Beholden To The Big Powers: Israel, Gaza And The UN
On December 27, 2008,
Earlier this month, the UN announced the results of an inquiry into attacks on its buildings and personnel in
"involved in varying degrees of negligence or recklessness with regard to United Nations premises and to the safety of United Nations staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries, and extensive physical damage and loss of property." (Donald Macintyre, 'UN retreats after
Incidents for which Israel was held responsible by the UN inquiry included:
* The deaths of three young men killed by a single IDF missile strike at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Asma school in Gaza City.
* The firing of heavy mortar rounds into the UNRWA Jabalia school, injuring seven people sheltering in the school, killing up to 40 people in the immediate vicinity and injuring a further 50.
* Aerial bombing of the UNRWA Bureij health centre on the same day, causing the death of a patient, serious injuries to two other patients and injuries to nine of the health centre's employees.
* Artillery firing by the IDF into the UNRWA field office compound in
* Artillery firing by the IDF into the UNRWA Beit Lahia school, again with the use of white phosphorus, causing the deaths of two children, aged 5 and 7, and injuries to 13 others.
Contrary to Israeli claims, the UN inquiry found no evidence that "Hamas militants" had used UN property to attack
The inquiry's narrow remit was restricted to UN property and personnel; a key recommendation was that $11m compensation should be sought from
Shamefully, however, when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon presented the inquiry results, he rejected its authors' call for such an investigation. He even decided not to release the full 184-page report. According to a brief item on the BBC Arabic news website, the BBC was informed by "a diplomatic source" that the
The sophistry of these words - "the damage that that could cause to the Middle East peace talks" - is newspeak for "dangerous truths that would further damage the reputations of
Ban, no doubt aware of these dangers, conveniently produced his own 27-page summary. Inter Press Service reported that the original report was thus "meticulously stripped down . mostly due to [alleged] political sensitivities and on security grounds." (Thalif Deen, 'UN chief defends "watered down"
Ban then issued this summary together with a covering letter to the UN Security Council. In the letter, Ban said he was "carefully considering" what actions, "if any", to take on the 11 recommendations by his own inquiry team. But he had already appeased both
True to form, the Israelis had called the report "tendentious, patently biased" even before the summary was published. ('UN rejects UN probe under Israeli pressure', Palestine Chronicle, May 6, 2009; ) Ban took his cue adroitly. While noting the Israeli government's "significant reservations and objections", he bent over backwards to praise them for their cooperation. He also spoke out, reportedly urged by Israeli ministers and officials, against "continued and indiscriminate" attacks by Hamas.
Of Circus Dogs And Whips
In effect, then, the UN Secretary General rejected his own inquiry which had been lead by Ian Martin, a former head of Amnesty International. Moreover, Ban's effective suppression of the full report was doubtless an attempt to draw a line under the inquiry, minimising damage to
Noam Chomsky commented on the possible role of US-Israeli "diplomacy" in the Secretary-General's decision not to publish the full report or to proceed with a wide-ranging inquiry:
"as far as I know there's no direct evidence about what happened [behind the scenes], though it's not hard to guess. Ban knows as well as any other Sec'y-General that criticism of the
In other words, direct pressure is not always required. Indeed, it is often more efficient to have an amenable person in place who will do the master's bidding without being told what to do. As George Orwell once observed:
"Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip. But the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip." (Orwell, 'As I Please', Tribune, 1944)
Ban Ki-moon has already demonstrated his gymnastic prowess. When he visited
Hasan Abu Nimah,
"[His] flash of anger was limited however only to UN facilities. He spoke as if the rest of
"Whisked around in his convoy, he did not bother to stop and talk to any of
Ban did condemn "the excessive use of force" by the Israelis in its massive assault on
Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said Ban's response to the new UN report was "disappointing". He was clear that the inquiry had produced a "very serious and very scrupulously argued report that's based on very careful analysis of the available evidence." (Al Jazeera, May 5, 2009; )
Yvonne Terlingen, Amnesty International representative at the United Nations, also expressed her concern at Ban Ki-moon's stance. She told Inter Press Service [IPS]: "We are very disappointed with the Secretary-General's reaction to what we have come to know [from the report]."
Terlingen called for a broader inquiry into the Israeli attacks by the 15-member UN Security Council. But one unnamed Arab diplomat told IPS he did not expect any investigation by the Security Council because three of the permanent members, the
"It's a lost cause," he added, pointing out that "
Although the UN Secretary General refused to launch a full, wide-ranging investigation under his direct mandate,
Moreover, the Goldstone investigation is likely to be severely hobbled by
"The real reason [for Israel's non-cooperation] is that the facts overwhelmingly support allegations that Israel is understandably concerned that any objective inquiry would indeed confirm the allegations and create a situation in which the international community would be obliged to seek some kind of procedure for accountability." (Press TV, 'Falk tells why
The Media's Shrug Of Indifference
While some elements of the above account could be pieced together from a handful of media reports in the corporate press, the coverage was largely fragmented, often confusing and the tone muted. Significantly, we could not find a single editorial in the British press expressing outrage, or even discomfort, at the subversion of the UN, and the evident contempt for the organisation, by
The most extensive coverage was in the Guardian with two articles totalling under 1200 words. (Rory McCarthy and Ed Pilkington, 'UN report accuses
An Independent article devoted just 654 words to the report and Ban Ki-moon's rejection of it. (Donald Macintyre, 'UN retreats after
Meanwhile, the Times exerted itself by expending all of 99 words on the story. (James Bone, 'UN condemns
And nobody could accuse the Daily Telegraph of avoiding the matter. It granted the story two lines; a total of 47 words. (Alex Spillius, Daily Telegraph, 'You must accept the goal of a Palestinian state, Biden tells
In the days since Ban Ki-moon came to the defence of
While there have been UN investigations of war crimes committed in Rwanda, Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia, somehow war crimes committed in Gaza do not deserve the same scrutiny and accountability. The omission is not unique, of course. There has never been a UN inquiry into war crimes committed by the
For the corporate media, then, there is no need for forensic analysis of this latest cynical sidelining of the UN, a body set up to promote world peace after all. There has been no rottweiler unearthing of this UN capitulation which, once again, effectively covers up major atrocities committed by
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Richard Beeston, foreign editor at the Times
Ian Black, Middle East editor at the Guardian
Will Kinnaird, foreign editor at the Daily Telegraph
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