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Palestinians, Europeans and the Saville inquiry

The long overdue Saville Report into the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings in Northern Ireland has been received with mixed reviews. While Unionist spokesmen regard it as an important step towards closure, relatives of the victims are now contemplating legal action against those responsible for the killings. For several reasons the Saville report will resonate deeply with Palestinians.

It will attract attention for a start, not least because its findings were released one day after the Israeli government announced its own internal inquiry into the deadly attack on an aid flotilla in which nine Turkish aid workers were killed in international waters.  But in addition, one of the international observers to the Israeli ‘inquiry’ and the former Northern Ireland politician, Lord David Trimble, bitterly opposed the setting up of the Saville inquiry.


Although there are clear parallels between the events which prompted the two inquiries there is a fundamental difference. One was committed by a state within its sovereign territory against its own citizens marching for civil rights. While in the Israeli context, the killings were committed by the state against international humanitarian volunteers in international waters. Thus, while the British government could be exonerated for setting up an internal inquiry, the Israelis should be held accountable through an independent international investigation.

Another striking difference is the way Europeans deal with Palestinian grievances and demands for justice. Acting under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows for genocide and war crimes complaints against foreign leaders, representatives of Palestinian victims in 2001 brought a petition in the Belgian High Court to prosecute former Israeli army general, Ariel Sharon, for masterminding the massacre of at least 1,300 Palestinians in Beirut refugee camps in 1982. The case was thrown out on the grounds that the army general in question was then serving as prime minister of Israel and thus had immunity.

The obvious question here is, if the Northern Irish could get an apology after 38 years why can’t Palestinians have their day after 28 years? The Palestinians’ failure to get justice and closure has not been for want of trying.

One year ago, in June 2009, Spain’s National Court decided to shelve an investigation launched by one of its judges into a July 2002 air strike by the Israel Defense Forces on a residential building complex in the Gaza Strip which killed a Hamas leader and 14 civilians.

Lord Saville’s inquiry was not the first or only one of its kind to investigate Bloody Sunday. Soon after assuming office as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Baron Widgery was appointed to lead an inquiry. Its findings were roundly criticised as a whitewash by many, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Sadly, with the Palestinian issue, Europeans always adopt a raft of different standards and values, as if they are somehow lesser human beings. Knowing full well the pitfalls of these superficial inquiries, Tony Blair now supports Israel’s desire to have its own whitewash inquiry into the flotilla killings; allowing the accused, Israel, to use grandiose claims of probity to escape accountability. Hence, he supported the appointment of David Trimble to the Israeli inquiry. Bizarrely, on the very day of the flotilla murder, Trimble was in Paris chairing the launch of a new “International Friends of Israel” outfit.  

Palestinians, Turks, Brits and Americans (for Rachel Corrie) are yet to have their credible inquiries into Israeli killings of their citizens. In the case of Palestinians in particular, they may have a long time to wait. One thing is for sure, as Patrick Nash the brother of a Bloody Sunday victim noted, ‘they still chase Nazi war criminals’ – and so too will the Zionists be pursued in spite of Blair and Trimble.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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