“International Censure of Israel Gains Momentum Despite U.S. Maneuvers,”
by Marwan Bishara



On October 19, the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) adopted a resolution condemning Israel’s “disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force” against Palestinian civilians as clashes continued in the Middle East. In this fifth emergency session of the UNHRC, the Commission accused Israel of war crimes and crimes against humanity. This resolution was passed within two weeks of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1322 (October 7) and an October 20 General Assembly resolution, both of which condemned the “excessive use of force” by Israel, although Israel was not specifically named in 1322.

The UNHRC resolution, which passed by a 19 to 16 vote, called for the establishment of a “human rights inquiry commission” to compile information on human rights violations in the Occupied Territories. Israel immediately declared that it will not cooperate with the inquiry, calling the resolution one-sided, inflammatory, and counterproductive. In addition, the United States once again tried to try to block international efforts to hold Israel responsible for its contravention of human rights.


Human Rights Framework:

In contrast with the milder UNSCR 1322 and the non-binding nature of the General Assembly resolution, the tough two-page UNHRC resolution underlined the necessity for a human rights framework to address the Palestinian issue. The resolution called for the establishment of a committee of five members with the support of experts. It also requested that the team be immediately dispatched to Palestine, along with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, in order to investigate the severe human rights violations committed by Israel, including mass killings, house demolitions, and closures.

This is the first time the Commission has used such harsh language against Israel. It came about after the 53 elected members of the Commission heard a report by UNHRC Special Rapporteur Giorgio Giacomelli which accused Israel, “the occupying power,” of having “drastically escalated the use of force against the civilian population, ostensibly in response to demonstrations beginning in Jerusalem and spreading throughout the West Bank and Gaza.” Giacomelli echoed Robinson’s recommendation by supporting “the idea of a mechanism for speedy and objective inquiry onto the ongoing crisis, as promoted by Security Council 1322 (2000).


Human Rights Violations:

Giacomelli’s report, which was prepared between October 11 and 15, stated that Israel’s lethal use of force resulted in some 85 Palestinian deaths within the first two weeks of the current crisis, or the same number killed in four months of the intifada during 1987-88. Many of the deaths resulted from Israeli snipers shooting from long distances and from settler-organized paramilitary forces.

The report estimated that the Israeli military injured up to 3,700 Palestinians, 40 percent under 18 years of age. It also noted that 40 percent of the injuries were in the head, 20 percent in the chest, 20 percent in the abdomen, and 20 percent in the extremities and back. Half resulted from live ammunition, with the remaining injuries due to rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas. Moreover, the report elaborated on the use of excessive force including “machine guns, deployed tanks, fired rockets, and anti-tank missiles,” in addition to firing from “helicopter gunships and naval vessels.”


Before and After the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit:

Primarily the Islamic countries, China, and India voted for the resolution, the West and eastern Europe voted against, and Russia and most of South America abstained. However, this was not a “clash of civilizations ” such as espoused by political scientist Samuel Huntington, but rather an obvious manipulation by the United States and Britain. When President Bill Clinton cornered PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and produced a quick statement at Sharm el-Sheikh calling for anything but an independent inquiry, it allowed for a damaging polarization of the Commission to result. The two days of deliberation revealed a dark picture of the geopolitics of human rights when it comes to the U.S. and Israel. The European and Latin countries present at the special session in Geneva were pressured into changing their position after the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, which was attended by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Javier Solana, Secretary-General of the European Council.

Europeans who were keen on supporting an international team of inquiry suddenly retracted their position as cellular phones rang in the lobby of the Palais des Nations, where the delegates were discussing the details of the resolution. They immediately became edgy regarding any resolution that could overshadow the summit’s declaration. Some Europeans were so pleased with their (useless) presence at Sharm el-Sheikh that they decided to paralyze the Geneva special session by demanding a statement, rather than a resolution, at the end of the deliberations.


England and the United States:

According to a high European official present at the deliberations, English diplomats were involved with torpedoing any compromise between the Islamic countries and Europe. While the French, who hold the European Union presidency, led the negotiations with the Arab and Islamic countries sponsoring the resolution, the English were pressuring European countries to vote against any resolution stemming from the Arab side. Even more disconcerting, they asked for a time extension in order to reach a compromise, while in fact they meant to lobby the reluctant countries to vote against the resolution, a maneuver that violates diplomatic norms.

Meanwhile, the United States convinced its southern neighbors to at least abstain, hoping to be able to win the vote. The adamant Venezuela, under the direction of President Hugo Chavez, and several other countries disappointed Washington by voting for the resolution in an open vote (as demanded by the U.S. delegate).

Interestingly, the split of the European vote in the General Assembly a day later, between those who abstained and those who supported a resolution accusing Israel of excessive use of force, exposed the attempts of Washington and England to impose their will on their allies. It also vindicated the Arab delegates who were accused by a number of European countries of refusing to compromise. To the detriment of the Huntington theory, the French, Spanish, and many others voted in favor of the GA resolution.


The U.S. Support of Israel’s Impunity:

It is rather evident that over the last five decades, Israel has continued to violate Palestinian human rights in spite of dozens of resolutions condemning these acts. Israel enjoys Washington’s protection from international measures that could dissuade it from committing further crimes against the Palestinians, or to discourage it from violating the Forth Geneva Convention of which Israel and the United States are signatories.

Once again, Washington has provided the shield to deflect censures against Israel as it refuses to cooperate with international envoys. In fact, Washington brought together the UN’s and Europe’s highest officials on the eve of the Commission’s emergency meeting to give their benedictions to a U.S. led inquiry. This act impeded the work of an independent and fair investigation into Israel’s crimes and allowed Israel to continue its state and paramilitary violence against the Palestinians.

In summary, Washington’s containment of “international will” at Sharm el-Sheikh has placed a heavy toll on the international human rights crusade in Geneva. Nonetheless, at least for the historical record, the international community has once again condemned a “criminal” Israel and has sent a message that the U.S. sponsored peace process is not sufficient to protect Palestinian human rights. Washington’s sponsorship is not an adequate alternative to an international framework that stands witness to human rights violations of Palestinians under occupation. Such a framework could pave the way for more tangible steps to protect the Palestinians from their occupiers.


Marwan Bishara is a Palestinian author and journalist. The above text may be used without permission but with proper attribution to the author and to the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine. This Information Brief does not necessarily reflect the views of the Palestine Center or The Jerusalem Fund.

This information first appeared in Information Brief No. 50, 1 November 2000.

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