Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen speaks

Eli Cohen, then Israel's minister of economy and industry, speaks at a United Nations event in Vienna on January 27, 2020.

(Photo: IAEA)

Israel Rebuked for 'Baseless' Visa Bans for UN Officials Over Gaza

"Israel thought they could blackmail everyone, including the U.N., into collaboration with the propaganda cover of their crimes," said one Palestinian critic.

Israel's foreign ministry said Monday it would deny visas for multiple United Nations employees after officials and agencies within the world body—including a panel on which an Israeli expert accused the country of genocide—continued their sharp criticism of the war on Gaza.

"I instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs not to extend the visa of one of the organization's employees in Israel, and to deny the visa request of another employee," Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said on social media. "The conduct of the U.N. since October 7th is a disgrace to the organization and the international community."

Francesca Albanese, the U.N. special rapporteur on Palestine, slammed the new policy.

"Baseless attacks against the U.N. only proves moral cowardice," Albanese said in response to Cohen in a social media post. "The UN has been weakened by decades of Israeli impunity for breaches of international law, including colonization of occupied territories and Palestinian forced displacement. The UN must hold Israel to account if it is to salvage its reputation and purpose."

The alternative to accountability, she continued, "is playing itself out in Gaza today. With freedom for all, there will be freedom for none."

Albanese called for an immediate ceasefire, release of Israeli hostages as well as arbitrarily detained Palestinians, and the end of occupation in order to restore peace, full protection for all civilians, and put the region on a path towards justice.

In his post, Cohen alleged that U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres "legitimized war crimes and crimes against humanity" when he noted that the October 7 attacks "did not happen in a vacuum," a reference to decades of Israeli oppression of Palestinians including ethnic cleansing, illegal occupation, settler colonization, and apartheid.

He also accused the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of disseminating "unsubstantiated blood libels" for publishing witness accounts of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops allegedly executing military-age Palestinian men in front of women and child relatives, who were also injured, during a December 19 raid in Gaza City.

Cohen further slammed U.N. women's agency, "an organization that for two months ignored the acts of rape committed against Israeli women" by the October 7 attackers.

"We will stop working with those who cooperate with the Hamas terrorist organization's propaganda," he added.

Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy, who accused the U.N. of being "complicit partners" with Hamas, said visa applications for United Nations personnel would no longer be granted automatically, but would instead be considered on a case-by-case basis.

In what critics claim is an attempt to justify Israel's killing of at least 134 United Nations workers in Gaza, Israeli officials have accused members of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East of being members of or having ties to Hamas, whose political wing governs the Gaza Strip.

Cohen did not name the officials whose visas would be denied. Earlier this month, Israel revoked the visa of Lynn Hastings, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories after she decried Israel's failure to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Cohen's announcement came amid sustained criticism of Israel's wartime conduct by various offices and officials of the world body, which has repeatedly and overwhelmingly voted in favor of cease-fire resolutions only to be stymied by the United States, Israel's most powerful supporter at the United Nations.

Speaking during a U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People panel earlier this month, Israeli Holocaust scholar Raz Segal—who is not employed by the agency—accused his country's government and military of acting with "genocidal intent" as they perpetrate an "unprecedented level of mass killings" in Gaza.

Gaza's Ministry of Health said Tuesday that 20,915 Palestinians have been killed and 54,918 wounded, since October 7.

Intensified Israeli airstrikes killed hundreds of Gazans in recent days, including at least 76 members of the al-Mughrabi family slain in a Gaza City home on Saturday and at least 106 people killed in Sunday strikes on the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza—an area where Israeli authorities had earlier ordered Palestinians to flee for safety.

Thousands of Gazans are missing and believed buried beneath the rubble of bombed buildings. More than 1.9 million of Gaza's 2.3 million people have also been forcibly displaced and face growing hunger, winter cold, and disease.

"A humanitarian cease-fire is the only way to begin to meet the desperate needs of people in Gaza and end their ongoing nightmare," Guterres insisted Friday after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution—watered down by the United States—calling for "urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors."

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