[dehai-news] Detaining the United Nations

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From: wolda002@umn.edu
Date: Mon Dec 22 2008 - 23:22:51 EST

FPIF Commentary
Detaining the United Nations

Phyllis Bennis | December 22, 2008

Editor: Emily Schwartz Greco

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Foreign Policy In Focus

Richard Falk was detained at the airport and denied entry to Israel on
December 13, when he arrived in Tel Aviv. The American professor of
international law was traveling to the West Bank and Gaza, to fulfill his
mandate as the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the
Occupied Territories to investigate the human rights conditions affecting
the civilian population. His most urgent task includes monitoring the
rising humanitarian crisis facing the 1.5 million Palestinians, of whom
half are children, living in the besieged Gaza Strip.

The decision to keep Falk out fits a pattern of Israeli efforts to hide the
human consequences of the siege of Gaza and of the escalating settlement
expansion in the West Bank. Denying entry to the UN Special Rapporteur for
Human Rights is part of the same occupation playbook as keeping Palestinian
human rights defenders such as Raji Sourani, director of the Palestine
Center for Human Rights, locked up in Gaza and denied the right to leave to
speak to the outside world. It's at one with the Israeli policy of blocking
international journalists who might report on the spiraling humanitarian
crisis (especially in Gaza). The same goal is evident in the beating and
effort to intimidate the few Palestinian journalists who do manage the rare
opportunity to get out and tell the world, such as Mohamed Omer, the young
Gazan winner of the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize in Britain.

Falk's detention and exclusion echo earlier Israeli moves to deny access to
other UN human rights monitors. Most notably, perhaps, Archbishop Desmond
Tutu was denied entry when he was appointed by the United Nations to
conduct a special investigation of the 2006 attack on Beit Hanoun in Gaza
in which the Israeli Defense Forces killed 18 people in a single house.
(Tutu was only able to carry out the investigation, 18 months after the
attack, when Egypt was pressured to open its crossing at Rafah, in the
southern Gaza Strip.)

And this history goes back further. In 2002, after the Israeli military
assault on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank that left dozens of
civilians dead, the UN Security Council agreed to send a fact-finding
delegation to investigate the dire conditions in the camp and report back
to the Council. Israel was consulted and agreed to facilitate the visit,
but then began to backtrack, imposing more and more stringent restrictions
on the composition, leadership, and access of the team. The UN acquiesced
to virtually every demand, but soon Israel reneged on its agreement
altogether. Israeli officials told U.S. reporters at the time that they
"preferred the short-term cost in world opinion of resisting the United
Nations to the long-term risk of possibly exposing the army to war-crimes
trials." The UN monitors, then cooling their heels in Geneva, were

This pattern of exclusion and suppression of human rights monitors and
defenders reflects a clear goal of preventing international knowledge and
understanding of — and thus accountability for — the harsh realities of
Israel's military occupation.

Israel's recent decision, made by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to deny
entry to the Special Rapporteur of the UN, represents a grave assault on
the legitimacy of the United Nations itself. Ironically, Falk's exclusion
also closely mirrors the November 24th decision by Zimbabwean President
Robert Mugabe, who refused to allow entry to a group of prominent
international human rights notables, including South Africa's first lady
Graça Machel, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and former President
Jimmy Carter, a deplorable decision rightly criticized by many of Israel's
supporters. But in a broad sense, Israel's decision to bar Richard Falk
from the occupied territories, which have languished under Israeli control
for more than 40 years, portends even more serious consequences than that
of Zimbabwe because Special Rapporteurs for Human Rights represent the UN.
So when Richard Falk was exhaustively searched, his papers painstakingly
examined, and he was held incommunicado in a small detention room in the
Tel Aviv airport used for those accused of entering Israel illegally, it
was as if the United Nations itself was detained.

Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Her books
include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer

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