September 28, 2010, New York, NY – Discussions at the Human Rights Council (HRC) continued today following the release of a report of the fact-finding mission that investigated the May 31, 2010 Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships travelling to Gaza, in which it found that Israel violated international law in attacking the flotilla and by maintaining a blockade of Gaza. Nine people were killed during the Israeli attack on the flotilla in international waters. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), an organizer of the flotilla, and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) responded to the report and the comments made by the United States at the Council today.
At the HRC, the United States criticized what it termed as the report’s “unbalanced language, tone and conclusions.” Rather than acknowledging the harm to the “peace process” that comes from the on-going blockade of Gaza and the building of settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, the U.S. urged that the report not be used to “disrupt” direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
“Unfortunately, the United States used the opportunity of the HRC’s discussion on the flotilla fact-finding mission's report to promote its political agenda instead of engaging on the issue of legal accountability for Israel's illegal blockade of Gaza and the unlawful attack on the Gaza flotilla,” said CCR attorney Katherine Gallagher. "The U.S. must recognize that there can be no peace without justice, and that until it supports accountability for violations of international law--even when violations committed by Israel - instead of a culture of impunity, it lacks the legitimacy necessary to serve as a broker of peace."
“It has always been the position of the Free Gaza Movement that when governments fail to act, it is up to civil society to stand against injustice,” said Audrey Bomse, Legal Coordinator of the Free Gaza Movement. “The Fact-Finding Mission rejected the notion that such intervention by civil society is meddlesome and called for space for both humanitarian intervention to alleviate the crisis in Gaza, and political action to address the causes creating the crisis. The Second Freedom Flotilla now being organized, like the one so brutally attacked by Israel, will aim to do both. We will continue sailing until the illegal siege of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza is ended.”
Among its findings, the report stated that “one of the principal motives behind the imposition of the blockade was a desire to punish the people of the Gaza Strip for having elected Hamas [and there is] no doubt that Israel’s actions and policies amount to collective punishment as defined by international law.”
The report also found:
• That the flotilla presented no imminent threat but the Israeli attack was based in concerns regarding a “possible propaganda victory” of the flotilla organizers;
• That “the Israeli interception of the flotilla was unlawful,” and “the use of force by the Israeli forces in seizing control of the…vessels was also prima facie unlawful”;
• That “much of the force used by the Israeli soldiers…was unnecessary, disproportionate, excessive and inappropriate and resulted in the wholly avoidable killing and maiming of a large number of civilian passengers”;
• That based in forensic evidence, at least six of the killings [including U.S. citizen Furkhan Doğan] can be characterized as “extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions”;
• That “the conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the flotilla passengers was not only disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence. It betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality”; and
• That Israel’s confiscation of “a large amount of video and photographic footage…by passengers, including many professional journalists… represents a deliberate attempt by the Israeli authorities to suppress or destroy evidence and other information” related to the flotilla attack.
“As a retired US Army Reserve Colonel and a former US diplomat, and as a passenger on the Gaza flotilla, I am grateful that the UN Human Rights Council commissioned an investigation into the Israeli military attack on the six unarmed, civilian ships that formed the ‘Gaza flotilla,’” said Ann Wright, one of two US diplomats who were passengers on the Gaza flotilla. “Despite the passengers' notification to their respective diplomatic representatives of criminal incidents that took place on the ships, including murder, shootings, assaults, kidnapping on the high seas and theft of personal property, the lack of required accountability by the Israeli government pertaining to these crimes is outrageous. The lack of investigation on the part of the U.S. government of the death of an American citizen and the assaults on other American citizens by the Israeli military is a total renunciation of the responsibilities of my government toward its citizens.”
Sixteen U.S. citizens were part of the flotilla, five of whom were on the U.S.-registered vessel Challenger I and one of whom was killed on the Mavi Marmara. U.S. citizens were injured, and their property, including computers, video and photographic equipment which contain potential evidence for investigations, was seized and appropriated by Israel and has not been returned.
Marjorie Cohn, immediate past president of the NLG, said, “Israel could not maintain its illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories without the support of the United States. Three weeks after the flotilla attack, 329 out of 435 members of the House of Representatives and 87 out of 100 senators wrote letters to President Obama supporting what they called Israel’s right to ‘self-defense.’ The Human Rights Council report says unequivocally that Israel had no need to ‘defend’ against the flotilla because it posed no imminent threat and that Israel’s actions were illegal.”