UNITED NATIONS, Nov 17 2006 (IPS) — The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on Friday deploring Israeli military aggression against Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories.
Fully endorsed by the 118-member Non-Aligned Movement, the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), the European Union and many African and Latin American nations, the resolution calls for an immediate halt to Israel’s ongoing military campaign in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem.
It also demands that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan set up a fact-finding mission to investigate the Nov. 8 Israeli shelling of Beit Hanoun that killed as many as 19 people, including five women and seven children.
The resolution, adopted by 156 votes in favour, seven against and six abstentions, comes a week after the United States vetoed a Security Council draft resolution that would have strongly condemned Israel for the Nov. 8 military action in Beit Hanoun, a town in Gaza.
Israel said the incident was unintentional and that it was a mistake, a clarification that many refused to accept, including a number of international aid organisations that operate in the Middle East region.
Before and after the vote, speaker after speaker denounced the U.S. decision last week to veto the draft resolution as “biased” and “unjustified”, while describing Israeli military incursions into Palestinian towns and cities as “state-terrorism” and “blatant disregard for innocent human lives” that they said was “unacceptable,” “immoral,” and “unlawful.”
“(We) are extremely disappointed with the negative vote cast by the United States on Nov. 11,” said Malaysia’s Ambassador Naimun Ashakli Mohammed, adding that the U.S. veto has “given Israel a carte blanche to continue to commit atrocities with impunity.”
Speaking on behalf the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the largest political bloc of developing nations in the General Assembly, Cuba’s Ambassador Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz also lambasted the United States for blocking the Security Council resolution on Israel.
He said the NAM was forced to call the General Assembly session because the Security Council had failed to fulfil its responsibility in the maintenance of international peace and security as a result of “the abuse of veto.”
The NAM demanded Israel must immediately cease its aggression against the civilian populations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and abide by its obligations and responsibilities under the Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in the time of war of war.
Palestinian UN Observer Riyad Mansour told the General Assembly that since 1967 this was the 31st time that the United States used its veto in defence of Israel on events related to the occupied territories.
“This repeated use of the veto sends the wrong message to Israel that it is above international law and that it can continue to commit crimes and acts of outright aggression with impunity,” he said, adding that it also “signals to the Palestinian people that the targeting of their civilians is acceptable and overlooked by the Security Council since the perpetrator is Israel.”
Mansour said in the past week, more than 80 Palestinian civilians, including 22 children, have lost their lives as a result of the “ruthless” and extensive Israeli assaults in the occupied areas.
While defending his government’s policy on Palestine, Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador, accused the Palestinians of “cynically and tragically” having turned Gaza into their “war of terror” against Israel.
“The emergency today is not in the Assembly hall,” he told diplomats. “It is on the other side of the world, in Israeli cities like Sderot and Ashkelon, where residents are pounded daily by Qassem rockets,” fired from Gaza.
For his part John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, lashed out at the sponsors of the resolution, calling them “notorious abusers of human rights” who, he said were “seeking to deflect criticism of their own policies.
Describing the draft resolution on Israel’s practices in Palestinian areas as “one-sided and unbalanced,” he said it would “deepen suspicions about the United Nations that will lead many to conclude that the organisation is incapable of playing a hopeful role in the region.”
“Member states must choose,” said Bolton. “Do we desire a viable UN system, composed of agencies respected for their role in conflict resolution, human rights, economic development, education and culture, or will we continue to acquiesce to a narrow agenda of bias, stalemate and polemics?”
The U.S. ambassador’s harsh reaction to the convening of the emergency session apparently came in response to the fact that recently a number of UN agencies had strongly condemned Israeli actions against the civilians population in Palestinian areas.
For example, a little over two weeks ago, John Dugard, UN special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, said Israel was largely to blame for turning Gaza into a “prison” and “throwing away the key.”
In a statement, he also criticised Canada, Europe and the United States for cutting funds to the Palestinian Authority, run by the Hamas militant group which does not recognise Israel.
Dugard also said the quartet of the United States, Russia, the EU and the UN, which are in charge of the roadmap peace plan in the Middle East, had done little to stop Israel’s attacks, which he described as a “brutal collective punishment” of the Palestinian people.
“I hope that my portrayal… will trouble the consciences of those accustomed to turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the suffering of the Palestinian people,” Dugard told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Recently, the 47-member Council strongly condemned Israel for violating human rights and international humanitarian law by targeting civilians during its military operations.