Thursday, September 17, 2009

If I Forget Thee O Gaza

Nine months after the assault on Gaza, a high-level UN Fact Finding Mission presented substantial evidence for the claim that Israel committed numerous, systematic war crimes in the course of the assault. Notably, the mission also claimed the distinct complicity of the international community in these crimes, through its long-term, consistent extension of impunity to Israel's governments and military. Suspected war crimes, the mission says, were also committed by the Palestinian armed groups that targeted civilians in the southern part of Israel.

The work of the mission, headed by the internationally esteemed Justice Richard Goldstone, was obstructed by Israeli authorities which barred mission members from entering Israel and the Occupied Territories. Following the report, Israeli media and officials are retrospectively debating the wisdom of this policy.

The first item below is a press release issued by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, summarizing the gist of the report and providing links to the full 574 page document.

The following items offer a glimpse of various responses to the report in the influential Israeli daily Haaretz and of the range of the topics it has tabled.

The second item links to, and quotes from, a report on the mission's findings, published September 16th in Haaretz, illustrating both the impunity highlighted and condemned by the mission and indicating some of the report's potential ramifications for individual Israeli military commanders.

The third item links to, and quotes from, an opinion piece by Haaretz commentator Aluf Ben, interpreting the report as an added leverage point through which the US may manipulate Israel. Implicitly, and without condemnation, this view in fact reiterates the mission's claim that Israel's impunity, granted by the international community, played a major role in enabling its war crimes. Ben, in characteristic "national security" tones, warned that adopting the mission's findings could endanger the US in "set[ing] a precedent against other militaries fighting terror in civilian areas". Nevertheless, he subsequently criticizes Israel's excess in the assault on Gaza, though it remains unclear whether on grounds of injustice or imprudence. Still, reflecting an awareness of a possible, ongoing shift in international public opinion, Ben concludes that, "the most serious strategic threat Israel brought upon itself with the Gaza offensive … [is] that it saps international legitimacy for a
similar operation in the future."

The last three items are link to, and quote from, opinion pieces, published September 17th, including an Haaretz editorial, admonishing both politicians and the Israeli public to recognize the gravity of the mission's findings and, moreover, to act on them decisively.

In the fourth item, Amira Hass, unpacking and refuting Israel's regular set of strategies for shouting down accusations of war crimes (whether by human rights groups or the Goldstone mission), implies that failing to recognize and act on these accusations amounts to an admission that the criminal practices described in detail by the report are in fact normal procedure for the Israeli army and leadership.

In the fifth item, Gideon Levy exposes the groundlessness of implications that Judge Goldstone's work was prejudiced by anti-Israel or antisemitic sentiments and calls on the government to issue personal arrest warrants and initiate due process against the individuals bearing direct responsibility for the criminal acts in questionâ€"that is, against the former Prime Mininster, Minister of Defense and Chief of Staff.

The last item, the September 17th Haaretz editorial, makes a clear call to appoint a state investigative commission of the highest level.

Notably, all these commentators, both those who accept the mission's findings and those who argue against them, are united in noting the severe erosion of Israel's legitimacy in international public opinion. The report, researched, compiled and presented within this context, makes a major contribution to this process of erosion. In my view, however, it remains to be seen whether the impunity granted Israel by (most important) the US and Europe will indeed erode as well and whether this will lead to a future restriction of Israel's freedom of criminalinality.

Rela Mazali

The full report can be found on the web page of the Fact Finding Mission:

For further media information: contact Doune Porter, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Tel: 1-917-367-3292 or +41-79-477-2576. Email:

15 September 2009

UN Fact Finding Mission finds strong evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Gaza conflict; calls for end to impunity

NEW YORK / GENEVA â€" The UN Fact-Finding Mission led by Justice Richard Goldstone on Tuesday released its long-awaited report on the Gaza conflict, in which it concluded there is evidence indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.

The report also concludes there is also evidence that Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity, in their repeated launching of rockets and mortars into Southern Israel.

The four members of the Mission* were appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council in April with a mandate to “To investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.”

In compiling the 574- page report, which contains detailed analysis of 36 specific incidents in Gaza, as well as a number of others in the West Bank and Israel, the Mission conducted 188 individual interviews, reviewed more 10,000 pages of documentation, and viewed some 1,200 photographs, including satellite imagery, as well as 30 videos. The mission heard 38 testimonies during two separate public hearings held in Gaza and Geneva, which were webcast in their entirety. The decision to hear participants from Israel and the West Bank in Geneva rather than in situ was taken after Israel denied the Mission access to both locations. Israel also failed to respond to a comprehensive list of questions posed to it by the Mission. Palestinian authorities in both Gaza and the West Bank cooperated with the Mission.

The Mission found that, in the lead up to the Israeli military assault on Gaza, Israel imposed a blockade amounting to collective punishment and carried out a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip. During the Israeli military operation, code-named “Operation Cast Lead,” houses, factories, wells, schools, hospitals, police stations and other public buildings were destroyed. Families are still
living amid the rubble of their former homes long after the attacks ended, as reconstruction has been impossible due to the continuing blockade. More than 1,400 people were killed during the military operation.

Significant trauma, both immediate and long-term, has been suffered by the population of Gaza. The Report notes signs of profound depression, insomnia and effects such as bed-wetting among children. The effects on children who witnessed killings and violence, who had thought they were facing death, and who lost family members would be long lasting, the Mission found, noting in its Report that some 30 per cent of children screened at UNRWA schools suffered mental health problems.

The report concludes that the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population. The destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy which has made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population.

The Report states that Israeli acts that deprive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip of their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water, that deny their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country, that limit their rights to access a court of law and an effective remedy, could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, has been committed.

The report underlines that in most of the incidents investigated by it, and described in the report, loss of life and destruction caused by Israeli forces during the military operation was a result of disrespect for the fundamental principle of “distinction” in international humanitarian law that requires military forces to distinguish between military targets and civilians and civilian objects at all times. The report states that “Taking into account the ability to plan, the means to execute plans with the most developed technology available, and statements by the Israeli military that almost no errors occurred, the Mission finds that the incidents and patterns of events considered in the report are the result of deliberate planning and policy decisions.”

For example, Chapter XI of the report describes a number of specific incidents in which Israeli forces launched “direct attacks against civilians with lethal outcome.” These are, it says, cases in which the facts indicate no justifiable military objective pursued by the attack and concludes they amount to war crimes. The incidents described include:
• Attacks in the Samouni neighbourhood, in Zeitoun, south of Gaza City, including the shelling of a house where soldiers had forced Palestinian civilians to assemble;
• Seven incidents concerning “the shooting of civilians while they were trying to leave their homes to walk to a safer place, waving white flags and, in some of the cases, following an injunction from the Israeli forces to do so;”
• The targeting of a mosque at prayer time, resulting in the death of 15 people.

A number of other incidents the Report concludes may constitute war crimes include a direct and intentional attack on the Al Quds Hospital and an adjacent ambulance depot in Gaza City.

The Report also covers violations arising from Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank, including excessive force against Palestinian demonstrators, sometimes resulting in deaths, increased closures, restriction of movement and house demolitions. The detention of Palestinian Legislative Council members, the Report says, effectively paralyzed political life in the OPT.

The Mission found that through activities such as the interrogation of political activists and repression of criticism of its military actions, the Israeli Government contributed significantly to a political climate in which dissent was not tolerated.

The Fact-Finding Mission also found that the repeated acts of firing rockets and mortars into Southern Israel by Palestinian armed groups “constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity,” by failing to distinguish between military targets and the civilian population. “The launching of rockets and mortars which cannot be aimed with sufficient precisions at military targets breaches the fundamental principle of distinction,” the report says. “Where there is no intended military target and the rockets and mortars are launched into civilian areas, they constitute a deliberate attack against the civilian population.”

The Mission concludes that the rocket and mortars attacks “have caused terror in the affected communities of southern Israel,” as well as “loss of life and physical and mental injury to civilians and damage to private houses, religious buildings and property, thereby eroding the economic and cultural life of the affected communities and severely affecting the economic and social rights of the population.”

The Mission urges the Palestinian armed groups holding the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to release him on humanitarian grounds, and, pending his release, give him the full rights accorded to a prisoner of war under the Geneva Conventions including visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Report also notes serious human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial executions of Palestinians, by the authorities in Gaza and by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

The prolonged situation of impunity has created a justice crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that warrants action, the Report says. The Mission found the Government of Israel had not carried out any credible investigations into alleged violations. It recommended that the UN Security Council require Israel to report to it, within six months, on investigations and prosecutions it should carry out with regard to the violations identified in its Report. The Mission further recommends that the Security Council set up a body of independent experts to report to it on the progress of the Israeli investigations and prosecutions. If the experts’ reports do not indicate within six months that good faith, independent proceedings are taking place, the Security Council should refer the situation in Gaza to the ICC Prosecutor. The Mission recommends that the same independent expert body also report to the Security Council on proceedings undertaken by the relevant Gaza authorities with
regard to crimes committed by the Palestinian side. As in the case of Israel, if within six months there are no good faith independent proceedings conforming to international standards in place, the Council should refer the situation to the ICC Prosecutor.

* The members of the Fact Finding Mission are:
Justice Richard Goldstone, Head of Mission; former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa; former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
Professor Christine Chinkin , Professor of International Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science; member of the high-level fact-finding mission to Beit Hanoun (2008).
Ms. Hina Jilani, Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan; former Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders; member of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur (2004).
Colonel Desmond Travers , former Officer in Ireland’s Defence Forces; member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations.

The full report can be found on the web page of the Fact Finding Mission:

For further media information: contact Doune Porter, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Tel: 1-917-367-3292 or +41-79-477-2576. Email:

Last update - 14:15 16/09/2009

'UN report accusing Israel of war crimes is prize for terrorism'

By Haaretz Service

The defense establishment is making efforts to extend legal aid to officers who may face indictment on war crimes charges abroad, Israel Radio reported. …

The deputy foreign minister, who is currently on a trip to Washington, told Israel Radio that the U.S. and the European Union both opposed the UN commission of inquiry. …

[Deputy foreign minister] Ayalon said he planned to meet Wednesday with U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice to discuss ways to minimize the report's damage to Israel before it is submitted to the Security Council for deliberations.

Last update - 08:08 16/09/2009

Aluf Benn / In wake of Gaza probe, how can Israel go to war again?

By Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondent

If its findings and recommendations are accepted, the International Criminal Court in The Hague could call a summit meeting between the leaders of Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority on the defendants' stand.

But the ultimate adjudicator on the report's fate will be Barack Obama, who now has another whip with which to flay Benjamin Netanyahu - if you don't freeze the settlements and agree to concessions, legal proceedings will commence against those responsible for Operation Cast Lead. …

Second, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak (prime and defense ministers respectively during Cast Lead) erred in ignoring the Gazan population's suffering, and in allowing the death and destruction the IDF perpetrated during the Gaza campaign.

Lengthening the operation and choosing to send in ground forces - decisions which won widespread support among the Israeli public - wrought untold damage to Israel's international image, and bolstered the legitimacy of Hamas. …

Last, and perhaps most important, the Goldstone report reinforces the most serious strategic threat Israel brought upon itself with the Gaza offensive, in that it saps international legitimacy for a similar operation in the future.


Last update - 03:37 17/09/2009

Amira Hass / The one thing worse than denying the Gaza report

By Amira Hass, Haaretz Correspondent

… The Goldstone Commission's findings are in line with what anyone who didn't shut his or her eyes and ears to witness testimony already knows. … [But]
Like the Serbs of yore, we Israelis continue thinking it's the world that is wrong, and only we who are right.

Israel struck a civilian population that remains under its control, it didn't fulfill its obligation to distinguish between civilians and militants and used military force disproportionate with the tangible threat to its own civilians. Air Force drones and helicopters fired deadly missiles at civilians, many of them children; the Tank Corps and Navy shelled civilian neighborhoods with weapons not designed for precision strikes; soldiers received orders to fire on rescue crews; others fired on civilians carrying white flags; and others killed people in or near their homes. Troops used Gazans as human shields, soldiers detained civilians in abusive conditions, the army used white phosphorus shells in dense civilian areas and, on the eve of withdrawing, destroyed wide residential, industrial and agricultural areas.

There is only thing worse than denial - the admission that the IDF indeed acted as has been described, but that these actions are both normal and appropriate.


Thu., September 17, 2009

Disgrace in The Hague

By Gideon Levy

… It has become superfluous to ask whether war crimes were committed in Gaza, because authoritative and clear-cut answers have already been given. So the follow-up question has to be addressed: Who's to blame? If war crimes were committed in Gaza, it follows that there are war criminals at large among us. They must be held accountable and punished.
Cast Lead was an unrestrained assault on a besieged, totally unprotected civilian population which showed almost no signs of resistance during this operation. It should have raised an immediate furor in Israel. It was a Sabra and Chatila, this time carried out by us. But there was a storm of protest in this country following Sabra and Chatila, whereas after Cast Lead mere citations were dished out.

It should have been enough just to look at the horrendous disparity in casualties - 100 Palestinians killed for every Israeli - to shake the whole of Israeli society. There was no need to wait for Goldstone to understand that a terrible thing had occurred between the Palestinian David and the Israeli Goliath. But the Israelis preferred to look away, or stand with their children on the hills around Gaza and cheer on the carnage-causing bombs.
It would be better for Israel to summon up the courage to change course while there is still time, investigating the matter genuinely and not by means of the Israel Defense Forces' grotesque inquiries, without waiting for Goldstone.
Now that the report is on its way to the ICC and arrest warrants could soon be issued, all that remains to be done is to immediately set up a state inquiry commission in order to avert disgrace in The Hague.


Thu., September 17, 2009

A committee of inquiry is needed

By Haaretz Editorial

… the best of those offering explanations will find it difficult to invalidate the findings of the Goldstone Commission - which analyzed dozens of incidents, interviewed 188 people and reviewed thousands of documents. Moreover, a good deal of the findings are consistent with a number of reports filed by voluntary groups, which pointed out violations of the rules of warfare and of human rights during the fighting and the prolonged siege of the Strip.

The cloud of Cast Lead will not dissipate on its own. Israel benefited from the decision to appoint a commission of inquiry following the Sabra and Chatila massacre that occurred during the first Lebanon war. Instead of a futile attempt to reject the report and undermine the legitimacy of the Goldstone Commission, the government would do better to establish a state commission of inquiry to thoroughly investigate the serious accusations that were placed this week on Israel's doorstep. Such a step could prevent a more severe entanglement.

Jewish Peace News editors:
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Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Z. Shlensky
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Alistair Welchman
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