‘The Palestine Cables': Obama administration killed off independent U.N. investigation into Israeli war crimes in Gaza

Israel/Palestine
on 23 Comments

It was a shocking event in a twenty-two day assault filled with them:  the Israeli military shelled a United Nations compound in Gaza City January 15, where humanitarian aid like fuel and water pumping stations were stationed as well as hundreds of Palestinians displaced by the Israeli bombardment.  John Ging, the Gaza Director of Operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) described the scene on Democracy Now!

This morning, there were three rounds of white phosphorus which landed in our compound in Gaza. That set ablaze the main warehouse and the big workshop we have there for vehicles. At the time, there were 700, also, people displaced from the fighting. There were full fuel tankers there. The Israeli army have been given all the coordinates of all our facilities, including this one. They also knew that there were fuel tankers laden with fuel in the compound, and they would have known that there were hundreds of people who had taken refuge.

It was one of a number of incidents during “Operation Cast Lead” where the Israeli military attacked United Nations facilities.  But the possibility of an further inquiry that would investigate violations of international law during these attacks was killed following intense U.S. lobbying, according to newly published State Department cables released by WikiLeaks and reported on by Foreign Policy‘s Colum Lynch.  The efforts by the Obama administration to scuttle any investigation is similar to their efforts on the Goldstone report, and shows in detail how the U.S. uses its muscle in international forums to protect Israel.

A report was published in May 2009 on nine incidents where U.N. facilities were attacked by Israel.  The full report was never published, although a summary of the U.N. report stated that the “Government of Israel is responsible for the deaths and injuries that occurred within the United Nations premises” in seven of the nine incidents investigated. 

A number of recommendations were made for further follow-up, which included seeking compensation from Israel and seeking public statements from Israel that allegations of Palestinian fighters firing from within UNRWA facilities were unfounded.  The most controversial recommendation included in the report was the call for an “impartial inquiry” into violations of international humanitarian law.  But the possibility of that inquiry was quashed in the cover letter to the summary of the report, written by Ki-Moon.  “As for the Board’s recommendations numbers 10 and 11 [which called for further inquiries], which relate to matters that did not largely fall within the Board of Inquiry’s Terms of Reference, I do not plan any further Inquiry,” Ki-Moon wrote.

And despite Moon’s insistence at a press conference that the work of the board of inquiry was “completely independent,” State Department cables tell a much different story of U.S. pressure on Moon to kill off the possibility of an independent investigation.

Lynch reports:

The most controversial part of the probe involved recommendations by Martin that the U.N. conduct a far-reaching investigation into violations of international humanitarian law by Israeli forces, Hamas, and other Palestinian militants. On May 4, 2009, the day before Martin’s findings were presented to the media, Rice caught wind of the recommendations and phoned Ban to complain that the inquiry had gone beyond the scope of its mandate by recommending a sweeping investigation.

“Given that those recommendations were outside the scope of the Board’s terms of reference, she asked that those two recommendations not be included in the summary of the report that would be transmitted to the membership,” according to an account contained in the May 4 cable. Ban initially resisted. “The Secretary-General said he was constrained in what he could do since the Board of Inquiry is independent; it was their report and recommendations and he could not alter them, he said,” according to the cable.

But Rice persisted, insisting in a subsequent call that Ban should at least “make clear in his cover letter when he transmits the summary to the Security Council that those recommendations exceeded the scope of the terms of reference and no further action is needed.” Ban offered no initial promise. She subsequently drove the point home again, underlining the “importance of having a strong cover letter that made clear that no further action was needed and would close out this issue.”

Ban began to relent, assuring Rice that “his staff was working with an Israeli delegation on the text of the cover letter.”

After completing the cover letter, Ban phoned back Rice to report that he believed “they had arrived at a satisfactory cover letter. Rice thanked the Secretary-General for his exceptional efforts on such a sensitive issue.”

At the following day’s news conference, Ban flat-out rejected Martin’s recommendation for an investigation. While underscoring the board’s independent nature, he made it clear that “it is not my intention to establish any further inquiry.” Although he acknowledged publicly that he had consulted with Israel on the findings, he did not say it had been involved in the preparation of the cover letter killing off the call for an investigation. Instead, he only made a request to the Israelis to pay the U.N. more than $11 million in financial compensation for the damage done to U.N. facilities.

Alex Kane blogs on Israel/Palestine and Islamophobia in the United States at alexbkane.wordpress.com. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.  Read all of ‘The Palestine Cables’ reports here.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist and graduate student at New York University's Near East Studies and Journalism programs. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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23 Responses

  1. marc b.
    April 22, 2011, 9:38 am

    this should comfort those who complain that ‘israel haters’ hold too much sway in the UN, skewing its agenda. apparently a couple of phone calls from an ineffectual SOS is all it takes for the UN SG to cave.

    • Susie Kneedler
      April 22, 2011, 10:13 am

      (Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.) Great point, marc.

      • marc b.
        April 22, 2011, 11:15 am

        que cabron. what a dumbass, i am. thanks, susie. i mixed up my rices (and chronology). serves me right for plunking off a comment without much reflection.

      • Susie Kneedler
        April 22, 2011, 11:36 am

        marc! Don’t say that: I always learn from your comments, and this one, as well. Take care (be as kind to yourself as you are to us),
        Susie

      • marc b.
        April 22, 2011, 11:52 am

        not to worry, susie, my ego will survive intact. a bit of humility is not a bad thing at this time of year.

  2. Woody Tanaka
    April 22, 2011, 10:41 am

    This should demonstrate to everyone who is under any impression that the Democrats, and especially Obama, are any less evil when it comes to supporting the Israeli than the Republicans that they are kidding themselves. The Israeli and Zionist lobbies have an Alien-facehugger grip on the US, regardless of who is in power. And in many ways, it’s worse when Democrats are in power. (At least, since Carter.)

  3. casaananda
    April 22, 2011, 11:08 am

    Obama is worse than Bush. At least with Bush one knew what to expect. With Obama, he’s saying one thing and doing another. He had such an opportunity to push real, positive change on so many fronts, but has done nothing and the probs domestically and overseas just fester and boil. I have maintained for years that only an economic collapse, even a monentary collapse, will or can force the kind of changes necessary to begin to heal the world’s ills.

    • Theo
      April 22, 2011, 12:06 pm

      casaananda

      Be careful what you wish, as it may come true!
      We are on the way to both, economic and monetary collaps. We either stop waging wars, bring all our troops home and cut the military budget 80% or we are doomed. Right now we spend more on the military than the whole world together!!
      Why do we need military bases in Germany, GB, Italy, Spain, Holland, Turkey, Greece? There is no more Sovietunion.
      How about Okinawa, Japan proper, Korea, against whom do they defend us? All those bases cost us billions every year and provide jobs for tens of thousands, however not for americans, but local citizens.
      We have military bases is over 80 foreign countries. Why?
      I am ready to break my hand for voting for Obama.

      • Chaos4700
        April 22, 2011, 12:29 pm

        It no longer matters who we vote for. The economic and monetary collapse is essentially inevitable. The best we can hope for are politicians who are willing to take steps to make it hurt less — and no such candidate will come from the Republican and Democratic Parties in their mainstream.

        Obama represented our last chance to turn around. No we’re already over the cliff.

      • Don
        April 22, 2011, 5:40 pm

        “I am ready to break my hand for voting for Obama.”

        Say…that’s funny! But I will agree to break my hand, Theo, if you go ahead and break yours. Keep us informed.

      • kapok
        April 22, 2011, 7:04 pm

        True, but there must be someone crunching the numbers and deciding that sticking up the world at gunpoint is more cost-effective way of “moving forward”.

  4. Sin Nombre
    April 22, 2011, 1:08 pm

    Well if the U.S. was willing to kill off any real official investigation into the Liberty affair, hell, this was small beer.

    Kinda funny though: The Dems, who people here have well observed can be even worse than the Republicans when it comes to Israel, are the ones who put so much more stock in the U.N. than the Republicans. Esp. as regards such things as war crimes and human rights.

    And yet here we have the Dems just totally rendering the U.N.’s credibility, as regards war crimes and human rights specifically, into a joke.

    • Chaos4700
      April 22, 2011, 2:48 pm

      Hey, that’s contemporary Democrats doing what they do best: royally screwing up anything they touch, when they aren’t merely clinging to the Republican Party’s apron strings.

    • Donald
      April 22, 2011, 9:10 pm

      “The Dems, who people here have well observed can be even worse than the Republicans when it comes to Israel, are the ones who put so much more stock in the U.N. than the Republicans. Esp. as regards such things as war crimes and human rights.”

      Democrats who hold political office are different from ordinary leftwingers. Democrats who hold political office say nice things about human rights, but they support the UN and other international organizations because they assume that the US has enough leverage to force the UN or other groups to do what they want.

      Several days ago Hophmi or someone brought up the debate over the ICC that occurred in the Clinton era. The Republicans claimed to fear that US soldiers would be brought up as war criminals. The “liberals” (that is, the mainstream Democrats, not human rights activists) said that this was silly, because there were safeguards in place that would keep such a terrible thing from happening. I don’t think they were just worried about ordinary soldiers (like Lyndie England). They were worried about US officials. That, I think, was the subtext. The Republicans were afraid that the ICC would prosecute someone like Henry Kissinger for war crimes and the Democrats were basically telling them “Calm down–we can prevent that from happening and the ICC will be useful in prosecuting the people we want prosecuted.” It was a real difference of opinion, but about a tactical issue. Both sides took for granted that a prosecution by the ICC of an American would be an abomination.

  5. chet
    April 22, 2011, 2:44 pm

    Is there anyone who, like me, believes that after Pres. Obama suffered serial humiliations in his efforts to freeze settlement-building and move the peace process along, he was compelled by the reality of AIPAC power to re-assess his chances of re-election if he continued on that course?

    If that is the case, is there not hope that when he doesn’t have to worry about re-election, i.e. after 2012, that he can ignore AIPAC power and pursue his goals as set out in the Cairo speech?

    • Potsherd2
      April 22, 2011, 6:00 pm

      Don’t be a hope-dope, chet.

      • Chaos4700
        April 22, 2011, 6:14 pm

        I have to agree with Potsherd here. And it’s a little hard to believe that Obama was “surprised” by AIPAC when his own goddamn Chief of Staff shipped off to Israel to help their military while his home country was engaged in the first Gulf war.

        At best, Obama is a charlatan and at worst, he’s a puppet with no control over his own policy-making. Either way, the only thing he does that is redeeming is give pretty speeches.

  6. kapok
    April 22, 2011, 7:09 pm

    hmm, looks like entertaining thoughts of conspiracy is the correct thing to do under the circumstance.

    • Chaos4700
      April 22, 2011, 7:33 pm

      They called us (“us” being anti-war / anti-occupation activists) “conspiracy theorists” for talking about how intel that justified the Iraq invasion was faked, that the US had official policies justifying the use of torture, and that the US even had a system of “black prisons” used for kidnapping and torturing people were predominantly Muslim and predominantly innocent.

      Were we wrong? Unfortunately, in the United States, truth is a vice, not a virtue now.

  7. RoHa
    April 23, 2011, 2:41 am

    “Obama administration killed off independent U.N. investigation into Israeli war crimes in Gaza”

    Gosh.

    Wow.

    Shocking.

    Who’d have thought it.

    Etc.

  8. American
    April 23, 2011, 3:24 am

    Israel is it’s just an zionist outpost, the actual Jewish state is America.

    Think of Israel as the US Jew’s and Christian Zionist’s private Jewish DisneyLand.
    It turns huge profits for Israel and Hagee and Robertson and loads of campaign donations for US politicians but the US taxpayer financiers have never seen a penny on their investment.

    • Walid
      April 23, 2011, 4:02 am

      “Israel is it’s just an zionist outpost, the actual Jewish state is America.”

      Kidding aside, I’ve been saying it all along but differently that Israel does nothing without American consent and it’s a myth to say that Israel is wagging the US. Nobody can make America do what America doesn’t want to do, and that includes the rogue Israel.

      It was Bush, not Israel that insisted on holding the Palestinian elections in spite of objections by both Hamas and Fateh because both felt not ready for them. Bush probably anticipated an easy win for Fateh to be rid of Hamas because he feared it for the same reason he feared Hizbullah. After the elections, it was the US that orchestrated, funded and armed the failed Dahlan overthrow of Gaza. And it was the US arm-twisting that made the oil Arabs and the Europeans stop funding Gaza to start its starving and choking by its local bouncer, Israel. When America decides to end the siege of Gaza, it will end without a peep from Israel.

  9. RoHa
    April 23, 2011, 3:30 am

    “Think of Israel as the US Jew’s and Christian Zionist’s private Jewish DisneyLand.”

    Complete with Moshe Mouse, and a bunch of cheerful animatronic Arab terrorists singing “It’s a Palestinian’s life for me”?

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