When two Palestinian bombers, one right after the other, blew up both themselves and at least 16 Israelis on two separate buses in the Israeli city of Beersheva on August 31—at the time, the bloodiest attack of its kind since October, 2003—the UN Secretary-General rightly and “strongly condemn[ed] the double terrorist attack,” and sent his “deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims.” (SG/SM/9459, Aug. 31, 2004.)
But when Israeli forces barred Peter Hansen, the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), from traveling from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank on September 1 as part of his official duties, the Secretary-General remained officially silent on the affair, leaving it up to Hansen himself to protest the restriction. (HQ/G/24/2004, Sept. 1, 2004.)
Similarly, when on September 7, Hansen protested the Israel Defense Force’s “indiscriminate” gunfire that struck a Palestinian girl in the head while she attended an UNRWA-run school in the Gaza Strip (“The kind of live firing into refugee camps that is so indiscriminate that it makes classrooms dangerous for 10-year-old children is totally unacceptable,” were Hansen’s exact words), later dying from her wounds (HQ/G/28/2004, Sept. 27), no condemnations of the shooting emerged from the Secretary-General’s office. Nor statements in support of his beleaguered Under-Secretary General. Just official silence.
Likewise on September 9, when the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for Southern Lebanon, Staffan de Mistura, issued yet another of what has become a regular series of protests against Israeli military aircraft violating Lebanese airspace—deliberate provocations and crimes against the peace so numerous they’d have to be numbered in the thousands—and called on Israel to “cease these violations,” his boss was rightly “horrified at the car bomb explosion today near the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, reportedly killing at least eight people and injuring more than a hundred others” (SG/SM/9472, Sept. 9), but missed the 13 or more different violations of Lebanese airspace perpetrated by the Israeli fighter jets.
(Quick aside. Several days later, just before the start of the UN’s New Year, a message was delivered on behalf of the Secretary-General to the UN International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People, wherein the messenger, Kiernan Prendergast, called the humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories “deeply disturbing,” the “widespread destruction of Palestinian homes…extremely troubling,” and then added, curiously, that “we cannot ignore the fact that some Palestinian groups continue to carry out suicide bombings and other attacks that kill Israeli civilians, fuel hatred and fear, and only serve to interfere with the national aspirations of the Palestinian people. We must all strongly and consistently condemn such terrorism, wherever and whenever it occurs. No cause can justify it.” The best solution, according to the Secretary-General’s messenger? The so-called “Road Map” (so called, that is, since road map to where, exactly, is another matter entirely). (SG/SM/9478, Sept. 13; and SG/2091, Sept. 23.)
(Quick aside to this quick aside. But do check out the proposal submitted to the International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People on its second, and final, day, titled “2004-2005 Plan for Action to support Palestinian rights through international law and the United Nations” (GA/PAL/968, Sept. 15). As well as Kiernan Prendergast‘s later briefing before the Security Council on a topic officially known as the “Middle East,” but which, in reality, is the Arab-Israeli conflict through and through (Sept. 17). Still. Obiter dicta, when all is said and done. Surely with official statements and documents of this kind having long ago eclipsed the billion-word-count, this whole comedy of words will return as tragedy, once and for all.)
Getting more serious now, the Secretary-General “strongly condemn[ed]” the suicide bomber, the young Palestinian woman who struck in Jerusalem on September 22, killing two Israeli border policemen. He also extended his condolences to the victims’ families, and called upon the “Palestinian Authority to take all necessary measures to put an end to terror and to bring to justice the organizers of such heinous crimes.” (SG/SM/9494, Sept. 22.) Later the same day, it was left up to the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for Southern Lebanon, Staffan de Mistura, to once again voice his concern about Israeli fighter-jet violations of Lebanese air space, comments so routine and so well-rehearsed by this point that each one reads just like the previous one.
The suicide bombing of Wednesday, September 22, happened to be something of a turning point in the conflict over the Occupied Palestinian Territories. For whatever reason, the deaths of the bomber, Zayneb Abu Salem (18 years old and reportedly the eighth female suicide bomber to date), and the Israeli border patrolmen Menashe Komemi (19) and the Ethiopian Jew Yonatan Tahio (20), near Jerusalem’s French Hill junction, have been followed by a very serious escalation in the violence overall. This began the very next day with gun battles between Palestinians and Israeli Defense Force personnel in the Gaza, Israeli detonations of Palestinian houses in the Gaza, the killing of a young Israeli woman by a Palestinian mortar round striking her house in a Jewish settlement in the Gaza, the killing of a Palestinian man by an Israeli settler in the northern West Bank, and the apparent assassination of a senior Hamas official in Damascus by Israeli agents on September 26, the last of which led to this hair-raising promise by the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman, Yuval Steinitz (Likud) (“Sources: Israel behind Damascus hit,” Haaretz, Sept. 27):
I can’t confirm or deny [our involvement] but in principle, those who kill us should know they have no immunity, not in Israel, not in the territories, not in countries that give them shelter, including Syria.
While these incidents were occurring, UNRWA chief Peter Hansen lodged an official protest with the Israeli Government against the ongoing restrictions imposed on UNWRA staff in the Gaza Strip, including the “repeated instances where measures taken by Israeli Authorities have put the lives of my staff at risk….” (PAL/2010, Sept. 24.) This was followed by the shooting death by Israeli forces of a UNRWA contractor on UN premises in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza, and the shooting death by Israeli forces of a 55-year-old Palestinian man at a UNRWA-run school in the Khan Younis refugee camp, also in Gaza. Then, and only then, did the Secretary-General finally issue any kind of statement, through the person of his press spokesman Fred Eckhard. In its entirety, this statement read as follows (SG/SM/9503, Sept. 28):
The Secretary-General continues to be deeply concerned at the upsurge in violence in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel. He was saddened to learn of the death of 10-year-old Raghda Adnan al-Assar, who died on 22 September after being hit in the head by an IDF bullet whilst sitting at her desk at the UNRWA Elementary School in Khan Younis on 7 September. On 27 September, 55-year-old Said al-Madhoun was shot and killed on the grounds of UNRWA’s Preparatory School in Khan Younis. In addition, an UNRWA contractor was shot and seriously wounded on 27 September while working in a UN warehouse in Rafah.
The Secretary-General and his representatives in the region have repeatedly called on the Government of Israel to respect the inviolability of UN institutions and installations, and in particular, to refrain from any activities that endanger the lives and safety of those who are lawfully on the premises, especially children. The Secretary-General reiterates the obligation for the Government of Israel to ensure the safety of civilians in the occupied Palestinian territory.
The same day this searing denunciation was released (deeply concerned?), the Israel Defense Forces rolled into the northern Gaza Strip, launching Operation Penitence, a major offensive that, now in its eighth day, has caused at least 82 Palestinian deaths in the Gaza alone, 24 of them children, and 5 Israeli deaths, according to UNRWA and other agencies (“Current violence pushing Gaza into a humanitarian crisis, UN agencies warn,” UN News Center, Oct. 5).
And how did the Secretary-General respond to Operation Penitence?
The Secretary-General is gravely concerned at the escalation of violence and the rising toll of casualties on both sides in the Gaza Strip and adjacent Israeli areas in the past 24 hours. He especially mourns the death and injuries of children. The Secretary-General remains deeply convinced that there is no military solution to this conflict. He urges both parties immediately to cease all forms of violence, to act in strict compliance with their obligations under the Road Map and international law and to renew their search for a peaceful solution to the conflict. (SG/SM/9510, Sept. 30)
So, as of September 30, we find the Secretary-General “gravely concerned at the escalation of violence and the rising toll of casualties on both sides in the Gaza Strip and adjacent Israeli areas,” whereas 48-hours earlier, he was “deeply concerned at the upsurge in violence in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel.” And all of this was after the Israeli military had launched its largest offensive against the Gaza Strip since the start of the Second Intifada, almost four years to the day earlier.
Then, on the very next day, October 1, we find that the Secretary-General (SG/SM/9514)
has learned with dismay and abhorrence the reports of a terrorist attack on a mosque in the town of Sialkot in Pakistan during Friday prayers today, which has killed and injured a large number of worshipers. No cause or motive can justify attacks on places of worship and innocent civilians. The Secretary-General condemns this cowardly act in the strongest terms.
And the day after this, October 2, we find the Secretary-General learning, once again (SG/SM/9517):
with shock and dismay the news of bomb and gunfire attacks that took place today in crowded public places in Nagaland and Assam states, India, which have claimed the lives of a large number of people.
The Secretary-General strongly condemns these terrorist attacks. No cause or grievance can justify such senseless and cruel acts that target innocent civilians. He expresses his sincere condolences to the victims and their families.
But when we look at the situation in the Israeli Occupied Palestinian Territories, and we watch it go from existentially bad to something considerably much worse, and, moreover, we not only watch a State actor engage in life-and-death struggles with non-state actors, but life-and-death struggles deliberately chosen and initiated by the State actor, with its unambiguous chains-of-command and responsibility, strangely enough, we never find the UN Secretary-General strongly condemning the violence and killings and destruction perpetrated by the State actor. Nor issuing official statements that in any way call for its heads of state to be placed on the block and held accountable. Only the non-state actors. The officially-designated terrorists.
The Secretary-General calls on the Government of Israel to halt its military incursions into the Gaza Strip, which have led to the deaths of scores of Palestinians, among them many civilians, including children. The Secretary-General likewise calls on the Palestinian Authority to take action to halt the firing of rockets against Israeli targets by Palestinian militants. He reminds both sides to this conflict that they have a legal obligation to protect all civilians. (SG/SM/9518, Oct. 4)
But never: The Secretary-General strongly condemns the Israeli Government’s military offensive against the Gaza Strip, which has killed a large number of innocent people, and injured many others. No cause or grievance can justify such cruel acts that kill innocent civilians. He expresses his sincere condolences to the victims and their families…. Or words to this effect.
Postscript. Earlier today, Tuesday, October 5, another notorious State actor with a history of being protected by the Secretary-General vetoed the draft of a UN Security Council resolution that “that would have demanded Israel halt all military operations in northern Gaza and withdraw from the area,” according to the UN News Center (Oct. 5). This draft resolution received 11 votes in favor (Algeria, Angola, Benin, Brazil, Chile, China, France, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, and Spain), 3 abstentions (Germany, Romania, and Britain), and, of course, 1 vote against. (For a copy of the vetoed October 5 draft resolution, see SC/8207. Or see below.)
Also today, an Israeli helicopter gunship fired upon two individuals while driving in the Gaza Strip, killing both of them; Israeli officials later identified them as “top officials of Islamic Jihad” (Ibrahim Barzak, Associated press, Oct. 5). And Agence France Presse reports that “Israeli troops…killed a militant of the Palestinian Islamic radical group Hamas in the Hebron region of the southern West Bank” (Oct. 5).
“It is totally one-sided,” the American Ambassador John C. Danforth complained before voting against the draft resolution. “It tends to put the blame on Israel and absolves terrorists in the Middle East—people who shoot rockets into civilian areas, people who are responsible for killing children, Hamas. Nothing was said in this resolution about that problem.”
Algeria’s UN Ambassador Abdallah Baali had a somewhat different take on the draft resolution, and the failure to get the Security Council to adopt it. “By failing to take action,” he explained, “the Security Council is failing its responsibilities. It is once again failing the Palestinian people and once again it is sending the wrong message to the world. It is confirmed that when it comes to Israel, the Security Council is unable to take action, let alone under Chapter VII. It is sending the impression that it is effective only when it deals with Arab countries.”
That is to say, as it is presently constituted, the American-veto-wielding Security Council has succeeded, once again, in its higher responsibility to protect the actually-existing principles of world order.
Therefore, in its failure to protect the Palestinian people against the overwhelming firepower of the Israeli military offensive, it has sent an unambiguous message to the rest of the world—one which reverberates throughout the roughly 90 percent of it that comprises the Global South.
Do not mess with the Americans.
“Speakers in Security Council Warn of Threat To Hopes for Peace Caused by Escalating Violence in Gaza Strip,” UN Security Council Press Release SC/8205, October 4, 2004
“Security Council Fails To Adopt Text Demanding End To Israeli Military Offensive in Gaza,” UN Security Council Press release Press Release SC/8207, October 5, 2004
“Israeli raid on northern Gaza (28 September 2004-),” Electronic Intifada (accessed Tuesday, Oct. 5)
Principals of World Order I, ZNet Blogs, September 25
FYA (“For your archives”): A copy of the vetoed UN Security Council draft resolution (SC/8207, Oct. 5, 2004) that had been jointly sponsored by Algeria, Pakistan, and Tunisia.
The Security Council,
Reaffirming its previous resolutions, including resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 446 (1979), 1322 (2000), 1397 (2002), 1402 (2002), 1403 (2002), 1405 (2002), 1435 (2002), 1515 (2003) and 1544 (2004),
Expressing its grave concern at the continued deterioration of the situation on the ground in the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967,
Condemning the broad military incursion and attacks by the Israeli occupying forces in the area of Northern Gaza Strip, including in and around the Jabaliya refugee camp, resulting in extensive human casualties and destruction and exacerbating the dire humanitarian situation,
Reiterating its call upon Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War of 12 August 1949,
Recalling the obligations of the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel under the Road Map,
Condemning all acts of violence, terror, excessive and indiscriminate use of force, and physical destruction,
Reaffirming its support for the Road Map endorsed in its resolution 1515 (2003),
1. Demands the immediate cessation of all military operations in the area of Northern Gaza and the withdrawal of the Israeli occupying forces from that area;
2. Reiterates its call for the cessation of violence and for respect of and adherence to legal obligations, including those under international humanitarian law;
3. Calls on Israel, the occupying Power, to ensure the unfettered access and safety of United Nations personnel and all medical and humanitarian aid workers to provide emergency assistance to the civilian population, and calls for the respect of the inviolability of the facilities of the United Nations agencies in the field, including the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA);
4. Calls on both parties to immediately implement their obligations under the Road Map and with this goal in mind closely cooperate with the ‘Quartet’;
5. Decides to remain seized of the matter.