GENEVA: A UN rights expert who probes Israel's conduct towards Palestinians on Friday accused the Jewish state of a campaign of ethnic cleansing and apartheid policies.
"The realities on the ground are worsening from the point of view of both international law and from the point of view of the Palestinian people," Richard Falk, an 82-year-old American who is an emeritus law professor at Princeton University, told reporters.
Falk is due to step down this month as the UN Human Rights Council's monitor for the Palestinian territories taken over by Israel in 1967 -- the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
Since he was appointed in 2008, he said, Israel has built more settlements in Palestinian territories, imposed "collective punishment" on Gaza, demolished homes and repeatedly deployed "excessive force".
He also accused Israel of a "systematic and continued effort to change the ethnic composition of East Jerusalem" by voiding Palestinians' residence permits, confiscating property and allowing unlawful Israeli settlements there.
"This is systematic discrimination on the basis of ethnic identity, with the objective of creating a different demographic in Jerusalem," he said, calling it a form of "ethnic cleansing".
"All of these features that are objectionable from the point of view of international law have continued and intensified during my six years," he said.
"What is called occupation is now more widely understood to be a form of annexation, the embodiment of apartheid in the sense that there's a discriminatory dual system of law, giving legal protection to the Israeli settlers and subjecting the Palestinian population under occupation to a continuing existence without rights," he added.
Falk has repeatedly locked horns with Israel, the United States, Canada and some human rights groups for positions including labelling Israel's 2008 offensive against Gaza a war crime, and urging a boycott of companies helping Israel's settlement drive in the Palestinian territories.
Washington has said he should quit his UN role, which like other rights monitors at the world body he holds on an unpaid, voluntary basis.
Falk has brushed off the criticism.
"Anyone who is 10 percent objective would come to similar conclusions about international law and international morality to the conclusions I've reached on the main issues that are in contention," he said.
He also rejects claims of anti-Semitism, saying they are defamatory and hurtful given that he is Jewish himself.
He said that personal attacks were an attempt to "shift the conversation from the message to the messenger" and part of the "politics of deflection".