By Michael Jacobs | mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

IS-Peace Tatlock

Jason Tatlock

The 2006 fighting in Gaza after the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit provided the first real test for the U.N. Human Rights Council, which went down a path of criticism of Israel that has never stopped.

During a panel discussion at the Peace Builders Conference at Morehouse College on April 10, Armstrong State University professor Jason Tatlock addressed the actions of the council during the Gaza crisis in the summer of 2006. Tatlock’s presentation focused on the role played by nongovernmental organizations in influencing the Human Rights Council and the United Nations itself, but he also demonstrated how the council chose a direction that increasingly has led Israel’s supporters to view it as an enemy.

Urged by NGOs to put a greater emphasis on human rights, the United Nations launched the Human Rights Council in March 2006 as a replacement for its criticized Commission on Human Rights. In its first regular session, the council addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and cited Israel as a violator of human rights without any mention of Palestinian actions, Tatlock said.

Hamas, which had won the Gaza elections in January, and Fatah began armed conflict in May 2006. On June 25, infiltrators from Gaza abducted Shalit, and Israel soon began airstrikes on Gaza.

The fighting led Tunisia to propose a special session of the council June 30, and NGOs set the stakes high, Tatlock said.

The International Youth and Student Movements of the United Nations denounced Israel’s use of force and urged the council to seize its “defining moment” and intervene in the conflict. Amnesty International saw the special session as an opportunity to correct the old commission’s passivity in responding to the conflict. The International Commission of Jurists declared that rather than issue more words, the council should urge action by the U.N. Security Council.

But pro-Israel NGOs U.N. Watch and B’nai B’rith International warned of the precedent the Human Rights Council would set with its initial actions, Tatlock said. U.N. Watch said the session wouldn’t be special at all but just the same old demonization of Israel. B’nai B’rith warned that if the council kept up the Israel-bashing, it would damage the credibility of all of the United Nations.

Sure enough, the resolution from the special session went much further than the first general session in criticizing Israel and its use of military force and made little mention of Palestinian actions that contributed to the crisis, Tatlock said.

The council also disappointed many NGOs by not urging the Security Council or General Assembly to act. The Human Rights Council decided to send a fact-finding mission to Gaza, but Israel blocked it, Tatlock said.

Tatlock avoided assigning blame for the fighting in 2006 or the relative merits of the two sides in the long-term conflict, but his neutrality didn’t satisfy at least one member of the audience.

Dee Muhtadi from the University of Southern California spent about five minutes “correcting” Tatlock. She emphasized that Hamas was democratically elected and said Fatah was guilty of human rights abuses in Gaza and of violating a fundamental aspect of Islamic culture by harassing girls on the way to school.

“Be careful about labeling and stereotyping,” she said about Hamas.

She acknowledged Shalit’s abduction but said it’s not fair to name one Israeli who was released alive in 2011 and not mention the names of the thousands of children “killed and butchered and massacred.”

She also claimed that in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “complex issues are not actually complex at all.”

Tatlock noted that he had said Hamas was democratically elected and gave specific figures for the Palestinian deaths in the fighting he studied: 202 killed, including 44 children, not thousands.

He said he disagreed and agreed with the claim that the conflict is not complex. “The ideals of peace are not so complex,” Tatlock said. “When it comes to the implementation and the practicalities, they are not so simple.”

In general, the panel session at the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel offered more complexity and nuance in the Muslim world.

Sophia Pandya of California State University, Long Beach, spoke about the difficulty the peace-building Turkish organization Hismet has in Turkey itself, where it faces distrust from all sides and the government’s active secularism and insistence on homogeneity, even while it has succeeded in reaching out to Kurds, Armenians and Jews in the United States.

Dilshod Achilov of East Tennessee State University found in a study of 21st-century political movements in three Central Asian and Caucasian republics that religious involvement among Muslims enhanced the likelihood of nonviolent, pro-democratic political action.

Emory University’s James Hoesterey undermined the idea of “moderate Islam” in a discussion of Indonesia, the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population. His point was that our obsessive search for the “moderate” or “good” Muslim naturally forces us to see other Muslims as extreme or bad. As a result, Hoesterey said, U.S. foreign policy tries to label and categorize Muslims and majority-Muslim nations instead of considering their specific actions.