UN human rights chief accuses Israel of war crimes

In the generally corrupt bureaucracy of the UN displays of principle and courage are often rare. Ever since the 60s , when decolonization around the globe turned the General Assembly into a more democratic forum, it has on occasion defied the reigning powers. This, however, has been neutralized through the Security Council and the ultimate in might-makes-right tools: the veto. If there is one body of the UN that has remained free of such pressures, its the UN’s Human Rights agency. The people often elected as rapporteurs are not career bureaucrats and hence are less constrained by the imperatives of advancement. That is why we have had such wonderful people like Richard Falk, Jean Ziegler, Mary Robinson et al defy the prevailing consensus and, to use the old cliche, speak truth to power. Joining their ranks is another distinguished name, Navi Pillay.

“Official calls for investigation into Zeitoun shelling that killed up to 30 in one house as Israelis dismiss ‘unworkable’ ceasefire”, The Guardian reports.

The United Nations‘ most senior human rights official said last night that the Israeli military may have committed war crimes in Gaza. The warning came as Israeli troops pressed on with the deadly offensive in defiance of a UN security council resolution calling for a ceasefire.

Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has called for “credible, independent and transparent” investigations into possible violations of humanitarian law, and singled out an incident this week in Zeitoun, south-east of Gaza City, where up to 30 Palestinians in one house were killed by Israeli shelling.

Pillay, a former international criminal court judge from South Africa, told the BBC the incident “appears to have all the elements of war crimes”.

Continue reading “UN human rights chief accuses Israel of war crimes”

Another Chorister for Israel

Electronic Intifada, 6 January 2009; Counterpunch, 7 January 2009; Adbusters, January 2009; Arab Media Watch, 6 January 2009

Nidal El-Khairy

On February 29 last year the BBC’s website reported that Israel’s deputy defense minister Matan Vilnai had threated a ‘holocaust’ on Gaza.  The story would undergo nine revisions in the next twelve hours with the original headline —  “Israel warns of Gaza ‘holocaust'”– replaced by “Gaza militants ‘risking disaster’“. (The story has been revised again since then with an exculpatory note added to soft-pedal Vilnai’s comments). One can see why an Israeli threatening a ‘holocaust’ might be unpalatable to those who routinely invoke its spectre to deflect criticism from the Jewish state’s criminal behaviour. In a deft move, not only had the BBC redacted the reference to a ‘holocaust’, it also shifted culpability into the hands of the ‘Gaza militants’.

One could argue that the BBC’s radical alteration of the story reflects its susceptibility to the kind of inordinate pressure routinely brought to bear by the Israel Lobby. But, as subsequent examples reveal, this story is exceptional only for its initial candor. The norm is reflexive self-censorship. Continue reading “Another Chorister for Israel”