Israel enraged by UN head’s reminder of “suffocating occupation”


UN Secretary-General António Guterres speaks during a UN Security Council meeting at the UN headquarters in New York City on 24 October.

Lev Radin SIPA USA

António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, warned the Security Council on Tuesday that “the situation in the Middle East is growing more dire by the hour.”

He said that he “condemned unequivocally the horrifying and unprecedented 7 October acts of terror by Hamas in Israel” and called for all captives being held in Gaza to be released immediately without precondition.

Guterres said that “it is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum,” and that “the Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.”

He said that “the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

On Sunday, three prominent Palestinian human rights groups pushed the Security Council to immediately call for a ceasefire in Gaza, which it has so far failed to do.

Palestinian organizations have repeatedly asked UN organs to address the root causes of the century-long conflict in Palestine and to hold Israel and the nations that support it accountable.

Guterres said he mourned and honored the 35 UN employees killed in Gaza over the past two weeks and emphasized that “no party to an armed conflict is above international humanitarian law.”

He said there was an urgent need to import fuel to Gaza, without which “aid cannot be delivered, hospitals will not have power, and drinking water cannot be purified or even pumped.”

Generation of lost hope

Tor Wennesland, the UN secretary-general’s Middle East envoy, similarly placed current events in “the broader context in the occupied Palestinian territory, Israel and the region, where dynamics are deeply intertwined.”

Wennesland said that “the unresolved conflict and continued occupation shape the reality of every Israeli and every Palestinian.”

“For 15 years, the Palestinian population has been living under militant rule and a strict closure regime, as the Palestinian divide hardened,” Wennesland added.

“For a generation, hope has been lost and despair has prevailed for those who see prospects for a more peaceful future pulling still further away.”

China, meanwhile, called for an immediate ceasefire, saying “the eyes of the entire world are on this chamber.”

Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, said that “we along with many others for several years now, have warned that the situation is on the brink of explosion and the explosion occurred.”

The US, France and UK focused on condemning Hamas, with the American Secretary of State Antony Blinken accusing Hamas of using civilian shields in Gaza.

Riyad al-Maliki, the Palestinian Authority foreign minister, said that “more injustice and more killing will not make Israel safer” and called for an end to the bloodshed.

Israel angered by balance

Benny Gantz, Israel’s former defense minister, accused the UN secretary-general of condoning terror:

Israel and the Biden administration have sought to divorce the 7 October attack from the context of decades of occupation, settler colonization of Palestinian land and apartheid.

They have sought to falsely portray Hamas as motivated solely by the desire to kill Jews and have evoked the Holocaust in an attempt to justify the carpet bombing of Gaza that has killed thousands of civilians.

During the Security Council meeting, Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, played a recording of what he said is a Hamas militant bragging to his parents that he killed several Jews.

Cohen said that he would cancel a planned meeting with Guterres in protest of his comments.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, called on Guterres to resign:
Last week, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid blasted the international media, saying that “of all the distortions of the press coverage of the past days, the worst one is the balance.”
He objected that “a large part of the media is offering its readers and viewers a balanced picture, they are presenting both sides equally.”

“My argument is that the media can’t just claim to bring both sides of the story,” Lapid added. “If you do that, you are only bringing one: Hamas’ side.”

He repeatedly accused Hamas of lying without acknowledging Israel’s very long track record of such.

Editor’s note: This piece initially referred to Benny Gantz as Israel’s defense minister. Although Gantz has now joined Israel’s emergency war cabinet, Yoav Gallant is still defense minister. Gantz was his immediate predecessor. This has been corrected in the text above.


Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.