REPORT: UN Silent on Displaced Israelis

Introduction

In the immediate aftermath of Hamas’s October 7th massacre of Jewish communities near Israel’s border with Gaza, between 200,000 and 250,000 Israelis were either officially evacuated from their homes in the North and South of Israel along the borders with Lebanon and Gaza or self-evacuated due to proximity to the border. These include at least 30,000 people from the Gaza border communities ravaged on October 7th who lost not only their homes, but also friends and family members and are severely traumatized. More than 80,000 people were evacuated from Israel’s North.

 Hamas and Hezbollah rocket fire continues to threaten the security of Israeli civilians preventing them from returning home. Since October 7th, Hamas has fired approximately 12,000 rockets at Israeli civilians while Hezbollah has launched more than 2,000 rockets into Israel. As of the end of January 2024, more than 126,000 Israelis remained internally displaced.

Despite the unprecedented massive displacement within Israel, both the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the UN Special Rapporteur on Internally displaced people (IDPs), Paula Gaviria Betancur—the two UN representatives one would expect to champion the rights of the displaced Israelis—have been largely silent on the issue. 

Methodology

This report is based on a review and analysis of the following material for the period October 7, 2023 to February 15, 2024.

UNHCR Official Statements and Press Releases

Summary

60 Official Statements and Press Releases 

23 General Statements, with 9 Mentions of Gaza

37 Country Specific Statements

3 Country Specific Joint Statements on October 7th War, 90% on Plight of Gazans

1 Mention of Displaced Israelis

Analysis

Since October 7th, UNHCR has issued 60 Official Statements and Press Releases. Only three of these were stand alone statements on this conflict and all three were joint statements with 15 or more other humanitarian organizations and officials. Two of these—dated November 5th and November 16th—were one-sided and highly critical of Israel’s military response in Gaza. Only the November 5th statement mentioned the October 7th attack and ensuing harm to Israelis, including the “tens of thousands” of Israelis that were displaced. However, this was just one short paragraph—less than 20% of the statement. Moreover, this was followed by a sharp criticism of the Israeli response as “an outrage,” creating a false moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas. The November 16th statement was even more one-sided, with no mention of October 7th or the displaced Israelis at all. Needless to say, UNHCR did not issue any statements in the immediate aftermath of October 7th condemning the Hamas atrocities in Israel. 

The third statement—dated January 31, 2024—indirectly criticized Israel by referring to “the harrowing events that have been snowballing in Gaza since October 7,” in the context of urging UNRWA’s donors to reconsider their decision to cut funds to the agency. 

In addition, there were nine general thematic statements discussing refugee and displacement crises around the world, including in Afghanistan, Sudan, and Myanmar. These statements  expressed concerns for the population of Gaza, but none mentioned the Israeli IDPs.

The remaining statements included 34 country/regional specific statements addressing 13 other refugee crises. In these statements, UNHCR spoke out for displaced people in Ukraine, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Afghanistan, among other places.

UNHCR Tweets From @Refugees and @FilippoGrandi 

Summary

Over 1,000 Total Tweets

15 Stand Alone Tweets on October 7th War

11 Tweets Exclusively on Plight of Gazans

4 Tweets For Gazans (80%) and Israelis (20%)

3 Mentions of Hostages

3 Mentions of Displacement, 1 General, 2 for Gazans, 0 exclusively for Israelis

Analysis

In addition to the 15 stand alone tweets on the October 7th war which were more than 90% against Israel, there were also four general tweets on refugees and displacement which mentioned the plight of Gazans, but not Israelis.

During this time, these accounts tweeted on behalf of displaced people in a number of other conflicts, including Ukraine, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Colombia, among others.

SR on IDPs Paula Gaviria Betancur Official Statements and Press Releases

The Special Rapporteur on Internally Displaced Persons, Paula Gaviria Betancur, is an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council. Her mandate includes to address the problem of IDPs, work towards strengthening the international response to this problem, and advocate for improved protection and human rights for IDPs.

Summary

18 Official Statements and Press Releases 

12 on Israel/Gaza, all Mentioning Gazan IDPs

6 Exclusively on Plight of Gazans

6 For Both Gazans (~90%)  and Israelis (~10%)

0 Mentions of Israeli IDPs 

Analysis

Of all UN human rights experts, one would expect the UN Special Rapporteur on IDPs to speak out for the more than 200,000 Israelis that were forced to evacuate for their safety because of indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas and Hezbollah. Yet, in all 12 of her statements on the October 7th war (10 of which were joint statements with multiple UNHRC experts), Paula Gaviria Betancur was completely silent on the Israeli IDPs. 

The two solo statements by Betancur focused exclusively on the plight of Gazans displaced by Israel’s military campaign. Ironically, both of these statements—dated October 13th and December 22nd—strongly criticized Israeli efforts to protect Gazans and falsely accused Israel of forcible transfer. The October 13th statement “condemned” Israel’s evacuation warnings to Gazans intended to prevent harm to Gaza civilians as “a crime against humanity.” The December 22nd statement baselessly contended that Israel “aims to deport the majority of the civilian population [in Gaza] en masse” and said Israel’s actions amounted to “the war crimes of collective punishment and forcible transfer.” 

Betancur has a record of disproportionately criticizing Israel in her statements. Between November 1, 2022, when she took up her position as Special Rapporteur for IDPs, and October 6, 2023, 20% of her official statements and press releases (5 out of 26, excluding duplicates and statements on country visits), criticized Israel for violations against the Palestinians. The number is closer to 40%, taking into account Betancur’s post-October 7th statements. In her entire time as special rapporteur, Betancur has issued only 3 statements for IDPs in Sudan, 1 statement on Afghanistan, 1 on Myanmar, and 0 on Ukraine.  

In light of her disproportionate focus on Israel, it is not surprising that she has chosen to turn a blind eye to the over 200,000 Israelis forced from their homes due to ongoing indiscriminate bombardment by Hamas from Gaza and by Hezbollah from South Lebanon. Nevertheless, it is a breach of her mandate and her obligation to impartiality under UN rules for Special Procedures.

Tweets From @PaulaGaviriaB

Summary

139 Total Tweets

33 Stand Alone Tweets for Gazans, 100% Against Israel

0 Mentions of October 7th or Hamas Attacks on Israelis

0 Mentions of Israeli IDPs

Analysis

In addition to the 33 stand alone tweets, there were also six tweets that mentioned Gaza along with other conflicts.

Betancur’s tweets follow the same pattern as her official UNHRC statements and press releases, disproportionately condemning Israel while turning a blind eye to the plight of Israeli IDPs. Since October 7th, Betancur has published only 4 stand alone tweets on the crisis in Sudan and 3 stand alone tweets on Ukraine, compared to her 33 stand alone tweets on Gaza.

Conclusion

Since October 7th, UN bodies and officials all the way up to the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have overwhelmingly condemned Israel’s defensive military response to Hamas’s barbaric invasion, massacre, rape, mutilation, hostage-taking, and continued indiscriminate rocketfire against Israeli civilians. They have justified the Hamas attacks, referring to “Palestinian grievances” and the “56 year occupation,” failed to recognize Israel’s security needs and right to self-defense, created a false moral equivalence between Israel and the Hamas terror organization, and ignored Hamas’s egregious violations, including its strategy of embedding itself within the civilian infrastructure of Gaza deliberately endangering innocent civilians. 

At the same time, UN agencies and officials with specific thematic mandates like UN Women and WHO, have been largely silent on the suffering of Israelis in the wake of October 7th, paying only lip-service to the issues to appease critics. This includes UN Women which completely ignored Hamas’s mass rape of Israeli women for two months and WHO whose Executive Board adopted an emergency resolution on the humanitarian situation in Gaza that failed to even mention Israeli hostages.

It does not seem like too much to ask for the UN representatives mandated to address IDPs—specifically UNHCR and the UN’s independent expert on IDPs—to speak out for those Israelis tragically displaced by October 7th. Yet, like UN Women and WHO, these too have chosen to ignore the issue. UN officials and agencies know very well how to criticize Israel, but for some reason they are unable to speak out for Israeli victims.

UN Watch