Beit Hanoun at the United Nations

Two weeks ago today, on the heels of Operation Autumn Clouds, a week-long Israeli offensive into the northern Gaza that featured a Fallujah-class military siege of the as many as 50,000 inhabitants of Beit Hanoun, Israeli jets and artillery struck a number of residential homes on a single street, killing 17 members of one family, seven of them children, and 20 people overall.  This incident brought the Palestinian death-toll in the Gaza alone to somewhere on the order of 80 for the first eight days of November. As always, the Israel Defense Forces explained from the very start that the offensive was "directed against terror organizations in the area and its goal is to disrupt and prevent the launching of Qassam rockets into the State of Israel" (Wednesday 01/11/2006 08:56).  Indeed.  Within hours of the crack-of-dawn atrocity that took the lives of 17 members of the al-Athamnah family, the IDF was still affirming that its mission had been "to disrupt and thwart the launching of Qassam rockets into Israel," and that on the morning of November 8, "the IDF fired preventative artillery at launch sites from which Qassam rockets were launched yesterday into Ashkelon, in order to prevent further launches at the city" (Wednesday 08/11/2006 12:37).  What could have gone wrong–presuming that something really did–always an iffy presumption in cases such as this–my hunch is that nothing did–the IDF wasn't saying.  But within 24 hours, a "committee of experts" reported that the "primary cause of the incident was a technical failure in the 'Shilem' System, which directs artillery fire" (Thursday 09/11/2006 20:45).  The IDF's Chief of Staff Lieut. Gen. Dan Halutz then went on to remind everybody that the "IDF operates solely against the terrorist infrastructure and uses all means at its disposal to avoid targeting uninvolved civilians."  He closed by expressing "his regret for the civilian casualties as a result of the technical failure."

Under the celebrated "Uniting for Peace" resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly 56 years ago (377 (V), November 3, 1950), Emergency Special Sessions of the UN General Assembly can be called "if the Security Council, because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in any case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression."  On such occasions, the "General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately with a view to making appropriate recommendations to Members for collective measures, including in the case of a breach of the peace or act of aggression the use of armed force when necessary, to maintain or restore international peace and security."  (Operative Par. A.1.)One such session was convened on November 17.  (See "10th Session – Illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.")  At the end of the day, a voice vote was held.  By a final tally of 156 to 7, the General Assembly adopted a resolution that "deeply deplored" Israel's military offensive in the Gaza, including the prolonged siege of Beit Hanoun, and Israel's November 8 attack that killed the 20 residents of Hamad Street.  The vote's breakdown was: 

- In Favor: 156 (notably including both Afghanistan and Iraq)
- Against: 7 (Australia, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, United States)
- Abstained: 6 (Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu)
- Absent: 23

Since the November 17 resolution, I've been checking for copies of the relevant documentation at the UN's website.  But I haven't been able to find what I'm looking for: Neither the resolution itself (see General Assembly Resolutions–be sure you notice that there are options for (a) Regular Sessions, (b) Special Sessions, and (c) Emergency Special Sessions–we want the last) nor the Verbatim Record of the November 17 session.  To date, all that I've been able to find is a UN press release (GA/10534, Nov. 17).  This press release is very helpful, and even reproduces the vote's breakdown, state-by-state.  But none of the material is verbatim. 

On the other hand, the Security Council's documentation on the Beit Hanoun siege and November 8 atrocity was produced in a timely fashion.  On November 9, the Security Council devoted a full-day's session to the situation in the Gaza.  Two days later, the Security Council voted on a draft resolution that condemned both the IDF's offensive against the Gaza as well as the Palestinians' firing of rockets from the Gaza into Israel; called for an immediate halt to both of these activities; called upon Israel "to immediately withdraw its forces from within the Gaza Strip to positions prior to 28 June 2006;" expressed "grave concern about the dire humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people;" and requested that the Secretary-General establish a fact-finding inquiry into the November 8 incident.

Ultimately, this draft resolution was vetoed by the Americans, with Ambassador John Bolton complaining that the draft "does not display an evenhanded characterization of the recent events in Gaza, nor does it advance the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace to which we aspire and for which we are working assiduously."  To repeat another of Bolton's favorite expressions, the draft was "biased against Israel and politically motivated."

The November 11 vote went:

- In favor: 10 in favor (Argentina, China, Congo, France, Ghana, Greece, Qatar, Peru, Russian Federation, Tanzania)
- Against: 1 against (the United States
- Abstained: 4 (Denmark, Japan, Slovakia, U.K.) 

Among the hyperlinks I'm providing below, I strongly recommend the verbatim records of the Security Council's morning and afternoon sessions of November 9: S/PV.5566 – 10:00 AM; and S/PV.5564 – 3:15 PM.  (Note that upon arriving at the UN Bibliographic Information System's entries for these documents, you'll have to select the language in which you'd like the UN's website to open and display them for you.  They will then open as PDFs for you.)

"Middle East situation, including the Palestinian question" (S/PV.5566 – 10:00 AM), UN Security Council, November 9, 2006 
Middle East situation, including the Palestinian question" (S/PV.5564 – 3:15 PM), UN Security Council, November 9, 2006
Gaza Violence, Mounting Death Toll, Provoke Grave Concern in Security Council" (SC/8865), November 9, 2006 

"Middle East situation, including the Palestinian question" (S/PV.5565), UN Security Council, November 11, 2006
Draft resolution on cessation of all acts of violence and withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip" (S/2006/878), UN Security Council, November 11, 2006
Security Council Fails To Adopt Draft Resolution on Middle East, Owing to Negative Vote by United States" (SC/8867), November 11, 2006

"Gaza: UN agency reports significant damage in Beit Hanoun after Israeli withdrawal," UN News Center, November 7, 2006 
"UN officials voice ‘shock and dismay’ at deadly Israeli shelling of Gaza civilians," UN News Center, November 8, 2006
"US vetoes Security Council draft resolution on Israeli operations in Gaza," UN News Center, November 11, 2006
"UN Human Rights Council denounces recent Israeli military actions in northern Gaza," UN News Center, November 15, 2006
"General Assembly deplores Israeli raids in Gaza, sends mission to Beit Hanoun," UN News Center, November 17, 2006
"UN concerned at rapidly deteriorating health services in Palestinian territories," UN News Center, November 17, 2006 
"In Gaza Strip, UN human rights chief decries ‘massive’ violations against civilians," UN News Center, November 20, 2006

Palestine Red Crescent Society (Homepage)
"Israel/Occupied Territories: Amnesty International delegate visits scene of Gaza Strip killings," Amnesty International, November 8, 2006
"The Killing of Civilians in Beit Hanun is a War Crime," B'TselemIsraeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, November 8, 2006
"Palestinian human rights NGOs condemn Beit Hanoun Massacre; call for international investigation," Palestinian Center for Human Rights, November 8, 2006 

Petition on Gaza: "Stop the Siege!  Stop the War!"


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