Israeli authorities will force the departure of a Canadian woman who has been the Jerusalem-based United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but who has also been heavily criticized for her sharply-worded descriptions of the human toll of Israel’s war in Gaza.
Lynn Hastings has warned about the “catastrophic” humanitarian consequences of Israel’s attacks on Gaza, while also condemning the “indiscriminate” rocket fire from Palestinian militants on Israeli cities and calling for the release of hostages.
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a letter to Tor Wennesland, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said it will not renew Ms. Hasting’s visa, which expires Dec. 20.
Israeli authorities have been critical of Ms. Hastings, and the letter, obtained by The Globe and Mail, faults her for “consistently and maliciously placing responsibility for the humanitarian situation exclusively on Israel, without once, specifically and unequivocally calling out Hamas for their reprehensible disdain for human life.”
Ms. Hastings began her career as a lawyer in Toronto before joining the United Nations, which sent her to Croatia, East Timor, Pakistan and New York, among other places. She was first dispatched to Jerusalem in 2003 as a legal advisor to the United Nations Office of the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, before being sent back to the region in late 2020 in her current role.
In public statements since the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, she has noted the scale of Israeli deaths. But she has also been outspoken in her descriptions of the unfolding crisis in Gaza, highlighting the Palestinian loss of life far exceeding the number of Israelis killed on Oct. 7 by Palestinian militants and the acute shortages of water, food, electricity and medical supplies in Gaza.
In late October, Israel’s foreign ministry attacked Ms. Hastings on X, formerly Twitter, saying her “dangerous rhetoric endangers innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians.” That post said “she is supposed to be impartial and objective, but unfortunately she is neither.”
Israel has repeatedly called for the resignation of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who in October said the attacks on Israel had not happened “in a vacuum,” while noting 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.”
Israel’s envoy to the UN, Gilad Erdan, said at the time that Israel would no longer automatically issue new visas to UN officials, saying some officials at the organization had “spread lies” about the situation.
Mr. Guterres maintains “full confidence in Ms. Hastings, the way she has conducted herself and the way she has done her work,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Friday. It’s not clear if Ms. Hastings will retain her position after leaving Israel or be replaced.
Ms. Hastings has refused to walk her comments back, instead using her position to continue drawing attention to what she described on Oct. 10 as the “grave humanitarian consequences” of Israeli airstrikes.
Two weeks later, she warned that “there is nowhere to seek refuge in Gaza. When it comes to decisions on whether and where to flee, civilians are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.” What was taking place amounted to “epic human suffering,” she said, with a scale of destruction in Gaza that “calls into question the ability of people to ever return to their homes.”
“Wars have rules,” she wrote on X. “Civilians must be protected.”
On Nov. 3, she described attacks on shelters operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and talked about the halt in operations at many hospitals and primary health care clinics.
“Sanity, humanity, and international law must prevail,” she said. “Humanitarian ceasefires will ease the epic human suffering and make humanitarian access easier and safer.”
Ten days later, she compared the five-week death toll in Gaza to the similar number of civilians killed in Ukraine over 18 months. “The situation in Gaza is beyond what we’ve seen before, not just here but almost anywhere in the world,” she said.
Israel, in its letter, took particular exception to Ms. Hastings’s pledges to deliver aid “wherever people are located.”
“Such statements — presented in the context of IDF’s call for temporary civilian evacuation — had the potential effect of facilitating Hamas’ call for civilians to remain in harm’s way, and contradicting Israel’s efforts to encourage Palestinian civilians to move out of the main theatre of operations in Northern Gaza to safer areas,” said the letter, signed by Amir Weissbrod, deputy director general of the UN and International Organizations Division of Israel’s foreign ministry.
The Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, is the country’s military.
Ms. Hastings, on Oct. 27, had argued that “over a million people cannot just pick up and move to the south where there have been repeated bombings, there is no service delivery, there is no shelter, there is no accommodation.”
She has not publicly commented on her looming expulsion, and did not immediately respond to a Globe request for comment.
On Dec. 1, in her most recent post to X, she noted that people in Israel and Gaza “woke up again to war.”
Israel resumed bombardment of Gaza Friday after a week-long humanitarian pause ended with the resumption of violence.
“Humanitarian aid must continue unconditionally. Hostages must be released unconditionally,” she wrote. “The UN will continue to stay & deliver food, water, medical and other critical supplies to save lives.”