AFP’s Selective Coverage of U.N. Palmer Report on Flotilla

Given the United Nations’ repeated denunciations of Israel, one would think that the infrequent U.N. statement upholding an Israeli position would be newsworthy. Think again.  In fact, while U.N. condemnations of Israel regularly make headlines, U.N. statements affirming Israeli stances garner much less attention.

In line with earlier media failures to cover aspects of United Nations reports critical of Israel’s opponents, AFP today ignores the parts of a U.N. report which uphold Israel’s position regarding the blockade of Gaza and the deadly confrontation with last year’s flotilla (“Israel-Turkey flotilla talks break down: source“). While the 22-paragraph story recounts the report’s criticism of Israel’s handling of the 2010 flotilla, readers would be hard-pressed to understand the document reportedly sides with Israel on two key points: 1) the blockade on Gaza is legal, and 2) Israel does not owe Turkey an apology.

Thus, the AFP article on the report to be presented today by a U.N. investigative committee headed by Geoffrey Palmer begins:

A UN-sponsored report accused Israel of using force prematurely and causing “unacceptable” deaths in its assault of a Gaza-bound ship that killed nine Turks over a year ago, a Turkish source said Thursday.

Israel and Turkey failed to reach agreement, refusing to sign the report about the Israeli raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in May last year, which was due to be handed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later Thursday, the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Non-violent options should have been used in the first instance,” the Turkish source quoted the report as saying.

The dead and wounded resulting from the raid were “unacceptable,” the report added. . . .

Israel refused to sign the report after a commission of inquiry concluded that its forces had acted in an “excessive” manner by swooping on the Mavi Marmara a long way from the Gaza Strip and without giving a final warning to the vessel.

Ha’aretz, hardly known for its sympathetic treatment of Israeli policies in general, or for Israel’s handling of the flotilla incident in particular, nevertheless carries a balanced report about the U.N. report expected to be released today. The article, by Barak Ravid and Jonathan Lis, details both how the report affirms Israel’s position on the blockade’s legality, and is at the same time critical of the Jewish state’s handling of the incident (“UN report: Gaza blockade legal, Israel doesn’t owe Turkey apology for Marmara”). Ravid and Lis report:

The UN report on last year’s Gaza flotilla clash found that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip is legal and that Jerusalem owes no apology to Turkey for the Mavi Marmara raid, diplomatic sources said.  . . .

The draft report was sent to both Israel and Turkey. Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem who saw the draft report said it sharply criticizes Turkey for not doing enough to prevent the flotilla from setting sail and for conducting a tendentious investigation into the events.

In contrast, the report said that the Turkel Committee, which led Israel’s official flotilla probe, had conducted a professional and independent investigation.

There is some criticism for Israel, however. The report says Israeli commandos used excessive force against the Mavi Marmara’s passengers, though Israel had insisted the soldiers had been attacked and were acting in self-defense.

Nine Turkish nationals were killed by IDF soldiers during the clash that broke out when the troops intercepted the Marmara.

And while international law does allow for ships to be intercepted far from a country’s territorial waters under these circumstances, Israel would have been better off waiting until the flotilla was closer to the blockade line and was 20 miles from shore, the report said.

But Palmer did not demand that Israel apologize to Turkey, suggesting that it express sorrow over the casualties instead. Nor did the report demand that Israel pay any compensation. Should it choose to, it could put money into a special humanitarian fund set up for this purpose, Palmer added.

Only by reading between the lines of the tenth paragraph of the AFP article would readers get a hint of  the report’s ruling that the blockade is legal. The paragraph states evasively:

The source said Turkey’s refusal to sign off on the report stemmed from the fact that it did not say Israel’s blockade of Gaza was illegal.

And although the AFP notes in its first paragraph that the U.N. “report accused Israel of using force prematurely and causing ‘unacceptable’ deaths,” nowhere does the French media outlet see fit to note that nevertheless the U.N. does not believe that Israel owes Turkey an apology.
When it comes to coverage of the United Nations and Israel, “man bites dog” is just not a story.

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