Israel says UN flotilla report biased 23Sep10 September 24, 2010

Ma’an News Agency -  23 September 2010

The UN-mandated committee charged with probing an Israeli attack on a Turkish-flagged aid boat in May released its first report Wednesday, calling the incident a violation of international law.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry responded shortly after the 56-page report was released, saying its authors had adopted a “biased, politicized and extremist approach.”

The four-member committee, approved in June in an emergency session of the UN, was charged with conducting an investigation into possible “violations of international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law, resulting from the interception by Israeli forces of the humanitarian aid flotilla bound for Gaza on 31 May 2010.”

The initial findings alleged “a series of violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, were committed by the Israeli forces during the interception of the flotilla and during the detention of passengers in Israel prior to deportation.”

The Foreign Ministry’s response said that “Israel is a democratic and law abiding country that carefully observes international law and, when need be, knows how to investigate itself,” The Associated Press reported.

An Israeli military probe found no violations of the law and described the actions of soldiers aboard the flotilla where nine were killed as “brave,” but it also said the military failed to anticipate the decision of activists aboard the ship to resist the takeover.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially said the country would not participate in the UN investigation.

But a civil investigation headed by Israeli Judge Ya’acov Tirkel sent letters Monday to Palestinian human rights organizations with
information on the humanitarian situation in Gaza regarding possible testimony before the commission. Identical letters were sent to B’Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, and Al-Haq, among other groups.

However, the progress of the civil investigation was slowed when professor Shabtai Rosenne, 93, passed away Wednesday. According to sources at the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, he will not be replaced on the committee.

The statement, also published on the Foreign Ministry’s website, said Israel had a history of investigating allegations. “That is how Israel has always acted, and that is the way in which investigations were conducted following Operation Cast Lead, launched to protect the inhabitants of southern Israel from rockets and terror attacks carried out by Hamas from Gaza.”

A UN investigation into Israel’s winter war on Gaza found evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which UN officials have said are yet to be properly investigated. Ongoing efforts in Israel and Gaza lead by rights group seek to bring internal investigations into the allegations to an international standard but have so far failed.

UN committee finds Gaza blockade illegal

In its report, the UN committee said it considered “direct evidence received from interviews with eye witnesses and crew, as well as the forensic evidence and interviews with government officials” as its primary evidence in the description of events on the aid ships.

Israeli officials called the methodology of the report biased, but the report noted an unavailability of sources from Israel with which to make its assessments.

“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,” the report said.

Despite the stated lack of cooperation from Israeli officials, the report from the committee said the evidence it had gathered was sufficient “to afford it a comprehensive picture of the events.”

The committee found that Israel’s blockade of Gaza “was inflicting disproportionate damage upon the civilian population in the Gaza strip and as such the interception could not be justified and therefore has to be considered illegal.”

It also found that the principal reason for the blockade was collective punishment, which it also found illegal under the Geneva Conventions, and that Israel did not have the right to presume the jurisdiction to search the vessels attempting to break the blockade.

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