Guardian rejects UN Palmer report ruling

This is a cross-post from Just Journalism.

On Thursday, the New York Times leaked a copy of the Palmer report, the conclusion of a UN investigation into events aboard the Mavi Marmara, the flotilla ship which was boarded by Israeli troops in 2010 when it attempted to breach the naval blockade of Gaza.

Initial coverage in the Israeli press suggested that the report would largely rule in Israel’s favour, defending the legitimacy of its actions. The report did indeed come to similar conclusions to Israel’s ‘Turkel Commision’, declaring both the blockade of Gaza and Israel’s boarding of the Mavi Marmara to be legal. While the report stated that the ‘loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force by Israeli forces […] was unacceptable’, it also acknowledged that the Israeli soldiers had ‘faced significant, organized and violent resistance’ from those aboard the vessel.

The Guardian’s editorial on the Palmer report supports Turkey’s rejection of the findings and its decision to challenge the ruling that Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza strip is legal at the International Court of Justice. This dismissal of some of the Palmer report’s conclusions illustrates a marked difference from the newspaper’s previously staunch support for UN enquiries.

Israel and Turkey: sailing into choppy waters’ states that:

‘Where the Mavi Marmara went, Turkey will follow by challenging the Gaza blockade in the international court of justice. And rightly so.’

The editorial then asserts that the ruling on the blockade’s legality goes against prior international consensus, expressing support for Turkey’s expected legal challenge to the ICJ:

‘The Palmer panel’s finding went against every statement the UN secretary general has made about Gaza, the Goldstone report and a report by the UN human rights council in September. If, as Palmer found, the siege is legal in international law, the occupation is too. This must be challenged in court.’

The Guardian’s rejection of the findings of an independent UN investigation is all the more noteworthy given the reports that it cites instead. The newspaper’s support for the findings of the Goldstone report and the UN human rights council (UNHRC) report ignore the serious questions about the legitimacy of both investigations.

The Goldstone investigation was conducted by a four person panel; one of the four had already prejudged Israel of being guilty of war crimes before the investigation began. Further doubt was cast on the validity of the report when the main author, South African judge Richard Goldstone, retracted key conclusions from the 2009 report in an op-ed for The Washington Post in April this year. Most significantly, Goldstone wrote that Gazan civilians had, in fact, not been deliberately targeted by Israel.

The UNHRC report on the Mavi Marmara from September is also highly controversial, given the body’s history of defending human rights abusers and singling out Israel for condemnation. The UNHRC (which was also responsible for commissioning the Goldstone report) is notorious for being run by states with poor human rights records. In March, Libya was suspended from the organisation, prompting Gideon Rachman, foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times, to note:

‘The trouble is that Libya is only the most egregious example of a major violator of human-rights on the council. Other members include China, Cuba, Bahrain, Russia and Saudi Arabia.’

The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland has also highlighted the UNHRC’s disproportionate focus on Israel:

‘That sounds like an eminently respectable body – until you look at its record. A 2010 analysis showed that very nearly half of all the resolutions it had passed related to Israel: 32 out of 67. And guess which country is the only one to be under permanent review, on the agenda for every single meeting? Israel.’

Furthermore, The Guardian editorial falsely insinuates that the UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon opposes the Palmer report’s findings.

Mr Ban has stated he is ‘not in a position to say any specific comments on the substance of the findings and recommendations of the panel’s report’, but did admit his ‘only wish’ was for Israel and Turkey to ‘try to improve their relationship’ and urged the two countries to ‘do what they can to implement the recommendations and findings’.