Israel's critics red-faced as UN report emerges remarkably supportive of Gaza blockade
The Palmer Report marks a rare positive development for Israel, and a major blow to reflexive anti-Zionists
Blink and you might have missed it, but last week saw a major PR coup for Israel.
Of course, no good deed goes unpunished, so if you’re aware of the UN "Palmer report" on Gaza it’s probably only through the prism of the sudden deterioration of Israeli-Turkish relations. (Yesterday, the Turkish Prime Minister even threatened to send warships to accompany any future "aid" ships to Gaza).
But it’s worth being aware of its findings before they sink beneath the surface, drowned in the diplomatic maelstrom that has engulfed the Jewish state and its former ally, which Turkey has long been.
As almost anyone analysing media coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict will tell you, it’s unusual to be made aware of a development that reflects well on the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.
Far more regular are skewed and biased stories attempting to cast the Jewish state in as bad a light as possible or horror stories that loom large on the horizon, like the Palestinian bid for UN recognition of statehood later this month which is approaching with all the grim finality of a slow-motion car crash in a world made of treacle.
It’s this reality that made the initial coverage of the Palmer report so intriguing. Hints in the Israeli press had suggested that the UN investigation into events aboard the Mavi Marmara flotilla ship to Gaza last year would come to startling conclusions: that Israel’s actions were legitimate and largely justified.
It’s hard to over-emphasise the groundbreaking nature of such a verdict. The Mavi Marmara affair, in which nine activists where killed by Israeli soldiers when they boarded the ship as it attempted to breach the naval blockade of Gaza, caused immense damage to the international standing of Israel.
It scarcely seemed to matter that there was solid evidence to contest the usual accusations of inexplicable Israeli evil.
The claim that Israeli soldiers had only resorted to lethal force in self-defence was bolstered by video footage showing large groups of "peaceful" activists indulging in all the activities you would expect from a bunch of hippy peaceniks: battering Israeli soldiers, singing Kum Ba Yah, battering Israeli soldiers, hugging trees, battering Israeli soldiers, wearing white socks with sandals, and, of course, battering Israeli soldiers.
Did I mention the battering of Israeli soldiers?
That such a verdict should come from the UN is almost unimaginable these days. After all, the supra-national body has a pretty poor reputation when it comes to adjudicating on such matters. Pretty much everything that Israel does is condemned by the body as somehow violating international law.
Full-scale military operations? Check. Targeted assassinations? Check? Even the security barrier, a prime example of non-violent resistance to terrorism if ever there was one, didn’t cut the mustard.
The UN’s relationship with Israel is a great illustration of what music fans will recognise as "selling out": classic early material (1947 partition plan recognising Zionism and offering a two-state solution which Israel accepted and the Palestinian/Arab side rejected in favour of violence), followed by decades of increasingly commercial dross aimed at the lowest common denominator (everything since).
In this case, the lowest common denominator being the large number of non-democracies, especially of an Islamic persuasion, that make up the global community.
Of particular note is the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a body so stuffed with human rights abusers that it positively begs for critics to dream up their own bad-taste analogies in an effort to convey its sheer ludicrousness.
Inviting countries like China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia to weigh in on the protection of citizens is a bit like asking child-killers to host episodes of Supernanny, and yet the UNHRC is still cited as a reputable source in some quarters.
Given its somewhat counter-intuitive makeup, the UNHRC is a reliable producer of constant anti-Israel invective.
A sterling example of this was its own report into the Mavi Marmara, which condemned Israel’s actions as an "outrageous attack" before it had even begun the investigation, and predictably enough found the accused guilty of "a series of violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law".
At the other end of the spectrum, there was Israel’s own Turkel Commission, an independent investigation that (at the behest of the international community) was monitored by foreign observers.
It concluded that both the Gaza blockade and Israel’s intervention aboard the Mavi Marmara were legal, and that Israeli soldiers were justified in using lethal force to defend their lives.
The Independent and Amnesty International blasted it as a "whitewash", the latter doing so prior to the report actually being released.
And then, the New York Times published a leaked copy of the Palmer report, replete with a little "Strictly Confidential" disclaimer at the top of the page. The document, based on the deliberations of a panel that had taken into account evidence from both Israel and Turkey, is decidedly more "Turkel" than "UNHRC".
It described the naval blockade of Gaza as a "legitimate security measure" in response to the "real threat" posed by militants in Gaza.
It also acknowledged that Israeli soldiers "faced significant, organized and violent resistance" from those aboard the vessel.
The main criticism of Israel was that the "loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force by Israeli forces […] was unacceptable", but then again, the UN considers pretty much any use of force that leads to the loss of life to be unacceptable, hence, for instance, its institutional pacifism in the run-up to the Rwandan genocide.
It was this last point, though, that dominated the media coverage of the report, with headline after headline emphasising the condemnation. Most telling of all, however, was the reaction of The Guardian. Normally the first to cite international law when it comes to reporting Israel’s failings, the paper supported Turkey’s rejection of the legality of the blockade – because it contradicted two reports by the UNHRC:
"The Palmer panel’s finding went against every statement the UN secretary general has made about Gaza, the Goldstone report and a report by the UN human rights council in September. If, as Palmer found, the siege is legal in international law, the occupation is too. This must be challenged in court," the paper snorted angrily.
So, overall, a rare positive development for Israel that didn’t really pan out as hoped by the massed ranks of the world's Israel-haters, not least at the UN itself. Roll on the UN statehood bid!
Chris Dyszynski is the Acting Editorial Manager for Just Journalism, an independent research organisation focused on how Israel and Middle East issues are reported in the UK media .
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