Rights orgs: Gaza siege illegal, Palmer recommendations fall far short of justice

Major rights organizations say that recommendations made by a UN panel inquiry into Israel’s deadly use of force on the Mavi Marmara aid ship last year do not provide effective remedy for the victims and their families. The report was expected to be released today by the UN secretary-general but a copy was leaked yesterday to The New York Times.

The Palmer report, named after the former prime minister of New Zealand who chaired the panel of inquiry, which included former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Israeli and Turkish representatives, recommends that Israel apologize to and compensate the families of those killed and injured during the maritime raid.

In his blog on The Electronic Intifada today, Ali Abunimah describes the Palmer report as “worthless,” given that the panel was “stacked for Israel” and includes “notorious human rights abuser” Uribe.

In a special report for The Electronic Intifada last summer titled “Uribe’s appointment to flotilla probe guarantees its failure,” Jose Antonio Gutierrez and David Landy detail Uribe’s long and shocking list of human rights abuses.

Abunimah also criticizes the report as it heavily relies on Israel as a primary source, which has “controlled and withheld most of the evidence.” As Amnesty International noted today, “The Panel did not have the power to compel witnesses to testify and based its review on the Israeli and Turkish national investigations into the incident, which reached very different conclusions.”

Amnesty: apology, compensation not justice

Statements issued by rights organizations today also find fault with the report.

While generally welcoming of the Palmer report, in its statement Amnesty International describes the report’s recommendations as less than full justice for the victims:

Amnesty International stresses, however, that an apology and compensation are only two elements of victims’ right to an effective remedy, which also includes accountability through criminal prosecutions where sufficient evidence is available.

The Palmer report also finds Israel’s naval blockade on Gaza — which the activists aboard the Mavi Marmara and other other ships among the Gaza Freedom Flotilla were attempting to break — to be legal, even though the Mavi Marmara was attacked in international waters.

This “finding” is essentially a hasbara gift to the Israeli government, which will use it to whitewash the cruel human experiment that is the siege on Gaza.

Amnesty International states:

The question of the legality of this closure regime, often referred to as the Gaza “blockade”, was not directly addressed by the Palmer report, which focused on the naval blockade of Gaza. The report does, however, note that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is “unsustainable”, and it calls on Israel to “continue with its efforts to ease its restrictions on movement of goods and persons to and from Gaza”.

Amnesty International believes that this recommendation is insufficient. Gaza’s 1.5 million residents should not simply be seen as recipients of humanitarian assistance, but as people with rights to health, education, work, an adequate standard of living, and freedom of movement, all of which continue to be violated by the Israeli-imposed siege. Israel should completely lift its illegal siege on Gaza, which violates the prohibition on collective punishment in the Fourth Geneva Convention. This means allowing exports as well as imports, fully opening all the crossing points under Israeli control, allowing Gazans to use arable land inside the Strip currently off limits due to the open-fire rules employed by the IDF [Israeli military] in the “buffer zone”, allowing Palestinian fishermen access to their coastal waters, and allowing travel between Gaza and the West Bank, which are considered as one territory under the Oslo Accords and international humanitarian law.

The Palmer report’s finding that the naval blockade is lawful should not be interpreted to mean that the entire closure regime imposed on Gaza is legal. (emphasis mine)

 Center for Constitutional Rights: Israel cannot impose naval blockade

The New York City-based Center for Constitutional Rights also issued a statement today critical of the Palmer report, using even stronger language than Amnesty:

The Center for Constitutional Rights strongly denounces the conclusion by the Secretary-General’s Panel of Inquiry that the naval blockade of Gaza is legal, a finding that is inconsistent with international law as set forth by CCR in a legal analysis, and contradicted by conclusions of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission to investigate violations of international law resulting from the Israeli attacks on the flotilla, as well as numerous human rights organizations.

Under international law, Israel cannot impose a naval blockade on Gaza, a territory it continues to occupy by exerting effective control over it. The blockade also constitutes collective punishment prohibited by the Geneva Conventions, and has caused excessive and disproportionate harm to the civilian population. The blockade of Gaza has led to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions, widespread failure of public infrastructure, and chronic unemployment due to the blockade’s systemic undermining of Gaza’s economy.

The Center for Constitutional Rights does, however, agree with the panel that the human rights and humanitarian situation in Gaza is “unsustainable, unacceptable and not in the interests of any of those concerned.”

Notwithstanding the flawed legal analysis and suspect composition of the Panel of Inquiry, it does make some factual findings that are worth noting. The panel found that the way in which Israel boarded the flotilla was excessive and unreasonable, and that Israel had no satisfactory explanation for how nine passengers were killed, all of whom the evidence showed were unarmed. The panel found that United States citizen Furkan Dogan was shot multiple times, shot at extremely close range, and shot in the back of his head, and that the evidence suggests he may already have been lying wounded when the fatal shot was delivered.

The families of the nine passengers who were killed, the many passengers who were injured, and all those who have yet to receive their stolen property from Israel, including evidence, have a right to redress, justice and accountability. The United States government must assist the family of American human rights defender Furkan Doanan in particular in their quest for justice, and disclose any information it has on Israel’s attack on the flotilla. (emphasis mine)

Toward this end, the Center for Constitutional Rights adds:

In June 2010, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed eight Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests regarding the US government’s knowledge of, and actions in relation to, Israel’s attack on the flotilla. After fruitlessly working for nearly a year to obtain responses from the agencies, on May 24, 2011, CCR filed a civil complaint against eight departments of the United States government in order to get adequate responses. CCR has also been working with Professor Ahmet Dogan, the father of Furkan Dogan, the US citizen killed on the Mavi Marmara, to advocate for accountability in the United States.

In February of this year, Kristin Szremski interviewed Ahmet Dogan for The Electronic Inifada. Szremski reported: “[Dogan and his lawyers] want to ask the United States to initiate its own investigation into Furkan’s death. Dogan also wants to know why American authorities have shown such little interest in the execution of his son.”

The family of Furkan Dogan and the other eight victims of the flotilla raid still wait for justice for their loved ones.


Maureen Clare Murphy

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Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.