UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s condemnation of Syria’s starvation policy is welcome. He was absolutely right to make clear that the use of starvation as a weapon of war is a war crime. However, he seems to have overlooked the situation in the Gaza Strip, where two million Palestinians have been “put on diet” by the Israeli occupation for almost ten years. Whether it is used as a weapon of war, or for political gain, the siege of civilians is both immoral and illegal.
The case of Gaza can only be described as scandalous because of the UN’s involvement. A legal opinion written by Professor Nigel White of the University of Nottingham published last week by Electronic Intifada accused the UN of “contributing to the maintenance of the blockade” as a result of which the organisation, “therefore, is committing as well as aiding and assisting violations of international law.”
White, a leading expert in United Nations law criticised the world body for not only failing but also obstructing the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. Since the UN is not a faceless organisation, someone must take responsibility for this dereliction of duty and the crimes committed against the people of the besieged enclave. In this instance, it has to be the UN secretary-general himself.
While this may seem the right and honourable thing to do, no one expects it to happen any time soon. It will certainly not happen while there are no ghastly images of Gazan children broadcast on TV screens across the world. Ban, it seems, is waiting for the UN to witness such scenes “that haunt the soul”, to use his own words about Syria. Yet even without the images of the gaunt elders and children, men and women, the daily horrors of life in Gaza cannot be disguised, concealed or ignored.
Blockaded by land, air and sea, the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza, like the Syrians, are dependent on humanitarian aid which may or may not get through the blockade. Making the case in its latest appeal, the British charity Oxfam laments the fact that more than 60 per cent of the youth in Gaza are unemployed, the highest rate in the world. The charity notes further that even when they attempt to farm their own land or fish in their own territorial waters they are shot at and often killed or wounded by Israelis.
Ban’s heartfelt plea for Syria was not the only incident that underscored the UN’s collusion in maintaining the hideous status quo in Gaza; last week’s resignation of Makarim Wibisono from his post as UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories was another. Like his predecessor Richard Falk, the veteran Indonesian diplomat was never allowed into the occupied Palestinian territories by the Israelis. Indeed, the UN human rights office in Geneva confirmed that the last rapporteur to enter the territories was John Dugard way back in 2007. What has the UN done to bring Israel to account for this unacceptable state of affairs over so many years? Israel is, after all, a UN member state (although it has never fulfilled at least one condition of its membership by allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their land).
In his resignation letter, Wibisono wrote poignantly, “It is my sincere hope that whoever succeeds me will manage to resolve the current impasse, and so reassure the Palestinian people that after nearly half a century of occupation the world has not forgotten their plight and that universal human rights are indeed universal.” He told Anadolu Agency that Israel, as the occupying power, must realise that peace “starts with respect for human rights.”
Wibisono was not the first UN official to resign because he was frustrated by the Israelis, nor is he likely to be the last. When James Wolfensohn, the former International Quartet envoy to the Middle East resigned in May 2006, he wrote in his final report that much of the economic damage and hardship caused to the Palestinians was due to Israel’s systematic violation of its agreements, particularly with regards to the freedom of movement of people and goods throughout the occupied territories, including the Gaza Strip. Like most western officials at the time, he also expressed dismay at the election of Hamas to lead the Palestinian Authority, even though the movement had not yet been given a fair chance to carry out its democratic mandate.
The procession of high-profile departures continued with the resignation of Alvaro de Soto from his post as UN Middle East envoy in 2007. The Peruvian diplomat condemned the economic sanctions imposed on the Gaza Strip and warned of their “devastating consequences.”
The attempt to bring about political change in Gaza through the Israeli-led siege and blockade has continued to this day. Instead of being part of the solution for the two million besieged Palestinians, the UN has clearly become part of the problem. Ban Ki-moon’s tenure as Secretary-General has been tarnished by this scandal. Not only has UN complicity in Israel’s human rights violations been laid bare for all to see, but Ban must also now acknowledge this and resign.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.