by the violence,” Albanese told Al Jazeera on Sunday evening from Tunisia’s capital Tunis.
“But before anything else, I am horrified by the narrative, by the discourse, because it is possible, and necessary, to stand both with the Palestinians and the Israelis without resorting to ethical relativism, to selective outrage or worse, calls for violence.”
The Italian human rights lawyer, who became the first woman to hold the position upon her appointment in May 2022, said politicians and policymakers should prioritise “restoring legality and accountability, using diplomacy and peace as conflict resolution methods, rather than advocating for more violence or standing with one side or another.”
“I have been in this role for 16 months now and … since the very beginning, I saw violence mounting against defenceless Palestinians. And this is something that has been ongoing for six decades now,” Albanese said.
“The settler colonial occupation, the militarised settler colonial occupation that Israel maintains and trapped both people. Both of them are incredibly tied in the same destiny and one cannot do without the other,” she added.
1/3 As yet another spiral of death & destruction unfolds, I unequivocally condemn attacks on civilians. Whoever launches them (Pal armed groups or Isr occupation forces) commits crimes that must be accounted for.
My heart goes out to all Israeli & Palestinian families affected.
— Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur oPt (@FranceskAlbs) October 7, 2023
Albanese has previously described Israel as treating occupied Palestinian territory as an outdoor prison.
The special rapporteur also called on governments not to recognise or support illegal Israeli settlements and to hold those responsible for such settlements accountable.
Albanese told Al Jazeera that many Israelis say that what is happening now needs to be put in the context of decades of oppression imposed on the Palestinians, brutalisation, and structural violence punctuated by eruptive violence.
Israel has repeatedly rejected UN criticism of conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan accused Hamas of war crimes, promising that it was time to “obliterate Hamas terror infrastructure” while calling the group “savages”.
In response, Palestinian UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour told reporters before a Security Council meeting that the Israeli “blockade and assaults” did not accomplish anything, adding that “no one should say or do anything to encourage” Israel to take the path of violence that punishes the entire Palestinian population.
“It is very clear what lies ahead,” Albanese said. “Human rights organisations have said it all along that continuing to oppress a population with total impunity would lead to a catastrophe, and this is what is happening.
“And I am sorry but the responsibility for what is happening is also on the international community which has one opportunity now to be wise and be even-handed.”