UN Panel of Inquiry shows Israel is an ‘Untouchable’ Rogue State

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After months of waiting, the UN’s panel of inquiry has come up with a report reviewing Israel’s May 31, 2010 raid on a Turkish-based flotilla that was trying to bring humanitarian aid to the Palestinians of Gaza.  The report assailed Israel for the way in which the nine passengers were killed and scores of others injured. “Forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range has not been adequately accounted for in the material presented by Israel,” it says.

And yet, the report has found that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is both legal and appropriate, thus contradicting the UN’s own declaration in 2008 when it called the blockade illegal. It also contradicted an earlier report, prepared in September by three human rights experts appointed by the UN’s top human rights body, on the Gaza flotilla incident which found that Israeli forces had violated international law when they raided the flotilla.

The new report said that the way Israeli forces boarded the vessels trying to break that blockade 15 months ago was excessive and unreasonable. Non-violent options should have been used in the first instance. There was significant mistreatment of passengers by Israeli authorities after the take-over of the vessels until their deportation.  This included physical mistreatment, harassment and intimidation, unjustified confiscation of belongings and the denial of timely consular assistance.

Thanks to the Obama administration and the apartheid regime in Israel, this report should not surprise anyone. It was meant to be a sham exercise to somewhat diffuse tension between Turkey and Israel. Digging the truth was not the intention for which this panel of inquiry, headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, was set up. He was aided by Alvaro Uribe, a former president of Colombia (with a long and notorious history of violating human rights on a massive scale), along with one representative from Israel and another from Turkey. The Panel’s Method of Work provided that the Panel was to operate by consensus, but where, it was not possible to achieve consensus, the Chair and Vice Chair could agree on any procedural issue, finding or recommendation.  This is precisely what happened, and the report has been adopted on the agreement of the Chair and Vice-Chair under that procedure.

Some background information may help here. In the aftermath of Hamas’s win in the Palestinian legislative election in 2006, the governments of Israel and Egypt sealed their border crossings with Gaza. Israel imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip effectively stopping the flow of everything entering and exiting the tiny strip. Although the restriction of Palestinian movement in and out of Gaza has not been new since its imposition back in 1989, trade and commerce were not totally shut down, thus making the post-2006 closure the harshest in Gaza’s history. In July, 2008, an UNRWA report on the situation in Gaza stated that "the number of households in Gaza below the consumption poverty line continued to grow, reaching 51.8 percent in 2007 (from 50.7 percent in 2006)." In the same year, a Palestinian Bureau of Statistics study concluded that 80% of families in Gaza were living below the poverty line. A World Health Organization assessment conducted in 2009 claimed that the level of anemia in babies (9–”12 months) was as high as 65%, while a Socio-economic and Food Security Survey Report stated that 61% of Gazans were food insecure and reliant on humanitarian aid.

The Free Gaza Movement, a coalition of human rights activists and pro-Palestinian groups around the world, came into existence to challenge the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip by sailing humanitarian aid ships to Gaza. The group has more than 70 endorsers, including Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu and activist writer Dr. Noam Chomsky. It also enjoys the support from the International Solidarity Movement, which includes Lauren Booth (Tony Blair’s sister-in-law), and members of various Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious organizations.

The first sailing, organized by the Free Gaza Movement and the International Solidarity Movement, took place in early August 2008. It intended to deliver 100 hearing aids to a Palestinian charity as a form of humanitarian aid. Israeli citizen Jeff Halper, one of the organizers, who had traveled into Israel via the Erez crossing, was arrested. Lauren Booth was refused permission to cross from Gaza into both Egypt and Israel after her arrival. Four weeks later, she was given permission to cross at the Rafah border terminal into Egypt.

The second sailing occurred in late October of 2008. The movement’s 66-foot yacht, named Dignity, arrived at a Gaza port on October 29. The ship carried 26 activists and medical supplies, and was allowed to enter Gaza. Among the passengers were 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan and Palestinian Legislative Council member Mustafa al-Barghouti.

On December 29, 2008, Dignity sailed from Cyprus, headed for Gaza, to deliver 3.5 tons of medical supplies to its residents. The boat, which was boarded by U.S. Cynthia McKinney (former US Congresswoman and U.S. Presidential candidate), and many journalists from Al Jazeera and CNN, was forced to turn back after being intercepted by Israeli naval vessels off Gaza. Israeli warships rammed their vessel then fired machine guns in the water.

In January 2009, the Free Gaza Movement again attempted to bring activists and deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza under the Greek flagged decommissioned ferry called the Arion. The activists, among them several doctors, abandoned their journey after the ship encountered Israeli warships who warned them to leave the area. On February 3, 2009 a ship named Tali, a Togo-registered cargo vessel, carrying more than 60 tons of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, was fired upon by Israeli forces that later boarded the ship and took it to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

The Free Gaza Movement returned to Cyprus in March 2009, to begin organizing for the summer sailings. The Arion was renamed Spirit of Humanity and sailed from the port of Larnaca on June 29. The activists on board included former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and the Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire. They were heading toward Gaza with three tons of medical supplies and a symbolic load of construction materials. On June 30, the Israeli Navy commandeered the vessel off the coast of Gaza and towed it to Ashdod; the crew was detained pending deportation proceedings. 

In May of 2010, the Free Gaza Movement and the Humanitarian Relief Foundation partnered with several human rights organizations, including the Turkish Relief Foundation (IHH), the Perdana Global Peace Organization from Malaysia, the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza, and the Swedish and Greek Boat to send multiple ships to the Gaza Strip. On 31 May 2010 at 4.26 a.m. the flotilla of six vessels was boarded and taken-over by Israeli Defense Forces 72 nautical miles from land. The vessels were carrying people and humanitarian supplies to Gaza.  Nine unarmed activists aboard the MV Mavi Marmamra were killed in a direct violation of the Rules of Engagement.

The U.N. Secretary-General established the Panel of Inquiry on 2 August 2010. The report released last week (although dated July 2011) noted that the panel did not have the power to compel testimony or demand documents, but instead had to rely on information provided by Israel and Turkey. Therefore, its conclusions cannot be considered definitive in either fact or law.

To avoid a repeat of similar incidents in the future, the panel recommended that all States should act with prudence and caution in relation to the imposition and enforcement of a naval blockade; the established norms of customary international law must be respected and complied with by all relevant parties; states maintaining a naval blockade must abide by their obligations with respect to the provision of humanitarian assistance; states enforcing a naval blockade against non-military vessels, especially where large numbers of civilian passengers are involved, should be cautious in the use of force.

Towards rapprochement, the panel recommended that an appropriate statement of regret should be made by Israel in respect of the incident in light of its consequences; Israel should offer payment for the benefit of the deceased and injured victims and their families; Turkey and Israel should resume full diplomatic relations.

None of these, of course, is likely to happen. The rogue state of Israel has refused to apologize to Turkey. As a result, last Friday Turkey has expelled the Israeli ambassador and suspended key military agreements. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has warned that Turkey won’t allow Israel to exercise its bullying practices freely and that Ankara “will take every precaution it deems necessary” to protect its shipping in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey is particularly upset by the conclusion of the panel that Israel’s naval blockade is in keeping with international law and that its forces have the right to stop Gaza-bound ships in international waters, which is what happened in the 2010 episode. That conclusion oversteps the mandate of the four-member panel appointed by the United Nations secretary general and is at odds with other United Nations decisions. Turkey is also preparing to challenge Israel’s blockade on Gaza at the International Court of Justice.

The latest decision of the Turkish government is a much-anticipated one. It is also morally right. Israel is a rogue state and should be treated as such. It cannot be allowed to get away with murder of humanitarian aid workers. Just as no wise counseling helps to amend the evil character of a wicked person, the rogue character of the government of Israel simply cannot be amended by either pleading or begging. It needs a hard slap.

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