Protesters hijack Olmert speech as UN body endorses war crimes report
On Thursday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert attempted to give a speech at the University of Chicago. However, activists with a pro-Palestinian group hijacked the event with numerous interruptions in protest of military actions in the Gaza strip.
A group calling itself “The Electronic Intifada,” which reports on the Israeli-Palestine conflict from a Palestinian perspective, secured video of the stifled presentation in spite of a prohibition on recording devices in the speech hall. The group claimed that some 30 people stood during Olmert’s speech, making statements in favor of Palestinians and damning the Israeli government’s offensive in Gaza earlier this year.
Protesters asked Olmert questions like, “How many more children must die?” and jeered him with the repetition: “War crimes are not free expression.”
The impassioned protest came just one day before the U.N. Human Rights Council singled out Israel for what it called war crimes committed in the Gaza strip. The U.N. body did not call out Palestine or the militant wing of Hamas.
“British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling on him to cooperate with the Goldstone Report,” Voice of America reported. “They urged Israel to open an ‘independent, transparent investigation’ into alleged war crimes during the three-week Gaza conflict last December and January.”
France and Brittan, however, abstained from the vote. Twenty-five other nations, including China, Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, voted to endorse the report.
The Los Angeles Times called the move, “a vote likely to complicate U.S. efforts to revive Middle East peace talks.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel would not allow its citizens to be tried for alleged war crimes over the Gaza war and that the adoption of a damning UN report on the offensive endangered the stalled peace process.
“This warped document… written by this warped committee undermines Israel’s right to self defense,” he said. “This report encourages terror and endangers the peace […] I want to make it clear — Israel will not take any chances for peace if it can’t defend itself.”
The Netherlands, Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine, Italy and the U.S. all voted against the resolution.
Netanyahu also said that Israel will not allow a situation in which its political leadership during the war and military officials would face trial over the conflict that killed 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
“We will not agree to a situation where (ex-premier) Ehud Olmert, (defense minister) Ehud Barak and (ex-foreign minister and now opposition leader) Tzipi Livni, who sent our soldiers to defend our cities and citizens, will sit on the defendants’ bench in The Hague,” he said of the International Criminal Court.
During the Gaza offensive, which ended before U.S. President Barack Obama took office, Palestinian authorities claimed over 1,300 people, mostly civilians, were killed. Israeli officials took exception to the figure, saying the toll was roughly half that.
Toward the end of the campaign, some 10 Israeli soldiers were reported dead, along with another three civilians who were hit by rocket fire from Gaza.
This video was published to YouTube by The Electronic Intifada on Oct. 16, 2009.