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14 Jun, 2010 05:09

Israel allows foreign experts into humanitarian flotilla raid investigation

Israel has launched its own investigation into the deadly raid on an aid ship flotilla bound for Gaza that occurred two weeks ago.

But it has agreed to two foreign experts will join the investigative commission.

It will include Nobel Peace Prize winner and ex-Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble and from the Israeli side – a former Supreme court judge, a retired major-general and a professor of international law.

The probe has been set up after the Jewish state rejected an international inquiry proposed by the UN.

Feeling economic and cultural pressure

Attacking the freedom flotilla which was taking humanitarian aid to Gaza in May is having consequences beyond just political condemnation for Israel.

Celebrities are canceling concerts, companies are taking their money elsewhere, and trade unions want a rejection of Israeli goods.

Thousands took to the streets against Israel’s attack on an aid flotilla in the beginning of June, in which nine were shot dead. The international reaction was that of outrage against the Jewish state, on top of criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for his settlement expansion policies, which are illegal under international law.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has banned Palestinians from buying Israeli products made in the settlements, though only around 2-3% of Israeli exports are settlement-made.

Pro-Palestinian campaigners want to widen the campaign calling for an international trade, cultural and academic boycott of Israel and targeting companies worldwide involved in projects connected to the Israeli occupation.

Eyal Cohen is miserable. For weeks he has been looking forward to the Pixies rock concert. However, much like Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron and Santana, the group recently announced it was canceling its first-ever concert in Israel. Although disappointed, Eyal understands the reason behind the decision:

“It is because artists don’t want to be hated around the world that they don’t come here.”

It seems that more international artists do not want to be seen as supportive of Israeli government policy towards Palestinians, which English rock-star Costello said represented humiliation and intimidation.

Denmark’s largest bank, Danske Bank, has also announced it is pulling out of two Israeli companies involved in the settlements: Elbit Systems, which provides surveillance equipment for the separation wall; and Africa Israel, which builds Jewish houses in the West Bank. Both companies refused to talk on camera.

Israel responded by saying that the bank is singling it out unfairly and disproportionately compared to other countries with human rights issues.

“If the issue was really human rights you would think that they would start with China [or] Sudan, which of course has civil war going on now. You could pick many countries; you could really look across most of the Middle East and large parts of Africa and you would be hard pressed to find a country which has as good a human rights record than the little state of Israel,” believes international human rights lawyer Justus Reid Weiner.

Palestinians disagree. Only international condemnation will change Israel’s actions, they believe.

“It is the only abuser of human rights. The only major violator of international law that is accepted in the West as a democracy and receives enormous financial, academic, cultural and diplomatic aid from mainstream governments,” says Omar Barghout. Barghout is a founding member of the Palestinian campaign for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

“In other words, it is the West that puts Israel on a pedestal as an exception above international law,” he adds.

Israelis fear a boycott from Europe, which is the country’s largest export market. Already, the European Court of Justice has ruled that goods made in the settlements are not Israeli and therefore do not benefit from preferential access to EU markets.

Israel has rejected an international inquiry into the flotilla raid, bolstering the campaign by those who want to boycott the Jewish state. And the strains of that siege are now being felt not just by Gazans, but by Israel’s political leaders too, who are facing increasing international pressure to bring the blockade of the Gaza Strip to an end.