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10066My Expulsion from Israel: UN Rep

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  • World View
    Jan 1, 2009
      When I arrived in Israel as a UN representative I knew there might be
      problems at the airport. And there were

      My Expulsion from Israel
      By Richard Falk

      December 20, 2008 "The Guardian" -- - On December 14, I arrived at
      Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Israel to carry out my UN role as
      special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories.

      I was leading a mission that had intended to visit the West Bank and
      Gaza to prepare a report on Israel's compliance with human rights
      standards and international humanitarian law. Meetings had been
      scheduled on an hourly basis during the six days, starting with
      Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, the
      following day.

      I knew that there might be problems at the airport. Israel had
      strongly opposed my appointment a few months earlier and its foreign
      ministry had issued a statement that it would bar my entry if I came
      to Israel in my capacity as a UN representative.

      At the same time, I would not have made the long journey from
      California, where I live, had I not been reasonably optimistic about
      my chances of getting in. Israel was informed that I would lead the
      mission and given a copy of my itinerary, and issued visas to the two
      people assisting me: a staff security person and an assistant, both
      of whom work at the office of the high commissioner of human rights
      in Geneva.

      To avoid an incident at the airport, Israel could have either refused
      to grant visas or communicated to the UN that I would not be allowed
      to enter, but neither step was taken. It seemed that Israel wanted to
      teach me, and more significantly, the UN a lesson: there will be no
      cooperation with those who make strong criticisms of Israel's
      occupation policy.

      After being denied entry, I was put in a holding room with about 20
      others experiencing entry problems. At this point, I was treated not
      as a UN representative, but as some sort of security threat,
      subjected to an inch-by-inch body search and the most meticulous
      luggage inspection I have ever witnessed.

      I was separated from my two UN companions who were allowed to enter
      Israel and taken to the airport detention facility a mile or so away.
      I was required to put all my bags and cell phone in a room and taken
      to a locked tiny room that smelled of urine and filth. It contained
      five other detainees and was an unwelcome invitation to
      claustrophobia. I spent the next 15 hours so confined, which amounted
      to a cram course on the miseries of prison life, including dirty
      sheets, inedible food and lights that were too bright or darkness
      controlled from the guard office.

      Of course, my disappointment and harsh confinement were trivial
      matters, not by themselves worthy of notice, given the sorts of
      serious hardships that millions around the world daily endure. Their
      importance is largely symbolic. I am an individual who had done
      nothing wrong beyond express strong disapproval of policies of a
      sovereign state. More importantly, the obvious intention was to
      humble me as a UN representative and thereby send a message of
      defiance to the United Nations.

      Israel had all along accused me of bias and of making inflammatory
      charges relating to the occupation of Palestinian territories. I deny
      that I am biased, but rather insist that I have tried to be truthful
      in assessing the facts and relevant law. It is the character of the
      occupation that gives rise to sharp criticism of Israel's approach,
      especially its harsh blockade of Gaza, resulting in the collective
      punishment of the 1.5 million inhabitants. By attacking the observer
      rather than what is observed, Israel plays a clever mind game. It
      directs attention away from the realities of the occupation,
      practising effectively a politics of distraction.

      The blockade of Gaza serves no legitimate Israeli function. It is
      supposedly imposed in retaliation for some Hamas and Islamic Jihad
      rockets that have been fired across the border at the Israeli town of
      Sderot. The wrongfulness of firing such rockets is unquestionable,
      yet this in no way justifies indiscriminate Israeli retaliation
      against the entire civilian population of Gaza.

      The purpose of my reports is to document on behalf of the UN the
      urgency of the situation in Gaza and elsewhere in occupied Palestine.
      Such work is particularly important now as there are signs of a
      renewed escalation of violence and even of a threatened Israeli

      Before such a catastrophe happens, it is important to make the
      situation as transparent as possible, and that is what I had hoped to
      do in carrying out my mission. Although denied entry, my effort will
      continue to use all available means to document the realities of the
      Israeli occupation as truthfully as possible.

      • Richard Falk is professor of international law at Princeton
      University and the UN's special rapporteur on the Palestinian



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