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Denial as strategy

Print edition : Oct 22, 2010 T+T-
The Turkish ship Mavi Marmara headed to the Gaza Strip in late May as part of the "Freedom Flotilla" before Israeli soldiers raided it.-HO/AFP

The Turkish ship Mavi Marmara headed to the Gaza Strip in late May as part of the "Freedom Flotilla" before Israeli soldiers raided it.-HO/AFP

Once again a U.N. report indicts Israel, this time for the killing of peace activists on board a Turkish aid flotilla.

ISRAEL, it seems, is perpetually impervious to international public opinion. The report of the United Nations-appointed Goldstone Commission had strongly criticised Israel's war crimes in Gaza. Israel called the report biased while the Israeli media described Justice Richard Goldstone as a self-hating Jew.

Now yet another U.N. inquiry, this time into the brutal assault on a Turkish aid flotilla in international waters off the Gaza coast, has indicted Israel. The U.N. Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), whose report was released on September 22, found that there was clear evidence to support prosecutions against Israel for the wilful killing and torture committed on board a Turkish ship. Nine activists were killed by Israeli Special Forces as the ship tried to reach humanitarian aid to the beleaguered people of Gaza in May this year.

The report concludes that the Israeli reaction betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality. It states that the behaviour of the Israeli military towards the passengers of the ship was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence. The circumstances of the killing of at least six of the passengers were in a manner consistent with an extralegal, arbitrary and summary execution.

The report has also emphasised that the Israeli blockade on Gaza is illegal. Israel had tried to justify its inhuman attack on the aid flotilla on the basis of its right to enforce the blockade on Gaza.

The 56-page report was compiled by Karl Hudson-Philips, a former judge in the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague; Desmond da Silva, a former chief prosecutor of the Sierra Leone War Crimes Tribunal; and Shanthi Dairiam, a human rights expert from Malaysia.

Israel, as expected, criticised the findings as biased. It claimed that it was a democratic law-abiding country that carefully observes international law and, when need be, knows how to investigate itself.

In its blood-soaked history, the Zionist state has forcibly uprooted millions of Palestinians and subjected thousands to targeted attacks and extrajudicial killings. In its military adventures in Lebanon, it was responsible for countless massacres, the most notorious being the ones in Sabra and Shatila.

A few days after the release of the U.N. report on the flotilla attack, a UNHRC-appointed, independent fact-finding committee accused Israel, in a report titled No Safe Place, of failing to investigate the abuses committed during its last military offensive in Gaza two years ago. Israel now faces the prospect of being hauled to the ICC.

Turkey welcomed the U.N. reports. All the nine people killed on the ship were Turkish peace activists. Turkey has demanded that Israel apologise for the attack, pay compensation to the families of the victims and lift the illegal blockade on Gaza. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Daviotoglu said that the report met the Turkish government's expectations, and expressed the hope that Israel from now on would respect international law. Our aim is not to cause any political crisis but to ensure that everyone respects international law and that no country sees itself as being above the law, he said after the report was released.

Jamal Zahalka, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) who was in Delhi to participate in an international conference on Palestine, told Frontline that the Israeli forces had no jurisdiction to intercept the Turkish flotilla in international waters in the first place. The report has broken the conspiracy of silence. The Turkish ship was outside Israel's territorial waters. Any action by a country's armed forces outside its territorial waters is considered an act of piracy. The perpetrators of this act must be brought to justice, he said. He pointed out that it was Ehud Barak, Israel's Defence Minister, who gave the order to attack.

Israel killed intentionally. They wanted to deter other aid flotillas from coming to Gaza, said Zahalka. He recounted the first-hand experience of one of his parliamentary colleagues who had accompanied the flotilla. She was pleading in Hebrew with the soldiers who had boarded the ship to help two injured peace activists. They were left to die, bleeding on the deck of the ship, said Zahalka.

Professor Ilan Pappe, the Israeli intellectual who also attended the conference on Palestine, said that though Israel enjoyed excellent relations with many governments, including India's, international public opinion was now firmly with the Palestinians. The flotilla incident has changed world opinion on Israel even more than the Gaza invasion. It reinforces the perception of Israel as a rogue state, said Pappe, who teaches history at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom after being hounded out of academics in Israel. He is currently in the forefront of the movement to persuade countries to boycott Israel economically, culturally and politically. He was critical of the cynical attitude of the governments of some countries such as India towards the Palestinians.

The close political and military ties between India and Israel are not a reflection of public opinion in the country, he remarked. He expressed optimism that the people of India would help change this unnatural relationship. The Indian government did not name Israel as the aggressor while condemning the attack on Gaza.

India abstained in the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) vote, moved by the Arab League calling on Israel to join the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Abstentions by countries such as India and Indonesia, which once played an important role in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), helped Israel escape IAEA scrutiny of its huge nuclear arsenal once again. Israel, said Pappe, set a bad precedent for other states. Its main expertise is in counter-insurgency, which finds willing buyers in states such as India.

Pappe pointed out that the billions of dollars the small state of Israel made from selling weapons to countries such as India was used to suppress Palestinians brutally and to wage war on its neighbours. Many of the weapons sold to India were first tested on Palestinians, he said. Pappe observed that India too was using counter-insurgency tactics borrowed from Israel to fight local insurgent groups.

Zahalka said that India's dependence on Israeli military hardware could prove to be dangerous for the country's long-term security. He pointed out that Israeli tanks, radars and drones had failed miserably in the 2008 war on Lebanon. Hizbullah had managed to download footage from an Israeli drone. It is selectively using this footage to prove Israeli complicity in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.

Both Zahalka and Pappe are dismissive of the renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (P.A.). Both are of the view that the West Asia policy of the U.S. is being dictated from Tel Aviv and that the P.A. has become a subcontractor of Israel.

The debate right now is on how to divide up the West Bank between the occupying power Israel and the P.A. The P.A., being totally dependent on foreign aid after the Oslo agreement, succumbed to pressure and went in for the talks, said Zahalka. He added that the right-wing government in Israel did not want to give any concessions. Israel has said that it will never withdraw from Jerusalem. It wants to take the best lands in the West Bank. What Israel wants to talk about is the terms of a Palestinian surrender, Zahalka said. Pappe pointed out that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came from the school of conflict management.

According to Pappe, Netanyahu is known for his delaying tactics and in this he has the full support of U.S. President Barack Obama. He said Netanyahu's latest demand that Israel be recognised as a Jewish state was part of this strategy and his concept was an ethnocratic one. Pappe said if this demand was accepted, Israel could claim that the whole of Palestine was historically a Jewish state. The historic U.N. resolutions on Palestine, including the landmark U.N. Resolution 194, would be annulled and the right of return for Palestinians would have to be forgotten.

The creation of Eretz Israel (greater Israel) has been a cornerstone of Likudist and Zionist ideology. Pappe said if Israel was recognised as a Jewish state, that would also give its government the legal cover to suppress further the 1.3 million Palestinians living there. All this is part of the move to impose on the Palestinians a solution, after which they will not be able to resist, said Pappe.

The peace talks were a big joke as Hamas was excluded. Pappe said it was a blatant show of double standards. Nobody questions Israel when it massacres people in Gaza, he noted. The Palestinians, he emphasised, had the right to decide which party would lead them. Hamas had won a majority in the 2006 election, which was witnessed by international observers and U.S. officials. Hamas, said Pappe, had made it clear that it will not surrender to Israel.

The same, however, could not be said of the P.A. under Mahmoud Abbas. Even after Netanyahu's announcement on September 26 that he was lifting the ban on settlement building, Abbas refused to walk out of the talks. He said that he would take a final decision after meeting with Arab leaders on October 4. Abbas had said that the talks would be terminated if Israel started building settlements in the occupied territories.