Bearing Witness

Palmer/Uribe Report Whitewashes Israeli Crimes

Sadly the Palmer/Uribe Report on the May 31, 2010 Flotilla Incident, leaked to the New York Times on 1 September, is an expected whitewash of Israeli crimes. While it blames Israeli forces for using excessive force when they raided our Gaza-bound civilian ships, it erroneously justifies Israel’s blockade of Gaza, casts doubts on the intentions of the flotilla organizers, and does not seek accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses.

The Palmer/Uribe Panel was flawed from its inception. The appointment of ex-Colombian President Alvaro Uribe as the Panel’s vice-chair casts serious doubt on the integrity and impartiality of the Panel. Uribe’s intimate association with the military and paramilitary practice of murdering civilians in Colombia and notorious disdain for human rights defenders makes his appointment to a Panel dealing with human rights issues problematic. Furthermore, Uribe’s government is on record as advocating closer military cooperation with Israel. [1]

In addition to the problems in the composition of the Panel, its goal was not to arrive at the truth of what happened or to seek justice for victims, but rather to reach political compromise in order to repair relations between Israel and Turkey. The mandate of the Panel was limited to reviewing the reports of the national investigations by Turkey and Israel, and it did not interview witnesses or otherwise conduct an in-depth objective investigation. This is a political attempt to overshadow the only independent and impartial investigation and report on the flotilla raid, which was commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council (A/HRC/15/21) and conducted by three internationally renowned human rights experts. The findings and recommendations of this report, released on 23 September 2010 have yet to be acted on by the United Nations.

One of the most outrageous findings of this Panel is that Israel had a right to impose the naval blockade on Gaza as a “legitimate security measure.” This finding completely ignores the fact that the naval blockade is part of an overall closure regime that numerous human rights bodies, including various UN agencies, have declared illegal. Furthermore, it ignores incontrovertible evidence that the naval blockade and overall closure are not about security, but rather about putting pressure on the people of Gaza. Israeli leaders are on record noting that the purpose of the blockade is economic warfare – to keep the Gaza economy on the brink of collapse in order to pressure the civilians to rise up against the Hamas government. [2]

Using civilians as a means of pressuring a government violates international humanitarian law, which prohibits intentionally harming civilians, and constitutes collective punishment, forbidden under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Palmer/Uribe Report mistakenly identifies IHH as the “leading group involved in the planning of the flotilla,” accuses us (the Freedom Flotilla organizers) of acting recklessly, and casts doubt on the humanitarian nature of our action (pages 46-48). Six non-governmental, international civil society organizations, all having equal say and responsibility, planned Freedom Flotilla I. Our action was a legitimate form of nonviolent direct action. We reject the Panel’s finding that Israeli soldiers faced “organized violence.” What the heavily armed commandos faced while they tried to forcefully take over the Mavi Marmara on the high seas was legitimate acts of non-armed self-defense by a handful of passengers, acting against unwarranted aggression.

Although our ships carried 10,000 tons of much needed cargo for the people of Gaza, we have repeatedly stated that our goal is to break the illegal blockade of Gaza, not simply to deliver aid. The humanitarian crisis that exists in Gaza is a result of a deliberate, illegal and immoral policy. To challenge that policy in order to bring an end to the cause of people’s suffering is humanitarian.

While the Report correctly faults Israel for using excessive force on unarmed civilians, it does not call for accountability. The Report notes that Israel has not accounted for the forensic evidence showing that most of the nine volunteers killed were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range, or for the consistent accounts of abuse suffered by other volunteers at the hands of Israeli forces. The Report’s recommendation that Israel simply express regret over the incident is insulting to the victims and their families, and seriously undermines international human rights and humanitarian law.

Finally the report fails to address the issue of the remaining four ships of Freedom Flotilla I still held by Israel as well as its refusal to return to the passengers over $1 million in money and equipment including cameras and videos which are of evidential value.

We welcome Turkey’s decision to downgrade relations with Israel, expelling the Israeli ambassador, and cancelling military ties, as well as its statement that it will take legal action against those Israelis responsible for the attack on the flotilla. Such sanctions are needed in order to put an end to the impunity with which Israel has been violating Palestinian human rights and disregarding international law.

[1] See “Colombia seeks to broaden Israel ties,” Apr 28, 2010, Jerusalem Post at: http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?ID=174179

[2] See e.g. “Wikileaks: Israel aimed to keep Gaza economy on brink of collapse,” Jan 5, 2011, Haaretz, reporting on a leaked Cable from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv saying Israeli officials wanted Gaza’s economy ‘functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis’ at: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/wikileaks-israel-aimed-to-keep-gaza-economy-on-brink-of-collapse-1.335354

* a press release from the Canadian Boat to Gaza [CBG]

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September 14, 2011 - Posted by | Freedom Flotilla Two, Media | , ,

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