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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

UNHRC ignores an important part of the flotilla report

Yesterday, the so-called UN Human Rights Council debated the report that slammed Israel for its conduct with the passengers who attacked IDF soldiers with iron bars, chains and knives as they boarded the ship.

As I mentioned, the report was incredibly biased and it trampled on international law. But the people debating the report did not bother to read it, because they characterized the flotilla as "humanitarian" - and the report, pointedly, did not.

The very headline of the debate on the UNHRC webpage called it "Israel's attack on the Humanitarian Flotilla." But the report is a lot more equivocal:
80. The Mission notes a certain tension between the political objectives of the flotilla and its humanitarian objectives. This comes to light the moment that the Government of Israel made offers to allow the humanitarian aid to be delivered via Israeli ports but under the supervision of a neutral organization. The Mission also notes that the Gaza Strip does not possess a deep sea port designed to receive the kind of cargo vessels included in the flotilla, raising practical logistical questions about the plan to deliver large quantities of aid by the route chosen. Whilst the Mission is satisfied that the flotilla constituted a serious attempt to bring essential humanitarian supplies into Gaza, it seems clear that the primary objective was political, as indeed demonstrated by the decision of those on board the Rachel Corrie to reject a Government of Ireland-sponsored proposal that the cargo in that ship to be allowed through Ashdod intact.
While the mission was wrong about how serious the flotilla was in bringing aid - the aid was not organized in any way that would have made it useful, and much of it was literally junk like expired medicines - the clear conclusion here is that the flotilla was not primarily a humanitarian mission.

Indeed, the mission even notes that
Many of the participants interviewed did not have specific skills or qualifications for humanitarian work. Some organizations said that they selected participants on the basis of their qualifications (for example, medical doctors), status as people of influence (parliamentarians, authors) as well as their ability to resist provocation.
In the conclusions and recommendations, the mission writes quite clearly:
277. A distinction must be made between activities taken to alleviate crises and action to address the causes creating the crisis. The latter action is characterized as political action and therefore inappropriate for groups that wish to be classified as humanitarian. This point is made because of the evidence that, while some of the passengers were solely interested in delivering supplies to the people in Gaza, for others the main purpose was raising awareness of the blockade with a view to its removal, as the only way to solve the crisis. An examination should be made to clearly define humanitarianism, as distinct from humanitarian action, so that there can be an agreed form of intervention and jurisdiction when humanitarian crises occur.
The mission here is acknowledging that not only was the flotilla primarily a political stunt that used humanitarian aid as a cover for a public relations ploy, but that by misrepresenting themselves as humanitarian they are putting real humanitarian aid activities in jeopardy. Or, in the words of the report, "Too often they are accused as being meddlesome and at worst as terrorists or enemy agents."

We see, however, that the UNHRC is ignoring this advice from its own committee. During the debate we see phrases like "the unwarranted and unprovoked military action by Israel against a humanitarian mission constituted a flagrant violation of international law" and "Israeli forces had boarded a humanitarian vessel" and "The organizers of the freedom flotilla were on a humanitarian mission."

Which just goes to show that the entire mission was a farce - even though the members made some attempts to appear fair and, in this case, made a very important and accurate observation and recommendation about the purpose of the flotilla, the UNHRC just barreled on and used the report as an excuse to vilify Israel, which was the mandate of the mission to begin with.