United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, has presented a stinging report concerning Israeli behaviour to the Special Session of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations headed by South African lawyer, Navi Pillay.

Falk is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Princeton University and a former Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Professor Falk made headlines in mid-December last year when he was denied entry to Israel and detained for 15 hours in a holding cell at Ben Gurion Airport. Professor Falk had been attempting travel to Gaza to compile a report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza for a regular meeting of the Human Rights Council scheduled for March this year.

In the Statement presented to the special meeting last Friday, Professor Falk criticised Israel for denying foreign journalists access to report on Gaza. He contrasted this with Israel’s encouragement of international journalists to view any harmful effects of rocket attacks on civilians in Israel.

Professor Falk also criticises claims of Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. He stated that Israeli claims that they had allowed some shipments of food and medicine to cross the border must be weighed against the information from UN Officials on the ground that such shipments can have no impact on alleviating hunger and nutritional difficulties unless distribution is possible. The effect of the blockade prior to the latest outbreak of hostilities was that 45% of children in Gaza suffered from acute anaemia, said Professor Falk.

Professor Falk said that Israeli claims that the current military campaign is reasonable and necessary because of rocket attacks must be evaluated within the context of its occurrence. This context included the ceasefire by Hamas since June 2008.

It had been fully expected when that ceasefire went into effect, said Professor Falk, that Israel would lift its blockade of the Territory which had caused severe hardships on the entire population especially through restraints on the supply of food, medicine, medical equipment and fuel. Israel had failed to lift the blockade.

Professor Falk said that the blockade, which has persisted for more than 18 months, was a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention by Israel as occupying power of the Territory. Professor Falk noted that Hamas had been willing, in the event that the blockade was lifted, to extend the ceasefire by as much as 10 years.

Professor Falk noted the disproportionate nature of casualties in the dispute: over 800 killed and more than 3000 wounded with civilian casualties at 25%, of whom at least one third are children. He also criticised attacks on targets such as mosques, Islamic University, schools, medical facilities and ambulances as being in breach of international humanitarian law.

Professor Falk criticised, on the same grounds, use of weapons involving phosphorous gas (that burn flesh to the bone); dense inert metal explosives (which cut victims to pieces); and depleted uranium containing bunker busters.

Professor Falk called for the Human Rights Council to seek a General Assembly Resolution regarding the investigation of war crimes.

Professor Falk has been criticised in the past by United States Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, and Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Yitzhak Levanon, for lack of objectivity. At the time, he was defended by the National Lawyers’ Guild, a progressive Bar Association in the United States.

It remains to be seen whether the receipt of this report and the discussion in the Special Session of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations will have any impact on the western reporting of the context in which the present Israeli offensive takes place.

Peter Fray

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