UNSG BAN Ki Moon – "deadpan" + "procedural" – puts Goldstone report back in UN General Assembly's court

UNSG BAN Ki-Moon transmitted the information he has received in the past week or so from (1) Israel, (2) the Palestinian Authority, and (3) Hamas, in response to a UN General Assembly resolution adopted last November calling on the three parties to establish credible independent and impartial investigations into the last winter’s Gaza war.

The UNSG said, however, in a short cover note, that “no determination can be made on the implementation of the resolution by the parties concerned”, although he expressed the hope that the General Assembly’s resolution will, in fact, result in probes “that are independent, credible and in conformity with international standards”.

What does that mean?

Well, the ball is back in the UN General Assembly’s court.

Continue reading UNSG BAN Ki Moon – "deadpan" + "procedural" – puts Goldstone report back in UN General Assembly's court

UNSG BAN says he will send the Goldstone report to Security Council ASAP

The AP’s indefatigable Edith Lederer has reported that “Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday he will send a report calling for Israel and the Palestinians to investigate alleged war crimes during last winter’s conflict in Gaza to the UN Security Council ‘as soon as possible’.”

She added that “The 15 council members have already received copies of the 575-page report by an expert panel chaired by South African Judge Richard Goldstone. But the General Assembly in a resolution adopted Thursday asks the secretary-general to transmit it, which will make the report an official Security Council document … The Security Council, however, is highly unlikely to take any action. The United States has repeatedly said the report belongs in the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, which appointed the Goldstone panel. Diplomats said Russia and China also don’t want the Security Council dealing with human rights issues. All three countries have veto power in the Security Council. [n.b. France, which also has the veto power, has also indicated that it would oppose any UNSC action on the Goldstone report…] The International Criminal Court can only investigate crimes on the territory of nations that recognize its jurisdiction, unless a case is referred to it by the Security Council. The Palestinian Authority recognized the court in January and urged prosecutors to launch an investigation into crimes committed during the Gaza conflict, but prosecutors are investigating whether this is possible since there is no state of Palestine”. This AP report was picked up and published by The Independent, here.

Amnesty International issued a statement after the vote in the UN General Assembly saying that the body’s adoption of “key recommendations of the Goldstone report on the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel earlier this year is vitally important for ensuring that those, on both sides, who committed war crimes and other violations of international law will now be held to account … Almost one year on, those who suffered war crimes and other gross violations of their rights, are still waiting for justice … [And] “It is our fervent hope that today’s UN General Assembly resolution will act as a catalyst to make justice and reparation a reality for the victims on both sides”.

In the statement, Yvonne Terlingen, Head of Amnesty International’s Office at the UN, said: “We deeply regret that the USA and the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovakia voted against the resolution and failed to support the need for accountability, justice and human rights that are so vital for victims of abuses in this conflict … We urge the UN Secretary-General to now appoint independent experts in human rights and international humanitarian law to assess whether any investigations that are conducted by Israel and Hamas meet the required international standard”.

[UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post, in an article published after this posting, wrote that “44 abstained, including most of the EU countries that had sought unsuccessfully to soften the resolution’s language prior to the vote. Switzerland was the only European country to endorse the report. Russia, which does not often side with Israel in these matters, abstained … Following the Goldstone vote, which US Ambassador Susan Rice did not attend, the US mission circulated an ‘explanation of vote’ by Deputy Permanent Representative Alejandro Wolff, who voted in Rice’s place. ‘As the United States made clear in Geneva, we believe that the Goldstone Report is deeply flawed’, Wolff said, citing an unbalanced focus on Israel, sweeping legal conclusions and overreaching recommendations, and a failure to adequately assign responsibility to Hamas for basing its operations in civilian-populated areas. He stressed that the matter should be handled at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva alone, saying discussion in the Security Council would be ‘unconstructive’. Stating that the US ‘strongly supports accountability’ for human rights and humanitarian law violations, Wolff said the best way to end human suffering is to bring comprehensive peace to the region, including a two-state solution. ‘As we urge the parties to restart permanent-status negotiations leading to the creation of a Palestinian state, we should all be seeking to advance the cause of peace – and doing nothing to hinder it’, he said“.  This JPOST article is published here.]

The Amnesty International statement noted that UNSG BAN has been asked to submit what it called a “progress report”  to the UN General Assembly in three months’ time.

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva still has on its books the first resolution it adopted on the Goldstone report, in early October, calling for review of the situation in March 2010.

Earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a measure by an overwhelming vote (344-to-36) calling the Goldstone report “irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy”, and calling on the Obama Administration to “strongly and unequivocally oppose” any discussion of it at the UN.

A post by Matthew Rothschild on The Progressive website said that “Dennis Kucinich had it right when he denounced the House majority for going along with this. His statement is so powerful that I’m excerpting it at length here: ‘Today we journey from Operation Cast Lead to Operation Cast Doubt … Almost as serious as committing war crimes is covering up war crimes, pretending that war crimes were never committed and did not exist. Because behind every such deception is the nullification of humanity, the destruction of human dignity, the annihilation of the human spirit, the triumph of Orwellian thinking, the eternal prison of the dark heart of the totalitarian. The resolution before us today, which would reject all attempts of the Goldstone Report to fix responsibility of all parties to war crimes, including both Hamas and Israel, may as well be called the ‘Down is Up, Night is Day, Wrong is Right: resolution.’ . . . How can we ever expect there to be peace in the Middle East if we tacitly approve of violations of international law and international human rights, if we look the other way, or if we close our eyes to the heartbreak of people on both sides by white-washing a legitimate investigation? How can we protect the people of Israel from existential threats if we hold no concern for the protection of the Palestinians, for their physical security, their right to land, their right to their own homes, their right to water, their right to sustenance, their right to freedom of movement, their right to human security of jobs, education and health care? … all people on this planet have a right to survive and thrive, and it is our responsibility, our duty to see that no individual, no group, no people are barred from this humble human claim”.  This posting can be read in full here.

Dennis Kucinich is a Democratic Congressman from Ohio who was re-elected a year ago to a seventh term in the U.S, House of Representatives.  The full text of his statement on this House resolution, Entiltled “Truth, Human Dignity, and the Goldstone Report”, can be seen on his website, here

On the third day of the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, Kucinich was sending a letter to UNSG BAN Ki-Moon “urging the United Nations to establish an independent inquiry of Israel’s war against Gaza. The attacks on civilians represent collective punishment, which is a violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/92.htm). The perpetrators of attacks against Israel must also be brought to justice, but Israel cannot create a war against an entire people in order to attempt to bring to justice the few who are responsible. The Israeli leaders know better. The world community, which has been very supportive of Israel’s right to security and its right to survive, also has a right to expect Israel to conduct itself in adherence to the very laws which support the survival of Israel and every other nation … Israel is leveling Gaza to strike at Hamas, just as they pulverized south Lebanon to strike at Hezbollah. Yet in both cases civilian populations were attacked, countless innocents killed or injured, infrastructure targeted and destroyed, and civil law enforcement negated. All this was, and is, disproportionate, indiscriminate mass violence in violation of international law. Israel is not exempt from international law and must be held accountable. It is time for the UN to not just call for a cease-fire, but for an inquiry as to Israel’s actions.”  This letter can be viewed in full here.

And on the very same day that Kucinich wrote his letter, former UN Under-Secretary-General, and novelist, Shashi Tharoor was penning an article saying that Indians envied Israel’s ability to operate as it pleased [see our posts, here and here – Tharoor’s article was posted on the Huffington Post with the title (he wrote it) “India longs to follow Israeli path of reprisal] .

Shashi Tharoor wrote his article on 29 December — and did not bother to correct it even before it was published in the Huffington Post on 19 January, one day after two unilateral cease-fires (Israel’s and Hamas’) went into effect in Gaza.

Then, after reaction to that piece, Tharoor wrote again something he called “Apologia”, which was published in the Huffington Post on 27 January — a somewhat dizzy retraction in which he wrote: “Many of you have read my article as endorsing Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and deplored the article’s apparent indifference to the humanitarian tragedy that followed.  I regret the misunderstanding of the intent and thrust of the piece, which was not written as a commentary on the conflict in Gaza.  [!]  When I wrote the article I was thinking only about india/pakistan – the assault on Gaza had just begun when I put my fingers to the keyboard … Obviously I had no sense at the time of writing of the scale of the israeli action that was to follow and the toll that would be taken in civilian lives.  But in any case the article says India cannot, should not and would not do what Israel has done … Using the Israel parallel – at a time when my email inbox was brimming with messages of the ‘why can’t we do the same as Israel?’ variety – was just a way of bringing greater attention onto India’s dilemma and its anguish, while arguing that there is no ‘Gaza option’ for India.  Of course I should have realized that using an unfolding event as a peg would make my argument hostage to the way that situation evolved. Inevitably, some readers would judge the article in the light of what has happened in the two weeks after I wrote it. Had Israel taken out a few rocket sites and withdrawn in 3 or 4 days, as I had expected, perhaps the analogy would have seemed less offensive” …

Despite his inability to recognize or correctly assess, by 29 December, what was happening in Gaza, Shashi Tharoor — having won election this past spring to India’s parliament as a representative of the Congress Party in Kerala State — has since become India’s Foreign Minister, in yet another triumph of style over substance…

UPDATE:  Yaakov Katz has written on Sunday in the Jerusalem Post that “Amid Israeli efforts to bolster military ties and export military hardware, the Indian Chief of Staff Gen. Deepak Kapoor arrived in Israel on Saturday for talks with IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi … Israel and India enjoy close defense ties and Israel last year overtook Russia as the number-one supplier of military platforms to India after breaking the $1 billion mark in new contracts signed annually.  According to press reports, India is interested in working with Israel on submarine-launched cruise missiles, ballistic missile defense systems, laser-guided systems, satellites as well as unmanned aerial vehicles.  The visit to Israel comes just before the first anniversary of the attacks last November in Mumbai against a hotel as well as a Chabad House, during which over 170 people were killed, including the Chabad emissary to Mumbai and his pregnant wife.  Since the attack, Israel has assisted India in beefing up its security, particularly along its coast, where the terrorists allegedly infiltrated from nearby Pakistan.  Last Tuesday, Kapoor was quoted [by news sites] as saying that … ‘We have to take all steps to prevent any Mumbai-type attacks. We cannot rule out apprehensions of such possibilities … India cannot afford to witness a repeat of 26/11″ …  Yaakov Katz’s report in the JPost can be viewed in full here.

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Here is the result of the voting in the UN General Assembly
In favour of the resolution on the Goldstone report: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Comoros, Congo, Cuba, Cyprus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Against: Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Nauru, Netherlands, Palau, Panama, Poland, Slovakia, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ukraine, United States.

Abstain: Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Greece, Iceland, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Samoa, San Marino, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Tonga, Uganda, United Kingdom, Uruguay.

Absent: Bhutan, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Honduras, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Togo, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Vanuatu.

UNSG's Special Representative for Sports, Willy Lemke, going to visit Gaza today

As part of a ten-day mission to the region, the UN SG’s Special Representative for Sports for development and peace, Wilfried Lemke of Germany, will visit Gaza today and tomorrow, and will enter Gaza via Israel’s Erez crossing, or “Border Terminal”.

UPDATE AND CORRECTION: According to information in a UN press release prepared by an information officer accompanying the UN’s “top sports envoy”, Lemke apparently could not enter Gaza on Sunday, because the IDF had closed the Erez checkpoint [possibly because of the demonstration described below].  So, he must have made a round-trip on Monday, when Erez was open, despite what Israeli sources reported was an unusual Palestinian attack, reportedly involving cars and horses carrying explosives, on the Nahal Oz fuel crossing in middle Gaza, after which every crossing but Erez was closed.  The formal UN press release reported that Lemke said, after meeting young Palestinian athletes at a sports stadium in Gaza City: “I am deeply touched by the plight of the people of Gaza”. This UN press release can be read in full here.

In an interview at the American Colony Hotel on Saturday evening, Lemke said that the mission was his idea, after the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead (27 December-18 January), and that UNSG BAN Ki-Moon had fully endorsed and backed the proposal.

Last evening, back in Jerusalem after a long trip through the northern West Bank to see sports projects in the cities of Nablus and Qalqilya, Lemke explained that when he learned from different media reports about how professional and prepared German soldiers returning from duty in Afghanistan had been affected by psychological shock [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder], he realized how much worse the situation must be for Palestinian children, particularly those in Gaza after the recent large-scale Israeli military operation there.

About six and a half weeks ago, he said, he travelled to UNHQ/NY to discuss a proposed intiative with the UNSG. “We have to do something to help the children in Gaza”, Lemke said he told the SG. “Perhaps I can bring some sports to them and their communities”.

Lemke said that BAN “totally agreed”, and said: “Yes, go there and see what’s going on.  Try to build up some programs with NGOs and other organizations … Don’t worry about the funding, just think about projects.  Listen and learn what the UN can do”.

Continue reading UNSG's Special Representative for Sports, Willy Lemke, going to visit Gaza today

HRW details White Phosphorus attacks by IDF on UNRWA compound and UNRWA school

The most striking detail about the IDF attack with white phosphorus on the main UNRWA compound in Gaza City — the day UNSG BAN Ki-Moon arrived in the region — was how long it lasted.

Some three hours.

During which time, UNRWA staff and officials were making frantic phone calls to various contacts in the IDF, who were unable to quickly bring the attack to a halt.

A former U.S. Army officer now working with UNRWA told the HRW researchers, as they recounted in their just-released report, “Rain of Fire”, on the Israeli use of white phosphorus during the December-January Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, that the IDF seemed “to be ‘walking’ the artillery fire across the area – firing shells along an arc at evenly spaced intervals”.
Continue reading HRW details White Phosphorus attacks by IDF on UNRWA compound and UNRWA school

UN reports: human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory remains grave

“The human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory remains grave”, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour informed the members of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva this week.

Three new reports on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory were discussed at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.

Arbour told the Council that there must be urgent implementation of her earlier recommendations, made in a previous report last March, for ending human rights violations caused by Israeli military attacks and incursions — including “the establishment of accountability mechanisms”, and the ending of the closure of Gaza.

Three months ago, Arbour had reported that “the protection of both Palestinian and Israeli civilians requires immediate action by all parties and by the international community”.

The aim, she said, is to “bring about a change in approach to the use of force”.

Arbour’s recommendations in her earlier report called on Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the “de facto” Hamas government in Gaza, to establish urgently and without delay “accountability mechanisms” to carry out independent, law-based, transparent and accessible investigations – according to international standards – of any alleged breaches of their respective obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.

The specific violations she mentioned formed a “balanced” list in which the blame was divided between Israel and the Palestinians: “indiscriminate attacks and incursions, indiscriminate firing of rockets or mortars, suicide bombings, targeted killings, and torture”.

Arbour said that personal accountability should also be investigated and prosecuted, where “negligence, recklessness or intent is established”.

And called for an end to the closure in Gaza, and to the suffering due to deprivation of human rights. Living conditions for 1.4 million people in Gaza, she wrote in March, were “abhorrent”. And, she said, Israel must cease all actions violating international human rights and humanitarian law obligations – in particular the prohibition of collective punishment.

At the same time, Arbour said, the “de facto government in Gaza under the effective control of Hamas should take all measures in its power to eliminate the negative effects of the siege” – and must stop all human rights violations against both Palestinian and Israeli civilians, “notably the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel”. And, Arbour added, the Palestinian Authority should “take all measures in its power to alleviate the situation”.

Arbour urged the international community, at that time, to “actively promote the implementation of the decisions, resolutions and recommendations” of the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations human rights mechanisms, and the International Court of Justice.

Just prior to making those recommendations, Arbour, a Canadian lawyer and judge who served as chief prosecutor for the United Nations international tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, handed in her resignation notice in early March, after being buffeted by strong criticism and diplomatic obstruction from multiple sources – not the least of it involving the Middle East.

At the time she announced that she would not be seeking renewal of her first four-year term appointment as High Commissioner, Arbour did not give any explanation. She will be leaving office at the end of June.

Her successor – who will be appointed by UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon – has not yet been announced.

During her time in office, Arbour criticized human rights violations committed by the Bush administration in its “war on terror”, and the disproportionality of the Israel’s Second War on Lebanon.

Though she had very little to do with it, the conversion of the UN’s Human Rights Commission into a Human Rights Council during her tenure has been less than a success.

The change was billed as an attempt to deal with what was in fact a highly-political denunciation of the “politicization” of human rights. Then, once the Council was in place, it was denounced for focusing too much time on Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights. Even the UN Secretary-General joined in (both the previous one, Kofi Annan, and the current one, BAN Ki-Moon).

The United States – which was not elected as a member of the Human Rights Council when it was set up, decided not to run for election this year, and has recently announced its effective withdrawal from the Council except when its “vital national interests” are involved.

The bulk of the criticism was aimed at the Council’s “obsession” – purely political, it was charged – with Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, at the expense of dealing with the many other instances of human rights violations around the world.

However, if the aim was to bully the Council into diverting its attention from the grievous situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, the reports issued on Monday indicate that it is not going to happen just quite yet. But, there are also signs of reaching out for accomodation.

In her latest – and last — report, Arbour laid out arguments describing the specific commitments and obligations of each the parties:

1. Israel’s obligations, the report noted, were described in the International Court of Justice’s July 2004 Advisory Opinion, The Consequences of the Construction of A Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Accordingly, Israel is bound by the provisions of the Hague Regulations, which have become part of customary international law, even though Israel is not a party to The Hague Convention of 18 October 1907. In addition, the Fourth Geneva Convention (of 1949) is applicable, the report said, “in the Palestinian territories which before the 1967 conflict lay to the east of the Green Line and which, during that conflict, were occupied by Israel”. A footnote adds that “This fact has not been altered by Israel’s 2005 unilateral withdrawal of its forces from the strip, as confirmed repeatedly since then by the General Assembly (most recently in its resolution 62/107 of 17 December 2007”.

Arbour wrote that United Nations human rights treaty bodies have been guided by the opinion of the ICJ (1) that Israel, as a State party to international human rights instruments, “continues to bear responsibility for implementing its human rights conventional obligations in the OPT, to the extent that it continues to exercise jurisdiction in those territories”, and (2) that Israel’s obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights include “an obligation not to raise any obstacle to the exercise of such rights in those fields where competence has been transferred to Palestinian authorities”.

2. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the report said, “made a unilateral undertaking, by a declaration on 7 June 1982, to apply the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Protocol Additional thereto relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol 1). Switzerland, as depositary State, considered that unilateral undertaking valid”.

(1 + 2.) In addition, the Arbour report pointed out, in the 1994 (Oslo Accords) agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area, both Israel and the PLO made a commitment and signed an agreement (in article XIV) to respect human rights

3. Hamas “is bound by international humanitarian law obligations concerning, inter alia, the conduct of hostilities and the rights of civilians and other protected persons”. In addition, the report says, Hamas has confirmed its commitment to respect “international law and international humanitarian law insofar as they conform with our character, customs and original traditions” – according to the text of the National Unity Government programme delivered by then Prime Minister Ismail Haniya before the Palestinian Legislative Council, 17 March 2007. The report adds: “it is worth recalling that non-State actors that exercise government like functions and control over a territory are obliged to respect human rights norms when their conduct affects the human rights of the individuals under their control”.

In discussion in the Council on Monday, Israel’s Ambassador Itzhak Levanon – usually a combative critic – said “it was gratifying to see in her latest report” that the High Commissioner “chose not to focus solely on Israel … but also to detail both the obligations and the violations of the Palestinians”. This, he said, “set a new precedent for the Human Rights Council: the possibility of a balanced consideration of what neutral observers can acknowledge is a complex situation”.

However, the Israeli Ambassador otherwise totally ignored the catalog of reported violations “caused by Israeli military attacks and incursions in the occupied Palestinian territory” – the subject of one of the three reports presented Monday – as well as the recommendations to deal with them.

He focused, instead, on refuting criticism made in another report about infringement of religious freedom caused by “obstacles to freedom of movement, such as the closures/permit regimes, and the Wall”, which, Arbour told the Council, “severely impeded the population’s access to religious sites as well as hindered cultural exchanges”.

That report concluded that “the measures adopted by the Government of Israel to restrict freedom of movement of both people and goods in the Occupied Palestinian Territory severely impeded the population’s access to religious sites, notably in Jerusalem, cultural exchanges and events. While the security of the population is undoubtedly an important consideration, the relevant measures should be proportionate to that aim and non-discriminatory in their application. A considerable part of the restrictions were introduced to ensure and ease freedom of movement for the inhabitants of Israeli settlements, which have been established in breach of international law, creating intolerable hardship for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians attempting to exercise their right to freedom of movement inside the Occupied Palestinian Territory … As the Occupying Power, Israel bears responsibility for the preservation of the cultural and religious heritage in the Occupied Palestinian Territory under international law”.

But, the Israeli Ambassador countered, Israel has always guaranteed the protection and freedom of access to holy sites for all religious”.

He did add that “Israel has never asked to be exempt from critique of its human rights record …we simply ask to be judged by the same standards and on equal footing with every other country”.

However, while the Israeli Ambassador was going easy on the out-going High Commissioner, UN Watch, a non-governmental organization that watches out for Israel in the UN, was going after Professor Richard Falk, the new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, who made his first presentation to the Human Rights Council on Monday.

In an effort to discredit Falk, a Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University (and an American Jew), who has been highly critical of Israel’s occupation and who last year made remarks comparing Israeli practices in the Palestinian territories with those of the Nazis in World War II, which he recently explained were intended to “shock” — UN Watch asked him about more recently reported remarks he made about the 9/11 attack on the twin World Trade Towers and the Pentagon on 2001.

The specific question, by a representative of UN Watch – and widely circulated by UN Watch to its email list — asked Falk “what credibility you expect your reports to have, when leading newspapers such as The Times of London are commenting on your support for the 9/11 conspiracy theories of David Ray Griffin, who argues, and I quote from the Times article of April 15th, ‘ that no plane hit the Pentaton’ and that ‘the World Trade Center was brought down by a controlled demolition’?”

An Egyptian move to strike the question from the record in the Human Rights Council was smilingly brushed aside by the Council’s chairman.

What Falk apparently in fact did, however, was slightly different than what the UN Watch questioner said he did – Falk wrote a chapter in a book edited by Griffin – without giving any explicit endorsement of Griffin’s specific remarks.

Falk has also been a long-time anti-nuclear-weapons activist.

Because of his remarks making the comparison with the Nazis, it has been predicted that Falk will be barred from entry into Israel – though it has not actually happened — as was done recently to another American Professor, Norman Finkelstein. Finkelstein, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, has severely criticized what he calls the “Holocaust industry” in which he argued that political and financial concessions are extorted from the West, while the actual survivors are left to fend for themselves.

Falk is replacing as Special Rapporteur the South African law professor and anti-Apartheid activist John Dugard (who has made analogies between Israel’s occupation policies and the Apartheid regime). Falk and Dugard worked together, previously, with a third personality (Indian or Pakistani, I can’t remember who) to prepare a report for the UN Human Rights Commission at the height of Israel’s re-invasion of Palestinian Authority areas in the spring of 2002, during the Second Intifada. Falk made the most striking statements both at the time. The report of their work for that 2002 Committee is virtually un-findable.

Israel has consistently not replied to visa requests to most UN Special Rapporteurs, or special investigation missions, whose mandates it does not like. So, most of them do not come to the region. Dugard, by contrast, refused to abide by UN niceties and protocols, and traveled instead on his national passport, to make a number of visits, without ever being barred – though he did not have official Israeli cooperation, meaning mainly that he was not given appointments to meet Israeli government officials.

Falk’s approach to this dilemma remains, of course, to be seen.

On Monday, Falk told the Human Rights Council that “My acceptance of this assignment is based on many years of study and contact with the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people, including periodic visits to the area. I am dedicated to the possibility that the conflict can be presented in ways that are fair and just to both sides, but I believe that this can only happen if the guidelines of international law [which Falk subsequently said are ‘a mutually beneficial alternative to war and violence’] are allowed to shape the peace process designed to achieve a solution”.

Falk also said that “It is not possible to approach the mandate without expressing a grave concern for the present circumstances confronting the Palestinians subject to the occupation, especially 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza … It seems desirable even in advance of my own effort to prepare a report on the conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to alert the Council to a dire situation in Gaza that daily threatens the health and well-being of the entire population. The focus on Gaza is justified by the extremity of the occupation policies being pursued by Israel, but the issues associated with the West Bank and Jerusalem are also serious, especially to the extent that any future possibility of the successful establishment of a Palestinian State is being daily undermined by the ongoing unlawful extension of Israeli settlements”.

Falk, who has been on the job for only six weeks, presented Dugard’s final report – dated 28 January, but issued only a few days ago. (The date, it was explained from Geneva “has to do with UN translation and internal archiving systems, it has nothing to do with a
release date”).

In that report, the UN Special Rapporteur (Dugard) stated starkly that “regular military incursions, the closure of crossings, the reduction of fuel and the threat to the banking system have produced a humanitarian crisis in Gaza”.

All three reports presented by the UN on Monday relied on data from UN agencies and bodies operating in the occupied Palestinian territory, and on some human rights NGOs.

A humanitarian crisis in Gaza is exactly what the Israeli military, which administers the sanctions regime in Gaza, pledged to the Israeli Supreme Court in January that it would avoid — at least, as the IDF said, to the extent that this would be under their control.

The Israeli Prime Minister has also said several times that a humanitarian crisis in Gaza would be avoided – although he also indicated at the same time that the situation would be allowed to go right up to the brink.

In a discussion with journalists on Monday near the Nahal Oz fuel transfer point into Gaza, IDF Colonel Nir Press said that while the Israeli military “is not inside” and does not have its own information on the humanitarian conditions inside Gaza, it does rely on the international organizations who are there, and on lists provided daily by Palestinian officials from Ramallah.

The problem is that the international organizations, at least, have all said clearly that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza – while the Israeli military and government continue to make their denials.

Also on Monday, Falk asked the members of the Human Rights Council to amend his mandate, so that he could also investigate Palestinian violations of human rights and international law – although, he said, only “internationally”, and not within the Palestinian territory.

This, Falk said somewhat obtusely, would maintain the focus of attention on core concerns of the Human Rights Council with the suffering inflicted on the Palestinian people as a result of the prolonged Israeli occupation.

Interestingly, this proposal — that the Special Rapporteur’s mandate be extended to include Palestinian as well as Israeli violations — emerged from criticisms originally emanating from Israel.

But many if not most Palestinians would also most likely be in favor of having Palestinian human rights violations exposed and corrected, as well.

In any case, in his closing remarks, following a lengthy debate with statements made by many countries, Falk told the Human Rights Council that “I think it’s extremely important to realize that we are dealing with the suffering of the Palestinian people, and secondarily of the victimizing of those Israelis that are affected by the violence that has been associated with Palestinian rocket attacks. My view, as Special Rapporteur, is that the primarily responsibility is to see to it that international humanitarian law is respected and implemented and taken seriously. And that requires looking at the behavior of all relevant parties, it seems to me. But that should not confuse the issue of the primary responsibility of Israel to protect the lives and well-being of the occupied population. And, indeed, as I’ve tried to suggest, by making the mandate credible, it will be possible to more effectively focus on the substantive issues that are most troubling to those who have been concerned with the situation”.

UN SG BAN visits Palestinian Refugee Camp, sees the Wall, meets families of Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons, and denounces West Bank roadblocks — all firsts for the UN

Here are some excerpts from Associated Press news agency reports of UN SG BAN’s activities today in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) — all firsts for a UN leader:
“UN. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, arriving for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said his trip, including a tour of a Palestinian refugee camp earlier Sunday, strengthened his resolve to work for Mideast peace…Ban later met with parents of some of the more than 9,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, and laid a wreath at the gave of longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat”. AP’s report on BAN’s tour of a Palestinian refugee camp is here.

In his first trip to the Palestinian territories, Ban visited the Aida refugee camp on the outskirts of the biblical town of Bethlehem, just south of the barrier. The UN chief went up on the roof of a UN-run girls’ school in the camp, and from there took a look at the barrier, which in some sections, including the one near Aida, is made up of towering cement blocks. ‘No wall will stop us’, read graffiti on the barrier in English. ‘I have deep admiration for these people, for the resilience of Palestinian people, to make their lives better’, Ban said. ‘This has strengthened my resolve and commitment to work for peace in the Middle East’. Ban was surrounded by bodyguards during the brief visit. Camp residents near the girls’ school unfurled large banners from their balconies, to remind Ban of the plight of the Palestinian refugees. ‘UN bodies and agencies should enable Palestinian refugees to exercise their right of return’, read one large sign in English…Senior UN officials and the Palestinian governor of Bethlehem, Salah Tameri, explained to Ban the difficulties caused by Israeli travel restrictions and the barrier. Israel says it built the barrier to keep out Palestinian militants who have killed hundreds of Israelis in bombing and shooting attacks in recent years. The Palestinians oppose the route of the barrier, which carves off some 10 percent of the West Bank Commenting on the barrier, Ban said it is ‘a very sad and tragic thing to see many suffering from the construction of this wall, depriving opportunities for basic living’.”
The AP report is on Ban’s visit to Aida refugee camp outside of Bethlehem is here.

Aida refugee camp is located on the outskirts of Bethlehem, near Rachel’s Tomb, a site that is sacred to Muslims and Jews, but in which a Jewish seminary and housing quarters have been built. Buses accompanied by gun-toting security agents carry religious Jews from Jerusalem to Rachel’s Tomb several times a day — the roads are cleared, and soldiers stationed inside Rachel’s Tomb are on high alert before the buses arrive. Israeli Defense Force patrols enter Aida camp regularly in the middle of the night, and carry out raids, waking and arresting people…but of course, this is only one of the many places that such raids happen.