By Ron Kampeas
(JTA) — Antonio Guterres has been one of the more Israel-friendly secretary-generals of the United Nations. Since assuming his position in 2017, he has criticized anti-Israel bias in the U.N. system, visited Israel, said denying Israel’s right to exist is antisemitism and reaffirmed the ancient Jewish ties to Jerusalem.
But after Israel’s raid last week on the West Bank city of Jenin, which killed 12 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier, Guterres said “there was an excessive force used by Israeli forces,” The Associated Press reported.
“Israeli airstrikes and ground operations in a crowded refugee camp were the worst violence in the West Bank in many years, with a significant impact on civilians,” Guterres said at a press briefing in New York. “I once again call on Israel to abide by its obligations under international law, including the duty to exercise restraint and use only proportional force.”
“I understand Israel’s legitimate concerns with its security but escalation is not the answer,” he added. “It simply bolsters radicalization and leads to a deepening cycle of violence and bloodshed.”
In response, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s representative at the U.N., told the Times of Israel on Thursday that Guterres’ criticisms were “shameful, farfetched, and completely detached from reality.”
Israel has said the raid was necessary to stem terrorist attacks on civilians which have accelerated over the past year and that all 12 who were killed were militants. The raid injured 90 people and drove many out of homes destroyed during the attack.
The Palestinian Authority called the operation a “war crime” and the top United Nations human rights official said in a statement that the operation “raises a host of serious issues with respect to international human rights norms and standards.” The U.S. National Security Council, by contrast, said in a statement that it “support[s] Israel’s security and right to defend its people,” though it added, “It is imperative to take all possible precautions to prevent the loss of civilian lives.”
Guterres called out the use of airstrikes during the raid, saying they were “inconsistent with the conduct of law enforcement operations.”
Israel, as the occupying power, “has a responsibility to ensure that the civilian population is protected against all acts of violence.”