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Video message from Australian delegate: Why another flotilla to Gaza?

Nine peace activists were killed when the Israeli military stormed the Mavi Marmara during the Freedom Flotilla in 2010, and earlier this year another Freedom Flotilla to Gaza was blocked by Greek authorities as the boats tried to leave port.

Now a third attempt to break the illegal Israeli siege of Gaza is underway.

Here, Australian delegate Michael Coleman, explains why:

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UN independent panel rules Israel blockade of Gaza illegal

Report to UN Human Rights Council by five independent UN rights experts contradicts findings of Palmer Report that Israel used ‘unreasonable force’ in 2010 raid on Gaza flotilla, but that naval-blockade of Gaza legal.

Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip violates international law, a panel of human rights experts reporting to a UN body said on Tuesday, disputing a conclusion reached by a separate UN probe into Israel’s r aid on a Gaza-bound

aid ship.

The so-called Palmer Report on the Israeli raid of May 2010 that killed nine Turkish activists said earlier this month that Israel had used unreasonable force in last year’s raid, but its naval blockade of the Hamas-ruled strip was legal.

A panel of five independent UN rights experts reporting to the UN Human Rights Council rejected that conclusion, saying the blockade had subjected Gazans to collective punishment in “flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

The four-year blockade deprived 1.6 million Palestinians living in the enclave of fundamental rights, they said.

“In pronouncing itself on the legality of the naval blockade, the Palmer Report does not recognize the naval blockade as an integral part of Israel’s closure policy towards Gaza which has a disproportionate impact on the human rights of civilians,” they said in a joint statement.

An earlier fact-finding mission named by the same UN forum to investigate the flotilla incident also found in a report last September that the blockade violated international law. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says the blockade violates the Geneva Conventions.

Israel says its Gaza blockade is a precaution against arms reaching Hamas and other Palestinian guerrillas by sea.

The four-man panel headed by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer found Israel had used unreasonable force in dealing with what it called “organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers.”

Turkey has downgraded ties with Israel over the incident.

Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories and one of the five experts who issued Tuesday’s statement, said the Palmer report’s conclusions were influenced by a desire to salve Turkish-Israeli ties.

“The Palmer report was aimed at political reconciliation between Israel and Turkey. It is unfortunate that in the report politics should trump the law,” he said in the statement.
About one-third of Gaza’s arable land and 85 percent of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible due to Israeli military measures, said Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, another of the five.

At least two-thirds of Gazan households lack secure access to food, he said. “People are forced to make unacceptable trade-offs, often having to choose between food or medicine or water for their families.”

The other three experts were the UN special rapporteurs on physical and mental health, extreme poverty and human rights, and access to water and sanitation.

* First published 20:28 13.09.11 By Reuters

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The Palmer/Uribe Report Whitewashes Israeli Crimes

FREEDOM FLOTILLA II PRESS STATEMENT
For immediate release
Palmer/Uribe Report Whitewashes Israeli Crimes 

Sadly the Palmer/Uribe Report on the 31 May 2010 Flotilla Incident, leaked to the New York Times on 1 September, is an expected whitewash of Israeli crimes. While it blames Israeli forces for using excessive force when they raided our Gaza-bound civilian ships, it erroneously justifies Israel’s blockade of Gaza, casts doubts on the intentions of the flotilla organizers, and does not seek accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses.

The Palmer/Uribe Panel was flawed from its inception. The appointment of ex-Colombian President Alvaro Uribe as the Panel’s vice-chair casts serious doubt on the integrity and impartiality of the Panel. Uribe’s intimate association with the military and paramilitary practice of murdering civilians in Colombia and notorious disdain for human rights defenders makes his appountment to the Panel problematic. Furthermore, Uribe’s government is on record as advocating closer military cooperation with Israel [1]

In addition to the problems in the composition of the Panel, its goal was not to arrive at the truth of what happened or to seek justice for victims, but rather to reach political compromise in order to repair relations between Israel and Turkey. The mandate of the Panel was limited to reviewing the reports of the national investigations by Turkey and Israel, and it did not interview witnesses or otherwise conduct any in-depth objective investigation. This is a political attempt to overshadow the only independent and impartial investigation and report on the flotilla raid, which was commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council and conducted by three internationally renowned human rights experts. The findings and recommendations of this report, released on 23 September 2010 have yet to be acted on by the United Nations.

One of the most outrageous findings of this Panel is that Israel had a right to impose the naval blockade on Gaza as a legitimate security measure.”

This finding completely ignores the fact that the naval blockade is part of an overall closure regime that numerous human rights bodies, including various UN agencies, have declared illegal. Furthermore, it ignores incontrovertible evidence that the naval blockade and overall closure are not about security, but rather about putting pressure on the people of Gaza. Israeli leaders are on record noting that the purpose of the blockade is economic warfare – to keep the Gaza economy on the brink of collapse in order to pressure the civilians to rise up against the Hamas government [2]

Using civilians as a means of pressuring a government violates international humanitarian law, which prohibits intentionally harming civilians, and constitutes collective punishment, forbidden under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Palmer/Uribe Report mistakenly identifies IHH as the “leading group involved in the planning of the flotilla,” accuses us (the Freedom Flotilla organizers) of acting recklessly, and casts doubt on the humanitarian nature of our action (pages 46-48). Six non-governmental, international civil society organizations, all having equal say and responsibility, planned Freedom Flotilla I. Our action was a legitimate form of nonviolent direct action. We reject the Panel’s finding that Israeli soldiers faced “organized violence.” What the heavily armed commandos faced while they tried to forcefully take over the “Mavi Marmara” in the high seas was legitimate acts of non-armed self-defense by a handful of passengers, acting against unwarranted aggression.

Although our ships carried 10,000 tons of much needed cargo for the people of Gaza, we have repeatedly stated that our goal is to break the illegal blockade of Gaza, not simply to deliver aid. The humanitarian crisis that exists in Gaza is a result of a deliberate, illegal and immoral policy. To challenge that policy in order to bring an end to the cause of people’s suffering, is humanitarian.

While the Report correctly faults Israel for using excessive force on unarmed civilians, it does not call for accountability.

The Report notes that Israel has not accounted for the forensic evidence showing that most of the nine volunteers killed were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range, or for the consistent accounts of abuse suffered by other volunteers at the hands of Israeli forces. The Report’s recommendation that Israel simply express regret over the incident is insulting to the victims and their families, and seriously undermines international human rights and humanitarian law.

Finally the report fails to address the issue of the remaining 4 ships of the Freedom Flotilla I still under capture in Israel as also its refusal to return to the passengers over $1 million in money and equipment including cameras and videos which are of evidential value.

We welcome Turkey’s decision to downgrade relations with Israel, expelling the Israeli ambassador, and cancelling military ties, as well as its statement that it will take legal action against those Israelis responsible for the attack on the flotilla. Such sanctions are needed in order to put an end to the impunity with which Israel has been violating Palestinian human rights and disregarding international law.

[1] See “Colombia seeks to broaden Israel ties,” Apr 28, 2010, Jerusalem Post at: http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?ID=174179

[2] See e.g. “Wikileaks: Israel aimed to keep Gaza economy on brink of collapse,” Jan 5, 2011, Haaretz, reporting on a leaked Cable from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv saying Israeli officials wanted Gaza’s economy ‘functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis’ at:

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/wikileaks-israel-aimed-to-keep-gaza-economy-on-brink-of-collapse-1.335354

For more information:
Ehab Lotayef – 514.941.9792 – lotayef@gmail.com
Sandra Ruch – 416.716.4010 – miriamswell@hotmail.com

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