Monday, 23 May 2011

Israel to UN: You say innocents, I say villains

click here to view story on Foreign Policy

Posted By Colum Lynch

Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, today lodged a complaint against the U.N.'s top humanitarian relief official Valerie Amos, following Amos' highly critical assessment of Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories and along its borders.

Amos, a former British politician who serves as the U.N. Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, issued a series of highly barbed public statements and tweets criticizing Israel's treatment of Palestinians during a four-day visit to the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

She also took issue with Israel's shooting deaths of about 15 "innocent" Palestinians who crossed the defacto border into Israel Sunday from Syria and from southern Lebanon. Thousands of Palestinians sought to cross the borders to commemorate the 1948 Naqba, or catastrophe, which marks the displacement of Palestinians during the birth of the state of Israel.

"I am extremely concerned at the level of violence today, and at the number of deaths and injuries in the region" Amos said on Sunday. "The situation cannot continue in this way. It is innocent people who are losing their lives."

Israel maintains that the border-crossings were instigated by the Syrian government as a way of distracting attention from its bloody crackdown on nation-wide protesters challenging the government rule. The White House has stated that Israel has the right to defend its border from unauthorized border crossings, and that Syria and Lebanon have an obligation to prevent them.

In a meeting today with Amos, Ayalon challenged her characterization of the victims as innocent. "Those from enemy countries who breach our borders while using violence and calling for Israeli's destruction, cannot be considered innocent, but an immediate and present danger to the citizens of Israel," he said, according to a statement released by the Israel foreign ministry. "Israel has the right and duty, as does any nation, to defend itself and its borders. It is disappointing that the person in charge of humanitarian affairs at the UN requires explanations on why defensible borders are a fundamental right of Israel's citizens."

Ayalon also took issue with Amos agency's characterization of the plight of Palestinians, saying "there is not now, nor has there been, a humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories, these reports are inflaming the atmosphere and hurting regional stability."

Amos, meanwhile, faulted what she called restrictive Israel building practices which prevent Palestinians from rebuilding crumbling schools and other vital facilities in Israeli controlled lands. "Palestinians are utterly frustrated by the impact of Israeli policies on their lives. They are evicted from their homes Their homes are regularly demolished," Amos said. "I don't believe the people of Israel have any idea of the way planning policies are used to divide and harass communities and families. They would not like to be subjected to such behavior."

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