By Dina Rovner
The Pillay Commission has now concluded two rounds of so-called “Public Hearings,” held in November 2022 and March 2023. As demonstrated below, however, these have amounted to a form of show trial underscoring the bias of the commissioners, who prove themselves incapable of being impartial and carrying out any kind of credible, independent investigation. Instead, they are searching for evidence to support their predetermined conclusions that Israel is guilty.
Following is a description of the so-called hearings that have been held to date, listing the topic and the interviewees.
November 2022 Hearings
- Closure Orders and Terrorism Designation of Palestinian Human Rights Organizations
- Khaled Quzmar, Defense for Children International Palestine
- Shawan Jabarin, Al-Haq
- Sahar Francis, Addameer
- Tahreer Jaber, Palestinian Women’s Committees
- Ubaid Al-Aboudi and Hanan Husein, Bisan Center for Research and Development
- Abdallah Kamal, Union of Agricultural Work Committees
- Ali Hassouneh, Health Work Committees
- Michael Sfard, Lawyer for Al-Haq
- Incident Surrounding the Killing of Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh
- Nasser Abubaker and Mohammed Attaallah Al-Lahham, Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate
- Lina Abu Akleh, Niece
- Ali Sammoudi, Journalist and Producer for Al Jazeera
- Shatha Hanyasha, Journalist
- Tatyana Eatwell, Barrister for Abu Akleh family
March 2023 Hearings
- Shrinking Space for Civil Society in the Occupied Palestinian Territory Including East Jerusalem and in Israel
- Salah Hamouri, Addameer
- Neta Ben Porat, Looking the Occupation in the Eye
- Issa Amro, Activist
- Sami Huraini, Activist
- Israel Frey, Journalist
- Rasan Banat, Brother of Nizar Banat
- Rodney Dixson, Council for Al Jazeera in Shireen Abu Akleh case
- Walid Omary, Al Jazeera Journalist
- Maher Hanna, Lawyer for Mohammed Halabi
- Additional 12 unidentified individuals spoke to the Commission in private meetings
1. Misleading: Not Hearings. The term “Public Hearings” is a complete misnomer. These are not hearings in any legal sense. Commission Chair Navi Pillay acknowledged as much in her opening statement when she said that this is not a judicial proceeding and merely a platform for affected people to provide information about their experiences and opinions – “The hearings are not judicial; the commission is not a court nor a truth and reconciliation commission.” Furthermore, when one thinks of a hearing, one imagines a formal process with a judge, prosecutor, defense lawyer, and certain procedural and evidentiary rules. However, these “hearings” are nothing of the sort. The Commissioners appear to be carrying out the functions of both the judge and the prosecutor, as they listen to the stories of the interviewees and ask them questions, often in a leading manner. A more appropriate term for these proceedings would have been “interviews.”
2. Misleading: Not Public. These so-called “hearings” also are not “public.” While some of them are publicly broadcast on UN Web TV, the process surrounding these hearings is completely lacking in transparency. Not just anyone can participate or be present. The interviewees are hand-selected by the Commissioners and personally invited to testify. There is no information online about the criteria used by the Commission for choosing the interviewees. Only the Commissioners and their UN staff are present in the room and only the Commissioners ask questions. Therefore, there is no means to verify the credibility of these individuals and the Commissioners do not appear to be interested in doing so. Moreover, as explained by Commissioner Chris Sidoti in his closing remarks, 12 of the 21 interviews during the March round of “hearings” were conducted in private and are not available to anyone other than the Commissioners.
3. No Diversity of Perspectives. While a few of the interviewees were Israeli, their views shared with the Commissioners are completely in line with the one-sided narrative that Israel is guilty of discrimination and apartheid. No opposing view is represented in these “hearings.” Likewise, the minority of witnesses critical of the Palestinian Authority for its violations against government critics and opponents, such as Mohammed Attaallah Al-Lahham, Issa Amro, and Rasan Banat, are also clearly anti-Israel. For example:
- Mohammed Attaallah Al-Lahham from the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate claimed that while the PA commits violations against journalists, it does not kill or torture them like Israel whose actions constitute crimes, not just violations.
- Palestinian activist Issa Amro criticized the PA, but when asked which PA agencies were responsible for the violations against him, Amro responded “It’s the intelligence and preventative security. But they [Israelis] control everything. They control everything,” as if to absolve the PA actors of responsibility.
- When asked whether his brother Nizar Banat was threatened by the Israeli authorities, Rasan Banat responded that “unfortunately” the threats came mostly from PA actors.
4. Questioning Reveals Bias. It is clear from the direction and phrasing of the questions that the Commissioners are less interested in uncovering the truth than in garnering support for their biased agenda. For example:
- Chris Sidoti asked Israeli activist Neta Ben Porat “You saw yourself as a model Israeli citizen [before you became an activist]. Why aren’t there more Israelis like you?” The question clearly conveys Sidoti’s view that a “model Israeli” is one who is fully identified with the Palestinian cause and becomes an activist for the Palestinians.
- In response to statements by Ben Porat about settlement guards protecting settlers engaged in violence, Pillay asked “What’s the role of these people from the defense force, the police, and these guards? Are they protecting anyone? Are they making an effort to prevent the violence? Are they making an effort to protect the farmers?” implying in the question that these Israeli security actors are complicit in the violence. In another question Pillay asked Ben Porat to explain how her personal experience fits into the “larger picture of Israel dislocating the Palestinians”
- Questioning Palestinian activist Issa Amro who has been targeted by the PA, Miloon Kothari asked why the PA is so afraid of him. Amro implicated Israel in his response saying that it is because Israel incites the Palestinian security forces against him and the PA forces must satisfy Israel, which “controls everything.” Kothari then questioned Amro further to confirm the conclusion that Israel is the party ultimately responsible for the PA’s violations. He asked “and it does not matter to them [the PA] that you are fighting the occupation?” implying that Amro’s activities against Israel deserve to be supported by the PA rather than being attacked.
- After Palestinian activist Sami Hourani told a story about his mother physically blocking Israeli soldiers from throwing a bomb into the house, Navi Pillay commented clearly conveying her position and seeking more detail to implicate Israeli actors in war crimes: “I am just recalling the evidence you gave which I find truly shocking, that the Israeli soldiers threw a live grenade in the house, the open door, and had your mother not acted quickly and stopped that grenade from entering the house, what would have happened to the children you mentioned, the small children in the house? What would have happened if your mother had not intervened so quickly?”
- Likewise Chris Sidoti asked Sami Hourani if Israel had demolished schools, hospitals or other public buildings, clearly trying to get him to implicate the IDF in war crimes as part of the evidence gathering that could support international legal proceedings per the mandate.
- Navi Pillay asked Israeli journalist Israel Frey whether it was “safe” for journalists covering the human rights situation “to do their journalistic work” considering “freedom of expression and freedom of the media in Israel.” It appears that she was hoping for information that would implicate Israel – the only democracy in the Middle East – in violations of basic civil rights.
5. Asking Legal Questions to Nonlawyers. More than once, Commissioners asked non-lawyer interviewees about legal issues beyond their knowledge or expertise. For example, Chris Sidoti asked Israeli journalist Israel Frey about how the counter-terrorism law is being used. Frey clearly was unable to answer the question. Similarly, Pillay asked Israeli activist Neta Ben Porat whether the Israeli response towards Palestinian complainants violates “their right of access to justice.” This raises questions about whether the Commission has legal advisors with the necessary expertise.
6. Defaming pro-Israel NGO. Although the Commission claims to be concerned about attacks on civil society, ironically it went out of its way during the November hearings to defame a pro-Israel civil society organization – NGO Monitor – for its activities in exposing the terror ties of certain Palestinian NGOs. For example, Miloon Kothari asked Ali Hassouneh of Health Work Committees if NGO Monitor had been involved in drying up donor funds – “even though they [NGO Monitor] had not found anything illegal or wrong” by your organization. He asked a similar question about NGO Monitor to Michael Sfard, adding that NGO Monitor “seems to be behind a lot of what is going wrong.” Thus, it appears that the Commission is only concerned about attacks on pro-Palestinian civil society organizations and is willing to disparage civil society organizations that don’t adhere to that narrative.
7. Whitewashing Terrorism. The Commission focused on defending Palestinian NGOs who were found by the Israeli government to have ties to the PFLP terrorist organization. In that regard, it gave a platform to convicted terrorists, including: Al-Haq’s Shawan Jabarin who has ties to the PFLP and who was described by Israel’s Supreme Court as being “among the senior activists of the terrorist organisation, The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.” Jabarin was convicted in 1985 for recruiting members to the PFLP, denied entry by Jordan in 2003 because of his PFLP activities, and has attended recent PFLP events; and Addameer’s Salah Hamouri who was listed by the PFLP as one of its members. Hamouri was convicted of plotting to assassinate Israel’s Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and released in 2011 in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange.
In conclusion, these so-called “public hearings” simply underscore that the Commissioners mandate is biased and that they themselves are incapable of being impartial and carrying out any kind of credible independent investigation. Instead they are searching for evidence to support their predetermined conclusions that Israel is guilty.
Dina Rovner is Legal Advisor at UN Watch.