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Marathon UN Meeting on Gaza Goes Nowhere
The ability of the Security Council to function breaking down
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2008-03-04 04:33 (KST)   
The United Nations Security Council called an emergency meeting Saturday night on Israel's increased bombardment of the people of Gaza. The council met for several hours until midnight. For 40 minutes in a public session, it heard a report from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and statements from representatives of the Palestinian Authority and from a member of the Israeli mission to the UN (1). The public meeting was then adjourned for "consultations" that continued until midnight.

The Security Council president appeared shortly after midnight and read an informal brief summary statement that he said all the members had agreed to after their marathon session (2). It called on the different parties to "immediately cease all acts of violence."

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The Egyptian ambassador to the UN spoke briefly to the press at 12:15 a.m. Sunday after the meeting (3). He expressed his disappointment at the limited nature of the statement produced by the Security Council. He also expressed his concern that the secretary general's statement to the council (4) had repeated unconfirmed press reports and accusations from Israeli officials that rockets of Katyusaha-like design allegedly fired at Israel had been smuggled into Gaza when the border with Egypt was opened for a brief period.

The Egyptian ambassador said that Egypt had informed Israel that it denied such accusations. He asked the secretary general to review his statement of such accusations, and if there were any evidence of such that this should be presented to Egypt.

The Egyptian ambassador also said, "We would like the secretary general to know that Gaza is an occupied territory. If he does not know the legal status of Gaza, this makes the case worse." The ambassador was referring to a statement made by Ban a few weeks earlier in response to a question from a journalist about whether Gaza was occupied, when the secretary general responded that this was a legal question.

The role of the Security Council under the UN charter is to deal with problems of peace and security. Yet for the second time in two months on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not only did the peace and security break down, but also the ability of the Security Council to function.

Similarly, the secretary general's obligation is to set a high moral standard and not to favor any particular nation, but to fulfill the multinational obligations of the UN. The charter obligation of the secretary general and his staff is "not to seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the organization [and to] refrain from any action which might reflect on their position as international officials responsible only to the organization." The secretary general is to be a force to prevent a nation that has access to unlimited weapons and military might from carrying out collective punishment against a civilian population.

Israel claims that it has the right to self-defense under the UN charter, but it is erroneously equating its collective punishment of the Palestinian people, especially those in Gaza, with the right to self-defense. Israel is an occupying power with its policy and military dominating the affairs in Gaza. It is an unjustified stretch for Israel to claim that in the name of its right to self-defense it can adopt a hostile policy against the civilian population of Gaza.

When the secretary general and some members of the Security Council repeat Israel's claim of "its right to self defense" in their description of the situation, even if they then qualify their statements, they are giving support, whether intentionally or not, to Israel's erroneous claim.

The obligation of the UN is to provide a neutral institution to help to solve problems. The secretary general and some members of the Security Council have so far demonized Hamas as "terrorists" and supported Israeli claims that it is acting in "self defense." But Israeli actions targeting all of Gaza with its siege and its blockade and military raids in the name of fighting Hamas are collective punishment of the Palestinian people who reside in Gaza. When in the name of attacking Hamas, Israel is killing civilians in Gaza, the UN becomes paralyzed, unable to fulfill its functions.

In his "End of Mission Statement," Alvaro de Soto, the former UN special representative to the Palestinian Authority, described how under both Kofi Annan, the former secretary general, and Ban, the current secretary general, he was not allowed to be in contact with Hamas officials, even though they had been voted into office as government officials of the Palestinian Authority (5). He also documented how Israel and the United States had access to the secretariat in order to approve any statement made by the secretary general before it was issued.

Similarly, he explained how the secretary general joined the US in putting conditions prior to negotiation on the Palestinian Authority and by so doing helped to deprive the Palestinian Authority of the funds Israel was obliged to turn over to them. These actions helped to drive a wedge between the different groups of Palestinians and to create an increasingly difficult set of circumstances for negotiations toward a peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

US officials have claimed that Israel has left Gaza and by implication that it is no longer obliged to meet the obligations of an occupier (6). The US mission acts to block any effort in the Security Council to condemn acts by Israel, thus providing support for Israeli actions of collective punishment against the Palestinians. The secretary general also repeats Israeli claims, carefully prefacing any statement of harm to the Palestinians with a prior statement about the suffering of the people of Israel. It is proper to condemn all targeting of nonmilitary targets, but not to equate acts of occupation with acts of resistance.

At the UN, both the US ambassador and the secretary general have referred to Hamas as "terrorists." The UN does not have any agreed upon definition for "terrorist." Labeling Hamas as "terrorists" thus potentially provides Israel with another form of license to indiscriminately kill Palestinians in Gaza. Hamas claims that as the inhabitants of an occupied territory, the Palestinians must find a way to resist the occupation. It says that its actions firing rockets into Israel do not kill people, but is a way to oppose Israeli aggression. It offers to agree to a cease-fire if Israel stops its incursions and aggression into Gaza (7).

Any harm to civilians, whether in Palestine or Israel, however, is contrary to the tenets of international law. There have been some deaths and injuries in Israel from the rocket fire. If the UN were able to be useful in the situation, it would maintain relations with Hamas and seek to negotiate a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.

The failure on the part of the Security Council at the end of January to condemn Israel's closing of the border crossings into Gaza, and a month later, Israeli troops with tanks moving into Gaza and rocket and machine gun fire from helicopters at civilians in Gaza, provides a signal to Israel that its actions against Palestinian civilians will not be challenged by the Security Council or the secretary general. Thus the UN is becoming more and more entangled in the aggressive actions of Israel against the Palestinians. This affects not only on the loss of lives of the Palestinians and the continuing hostile situation that the people of Israel and of Palestine are being subjected to but also the integrity of the UN charter, function and reputation, which are increasingly being called into question.


1. Webcast. "Security Council: The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question." March 1.

2. Webcast. "Media Stakeout: Summary of the discussions which the Security Council has undertaken made by the president of the Security Council and the permanent representative of the Russian Federation, H.E. Mr. Vitaly I. Churkin, on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question." March 2.

3. Webcast. "Media Stakeout: Informal comments to the Media by the permanent representative of Egypt, H.E. Mr. Maged A. Abdelaziz, on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question." March 2.

4. Secretary General's speech to Security Council. March 1.

5. Israel-Palestine Conflict and the UN Secretary General. Jan. 27.

6. "Security Council Fails to Act on Gaza Crisis." Feb. 7.

7. Interview With Hamas leader. March 2.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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