UN General Assembly condemns Israel for ‘excessive’ force at Gaza border
After US amendment censuring Hamas is rejected on procedural grounds, 120 countries vote in favor of resolution calling for ‘protection’ for Palestinian civilians
Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.
With a huge majority, the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday passed a resolution condemning Israel for using “excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate” force during the recent clashes at the Gaza border and calling for an “international protection mechanism” for Palestinian civilians.
The dramatic, down to the wire session saw the United States attempt to add a paragraph condemning Hamas, which was ultimately rejected on procedural grounds though most member states supported it. The resolution, proposed by Algeria and Turkey, then passed with 120 “yes” votes, 8 “no” votes and 45 abstentions.
The eight countries that voted against the resolution were the US, Israel, Australia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Togo and the Solomon Islands.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a statement issued before the actual voting took place, condemned the resolution, entitled “Protection of the Palestinian civilian population.”
“The UN’s incessant focus on Israel not only brings shame to the organization. It also draws attention away from so many other pressing issues that demand the attention of the international community,” he said.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, arguing that the draft was biased against Israel, proposed an amendment that would have added an explicit condemnation of the Hamas terrorist organization and its firing of rockets, promotion of violence at the Gaza border, and digging of tunnels to infiltrate into Israel.
But Algeria called for a “no-action motion,” which would have prevented a vote on the amendment. According to General Assembly rules, the motion was put to a vote of all member states. Surprisingly, 78 countries opposed Algeria’s move while only 59 supported it.
Haley’s amendment cleared with a slim majority, 62 to 58, with 42 abstentions.
However, General Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák, of Slovakia, ruled that a two-thirds majority was needed for an amendment to be added to a draft resolution.
Haley appealed his decision, which led the session to be adjourned for several minutes.
When the session reconvened, Lajčák put Haley’s appeal to a vote. Sixty-six countries voted in favor, 72 opposed and 26 countries abstained, which meant that the original draft was put to a vote without the US amendment.
Haley condemned the final vote as a “morally bankrupt judgement.”
But she argued that “the common practice of turning a blind eye to the UN’s anti-Israel bias is changing.”
“Today, a plurality of 62 countries voted in favor of the US-led effort to address Hamas’s responsibility for the disastrous conditions in Gaza. We had more countries on the right side than the wrong side. By their votes, those countries recognized that peace will only be achieved when realities are recognized, including Israel’s legitimate security interests, and the need to end Hamas’ terrorism,” she said.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, praised Haley for her effort.
“While procedural maneuvers were used to block it, we’re proud that by working with the Americans and our friends around the world, a majority of nations in the UN voted for the first time to condemn the terrorists of Hamas,” he tweeted.
While procedural maneuvers were used to block it, We’re proud that by working with the Americans and our friends around the world, a majority of nations in the @UN voted for the first time to condemn the terrorists of Hamas. pic.twitter.com/coyzqWPq1P
— Ambassador Danny Danon | דני דנון (@dannydanon) June 13, 2018
General Assembly resolutions cannot be vetoed. Unlike UN Security Council resolutions, they are not legally binding on member states. On June 1, 10 countries voted in favor of an almost identical text in the Security Council, proposed by Kuwait, but it failed to pass due to a US veto.
The resolution as passed does include a general condemnation of terrorism and incitement, and “deplores the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip against Israeli civilian areas,” but it fails to mention Hamas, the terrorist group ruling the coastal enclave and responsible for much of the violence emanating from the territory aimed at Israel.
Speaking before the vote, Danon had condemned the resolution as “grossly biased,” arguing that it attacks Israel but fails to mention Hamas even once.
Whoever backed the resolution is “colluding with a terrorist organization” and “empowering Hamas,” he said. “You are the ammunition for Hamas’s guns. You are the warheads for its missiles.”
“This session today is about our right to defend our people. It is the international community’s attempt to take away our basic right to self-defense,” Danon said. “The resolution before you today does not protect innocent Palestinians. It does not protect innocent Israelis. It does not condemn, does not even mention Hamas, the internationally recognized terrorist organization directly responsible the violence in our region.”
Also speaking before the vote, Haley criticized the resolution as “totally one-sided,” saying it does nothing to advance peace or improve Palestinian lives.
Rather, she said, “it feeds a narrative to the desperate people of Gaza that their leaders are not responsible for their predicament. It stokes hatred. It sacrifices honesty, accuracy, compromise and reconciliation in favor of the advancement of a narrow political agenda.”
There are “no perfect actors on either side of this conflict,” Haley added. “But it does no one any good to pretend that all blame lies on one side.”
The resolution, however, holds Hamas “completely unaccountable for most of the recent unrest” and “blames everything on Israel,” she charged.
Therefore, she said, the US was offering an amendment to provide “a small step in the direction of balance.”
The amendment would have condemned Hamas “for repeatedly firing rockets into Israel and for inciting violence along the boundary fence, thereby putting civilians at risk.”
It also demanded that Hamas “cease all violent activity and provocative actions, further condemns the diversion of resources in Gaza to construct military infrastructure, including tunnels to infiltrate Israel and equipment to launch rockets into civilian areas.
Such resources, Haley’s amendment read, “could have addressed the critical needs of the civilian population and expresses grave concern about the destruction of the Kerem Shalom crossing by actors in Gaza, which has severely hindered deliveries of food and fuel for the people of Gaza.”
“This is a modest amendment that reflects the minimum truth of what is going on in Gaza,” she said earlier on Wednesday. “It is the least that any self-respecting international organization or nation can do for the cause of peace.”
Netanyahu, in his statement before the vote, praised Haley for her speech, in which she also accused the UN of undue preoccupation with Israel.
“Israel appreciates the Trump administration’s steadfast support for Israel at the United Nations and Ambassador Haley’s strong statement today exposing the hypocrisy of the UN’s bias against Israel,” he said.
Since March 30, thousands of Palestinians have gathered along the Gaza security fence each week for often violent demonstrations, which have frequently included direct armed attacks on Israeli soldiers across the border.
Hamas officials have said the purpose of these border riots is to breach the security fence and enter Israeli territory. IDF troops, in response, have used tear gas and live fire against the rioters. Over 120 Palestinians have been killed as of this week and thousands more have been injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. Dozens of them were acknowledged members of terrorist groups.
During the discussion that preceded the vote, the Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, spoke of “129 Palestinian civilians, including 16 children,” who fell victim during Israel’s “lethal assaults” on peaceful protesters.
Last month also saw a large flare-up around the Gaza border, with terror groups in the Strip launching some 200 mortar shells and rockets at southern Israel. In response, Israeli aircraft bombed over 65 targets in the coastal enclave.
Wednesday’s resolution expressed “grave concern at the escalation of violence and tensions and the deterioration of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem,” since March 30. It also expressed “its deep alarm at the loss of civilian lives and the high number of casualties among Palestinian civilians, particularly in the Gaza Strip, including casualties among children, caused by the Israeli forces.”
The text went on condemn “all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction.”
Referring to the so-called March of Return, the resolution reaffirms “the right to peaceful assembly and protest, and freedom of expression and of association.”
It goes on to deplore “the use of any excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force by the Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and particularly in the Gaza Strip, including the use of live ammunition against civilian protesters, including children, as well as medical personnel and journalists, and expresses its grave concern at the loss of innocent lives.”
Resolution A/ES-10/L.23 also “deplores any actions that could provoke violence and endanger civilian lives, and calls upon all actors to ensure that protests remain peaceful,” and condemns rocket fire from Gaza against Israeli civilians, though it does not spell out who would be behind such attacks.
It also requests UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres write a report containing proposals “on ways and means for ensuring the safety, protection and well-being of the Palestinian civilian population under Israeli occupation.”
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.