GAZA CITY, July 17 (JMCC) - Rights groups and Palestinians are worried that a United Nations report due out in July will weaken the legal position against Israel
’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Salah Abdelati, of the Independent Commission for Human Rights in Gaza, says that were the panel to find Israel’s blockade legal, it would contradict earlier UN reports. He said he was concerned about the “politicization of a human rights issue.”
The report, an investigation of events last year when Israeli commandos boarded a flotilla to Gaza, killing nine activists, has been delayed numerous times due to conflicts between the committee’s Turkish and Israeli representatives.
The UN has now said the so-called Palmer report will be released on July 27, and Israeli officials are expressing satisfaction with the panel’s findings.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak
told a television channel that he believed the report would find that Israel’s blockade
was in line with international law and the use of force to stop ships headed to Gaza was justifiable given Israel’s conflict with Hamas.
On May 22, 2010, Israel commandos raided the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish vessel, killing nine Turkish activists (one of them also a US citizen). The boat was part of a flotilla
headed to Gaza to break the blockade and deliver humanitarian aid.
Relations between Turkey and Israel deteriorated after the Israeli attack and Turkey is demanding an apology, compensation for the families of the victims and an end to the Gaza blockade.
According to news reports, however, the coming report suggests Israel express regret and place money in a special fund. It also says Israel used excessive force in the attack, but does not rule the blockade illegal.
Mohammed Awad, minister of foreign affairs in the Hamas government that governs Gaza described this prospect as shocking and shameful.
The UN is supposed to be the reference of humanity,” he said. “It is strange that it would issue a report supporting the oppressor against the oppressed.
The UN must reconsider its inhuman attitude, he added.
UN officials declined to comment on the report’s impending release or the concerns of human rights groups.
A UN Human Rights Council mission found last year that Israel’s blockade on Gaza was inflicting “disproportionate civilian damage” and a violation of the laws of war.
Israel boycotted that investigation, calling it biased. An official Israeli inquiry into the blockade and the flotilla boarding absolved it of all wrong-doing.
Issam Younis, head of Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, says that what has been published about the findings of the Palmer report is contrary to the law.
There is no doubt that the blockade of Gaza, whether the naval or land or crossings blockade, is illegal. It violates international law, including the fourth Geneva Convention, as well as signed [peace] agreements, Younis asserts.
Human rights advocates say that, while sea blockades are sometimes allowed in military conflict, collective punishment is never permitted.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which monitors compliance with the Geneva conventions, has called Israel’s blockade “collective punishment in clear violation of international humanitarian law” and called for its end.
The blockade is collective punishment against civilians in Gaza,” says Younis. “It hurts their livelihood and cannot be justified from a legal or any other angle.”
Younis worries that if the report “has been used politically, Israel will be given political and legal immunity to conduct more operations against peace activists that sympathize with the besieged people in Gaza.
Karl Schembri, Oxfam communication officer in Gaza, reiterates that the blockade on Gaza amounts to the collective punishment of 1.6 million people.
The blockade has to be lifted in its entirety for Gaza's economy and people to live normally, he asserts.
Jabr Wishah, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, said he is concerned that the Palmer report will not only legalize the illegal Israeli blockade on Gaza, but also participate in the crime of the siege.
He, too, feared that political pressure was driving the findings of the report.
Israel has increasingly restricted Palestinian access to the sea off Gaza since the start of the Palestinian uprising in 2000. According to the UN, the last expansion of the sea blockade was in 2008, during Israel’s 22-day military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
A new flotilla planned to head to Gaza in June, but was thwarted by Greece, which prevented most of the ships from leaving its ports.