Thursday, August 12, 2010

Goldstoning the Flotilla Inquiry

This was written before Israel accepted Ban KiMoon's panel, which suggests that Netanyahu is running scared - or is preparing to launder or repudiate whatever report emerges!

WRMEA, August 2010, Pages 18, 20

United Nations Report
Israel Tries to "Goldstone" International Investigation of Flotilla Attack
By Ian Williams

[In the West Bank village of Bil’in, where nonviolent protests against Israel’s apartheid wall are held every Friday, a foreign journalist wearing a gas mask throws an Israeli soldier to the ground near a model of a Gaza Freedom Flotilla ship, June 4, 2010. (AFP photo/Abbas Momani)] In the West Bank village of Bil’in, where nonviolent protests against Israel’s apartheid wall are held every Friday, a foreign journalist wearing a gas mask throws an Israeli soldier to the ground near a model of a Gaza Freedom Flotilla ship, June 4, 2010. (AFP photo/Abbas Momani)

THE FIRST week in May saw a media storm in Israel when the Hebrew tabloid Yediot Ahronot broke the news that, while he was an appeals court judge in apartheid South Africa, Richard Goldstone was in some way linked to rejecting the appeals of 28 death sentences.

As one of Napoleon's generals said of the emperor's kidnapping and execution of a member of the royal family, "It's worse than a crime—it's a blunder." Even more than the 2008-9 Operation Cast Lead, Israel's attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was a self-inflicted diplomatic disaster, which it seems to be determined to exacerbate. One of the problems for the Israeli worldview is that it tends to use Capitol Hill as a mirror: if the suckers there will swallow the big lies, the reasoning goes, so will everyone else.

And it is true, the suckers did some impressive swallowing. To see so-called progressives like New York City Reps. Charles Rangel and Jerry Nadler standing in Times Square calling upon the State Department to deny entry to witnesses of the attack on the flotilla was almost as nauseating as the cold-blooded murder of the nine crew members. As Patrick Buchanan teasingly pointed out (see p. 14), it is as if they supported the gunning down of the Freedom Marchers in the South, or the summary execution of Rosa Parks for sitting in the wrong part of the bus.

At the U.N. itself, determined to give new depths to the meaning of chutzpah (gall), the Israeli mission officially complained to the U.N. Correspondents Association because the latter body had screened video footage of the attack that the IDF had failed to find and confiscate. The mission insisted that it should be allowed to present its doctored video immediately afterward to rebut Iara Lee's June 9 screening at United Nations Headquarters in New York. The U.N. Correspondents Association has never allowed real time "rebuttal" of its invited guests by governments or others, leaving that to the correspondents' questions.

Israeli spokesperson Mirit Cohen called this "severely unethical"—in contrast, of course, to the continuous screening by most American media of the heavily edited Israeli clips, or indeed in contrast to the highly ethical murder of nine people and the ethical slandering of them as al-Qaeda supporters afterward!

Indeed, the bullet hole in the head of Turkish news photographer Cevdet KiliƧlar could be considered somewhat "unethical" even by the "fair-minded journalists" Cohen brazenly invoked to back the Israeli mission's complaint, not to mention the confiscation of cameras, recorders, notebooks and any other press materials on the boats.

But then perhaps the Israelis were encouraged by the anodyne response of the Security Council to the incident itself. To look on the cup-half-full side, the U.S. did join all the other Council members in supporting a statement that called for a credible international investigation and condemning the loss of life. But the price for U.S. support was that it was a statement—not a resolution.

In defense of the Obama administration, however, it can be no bad thing to be attacked by Elliott Abrams for exposing Israel to a virtual U.N. "lynch mob." Added Abrams, "The White House did not wish to stand with Israel against this mob because it does not have a policy of solidarity with Israel. Rather, its policy is one of distancing and pressure."

Sadly, it is a great big giant step for an American president to say "tut tut," to mass murder by Israel, albeit only a tiny totter for the rest of mankind. In fact to be fair, it followed on another step, when the U.S. suggested at the U.N. nuclear non-proliferation treaty meeting that this included Israel as well—even though that was more of an "Ahem!" without the severity of a "tut tut."

Admittedly, under the previous administration it would have been unthinkable for the U.S. to allow even so mild a reproof as that statement through. Requesting the immediate release of the ships and prisoners, the Security Council managed an extra level of caution by taking note "of the statement of the U.N. secretary-general on the need to have a full investigation into the matter and [calling] for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards." It also stressed "the need for sustained and regular flow of goods and people to Gaza as well as unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian aid."

However, just as Washington thwarted a full resolution on the Goldstone Report but the consequences live on, so does this demand. Ban Ki-moon crafted a credible set up for an international inquiry, but is still waiting to hear from Israel—which, of course, does not want an impartial inquiry.

The Israeli investigating body, to be headed by Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, includes two elderly Israelis: 93-year-old international law professor Shabtai Rosen, and 86-year-old Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Horev, who, in his younger days, is reported to have carried out an extrajudicial castration of a Palestinian, and two international members. One is David Trimble, the former Protestant leader in Northern Ireland, who recently joined a pro-Israel group with Dore Gold and John Bolton, and anyway comes from a group that considers the Palestinians to be, if not positively Papist, at least the IRA in another form. For some people, the fact that Tony Blair may have proposed Trimble might detract even further from his credibility. Just in case that is not defense enough, however, he and his Canadian colleague, Ken Watkin, are only observers on a domestic, politically appointed inquiry that cannot call for evidence from the IDF, which actually perpetrated the deed. One can also suspect that Watkin was nominated, or supported, by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, under whom Ottawa has abandoned any pretense of support for international law whenever Israel is involved.

But over at the U.N. Human Rights Council, the members voted to set up an independent inquiry—despite a high probability that its members would be thoroughly "goldstoned" in the U.S. and Israeli media—and Ban Ki-moon stubbornly continued to brandish his proposal to have a genuine impartial and international inquiry, with Israeli and Turkish representation, chaired by Geoffrey Palmer, the former New Zealand prime minister.

Despite the blandness of the U.S., and consequently the U.N., response, it is clear that Israel completely lost the propaganda war. Not only did it lose almost all the European support it had conjured up with constant repetition of the "terrorism" mantra, not only has it lost its only friend in the region, Turkey—it has also broken the siege of Gaza, since even Hosni Mubarak could not maintain the blockade after the barbarity of the flotilla attack.

Perhaps more pointedly, the Israelis have had to admit that they were maintaining a "quality of life" blockade, banning books, paper, coriander and hundreds of capriciously chosen goods with no conceivable military purpose—and they have promised to lift it.

That promise is almost certainly a function of cajoling from the Obama administration, trading a blockade relaxation against U.S. support for a U.N. inquiry or support for the Israeli show trial in reverse. (Show trials always find the prisoners guilty. The Israeli version always exonerates the IDF, whatever the evidence.).

The problem, of course, is that while Ban Ki-moon, schooled by his staff who have to deal with the Israelis, seems to have learned about Israeli obfuscation, Obama and his team have infinite reserves of either patience, stupidity or endless tolerance for expediency. Which is why UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness declared, "We need to have the blockade fully lifted. The Israeli strategy is to make the international community talk about a bag of cement here, a project there. We need full unfettered access through all the crossings." He told Reuters, "The list of restricted goods is a moving target. We are never told this is banned and that is banned"—stressing that he was referring to supplies for the U.N. that Israel publicly claims it has no qualms about.

So it is fitting that the Quartet's statement on Israel's offer "re-affirms that the current situation in Gaza, including the humanitarian and human rights situation of the civilian population, is unsustainable, unacceptable, and not in the interests of any of those concerned." It reiterated its call for "the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza, consistent with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009)."

It then moves into diplo-speak: "The new policy toward Gaza just announced by the government of Israel is a welcome development. The Quartet notes that the elaboration of further details and modalities of implementation will be important in ensuring the effectiveness of the new policy. Full and effective implementation will comprise a significant shift in strategy toward meeting the needs of Gaza's population for humanitarian and commercial goods, civilian reconstruction and infrastructure, and legitimate economic activity as well as the security needs of Israel."

In other words, Israel will still arbitrarily hold up traffic on the borders, perhaps only refraining from doing so if it means Israeli businesses will lose custom to the Egyptians on the other end of Gaza. However, thanks to the flotilla, and the nine dead, there will be a lot more scrutiny of what Israel does and how it compares with what it says.

But we still wait for Washington to stop turning the other cheek, while hoping it will not take as long as it will for congressmen to stop swallowing sewage in public.

Ian Williams is a free-lance journalist based at the United Nations and has a blog at .

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