Calling Israel to account


IN SEIZING by force the Irish-owned Rachel Corrieon the high seas, Israel again defied both international law and world public opinion. That it should have done so without compounding the illegality with casualties is a relief. A sign of some restraint and, one hopes, that Israel has learned something from last week’s disastrous self-inflicted wound.

The disingenuous suggestion by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu that all was different on Saturday because the occupants of the Rachel Corriewere peace-loving while last week’s flotilla was al-Qaeda-inspired served only to recall the dubious rationale behind Israel’s contention that it was taken by surprise when met by force on May 31st. It had been telling the world for days it believed the Turkish ship had terrorist links; clearly the Israeli Defence Forces did not believe its own government’s propaganda.

There are, however, small welcome indications of movement on Israel’s part. An army officer has promised that the concrete supplies on the Rachel Corriewill be trans-shipped to Gaza despite being on the current list of import proscriptions. Though hopefully under review, Israel has defended the ban by arguing that concrete is essential to Hamas to create bunkers and tunnels and facilitates the building of missiles.

But the truth is that Israel’s long list of what is not permissible, and curbs on exports and travel to and from the Strip, are clear testimony to the reality that its purpose is as much to do with crippling Gaza’s economy as protecting Israel’s security, and punishment of the Gaza population for its temerity in electing a Hamas government.

As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said over the weekend, the blockade is illegal and should be lifted now: “International humanitarian law prohibits starvation of civilians as a method of warfare and . . . it is also prohibited to impose collective punishment on civilians”. Even the US is telling its friend the blockade must end.

Now former ally, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is apparently considering travelling to Gaza to break the blockade, according to Lebanese newspaper al-Mustaqbal. Such a mission would put Israel in an extraordinarily embarrassing position.

Pillay also reiterated her call for a credible international inquiry into the ship seizures. That is still being resisted by Israel although cabinet members have said they might be willing to see international representatives appointed to Israel’s own inquiry. That would not be sufficient – both the blockade and the seizures on the high seas are not merely internal matters, they are of legitimate concern to the international community.

At the UN, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is working on proposals for a committee chaired by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer and including both Israel and Turkey. The Security Council has called for an inquiry that would be impartial, transparent and credible. It would be impossible for Israel to meet those criteria with an inquiry of its own and it is to be hoped it will participate fully in the UN initiative.