Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Gaza double standards
One of Ban Ki-moon’s forgotten achievements just after taking office in 2007 was to secure compensation for the U.N. premises destroyed by Israeli weaponry in Gaza. He is unlikely to get anything this time, however—even though in at least one incident, in which it seems almost certain that Israeli mortar fire landed on the UNRWA school at Beit Hanoun, killing dozens of sheltering refugees, evokes memories and suspicions. Not only was it the fourth UNRWA school that Israel had fired on, it was just the latest in a long chain of incidents, going back to the 1948 assassination of U.N. envoy Count Folke Bernadotte, in which Israelis have targeted U.N. premises and personnel. (See September 1995 Washington Report, p. 83, and the September 2013 issue, p. 30.) Who now remembers Qana in 1996, when the IDF continued its shelling even after being called and told what it was doing? (See July 1996 Washington Report, pp. 6 and 21.) The innocent dead victims find themselves promoted to “human shields.”
The savagery of these attacks defies military logic. Like the Sarajevo marketplace massacre, it is just possible that the motive was undisciplined individual bigotry and that the higher military and political echelons winced at the undiplomatic crassness of their personnel. But in Bosnia it eventually proved too much, and the international community unleashed force against the perpetrators and their protectors.
Looking at the long chain of incidents, even with the vicious, racist and reactionary ministers in the Israeli cabinet, we have the same disturbing paradigm of impunity. The Israeli government will deny rather than condone these incidents of murderous barbarism, but it will blame the victims rather than take action against the perpetrators. In the IDF chain of command and control there is a clear culture of impunity. Even if Beit Hanoun was the product of one or two Israeli soldiers exercising their racist fantasies, they can be confident that their careers will continue untrammeled, and that they might even be heroes to the civilians lounging on deck chairs cheering the assault on Gaza.
While not quite cheering, much of the international community shares complicity in this culture of impunity. Where is the pressure on Israel to stop such incidents, to punish the guilty? At one time, it seemed that the International Criminal Court offered a means to do so. But Washington and its allies are effectively writing an exclusion clause into international law: Israel can do no wrong. We can rightly condemn Slobodan Milosevic or Bashar al-Assad for deeds in Bosnia or Syria, but not Binyamin Netanyahu.
It is wrong to blame the diplomats, who are, after all, men and women sent abroad to lie for the countries. The real Pontius Pilate emulators, washing their hands in the blood of others, are back in their respective capitals. Nowhere has that been seen more than in the last weeks of the Israeli attack on the Gaza ghetto.
To anyone who is not imbued with U.S. mainstream media, soaked as it is in Israeli hasbara and its official spokespeople intoning lying platitudes with straight faces, Israel’s disproportionate use of force in Gaza was already apparent even before its shelling of U.N. shelters. So where to begin?
We could start with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose effort to win statehood for Palestine is now revealed to be a pointless morale-boosting diversion since he refuses to take the only step that would have given it any significant meaning—accession to the International Criminal Court, which would make crimes committed on Palestinian territory subject to ICC proceedings.
The unity government of Hamas and Fatah—which is, of course, the real proximate cause of IDF operations and crimes in Gaza—de-emphasized the applicability of the treaty to a Palestine that had joined. But of course Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are hostages to Israeli security, waiting for the IDF to pick them up, or off, at will.
Then we can move to Secretary of State John Kerry for his indiscreet remarks on Fox—“Hell of a pinpoint operation”—in which his private candor about IDF operations contrasted so signally with his hypocritical mantras about supporting Israel’s right to self-defense.
Kerry’s office later explained that “his private comments were consistent with his publicly stated view…: Israel has the right to defend itself, including against recent tunnel attacks, but he has encouraged them to not only take steps to prevent civilian casualties, but to take steps to de-escalate and we’re working together to achieve a cease-fire.”
An objective observer might comment that “achieving a cease-fire” could be done most effectively by stopping financial, military and diplomatic support to the country that is refusing it, not to mention the personal motives of payback to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for his repeated insults and nose-tweaking of both President Barack Obama and Kerry.
The abdication of ethics continued in July, with the U.S.’ lonely negative vote on the U.N. Human Rights Council resolution calling for an investigation into what was happening in Gaza. But Washington was pretty much first among almost equals in its diplomatic amorality. No less than 17 countries went along to the point of abstention on the resolution. Korea and Japan and a fistful of French neo-colonies joined the EU in approving the sentiments of the resolution, but not daring to put their hands up for it.
The 29 countries supporting it were not all great paragons of human rights protection, but at least they went on record in support of “Ensuring respect for international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”
Interesting was Dublin’s statement. Ireland, with a population angry about events in Gaza, hedged its bets in a typical manner. It “fully accepts that the Government of Israel has the right to defend its people, but this right does not negate the rights of others. Any use of military force in self-defense must be in accordance with international humanitarian law, and in particular must be both discriminate and proportionate. In view of the casualty figures, we do not believe that this has been the case.”
But it followed the EU line, which was somewhat tangled in its own right. In effect, the EU is hampered because, short of Israel nuking a European city, members like France and Germany cannot bring themselves to condemn the country, and thus prevent any joint EU criticism. But of course they cannot say, anymore than Kerry can, that Israel is above the law, so they made the excuse that the UNHRC resolution “fails to condemn explicitly the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israeli civilian areas as well as to recognize Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself.”
This is thinner even than the average fig leaf, since the resolution that was passed declares unequivocally that it “Condemns all violence against civilians wherever it occurs, including the killing of two Israeli civilians as a result of rocket fire, and urges all parties concerned to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”
It is true that in this context, the mention of the two dead somewhat accentuates the hundreds dead on the other side, but it is difficult to reconcile the EU lie with the reality.
One hesitates to inflict formal U.N. prose on readers, but the preamble to the Human Rights Council resolution cites the international law that Israel is so patently flouting. It begins:
Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
Recalling General Assembly resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006 and Human Rights Council resolutions 5/1 and 5/2 of 18 June 2007,
Reaffirming the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people and the inadmissibility of the acquisition of land by the use of force, as enshrined in the Charter,
Affirming the applicability of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in particular the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem,
Reaffirming that all High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention are under the obligation to respect and ensure respect for the obligations arising from the said Convention in relation to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and
Reaffirming their obligations under articles 146, 147 and 148 with regard to penal sanctions, grave breaches and responsibilities of the High Contracting Parties,
Gravely concerned at the lack of implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict of 2009, and convinced that lack of accountability for violations of international law reinforces a culture of impunity, leading to a recurrence of violations and seriously endangering the maintenance of international peace,
Noting that 9 July 2014 marked the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice on the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and that no progress has been made on its implementation, and affirming the urgent need to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law and international human rights law in this regard,
The resolution calls not only for a new “Goldstone” Commission to investigate what is happening, but calls up Switzerland, the responsible power, to convene a convention of parties to the Geneva Convention to consider Israel’s failure to apply its strictures to the occupied territories—thereby giving Europe and the U.S. the opportunity to show their pusillanimity yet again.Many critics of the U.N. system rightly condemn the veto as an obstacle to progress, but taken overall, a veto is almost healthy, an honest statement of a position. An abstention is in its own insidious way even more pernicious, since the accompanying statements so often show that the governments concerned accept all of the facts, even the conclusions, but are too invertebrate to record a vote in the face of American and Israeli displeasure.