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“Utterly Illegal”: U.N. Special Rapporteur Slams Netanyahu’s “Voluntary Migration” Plan for Gazans

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More United Nations workers have been killed in Israel’s ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip than in any other conflict in the organization’s history. As the death toll for U.N. workers ticks above 136, Israel has announced it will no longer grant automatic visas to U.N. workers, after accusing the organization of being “complicit partners” with Hamas after months of U.N. officials repeatedly calling for a ceasefire and the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza. Francesca Albanese, the United Nations special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territory, calls Israel’s accusations “baseless” and part of a long pattern of smearing and obstructing the U.N.’s operations in Israel and Palestine.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

As we continue to look at Israel’s assault on Gaza, we’re joined by Francesca Albanese, the United Nations special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territory. Earlier this week, she denounced reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endorsed expelling all Palestinians from Gaza.

Israeli news outlets report Netanyahu told a group of Israeli lawmakers Monday, “Regarding voluntary immigration … this is the direction we are going in,” he said.

Palestinian leaders denounced Netanyahu for embracing what they describe as ethnic cleansing.

Earlier this week, Francesca Albanese tweeted, quote, “Voluntary migration? No matter how ISR gvt calls it, Forced Displacement is a CRIME, prosecutable under the Rome Statute. Its architects shall be investigated/prosecuted by @IntlCrimCourt.”

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Francesca Albanese. Thank you for joining us. Talk about what has been reported as Netanyahu’s plan.

FRANCESCA ALBANESE: Good morning, Amy.

Yeah, the plan becomes clearer and clearer. We have heard statements made by Israeli politicians, Israeli military commanders, referring to the need for the Palestinians from Gaza to move south, south first and then more and more south. But at the same time, we have seen soldiers entering the Gaza Strip, saying, quote-unquote, “We destructions to destroy this place and settle.” And the more the time passes, the more it becomes clear that there is a plan in certain corners of the government to repossess Gaza, to reconquest Gaza, and to convert it into an Israeli area. This is pure madness, and it’s utterly illegal.

Now, it’s not new, because forced displacement is the main trait that characterizes Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It has gone through 56 years, not to mention what has happened before.

But now this — I mean, it’s so cynical to call it “voluntary migration” and continue to evoke as the only possibility for the Palestinians in Gaza to survive to move somewhere else, to the Sinai or somewhere else in the Arab region, saying that the Palestinians are Arabs. This is like saying that Italians can go anywhere because they are European. This is so racist, the classic forced displacement. It’s a crime against humanity and cannot be [inaudible]. It should be stopped. It’s shocking to see the silence of the international community in the face of these unfathomable ideas.

AMY GOODMAN: In a post earlier this week, you compared the Israeli assault on Gaza to the genocidal massacres in Srebrenica and Rwanda. Can you explain?

FRANCESCA ALBANESE: Yeah, actually, I didn’t necessarily compare the two. I’m saying that the international community has been silent and unable to prevent the genocide in Rwanda, to prevent the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Srebrenica, and in the same way it’s looking idle at what’s happening in the Gaza Strip. But it’s worse, because, as the Ambassador Zomlot was saying right before — I think it’s true — this is televised. If people had not realized what the Nakba is, this is ongoing under our eyes, but the genocidal element is more clear.

Here is not about just the displacing people, pushing them out. It’s the killing, the number of killing in the Gaza Strip, which has been turned into an assassination factory, to use an expression by journalists in +972, Israeli journalists in +972. But also, look at what’s going on in the West Bank, where there is no Hamas military control, military presence, and still this year 500 Palestinians have been killed.

So, there is a mass killing of Palestinians ongoing, accompanied by genocidal incitement. And this must be stopped. This triggers an obligation to prevent genocide among member states. But again, no one — no one — seems very preoccupied in the international community, other than human rights actors and, yeah, those concerned with real peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Francesca Albanese, you are the U.N. special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territory. Israel has announced it’s going to stop automatically granting visas to employees of the United Nations, after it accused the U.N. of being complicit partners with Hamas. Your response?

FRANCESCA ALBANESE: Baseless, baseless accusations. I’m appalled onto how these attacks against the U.N. continue to escalate, because, on the one hand, you have two big failures here. And one is induced, and the other is inevitable. The induced one is the political failure of the U.N., because it’s paralyzed because of the political — sorry, of the U.S. veto in the U.N. Security Council. They should — I mean, there was — they were close to a vote on the ceasefire, but there was the U.S. veto. And on the other hand, the other failure, which is inevitable, it’s the humanitarian machinery of the U.N. system, which is also under attack. The U.N. should be strengthened. The multilateral system is put — can drag us out and reestablish a minimum, a modicum of order here.

But, look, what Israel is doing is raising the attacks against the U.N. because the U.N. are being increasingly critical in the face of the crimes that Israel commits through and through. But the threatening U.N. staff of withdrawing visas, this is not new. I mean, we have to — for example, those in my position — this is not something about me particularly, but also the three special rapporteurs on the occupied Palestinian territory who have preceded me have not been able to enter the occupied Palestinian territory because of the Israeli decision not to cooperate with the mandate, which is a violation of U.N. member states’ obligation to comply with the U.N., including its investigative mechanisms. Israel behaves the same way with various commissions of inquiries, including the current commission of inquiry on Israel-Palestine.

And more seriously, Israel has basically kicked out, three years ago, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights — this has gone completely in silence — but withdrawing visa to all its international employees, who are operating now from Amman. Such a weird precedent.

Again, this is the thing. The U.N. has also accepted Israel’s hubris to become fatter and fatter. And this is the reality today, that you have Israeli ambassadors and political leaders smearing everyone, especially rapporteurs, committee, commission of inquiries, the U.N. secretary-general, everyone. Where shall we draw the line?

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about information new out this morning. UNRWA has posted on X that this year has been the deadliest year in the West Bank on record, with a total of 504 Palestinians killed this year. I mean, this is for the whole year. It was already the deadliest year before October 7th, when Hamas attacked Israel. Now more than 300, since October 7th, Palestinians in the West Bank have been killed by either Israeli soldiers or settlers.

FRANCESCA ALBANESE: Yes, primarily soldiers. And this is one — probably the only issue with an otherwise great report by the U.N. Human Rights Office. It has pointed to the disproportionate, unnecessary use of force through military means, which have resulted, yes, in the killing of 500 people, 500 Palestinians this year, mostly by Israeli soldiers. The emphasis on settler violence, though, while it’s true, shouldn’t distract from the fact that the settlers are there as part of an enterprise, the Israeli enterprise to colonize and annex occupied Palestinian territory, that Israel, as a state, should be held responsible also for the actions of the settlers, which are never prosecuted, by the way.

But again, you know, we have to think that, yes, this has been the deadliest year since 2005, when the U.N. started collecting the data outside of conflict against Gaza. But in Gaza, 4,000 people, including 1,000 children, had been killed in 16 years, during five wars occurred during 16 years of blockade. This is just for those who believe that everything started on the 7th of October. No, it didn’t. The situation was appalling before.

And we have — as special rapporteur, I belong to a community which includes Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations and many scholars who have called for the end of the oppression of the Palestinian people, because — and the end of the annexation and colonization of the occupied territory, because this was the only way to guarantee the security, the safety, the well-being of both Palestinians and Israelis. And we have gone unheard, unfortunately.

AMY GOODMAN: Last question: The role of the United States? In resolution after resolution, they vetoed any call for a ceasefire. The last one, they didn’t veto it, but they abstained once they got the U.N. Security Council not to include ceasefire in the language. Where do you see the U.N. going and the role of the United States in all of this? How powerful, how important is the United States, Francesca?

FRANCESCA ALBANESE: The United States is very important, very powerful, very influential, is the only single state that can really change the dynamics between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, not only because the United States provides a lot of means and military aid to Israel, but also because it shelters Israel from its responsibilities, political and legal responsibilities.

Again, yes, the last resolution, I mean, the U.S. managed to water it down to a point that it makes no sense. The only thing that is needed now — and it’s already late — is a ceasefire. So, the fact that the U.S. is still sort of not considering this as an option, because it doesn’t, and it continues to engage with Israel as it was business as usual, shows profound disrespect toward the Palestinian people. And again, this is a level of dehumanization that I’ve never seen in other — I mean, it’s not new from Israel, but it’s new at this level, with this magnitude, like endorsed also in the U.S. but also in Europe. I mean, yeah, there is huge responsibilities, and the U.S. is leading the front of those who could change the reality on the ground and chose not to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you see this ending, in the last minute we have, Francesca Albanese, U.N. special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territory? As I was just discussing with the Palestinian ambassador in the United Kingdom, Netanyahu just canceled his war cabinet meeting under pressure from the even more far-right finance minister, Smotrich. Where is this headed?

FRANCESCA ALBANESE: I know it’s heading toward further madness, unless and until it’s stopped. And it’s going to be a very heavy, loaded, dark, grim future for both Palestinians and Israelis. So there should be a huge U-turn here and restore international law, basic respect, equality, human rights for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. And it starts with a ceasefire and with a protective presence that allows — that supervises the withdrawal of Israeli troops. This is the moment to end the occupation. And it cannot happen without, I think, a protective presence that guarantees for a while the safety and security of both.

AMY GOODMAN: Francesca Albanese, U.N. special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territory, speaking to us from Italy.

Coming up, the state of Maine has become the second state, joining Colorado, to bar Donald Trump from the Republican primary ballot over his role in the January 6th insurrection. Back in 20 seconds.

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