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  Proposed Gaza Flotilla Resolution Ignites Strong Emotions in Richmond
June 12, 2010

Item J-2 on the June 15 City Council Agenda is ADOPT a resolution supporting the United Nations Security Council condemnation of the recent Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound humanitarian aid flotilla, including two Richmond residents, and calling for the safe and humane treatment of all individuals delivering international aid - Mayor McLaughlin (620-6503)/Vice Mayor Ritterman (620-6581).
The item has drawn strong protests, particularly from members of the Jewish community who feel it is factually inaccurate and inexplicably biased toward one party in a complicated international Middle East conflict that has been ongoing for more than 60 years and defied the best efforts of world leaders for decades. Others say that the Richmond City Council has no business inserting itself into a still murky international incident that has yet to be fully investigated when we have so many unsolved challenges right here in Richmond.
The first “Therefore, Be it Resolved,” in the resolutions states, ‘…the Richmond City Council joins … in supporting the United Nations Security Council condemnation of the Israeli attack on the Gaza bound flotilla…” In fact, the UN Security Council did not condemn the Israeli attack. It condemned “those acts which resulted in the loss” of lives without specifying which acts or by whom, and it called for an investigation conforming to international standards. You can read the UN Action in a UN press release at http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2010/sc9940.doc.htm, or read the synopsis in the New York Times article following:

U.N. Security Council Condemns ‘Acts’ in Israeli Raid

Published: June 1, 2010

UNITED NATIONS — After hours of negotiations, the United Nations Security Council early on Tuesday condemned “acts” resulting in the deaths of nine civilians in Israel’s attack on an aid flotilla trying to breach the Gaza blockade.
In a formal statement that seemed less forceful than what had been demanded by the Palestinians, Arab nations and Turkey, the council also demanded an impartial investigation into the confrontation.
The statement urged that aid ships seized in the raid on Monday be released along with civilians held by Israel.
“The Security Council deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force during the Israeli military operation in international waters against the convoy sailing to Gaza,” the statement said, adding that the 15-member body “in this context, condemns those acts which resulted in the loss” of lives.
The wording seemed designed to dilute demands for condemnation exclusively of Israel, which argues that its soldiers acted in self-defense in response to violent resistance to their interception of the vessels from passengers on board. After the raid, Israel seized hundreds of activists as well as the ships.
“The Security Council requests the immediate release of the ships as well as the civilians held by Israel,” the United Nations statement said, calling for “a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.”
It also said the situation in Gaza, under blockade by Israel, was “not sustainable” and called for a “sustained and regular flow of goods and people to Gaza, as well as unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance throughout Gaza.”
On the broader Palestinian-Israeli confrontation, the Security Council renewed calls for a two-state solution and voiced concern that the raid on the flotilla took place while United States-sponsored so-called “proximity talks” were under way.
Earlier, Turkey — the unofficial sponsor of the convoy — had proposed a statement that would have condemned Israel for violating international law and demanded a United Nations investigation, the prosecution of those responsible for the raid and compensation for the victims. It also called for the end of the blockade.
But the Obama administration refused to endorse a statement that singled out Israel, and it proposed a broader condemnation of the violence that would include the assault by passengers of the Israeli commandos as they landed on the deck of the ship.
As the wrangling continued late Monday night and in the early hours Tuesday, the two countries were trying to work out their differences on the wording, including whether to specify that the investigation should be conducted by outsiders, diplomats said.
While condemnation of Israel in the Security Council is not uncommon, the criticism at the emergency session called by Turkey and Lebanon was notable for both its vehemence and for the broad array of countries demanding an independent investigation into the decision to fire on civilians in what they described as a humanitarian mission.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey, whose country’s once close relations with Israel have deteriorated markedly since Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2009, called the attack “tantamount to banditry and piracy; it is murder conducted by a state.”
Noting that the ships were carrying items such as a playground equipment, cancer medicine and milk powder, he said that given the history of the Jews the Israelis should be more conscious than others of “the dangers and inhumanity of ghettoes as the one we currently witness in occupied Gaza.”
Gerard Araud, the French ambassador, said the death toll indicated “there was disproportionate use of force and a level of violence which nothing justifies and which we condemn.”
Nawaf Salam, the Lebanese ambassador, said even the laws of war require the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Several envoys said Israel was in violation of international law, not least because Security Council resolution 1860, passed in January 2009 during the Gaza war, had called for ending the blockade and opening unfettered access to humanitarian assistance throughout the strip. The diplomats also demanded immediate access to their citizens, with some 32 different nationalities among the estimated 600 to 700 people on the flotilla. Israel seized all six ships and forced them into port.
The United States, which habitually defends Israel in the council, said that the attempt to run the blockade by sea was ill advised.
“Direct delivery by sea is neither appropriate nor responsible, and certainly not effective, under the circumstances,” said Alejandro Wolff, the deputy permanent representative of the United States. But he also described the situation in Gaza as “unsustainable” and called on Israel to undertake a credible investigation.
Daniel Carmon, the deputy Israeli ambassador, scoffed at the idea that the ships were a humanitarian convoy — Israel had offered to bring the goods into Gaza over land — and said Israeli commandos acted in self-defense after being attacked with “life threatening means; live ammunition, knives, clubs, deck furniture and others types of weaponry.”
He described the organizers as linked to a variety of Islamic terrorist organizations, which the Turkish foreign minister called a lie.
The International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization which seeks to end conflicts, issued a statement condemning the attack but noted that it was an outcome of the failed policy of many countries, not just Israel, in trying to isolate the Hamas government which controls the Gaza strip and thus turn the population against it.
Neil MacFarquhar reported from the United Nations, and Alan Cowell from London.
Following is a letter to the City Council from Rabbi Dean Kertesz of Temple Beth Hillel, Richmond's synagogue:

June 9, 2010

Dear City Council Members,

I am writing to you as the Rabbi of Temple Beth Hillel in Richmond. Temple Beth Hillel was founded over 60 years ago. We were among the original congregations who founded GRIP, which we still support today, and continue to serve the community in a wide variety of ways. I urge you to vote no on the resolution condemning Israel that will be introduced by Vice-mayor Jeff Ritterman at the next city council meeting. I urge you to vote no for the following reasons.

First, our city faces many serious problems: a high crime-rate, high unemployment, struggling schools, a shortage of good jobs, a deficit of hope, the list goes on and on. Do not spend your most precious resource, your time and energy, on a foreign policy issue that is the purview of the Federal government and outside the jurisdiction of municipal government. The people of Richmond elected you to address the challenges they face here in Richmond.

Second, this resolution is divisive. A number of my congregants have already spoken to me about this resolution. Simply put they are scared. The have heard of Jewish students who were threatened on the UC campus and the bricks thrown through a kosher bakery and restaurant in Oakland following the divestment resolution that was debated at UC. While the resolution is targeted at Israel, it makes Jewish members of our community feel vulnerable.

Third the resolution singles out Israel for condemnation without any sense of context. Hamas is the ruling power in Gaza. Its stated goal, in article seven of its charter, is the annihilation of the State of Israel and is not interested in negotiation, compromise or peace. In pursuit of its goal between 2006 and 2009, Hamas fired over 7,000 missiles against towns in the south of Israel. That is more than 100 a day. To put a stop to this intentional targeting of civilians the State of Israel imposed a naval blockade on Gaza to prevent Hamas from importing missiles and other weapons. Since then, least twice, the Israeli navy has seized Iranian ships attempting to bring heavy weapons to Gaza.

Third, the resolution is inaccurate in points of law. Clause six states, "WHEREAS, international law prohibits the interdiction of vessels in international waters and a violation of this may be considered an act of war." In fact international law says no such thing.

The Helsinki Principles on the Law of Maritime Neutrality state in article 5.1.2 Protection against attacks:
"(3) Merchant ships flying the flag of a neutral State may be attacked if they are believed on reasonable grounds to be carrying contraband or breaching a blockade, and after prior warning they intentionally and clearly refuse to stop, or intentionally and clearly resist visit, search, capture or diversion."
Clause 6 of the resolution misrepresents international law. Any nation has the right to stop ships breaching a blockade. It does not matter where these ships are from, under which flag they are sailing, what their cargo is, or whether civilians are on board.

Further, the resolution omits the following facts. Israel invited the flotilla organizers to bring their ships to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where their cargos could be inspected for weapons and then transshipped to Gaza. If their goal was to transport humanitarian aid they could have done so without incident, but the organizers refused. One can assume the organizers were seeking a confrontation.

Clause eight is also a distortion of international law. It states, "WHEREAS, the Israeli attack on the flotilla is both a "Crime Against Peace" and a "Crime Against Humanity" as defined by Article 6 of the Charter Provisions of the Nuremberg Trials." Article 6 of the Charter Provisions defines a crime against peace as, " planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing;" which this action clearly was not. At best this is an area of disagreement, not one of certainty.

Further, it defines a Crime Against Humanity as, "violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity" While one may object to Israel's actions when confronting the flotilla, they cannot in any sense of international law be considered war crimes.

I take the time to call your attention to the language of the resolution because I believe words matter. The language of this resolution leads to believe its purpose is not to promote peace or a compromise solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but rather its goal is to vilify Israel and place the entire blame of the conflict on the Israeli side while ignoring over 70 years of Arab intransigence.

Finally, I do not believe members of the City Council want to be associated with a resolution that is not binding, wastes their valuable time, makes members of this community feel threatened and distorts the reality of a complicated conflict to promote one side over another rather than genuinely promoting peace and harmony.

I urge you all to vote no on this resolution. If you would like to speak with me further please call me at 510-853-9814 or email me at rabbi@templebethhillelrichmond.org.


Rabbi Dean Kertesz