On September 22, The UN Human Rights Council, which includes such champions of civil liberties as Saudi Arabia, China and Cuba, released an Advance Unedited Version of its “Report of the international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, resulting from the Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance.” See http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/15session/A.HRC.15.21_en.pdf
Given previous experience with the Goldstone Commission’s report on Operation Cast Lead, there was no reason to believe that the Human Rights Council report on the interception of the Gaza Flotilla would be any more objective. In consequence, Israel refused to cooperate with the Mission, preferring instead to work with a separate UN group under New Zealand’s former Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe, which has yet to publish its findings.
An internal Israeli inquiry headed by Judge Jacob Turkel is also currently investigating the incident. Nevertheless, the Human Rights Council fact-finding mission found fit to publish its Report without awaiting the conclusions of either of the other two investigations.
The findings of the Report were predictable given the a priori assertion by the members of the Mission that “a deplorable situation exists in Gaza. It has been characterized as ‘unsustainable’. This is totally intolerable and unacceptable in the 21st Century. It is amazing that anyone could characterise the condition of the people there as satisfying the most basic of acceptable standards.” (Clause 275)
Furthermore, the Report affirms that “Insofar as the Israeli interception of the flotilla was unlawful—and the Mission considers that it was unlawful—the use of force by the Israeli forces in seizing control of the Mavi Marmara and other vessels was also prima facie unlawful, since there was no legal basis for the Israeli forces to conduct an assault and interception in international waters.” (Clause 163)
In light of the above, Israel was damned from the outset given that in the view of the Mission’s members she had no legal or moral justification for her actions. Only in passing does the Report make reference to the repeated missile and mortar attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip, and no reference whatsoever is made to the nature of the Hamas regime and its Charter, which specifically calls for the destruction of Israel.
The Report’s conclusions are questionable on the basis of the manner in which they were drawn. Its bias is evident from such statements as: “In light of seizure of cameras, CCTV footage and digital media storage devices and of the suppression of that material with the disclosure only of a selected and minute quantity of it, the Mission was obliged to treat with extreme caution the versions released by the Israeli authorities where those versions did not coincide with the evidence of eyewitnesses who appeared before us.” (Clause 20)
In other words, the evidence of those aboard the Mavi Marmara, whom the Report itself concedes had a clear political objective, was accepted at face value, whereas the CCTV footage was treated with scepticism.
It should also be noted that so-called “eyewitnesses” were not innocent bystanders but were people who had specifically chosen to take part in the Gaza Flotilla for a variety of political and humanitarian reasons. The subjective manner in which the evidence given by such “eyewitnesses” was weighed was also problematic.
“In assessing the evidence and information available to it, the Mission paid particular attention to the content of the evidence and demeanour of the persons appearing before it in deciding whether and if so what part of the information provided should be accepted. More weight of necessity was accorded to such evidence if believed than to information from other sources.” (Clause 24)
At least the members of the Mission had the honesty to admit that “In boarding the Mavi Marmara, both from the sea and from the air, the Israeli forces met a level of resistance from some of the passengers on board that was significant and, it appears, unexpected…. In the initial phases of fighting with the Israeli soldiers on the top deck, three Israeli soldiers were disarmed and taken inside the ship. At this point, there may have been a justifiable belief of an immediate threat to life or serious injury of certain soldiers which would have justified the use of firearms against specific passengers.” (Clause 165)
However, the Report qualifies this remark by asserting that “Even in a situation where three individual soldiers have been injured and detained, the objective of freeing these soldiers does not legitimate the use of force outside applicable international standards.” (Clause 167)
As is abundantly evident from the Report’s conclusions, the primary purpose of the Gaza Flotilla was to break the Israeli naval blockade. The evidence clearly confirms that offers by Israel to transfer aid overland via the port of Ashdod were repeatedly turned down by the organizers of the Flotilla.
Indeed, the Report concedes that “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 an Irish Government sponsored proposal that the cargo in that ship to be allowed through Ashdod intact.” (Clause 80)
The Report is immensely critical of the violent manner in which the Israeli forces took control of the Mavi Marmara. Nevertheless, it does accept that “There is clear evidence that some people on board the Mavi Marmara, including senior IHH leaders, were prepared actively to defend the ship against any boarding attempt.” (Clause 99)
While the Mission’s members concede that “With the available evidence it is difficult to delineate the exact course of events on the top deck between the time of the first soldier descending and the Israeli forces securing control of the deck” (Clause 115), they nevertheless draw the unsubstantiated conclusion that “much of the force used by the Israeli soldiers on board the Mavi Marmara and from the helicopters was unnecessary, disproportionate, excessive and inappropriate and resulted in the wholly avoidable killing and maiming of a large number of civilian passengers.” (Clause 172)
Of considerable significance are the Report’s observations concerning the boarding of the M.V. Defne Y. It states that “The crew and passengers on board offered no resistance and the Israeli forces took control of the ship without incident. They were then kept within the cabins until they arrived in the port of Ashdod. No crew members or passengers were handcuffed and the Israeli soldiers brought food from the kitchens for them to eat.” (Clause 153) Similar evidence was given by those on other vessels in the Flotilla.
Nevertheless, the Report fails to draw the obvious conclusion that, if there had not been a deliberate attempt on the part of activists aboard the Mavi Marmara to resist by force the boarding of their vessel, the whole incident could have ended peacefully and without loss of life or injury.
Furthermore, the Report avoids condemning the activities of those who armed themselves with knives and metal bars with the expressed intention of attacking the Israeli naval commandoes as they boarded the vessel. It also fails to criticize the political objective of the Flotilla’s organizers to break the naval blockade of Gaza under the guise of a humanitarian mission.
In spite of the biased nature of the Report and its unobjective conclusions, we would nevertheless concur with its call on “The parties and the international community … to find the solution that will address all legitimate security concern of both Israel and the people of Palestine both of whom are equally entitled to “their place under the heavens.” (Clause 275)