UN School of Etiquette: How to Conduct an “Appropriate” Blockade

Just as I arrived in Bil’in for the Friday weekly demonstration, word came that the UN Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Inquiry on the 31 May 2010 Flotilla Incident (a.k.a. “The Palmer Committee Report”) has named the blockade of the Gaza Strip “legal and appropriate”. Which is rather surprising, seeing as the blockade was defined by the UN as “illegal” as well as  “illegal and inhumane”, time and time again. (And again.)

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The Making of a UN Document

I can’t help but say, that after a thorough reading of the The Palmer Committee Report, it’s very hard to understand what its position is. It waxes legal over the span of more than a hundred pages, rife with contradictions and baseless arguments. For example, in the Facts, Circumstances and Context of the Incident chapter [PP. 4-5]:

  • v. The incident and its outcomes were not intended by either Turkey or Israel. Both States took steps in an attempt to ensure that events did not occur in a manner that endangered individuals’ lives and international peace and security…
  • viii. Nine passengers were killed and many others seriously wounded by Israeli forces. No satisfactory explanation has been provided to the Panel by Israel for any of the nine deaths. 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.

This is suppose to be a professional inquiry of the highest legal stature in the world? May I suggest John Hunter’s 4th graders, instead?

I’m not a  huge supporter of the legal discourse, but such back-breaking moral acrobatics don’t happen by accident, and I feel I must comment at length. Seeing as a very comprehensive report on the incident has already been published a mere four months after the massacres on the first Freedom Flotilla, I don’t quite see the point of this report, accept that which is stated on Page 65:

The Secretary-General has discouraged new flotillas to Gaza for exactly the reasons given here. In his personal diplomacy the Secretary-General has been actively involved in discouraging any such efforts. He has asked all concerned to use their influence in that regard. He has argued that there exists the need to avoid incidents that may provoke further destabilization of the regional climate and he has stressed the need for caution and prudence. The Quartet has made similar calls in its 21 June 2010 statement and other United Nations officials have stressed that “such convoys are not helpful in resolving the basic economic problems of Gaza” and that “they needlessly carry the potential for escalation.” In this regard nations involved are under a duty to actively co-operate to avoid endangering both individual lives and the security of the region. It is important that States consult directly to this end and to make every effort to avoid a repetition of the incident.

I do wonder what Ban Ki-Moon has to gain from the suppression of the opposition to an illegal blockade. I also wonder if the same goes for those who demonstrate at the wall, every week. If one of us dies as a result of the Israeli army’s aggression, does it mean that we’re further “destabilizing the region”? Is this kind of direct action “not helpful”? And is Israel in fact fulfilling its “duty” by “making every effort to avoid a repetition of the incident”?

Palmer Committee: The Team

Four non-fourth graders took part in the Palmer Committee Report panel: Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Chair President Alvaro Uribe, Vice-Chair Mr. Joseph Ciechanover Itzhar and Mr. Süleyman Özdem Sanberk. I don’t have much to say about New Zealand’s ex-Prime Minister, except that I’m sure this report, carrying his name, will surely be a blemish on his political record. Contrary to Palmer, there’s much to be said about Columbian President Alvaro Uribe. Fortunately, the Electronic Intifada did some of their spectacular research already. So we already know there’s a heinous war criminal with military ties to Israel on the team, and I couldn’t have phrased it better:

…the appointment of Uribe is as perplexing as it is shocking. It appears that “balance” in this commission involves balance between someone versed in international and human rights law [Palmer] and someone who is adamantly opposed to it.

As I’ve mentioned above, for the layperson reading the report, there could be many hints at why this document couldn’t possibly be seriously considered as an official U.N. position Paper. It could be in the defense of withholding of evidence:

The Panel enjoyed no coercive powers to compel witnesses to provide evidence. It could not conduct criminal investigations. The Panel was required to obtain its information from the two nations primarily involved in its inquiry, Turkey and Israel, and other affected States. The position is thoroughly understandable in the context of the Panel’s inquiry but the limitation is important. [P. 8, Art. 6]

Or the third-grade-like irresponsibility:

We have not personally heard the witnesses whose statements we have read. Nor are we able to make definite findings on each statement’s reliability and credibility. They are more plausible on some aspects than others. But in certain areas, when viewed as a whole, we regard them as useful material for the purposes of the Inquiry. [P. 7, Art. 8]

Or the internal contradictions:

The Panel is not a court. It was not asked to make determinations of the legal issues or to adjudicate on liability [P. 7, Art. 5]…. The Panel therefore concludes that Israel’s naval blockade was legal. [P. 44, Art. 81]

But mostly, I doubt you can have an official position paper, when you can’t reach a consensus. Maybe I hadn’t read enough UN reports in my short life-time, but I’ve yet to stumble upon a report that mentions the fact that it couldn’t reach a consensus so often. (Just to note: The report repeats time and again that in the case of inability to achieve consensus “the Chair and Vice- Chair could agree on any procedural issue, finding or recommendation.”  [Summary, P. 3] So at least we know who’s responsible for this jumbled up final copy.) The most glaring evidence of lack of consensus comes from the Turkey-chosen official, Sanberk, who refused to be the token Turk on a committee that decided the lives of his country-persons are disposable under the international law:

…the UN Human Rights Council concluded that the blockade was unlawful… Freedom and safety of navigation on the high seas is a universally accepted rule of international law. There can be no exception from this long-standing principle unless there is a universal convergence of views. The intentions of the participants in the international humanitarian convoy were humanitarian, reflecting the concerns of the vast majority of the international community. They came under attack in international waters. They resisted for their own protection. Nine civilians were killed and many others were injured by the Israeli soldiers. One of the victims is still in a coma. The evidence confirms that at least some of the victims had been killed deliberately… The wording in the report is not satisfactory in describing the actual extent of the atrocities that the victims have been subjected to. This includes the scope of the maltreatment suffered by the passengers in the hands of Israeli soldiers and officials… In view of the above, I reject and dissociate myself from the relevant parts and paragraphs of the report, as reflected in paragraphs… of the findings contained in the summary of the report and paragraphs… of the recommendations contained in the same text.

War Profiteers on the Panel

Without a doubt Uribe takes the trophy of war-criminality on this panel, however there’s another war criminal on the committee, which I’d like to focus on; Israel’s representative in the panel, Joseph Ciechanover Itzhar and his involvement in the occupation, whether it be war-profiteering, or whitewashing of Israel’s crimes. Here’s Ciechanover-Itzhar’s short biography on the Israeli Discount Bank website:

  • Member of the Board since June 2009
  • President, I.Y.Z. Investments Ltd.
  • President, Atidim-Etgar Nihul Kranot Ltd.
  • Director, Harel Insurance Investments & Financial Services Ltd.
  • Vice Chairman, Hillel: The Center for Jewish Campus Life in Israel Ltd. (P.B.C)
  • Director, The Israel Museum
  • Member and Treasurer, The Elie Wiesel Foundation – Israel
  • Chairman, The Doctor Jacob Isler Fund for Assisting the Handicapped and Bereaved Families
  • Member, The Rashi Foundation (R.A)
  • Director, Azrieli Group Ltd.

From this we can conclude that Ciechanover-Itzhar has several incomes of occupation:

The Warsaw Ghetto Blockade is Legal

Within my Holocaustal upbringing, I can’t help but compare. Historically, sieges are employed by an invading army, in order to break the population of a city, thus pressuring its leaders to hand over the keys to the city. It’s always a hostile act:

…with the intent of conquering by attrition or assault… typically coupled with attempts to reduce the fortifications by means of siege engines, artillery bombardment, [land]mining (also known as sapping), or the use of deception or treachery to bypass defences….Failing a military outcome, sieges can often be decided by starvation, thirst or disease, which can afflict either the attacker or defender. [Wikipedia]

Nazi ghettos were basically specific sieging points inside of a city, where people were cramped together under brutal military rule, with food and job scarce, under some kind of internal puppet-power.

I’m sure you’re already getting a sense of similarity, but I mostly want to focus on the Palmer Committee Report. The Report States:

Israel’s report admits Israel’s land crossings policies have an adverse impact on the daily life of the civilian population, and that they were designed to weaken the economy in order to undermine Hamas’s ability to attack Israel. [P. 69, Art. 153]

Once you put an area under siege, you should expect a smuggling resistance movement to come into being:

Ghetto residents frequently engaged in so-called illegal activities, such as smuggling food, medicine, weapons or intelligence across the ghetto walls…

I guess legality or “illicitness” is a matter of whim in the UN, since the Palmer Report states that the “trafficking in arms and ammunition” in Gaza is “illicit” [P. 68, Art. 152], quoting the Security Council resolution 1860 (2009). Indeed a sorry blast from the massacres of past, blaming Hamas rocket attacks for the wanton bombardment of Gaza City. (I recommend everyone refresh their memory by googling “Israel started it” and click on the first video link that appears.) A document that outlined Ban Ki-Moon’s general outlook on how to deal with the occupied Palestinian population: Keeping them helpless in the face of the 4th most armed military power in the world and reliant on “humanitarian” aid. Though I’m not a fan of armed resistance personally, I think it’s crucial to remind the Palmer crew that international humanitarian law is:

…the continued violations of the human rights of the peoples still under colonial and foreign domination and alien subjugation, the continuation of the illegal occupation of Namibia and South Africa’s attempts to dismember its territory, the perpetuation of the racist minority régimes in Zimbabwe and South Africa and the denial to the Palestinian people of their inalienable national rights…Reaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, particularly armed struggle;

Speaking of security threats:

With events in the war going against Nazi Germany and these incidents of armed Jewish resistance, Nazi leaders were panicked, and all Jews in occupied Poland were viewed as a security threat. Heinrich Himmler issued the order of Aktion Erntefest – Operation Harvest Festival to the SS and Police leader in Lublin, Jakob Sporrenberg. Operation Harvest Festival instructed that all Jews in the Lublin district were to be exterminated, therefore eradicating the threat of further armed resistance.

Sound familiar?

According to the [Dahiya] Doctrine, the targets against which the IDF should focus disproportionate force may vary between villages from which rockets are fired, the political, social or religious strongholds of the Resistance Network, or the civilian infrastructure of the political entity within which the Resistance Network operates… This strike has to be carried out as quickly as possible, through prioritizing strikes at its assets, rather than chasing after launch sites. Such a response is likely to be remembered by decision makers in Syria and Lebanon for many years, thus deepening deterrence.

It seems that the Palmer Committee deems the above needless-to-mention. Ignoring the fact that it was done in correlation with the blockade they so support:

Since the beginning of 2001, thousands of rockets and mortars have been fired into Israel in ever growing numbers from the Gaza Strip. Against this background, Israel declared that an armed conflict was taking place between it and Palestinian terrorist organizations, and that the normative framework to be applied to the activities of the IDF were the principles and rules of the law of armed conflict. In this context, the Government of Israel imposed a naval blockade on the coast of the Gaza Strip on 3 January 2009  in order to prevent weapons, terrorists and money from entering or exiting the Gaza Strip by sea. Notification of the blockade was published on the websites of relevant Israeli agencies, issued through a formal Notice to Mariners and broadcast on maritime radio, and conveyed to relevant flag States directly. The naval blockade was imposed only after other options were considered and it was determined that a naval blockade provided the most efficient and comprehensive legal tool to confront the prevailing security threat.” [PP. 27-28, Art. 46

The Legal and Appropriate Response to the Palmer Committee Report

“Context” is an interesting word for a panel of international law experts, who don’t use the legal internationally accepted term for the “conflict.” A panel which really had no substantial reason to exist in the first place, because a comprehensive report has already been issued. It seems to me that the only reason that the Palmer Committee existed in the first place is to justify the massacre of 9 human beings on the Freedom Flotilla. Unfortunately the over-achievers at the committee went one step too far, and against all precedent deemed the navel blockade of Gaza waters both “legal” and “appropriate”.

As I said at the outset of this article, I’m not a huge supporter of legal mambo-jumbo, but I’m pretty sure a hermetic siege on a population, forcing it to dig tunnels to smuggle in supplies, isn’t “appropriate”. I expect the U.N. to apologize for this appalling document and annul it. In the event that it doesn’t, I expect more dock workers will stop unloading Israeli cargo, as an expression of solidarity and protest. I expect my fellow human beings to come by bus, bike, plane, train and boat to break the siege.

One thought on “UN School of Etiquette: How to Conduct an “Appropriate” Blockade”

  1. Thank you for a truly kick-ass article, Ms. Shapiro! Your perspective on the disillusion and illusion that is the UN is right on the money. The Palmer report is not worth the “paper” it was written on, as are most reports written by the UN. The UN reports seem to be a useless, empty quota of bureaucracy and paper-shuffling, and human rights, not to mention human life, is secondary, if not an afterthought.

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