Haitham Manna' – From Tutu to Goldstone
|Wednesday, November 4,2009 21:12|
|By haytham manna|
On September 2008 South African Bishop Desmond Tutu’s fact-finding delegation submitted to the Human Rights Council its latest report on the Israeli shelling of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip in 2006, which led to the death of nineteen civilians. At a press conference in Geneva, Tutu denounced the siege of the Gaza Strip and said it was one of the most pressing concerns influencing the Beit Hanoun bombardment victims at that time.
The delegation, which was appointed by the Human Rights Commission, stated that the absence of a persuasive Israeli excuse for what had taken place in Beit Hanoun lead the delegation to the possible conclusion that the bombardment was a war crime. It recommended that Israel compensate the victims. Israeli delegate Aharon Leshno-Yaar commented as follows before the Council:
“The report presented today will take its place in the vast library of UN reports on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The resolution that it will spawn will take its place on the lost list of one-sided resolutions that this Council has passed against Israel so far.”
On that day, the Arab Committee for Human Rights and Palestinian NGO’s demanded presentation of the issue before international courts. However, due to American pressure in the last days of the Bush administration and a weak European stance, the Tutu report entered the United Nations’ archive as the Israeli delegate had expected – with no follow-up or accountability whatsoever.
One year later, I sat in the upper balcony of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, observing and listening to various delegations discussing the Goldstone report, the best report submitted to the Human Rights Council since its establishment on March 15, 2006. On his left was another judge from South Africa, the Honorable Navanethem Pillay. To his right was the committee that accompanied him on this difficult and sensitive journey, Hina Jilani, Professor Kristen Chinkin and Colonel Desmond Travers.
It did not occur to me that the Israeli delegate would call the Goldstone report a “shameful report”, or that the committee chair would not call to order. It was unfortunate that the “ex-partner” in “Human Rights First”, Michael Bosner, adopted the Authority’s language and defended “human rights last” in his speech. As he spoke about the children of Gaza and the existence of a double standard, it sounded as if Gaza’s children were a superpower.
We, a group of citizens of the world, have been gathered since January 2009 in an international coalition to denounce the absence of accountability, support the internationalization of Palestinian non-governmental demands for the filing of claims with the International Criminal Court, and to activate criminal prosecution in the Middle East. Lack of accountability has made war a legitimate method of political work per the law of the jungle. We know the extent of independence the Ramallah-based Palestinian authority enjoys. We have seen with our own eyes how Israel has destroyed Palestinian infrastructure in over forty years of occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and how it has denied Palestinians the ability to sustain themselves due to the ongoing war on the environment, industry, agriculture, commerce and humanity.
International justice must restore people’s faith that Israel cannot remain above law and accountability and that it cannot, even for petty electoral reasons, transgress upon everything in the name of self-defense. It was cautious optimism, but we were certain that there were more than thirty votes in favor of the Goldstone report when we were shocked by the Palestinian Authority’s request that its delegate in Geneva postpone voting on the report for six months. I saw much anger as I headed at noon on 2/10/2009 to the Aljazeera studio in Montparnasse in the French capitol. “I feel like I’ve been poisoned. Nobody has the right to tamper with the victims’ right to justice,” “Abu Mazin, let international justice defend your people.” I received hundreds of messages and phone calls from the Palestinian territories, both Gaza and Ramallah; Hamas and Fatah; and from several Palestinian and Arab human rights organizations. Within seven days, an intifada (uprising) of Palestinian human right against the postponement decision was launched in addition to marches and demonstrations in Palestinian cities, daily rallies for the victims and overall discontent on part of human rights organizations and civil resistance. There was also debate within the circles of Palestinian decision-making regarding peaceful resolution and absence of accountability and the symbolic role that the Human Rights Council played, and the importance of the Goldstone recommendations. For the first time in its history, the Human Rights Council and international justice became at the forefront of mainstream Arabic media until the Palestinian Authority succumbed before the demands of the human rights movement and the “International Coalition to Prosecute War Criminals”: “a Human Rights Council urgent session, a special United Nations session, to pursue the Palestinian case before the International Criminal Court immediately.” The Palestinian Minister of Justice arrived in Paris on Monday morning and we met in order to proceed in three directions: The Hague, Geneva and New York.
A Palestinian committee for investigation was formed and I immediately submitted my testimony. Progress was made towards international recognition of what had taken place by parties keen to give international justice a voice in a world that had become a jungle ruled by the powerful following years of secret prisons, Guantanamo and arbitrary laws. But again, an over-cautious optimism, as the Israeli Prime Minister said on the evening of Monday 12/10/2009 that Israel is above punishment and that “self defense” and the “Jewish character of the state” are existential Israeli issues. He said he would refuse jurisdiction over any Israeli who defended Israel and that he would do everything in his power to prevent the Goldstone report from returning to the Human Rights Council. This language transformed war crimes and crimes against humanity to legitimate methods for self defense. It is the major product of violence in the Middle East. It obstructs the creation of a broad civil current that defends peace. Peace is a word that has been stripped of all meaning by agreements, from Oslo to Washington. On the day Oslo was signed, there were about one hundred thousand settlers in the West Bank. Today there are over a quarter million. There were around 22 checkpoints. Today there are 600 checkpoints. The apartheid wall didn’t exist, and resources of self-sustenance for Palestinians citizens were three times as high as today. In the collective memory, Oslo is a disaster for the Palestinian and his national and citizenship aspirations. What peace, Mr. Nobel for Peace, if you cannot stop settlements? What peace when the British Foreign Secretary considers the Israeli war a democratic decision by a democratic state? What peace when European Union countries have refrained from voting to form an investigation delegation, a mere delegation to investigate the murder of 1,400 Palestinians, three quarters of whom were civilians? We are before a western ethical crisis. These countries, which teach daily lessons on the independence of the judiciary and human rights and the importance of accountability, stand naked at Israeli checkpoints, incapable of demonstrating even minimal credibility. International justice in Belgium retreated before Sharon. In Spain, it retreated before the generals of “Operation Cast Lead”. We have no idea where else in the aging continent (as Rumsfeld calls it) it will retreat. Has the Israeli war criminal become stronger than judicial buildings that are over two centuries old? This is the question before judicial, national, regional and international institutions today.