Israel Denies Entry to U.N. Critic Who Accused It of War Crimes

By Patrick Goodenough | December 15, 2008 | 4:30 AM EST

Prof. Richard Falk (Photo Richard Lord/World Council of Churches)

( –  Israel on Sunday blocked entry to a U.S. scholar and outspoken critic of Israeli policies who in his new capacity of special United Nations investigator last week accused Israel of “war crimes.”
An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman on Monday confirmed the incident, saying Prof. Richard Falk had tried to enter the country without an invitation and had therefore been denied entry.
Lilia Zaharieva, the deputy head of the U.N.’s “occupied Palestinian territories country office,” said staff had gone to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv to meet Falk but learned that “he was not allowed to enter Israel.”
He had taken the next flight to Switzerland on Monday morning, she said.
The Palestinian permanent observer mission to the U.N. in Geneva – where the U.N.’s human rights bodies are located – said Falk had been “detained” on arrival and “was requested to stay the night at the airport waiting to be deported.” It said Falk had intended to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories for a week to investigate the human rights situation.
A spokesman for the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva said he had not heard of the incident but would make inquiries before commenting. Attempts to reach Falk by email were not immediately successful.
Falk, a Princeton international law scholar, earlier this year was appointed by the Human Rights Council to serve as the new “special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” The U.N. human rights apparatus has around 20 such expert investigator-reporters.
Israeli foreign ministry deputy spokesman Andy David said Monday that Israel had over the past three years welcomed visits by seven Human Rights Council special rapporteurs as well as a special representative of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In the case of Falk, however, “beyond the imbalance inherent in his mandate, the bias is further exacerbated by the highly politicized views of the rapporteur himself, in legitimizing Hamas terrorism and drawing shameful comparisons to the Holocaust,” he said.
“In light of his vehement publications in the past, it is hard to square his appointment with the requirements of the Council’s own internal procedures which call for the appointment of mandate holders who are impartial, objective and possess the quality of personal integrity.”
As a result, David said, Israel had made it clear that Falk would not be welcome to visit in his capacity as special rapporteur.
Israel did facilitate a visit by Falk in his personal capacity last June, when he wished to attend an academic event. However, Falk had “abused” the visit for the purpose of presenting an imbalanced report to a U.N. General Assembly committee later in the year, David said.
He said Falk’s attempt to visit now in his official capacity, without an invitation while fully aware of Israel’s position, stood in contrast to the Human Rights Council’s own manual of procedures, “which stresses the necessity of consent and coordination with the state concerned.” He had therefore been denied entry.
‘Colonialism and apartheid’
Falk’s appointment to the U.N. post last March immediately drew criticism because of his provocative views on Israel. An article last year, for instance, compared Israeli treatment of Palestinians to Nazi Germany’s atrocities against Jews.
Someone who has accused Israel of “genocidal tendencies” could not possibly be considered impartial as required for the rapporteur’s post, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva said at the time.
Falk told CNSNews at the time that he had done his best over the years to be objective but that he had also “often felt that the Palestinian side of the story is told in a manner that is biased and misleading.”
“I do not believe that a one-sided and unbalanced endorsement of Israel’s approach to peace and security is in the interest of either the United States or Israel itself,” he said.
Since then, Falk has not dodged controversy.
In his report to the General Assembly body in October, he said Israeli policies bore characteristics of colonialism and apartheid. Israel rejected the report as misleading, and said Falk lacked objectivity.
Last Wednesday, as the U.N. marked Human Rights Day, Falk issued a statement calling the Israeli embargo against the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip a violation of international humanitarian law and said the International Criminal Court should look into the possibility of indicting Israeli leaders for war crimes.
He charged that Israel was carrying out the policy “to punish Gazans for political developments within the Gaza strip.”
Israel maintains it is enforcing the embargo – which covers all but basic humanitarian goods and has been described by some critics as a “siege” – in response to continuing rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, targeting Israeli communities across the border.
Critics say Falk’s U.N. mandate is inherently biased because it does not call for an investigation into all aspects of the prevailing situation in the disputed territories.
Created in 1993 by the Human Rights Council’s now-defunct predecessor, the unchanged mandate for the special rapporteur post currently held by Falk is “to investigate Israel’s violations of the principles and bases of international law, international humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention … in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967.”
The wording excludes from the investigator’s purview any actions taken by Palestinian terrorists or Arab governments that may be pertinent or have a bearing on Israeli policies and actions.
Another concern critics have raised about Falk relates to his views on al-Qaeda’s terrorist attack on America in 2001.
While not stating categorically that the “inside job” conspiracy theories about 9/11 are true, Falk has raised questions over several years.
Last month, in an article in a Scottish student publication, he wrote that it was “not paranoid … to assume that the established elites of the American governmental structure have something to hide, and much to explain” about what occurred on 9/11.
“The U.N. can’t claim to oppose al-Qaeda terrorists while its officials seek to deny their most ghastly crimes,” Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based non-governmental organization U.N. Watch, said in response to the article’s appearance.
“How tragic that on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN’s representative figures have gone from luminaries like Eleanor Roosevelt to loonies like Richard Falk,” he said.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow