Libya displayed a gruesome slide show featuring images of mutilated Palestinians in the UN Security Council on Thursday, in an unorthodox presentation that accused Council members of failing to hold Israel accountable to international law.
In an unanticipated presentation, Libyan Ambassador Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham showed images of decapitated and burned Palestinian adults and children.
"This has been a bitter experience for us. We have witnessed injustice and inequality destroy truth," he said, in what he described as a parting evaluation of the Council, just as Libya prepares to end its rotating membership.
But the slide show drew a harsh rebuke from Israel and the United States, which called it a "rhetorical display designed to inflame."
"When a country is elected to the Security Council, there are lots of expectations that they would act responsibly during their tenure. The Libyans, with this propaganda exercise, have shown yet again that they are neither responsible nor helpful," said a senior Israeli diplomat.
"Instead of serving the cause of peace in their membership, they tried - but did not succeed - to raise tensions and inflame the ambience of the Council."
Indeed, the presentation included a slew of troubling images of Palestinian children, some bleeding and injured or dead.
"The whole world acknowledges that what's happening in Gaza is a crime in the true sense of the word," Shalgham said, before showing a photograph of a soldier pointing a gun at a small child.
Against the backdrop of a photograph he said showed an Israeli soldier beating a Palestinian to death, he said: "So you mention Schalit. Is he a boy scoutâ€¦ or has he killed anyone?"
He further lashed out at countries, including the US, for its opposition to a resolution endorsing the Goldstone report, which accuses Israel of war crimes during last year's military operation in Gaza.
"We are concerned that for certain members of the Council, the Palestinians do not count. Their massacre will not be published," he said. "And yet, if one single Israeli is killed by a Palestinian rocket, this is considered a crime."
Diplomats, who found out about the presentation about 20 minutes before the meeting started, speculated that Libya wanted to exit the Council with a so-called bang. But the dramatized show raised the ire of some observers, who said Libya misused Council procedures.
Following Shalgham's speech, US Ambassador Susan Rice struck back, chastising the presentation and calling it an obstacle to peace in the region.
"While we certainly respect any member's right to speak in the chamber and say what they think, we think the better part of wisdom is to focus on the goal we all share, which is achieving a genuine two-state solution," she said.
Because it is not a member of the Council, Israel could not immediately react to the Libyan presentation in the Council chamber, but afterward offered a critical view of Libya's misuse of the Council's procedures.
The tense exchange came during the normally dry monthly Security Council briefing on the situation in the Middle East. On Thursday, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry told Council members that Israel must do more to implement its roadmap commitments, including on settlements.
"We are in a race against time to overcome the contradictions on the ground and the crisis of confidence between the parties, and move decisively towards a political end game," he said, warning that unless the process moves forward, it risks sliding back.
He praised Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's recently announced settlement restraint policy as a "step beyond previous Israeli government positions," but said the policy falls short in east Jerusalem.
"Settlement activity is illegal under international law," he said.
Observers noted that while Council members are free to use slide shows, Thursday's presentation included photographs that are extremely graphic. Some photographs were recognized as old images unrelated to Gaza, while others were from the more recent conflict.
One Western observer expressed hope that Lebanon, which will succeed Libya on the Council as an Arab state representative, would be more moderate.
The Council meeting took place a day after a UN report concluded that 99 percent of the West Bank is still closed to construction because of Israeli government orders, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs found.
On Thursday, organizers of a Gaza Freedom March, set for December 31, held a news briefing at the UN's New York headquarters. More than 1,000 delegates from 42 countries are expected to participate in what Code Pink and other organizers are billing as a non-violent demonstration whose purpose is to lift "the siege in Gaza," urge Egyptian officials to open the Rafah border crossing, and "demand that Israel end the blockade."
Michael Ratner, president of the US Center for Constitutional Rights, who plans to participate, emphasized that public opinion around the world - and in the American Jewish community - has shifted regarding Israel and the territories.
"There's before Operation Cast Lead and the Goldstone report, and there's after Operation Cast Lead and the Goldstone report. I think the divide is gigantic," he said.
Israel can no longer "engage in gross violations of international human rights," he said. "As a Jewish person, I actively refuse to have Israel speak in my name."