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Security Council Fails to Act on Gaza Crisis
'The silence is deafening,' says Indonesia's UN Ambassador
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2008-02-07 15:35 (KST)   
"(M)y delegation believes that silence on the situation in the Middle East is more dangerous than even meetings where there might be a raising of temperatures and heat, explained Dumisani Kumalo, the South African ambassador to the United Nations.

Speaking in the UN Security Council discussion held on Jan. 30 (1), Kumalo was responding to a statement by the British Ambassador Sir John Sawers. The British ambassador was questioning the usefulness of the Security Council discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian question.

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This exchange followed the events of the previous week. The Security Council had spent a week struggling to agree on a non-binding Presidential statement in response to the Israeli closure of all the border-crossings into the Gaza Strip. Israel셲 action left the Palestinians in Gaza without fresh supplies of fuel, food or other necessities vital to life upon which they relied.

By Jan. 29, however, the Council failed to agree on what such a statement should say and decided to end their efforts. No statement by the Security Council would be issued.

The original issue brought before the Council was Israel셲 closing of the border crossings into Gaza. From the beginning of the discussion, however, the US framing, focused the statement on the rocket attacks into Israel and the right of Israel to defend itself.

Several members of the Security Council explained that such an interpretation runs counter to the obligations of Israel, as an occupying power and that punishing the whole population of Gaza for what were the acts of a few is contrary to the tenets of the prohibition in international law against collective punishment and disproportionate actions.

In his presentation to the Security Council in its public discussion on Jan. 22, Le Luong Minh, the ambassador from Vietnam said, (W)e consider the acts undertaken by the Israeli authorities against Palestinian civilians, like any act that literally targets the innocent civilians of a country, to be unjustifiable, even in the name of security or under any other pretext.

Speaking in his capacity as the ambassador from Libya, Giadalla Ettalhi, who held the rotating chairmanship of the Council in January, said, 쏻e do not believe these practices against civilians can be justified on any pretext; nor can they be equated with any other acts.

Stating a similar view, Ambassador Michel Kufando of Burkina Faso said, 쏧t is not for us today to engage in a rhetorical exercise but to concretely consider through a careful review of the situation what the Council and the international community can do to put an end to the blockade of Gaza. This blockade is unacceptable because it holds hostage a whole population subject to all types of privation.

Several other ambassadors who spoke at the Jan. 22 Security Council discussion said that the right of a nation to self defense is not intended as a license to harm or blockade a civilian population as Israel is doing in Gaza.

The US framing of the situation, however, is that Israel has disengaged from Gaza and therefore is no longer an occupying force in Gaza. Israel is being attacked by terrorists in Gaza. Israel has the right to self defense against Gaza. Though the US framing says that Israel should, when feasible, minimize the harm to civilians, the US does not propose any means of imposing such an obligation on Israel.

Others on the Security Council disagree with how the US frames the situation in Gaza. The South African ambassador said that though Israel had withdrawn from Gaza, 쐔he territory of Gaza remains under de facto Israeli occupation. Israel controls Gaza셲 air space and Gaza셲 territorial waters. By virtue of its illegal occupation Israel continues to be bound by the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, states, 쏯o protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.

Panama셲 Ambassador Ricardo Arias said that 쐔he State of Israel has the right to defend itself, however, measures for self-defense should be carried out in a restrained manner that is proportionate to the threat. He further explained that 쐔he Actions of the Government of Israel violate all humanitarian standards including the most basic rules of international law.

Participating in the discussion but not a member of the Security Council, the Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja셙fari challenged the notion that Israel is not the occupying power in Gaza. He said that Israel셲 claim, 쐇t has withdrawn from Gaza is a blatant distortion of the facts. Israel controls international borders and all crossing points.It controls the flow of food, medicines, water and electricity. In short, Israel, the occupying power as defined under international law has transformed Gaza into a sealed ghetto and the West Bank into besieged Bantustans.

The Syrian ambassador attributed Israel's belief that it does not have to abide by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention to the failure of the Security Council and the international community to condemn Israel.

At the Security Council discussion on Jan. 30, the Indonesian ambassador said 쏷he humanitarian crisis in Gaza is dire and unacceptable. The people of Gaza have been suffering not only from the border crossings, but also from repeated military incursions by Israel.

쏷oday, he explained, 쐗e wish to emphasize the importance of a common Council response on this humanitarian catastrophe.

The South African ambassador added that 쏷he situation in Occupied Palestine cannot be ignored any longer. Try as it might, this Security Council cannot remain silent and hope that the situation will change as time goes by when 1.5 million residents are left without water, electricity, and basic sewage situations.

쏻e have to remember, Kumalo said, 쐔hat the United Nations, particularly the Security Council, has a special responsibility in supporting a peaceful resolution in the conflict in the Middle East.

The fact that the Council was not able to issue a statement against the Israeli blockade of Gaza led the Indonesian ambassador to observe, 쏧t is indeed a deafening silence.

Despite the week long effort of consultations, public meetings, various proposed draft statements, experts meeting to draft statements and public discussions, the Security Council was not been able to issue a statement. Why?

One week earlier, on Jan. 23, 14 members of the Security Council had agreed on a statement in which the Council said it 쐃xpresses deep concern about the steep deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip due to the closure of all the Gaza Strip셲 border crossings. (Draft PRST on the Middle East, Jan. 23, 2008 Rev 2)

The draft statement ended with a call that 쏿ll parties cease all acts of violence including the firing of rockets into Israeli territory and all activities which are contrary to international law and endanger civilians.

A Presidential statement issued by the Security Council, however, requires the agreement of all 15 members. Ambassador Alejandro D. Wolff, US Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN would not agree with the statement. Wolfe said that the issue was that Israel was under siege. 쏻e feel very strongly he told reporters, 쐔hat if you are going to address this situation you can셳 look to the last page of a book and say 쁆ee we don셳 like the ending of this story without knowing what preceded it. It셲 out of context. It셲 not fair.(2)

The following day, on Thursday, the US delegation introduced a number of elements it wanted to be included in the statement. At the end of the Thursday session of the Council, Kumalo told reporters he was depressed 쐀ecause we still do not have an agreement and the way its going its not hopeful.,

On Friday, the US Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff brought an alternative statement to the Council.

The deliberations on this statement and the consideration of modifications to it went on till late in the evening on Friday. Only a few journalists were still at the stakeout when the meeting ended and brief explanations of what had happened were presented by the few Security Council members willing to speak with the press. By then the version of the US statement had been modified, but it included a description of the attacks on Israel as coming from 쐔errorists and wording that Israel was suspending its closure of the crossing points.

Sources describing the Security Council셲 response to the modified statement on Friday were contradictory. Some sources claimed that 14 members of the Security Council were prepared to accept the modified US statement, but that Libya would not agree. Another source indicated that the British and US ambassadors had used a maneuver to make this claim as other members of the Security Council only agreed to consider the statement, not to approve it. On Friday evening the Libyan ambassador said he would send the draft statement to his government for its response, which he would present to the Council on Tuesday.

On Jan. 29, Libya offered alternative wording to modify several aspects of the Friday draft. Libya wanted the reference to those who launched the rockets into Israel as 쐔errorist groups removed, but it accepted the wording condemning the launch of the rockets and calling for their immediate cessation. Libya objected to the wording indicating that Israel suspended its closure, as there had not been evidence this was true.

Journalists were told that the US rejected the changes and that the Council had ended its effort to issue a statement.

While the Security Council did not issue a statement about Israel셲 closing the border crossings to Gaza, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, created by the General Assembly in 1975, explained that 쏷he Bureau deeply regrets that the Security Council, having considered the situation at a recent meeting, once again failed to act in response to the grave situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

This Committee of 22 member states and twenty-two observers created by the UN셲 General Assembly demonstrated that it was possible to issue a statement on the situation in Gaza that is consistent with the obligations of Article 33 of the Geneva Convention.

The statement says:

"The Bureau wishes to restate its position of condemning the killing of innocent civilians by both sides, including Israeli operations and the firing of rockets from Gaza. At the same time, the Bureau considers it totally unacceptable and unjust that the entire civilian population of the Gaza Strip is subjected to a suffocating economic blockade for the actions of a few militant groups. The Bureau supports the Palestinian Authority proposal to assume responsibility for the Palestinian side of all of the Gaza Strip's border crossings."

All 15 members of the Security Council had said they were concerned for the deteriorating situation in Gaza, it was the US alone that prevented the Council from issuing a non-binding Presidential statement on Jan. 23 expressing the concern of the Council. The US introduced elements for changes in the statement in the Council and then the following day presented an alternative statement which changed how the problem was to be framed. Then it tried to shift the blame to Libya for the failure of the Council to issue a statement condemning Israel셲 actions in Gaza.

The Security Council, as the South African Ambassador Kumalo explained, has a special obligation with regard to peace and security in the Middle East and particularly with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Article 24 of the UN Charter confers on the Security Council the 쐏rimary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security and obliges the Security Council to carry out its duties on behalf of all the member nations of the UN. When the Council is unable to act in an issue so crucial to its obligations under the UN charter, it is failing in its duties not only on the particular issue, but also in the obligations it has to all the member nations of the UN. This represents a serious problem to be considered by the member nations.

(1) See Security Council Documents
S/PV.5824 Security Council 5824th meeting, Jan.22, 2008, 10 a.m.

S/PV.5824 (Resumption 1)
Security Council 5824th meeting, Jan. 22, 2008 3 p.m.

S/PV.5827 Security Council 5827, Jan. 30, 2008 10 a.m.

(2) Ambassador Alejandro D. Wolff, U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative, on the situation in the Middle East, at the Security Council Stakeout, January 24, 2008
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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