If looks could kill there would have been piles of smouldering ashes where the Russian delegation was sitting at the UN Security Council meeting the other day as America’s envoy Samantha Power launched an unprecedented, blistering attack over the unfolding human rights disaster in Aleppo. There were gasps of admiration from some and a deafening silence from others as Power’s withering words carpet-bombed Russia, Syria and Iran. Her emotional performance broke all the rules of etiquette, diplomacy and protocol.
Power was magnificent and you could almost hear oppressed and tortured people around the world rise up as one and cheer her on. Here at last was a super power representative who was sick and tired of fruitless velvet diplomacy; off came the gloves.
Sadly, though, the reality was quite different in the eyes of many others — of which I am one — who believe that Samantha Power is a fraud. She is, after all, the same woman who will do her utmost to protect a regime in the Middle East which has enforced a brutal military occupation over the Palestinian people for seven decades; in her eyes, Israel can do no wrong.
It was Samantha Power who stood between Israel and international legal action when its commandos killed 9 Turkish activists and one US citizen on board the 2010 Freedom Flotilla, which was in international waters heading for Gaza on a humanitarian mission.
It was she who made Amazonian efforts to undermine the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood at the UN.
And it was she who enabled the world’s only active settler-colonial state to unleash its bombs and missiles — Aleppo-style if you will — on the civilian population of Gaza by simply saying and doing nothing. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the unrelenting bombardment of Aleppo by the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies was inspired by Israel’s ruthless military offensives against the Palestinian civilians of the besieged Gaza Strip.
While being feted in Jerusalem during the euphemistically named Operation Protective Edge, Samantha Power ignored the cries for help from the Palestinians in neighbouring Gaza. By the time the bombardment stopped more than two thousand civilians were dead and 11,000 were wounded, many with life-changing disabilities.
Nearly 100 families were wiped out completely by Israel’s bombs as though they’d never existed and a whole generation of orphans emerged from the rubble. When Power did break her silence she did it to defend Israel and even went as far as to attack the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas, glossing over the fact that UN schools had been bombed by the Israelis alongside water plants, hospitals, mosques, cemeteries and tens of thousands of civilian homes.
And on the day when international journalists found themselves acting as eyewitnesses to the horrific massacre of four boys playing on Gaza beach beside their hotel, she gave her own press conference to point out that the US was “deeply concerned about the rocket attacks by Hamas.” A few days later, she stood in the UN and again unconditionally defended the Zionist State, saying: “We have consistently recognised Israel’s right to defend itself.”
The US ambassador at the UN saw to it personally that the Goldstone Report — which found Israel guilty of crimes against humanity during its Operation Cast Lead offensive against Palestinian civilians (again!) in the Gaza Strip in 2008-09 — was not acted upon. With the ferocity of a rabid Rottweiler, she defends Israel at every opportunity.
Awaiting confirmation of her appointment as America’s UN representative in 2013 she told the Senate committee, “We need to deter the Palestinians in any way we can — and we need to get their attention.” Until securing the top UN post, she was Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights on the National Security Staff at the White House.
Veteran journalist Robert Fisk, a man whose harrowing reports from the Middle East inspired me to take up journalism, was certainly not fooled by the Power performance on Monday. Referring to her phrase about being “creeped out” he wrote: “So there was Samantha Power doing her ‘shame’ bit in the UN. ‘Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin, that just creeps you out a little bit?’ America’s ambassador to the UN asked the Russians and Syrians and Iranians. She spoke of Halabja, Rwanda, Srebrenica ‘and, now, Aleppo’.
“Odd, that,” continued Fisk. “For when Samantha talked about ‘barbarism against civilians’ in Aleppo, I remembered climbing over the dead Palestinian civilians massacred at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982, slaughtered by Israel’s Lebanese militia friends while the Israeli army – Washington’s most powerful ally in the Middle East – watched. But Samantha didn’t mention them. Not enough dead Palestinians, perhaps? Only 1,700 killed, including women and children. Halabja was up to 5,000 dead. But Sabra and Shatila certainly ‘creeped me out’ at the time.
Getting into full stride, Fisk recalled the “monstrous” American invasion of Iraq: “Perhaps half a million dead. It’s one of the statistics for Rwanda’s dead. Certainly far more than Srebrenica’s 9,000 dead. And I can tell you that Iraq’s half million dead ‘creeped me out’ rather a lot, not to mention the torture and murders in the CIA’s interrogation centres in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq. It also ‘creeped me out’ to learn that the US president used to send innocent prisoners off to be interrogated in… Assad’s Syria! Yes, they were sent by Washington to be questioned in what Samantha now calls Syria’s ‘Gulags’.”
Someone equally outraged by America’s ambassador was the target of her ire, Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin, who hit back at his US counterpart in equally undiplomatic terms, and he was right to do so. “The speech by the US representative is particularly strange to me,” he responded. “She gave her speech as if she was Mother Teresa herself. Please, remember which country you represent. Please, remember the track record of your country.”
As I’ve said before in many opinion pieces for MEMO, America can no longer take the moral high ground on any human rights issues until it cleans up its own act. The world is in a desperate state and the Middle East has become a dark place where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to identify the heroes from the villains; the presence of US forces, tellingly, has been a constant.
Another is the suffering of innocent men, women and children who are trampled upon mercilessly while the superpowers and regional pawns play their vile games. There is no end in sight to the suffering, especially for the Palestinians who’ve been caught up in this disgraceful mess for nearly 70 years; now ordinary Syrians are beginning to suffer in the same way.
Samantha Power’s little drama fooled no one this week. If she truly believes in delivering justice to the region she should start by naming and shaming the human rights abuses by Israel, listing the scores of UN resolutions and international laws and conventions which have been violated or ignored. Then she could start to move across the map calling out the despicable behaviour of the funders and stokers of proxy wars who have spent billions of dollars to undermine the Arab Spring and caused chaos and carnage from Afghanistan to Libya, and from Yemen to Iraq and Syria; and in the middle of it all, in Palestine.
The truth is Samantha, we’re all “creeped out” by your double standards. Britain’s Baroness Valerie Amos, a former Under-Secretary-General at the UN, has called this week for the international organisation to be reformed. A start could be made by removing the coveted Security Council “permanent member” status of the US, Russia, China, France and Britain along with their pernicious vetoes which allow favoured states to get away — quite literally — with murder. Perhaps then such hypocrisy that we have witnessed from America’s Samantha Power this week will become a thing of the past. No state should be untouchable; all should be equal. That was the founding objective of the UN, and that is the reform we should be aiming for.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.