TEL AVIV – Israeli authorities here detained upon arrival a United Nations official accused of siding with Hamas, keeping him incommunicado for nearly 24 hours before expelling him from the country in an incident the international body is calling "unprecedented" and "deeply regrettable."
Richard Falk, a U.N. investigator of human rights in the Palestinian territories, has a long history of criticizing Israel, including comparing the country's anti-terrorism military operations to the Holocaust. He has been part of investigations that determined Palestinian suicide bombings were a valid method of '"struggle," vocally supported the Islamic revolution in Iran, and has even considered whether the U.S. government was involved in the 9-11 attacks.
Falk arrived here yesterday purportedly to investigate the condition of Palestinian human rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He attempted to gain entry at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport even though Israel has repeatedly informed the U.N. that Falk would not be allowed, accusing him of "legitimizing Hamas terrorism" and citing what the Jewish state says is the diplomat's long record of anti-Israel bias.
According to a statement from Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Falk was denied entry at the airport, where he was separated from two U.N. staff members accompanying him and had his U.N. mobile phone confiscated.
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"He was kept in a detention facility at the airport, where he spent the night in a small room with several other people who were being denied entry into Israel," the statement said.
"In all, Mr. Falk spent more than 20 hours in the airport, before being deposited on a plane to Los Angeles."
Even though Israel has a longstanding public policy against allowing Falk to visit, the U.N. statement claimed Israeli authorities had given no indication they would not allow Falk into the country until an e-mail was sent Saturday to a staff member of the Office of the High Commissioner in Geneva, who the U.N. claimed was not in a position to read it before leaving with Falk early Sunday for Israel.
Falk last week angered Israel when he claimed the country's policies regarding the Palestinians amount to a "crime against humanity."
On Dec. 10, Falk called on the U.N. to make an "urgent effort" to "implement the agreed norm of a responsibility to protect a civilian population (in the Palestinian territories) being collectively punished by policies that amount to a crime against humanity."
He was referring to the Gaza Strip, which Hamas violently seized in the summer of 2007. Still, Israel provides Gaza with the vast majority of its electricity, allows in the shipment of humanitarian supplies, and even fuels the territory's economy with monthly convoys of Israeli shekel.
Upon Falk's appointment to the Human Rights Council last spring, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton commented, "This is exactly why we voted against the new human rights council."
"He was picked for a reason, and the reason is not to have an objective assessment – the objective is to find more ammunition to go after Israel," said Bolton, who suggested Falk was chosen because he previously compared Israeli actions in Gaza to the Nazi treatment of Jews.
In a June 2007 article called "Slouching toward a Palestinian Holocaust," Falk indeed compared Israeli military policies to the Nazi Germany record of collective punishment.
In 2004, Falk wrote the forward to a book, "The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11," which attempts to prove the Bush administration was complicit in the Sept. 11 attacks.
In the preface, Falk argued, "There have been questions raised here and there and allegations of official complicity made almost from the day of the attacks, especially in Europe, but no one until Griffin (the book's author) has had the patience, the fortitude, the courage and the intelligence to put the pieces together in a single coherent account."
On Feb. 16, 1979, two weeks after the Iranian revolution brought back religious radical leader Ayatollah Khomeini to power, Falk wrote an op-ed for the New York Times entitled "Trusting Khomeini" in which he criticized U.S. officials who warned Khomeini was a religious fanatic and anti-Semitic.
"The depiction of [Khomeini] as fanatical, reactionary and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certainly and happily false," Falk wrote.