Since December 2008, a series of events have extended the problematic history between Israel and Palestine. The aim of “Operation Cast Lead,” a three-week military offensive led by the Israeli army, from Dec. 27, 2008 to Jan. 18, 2009 was supposedly to stop the rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel and to put an end to the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip.
The outcome of the bombardment of the Gaza Strip by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) was a tragic number of deaths among the Palestinian population: “about 1,400 Palestinians dead, including 300 children.” As the Guardian stated, according to human rights groups, Israel committed the majority of offences by disproportionately retaliating to Hamas rocket attacks. On the Israeli side, during Operation Cast Lead, there were three civilian deaths, six Israeli soldiers killed by Palestinian fire and four killed by friendly fire.
A glimpse of hope arrived on Sept. 15, 2009, when the Human Rights Council of the United Nations completed and released their “Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict” report. The report, consisting of 574 pages, was conducted by Judge Richard Goldstone, former member of the South African Constitutional Court and former chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Goldstone was appointed by the United Nations in 2009 to lead the fact-finding mission to the Gaza-Strip. As Goldstone is a Jewish supporter of Israel who sits on the Hebrew University’s Board of Directors, and who is associated with numerous organizations that have worked in Israel, he was in a state of shock when invited to lead the mission, but nonetheless was quoted saying: “I believe I can approach the daunting task that I have accepted in an even-handed and impartial manner.”
Goldstone and his team of three additional members carefully looked at all parties, namely, Israel; the Palestinian Authority; Hamas, which governs Gaza; and armed Palestinian groups, in order to assess the facts and to conduct an investigation on “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 from Dec. 27, 2008 to Jan. 18, 2009, whether before, during or after.”
Mr. Goldstone came to the conclusion that “there was strong evidence to establish that numerous serious violations of international law, both humanitarian law and human rights law, were committed by Israel during the military operations in Gaza. [ . . . ] The mission concluded that actions amounting to war crimes and possibly, in some respects, crimes against humanity, were committed by the Israel Defense Force.”
In a recent open statement by Goldstone, on Sept. 29, 2009, after having received severe criticism — mainly from Israel and other countries such as the U.S. calling the report “politically motivated” — a series of concerns were listed by Goldstone. For instance, he expressed that one of the main concerns was Israel’s refusal to deal with the substance of the report. As Goldstone mentioned in his statement to the Human Rights Council, from the very start one of the mission’s major challenges was that Israel attempted to prevent access to Gaza, West Bank and southern Israel to the UN team, which succeeded to enter through the Rafah crossing in Egypt.
As part of the report, Goldstone and the other members of the mission came to some breakthrough conclusions based on their thorough investigation in Gaza. The mission collected interviews of 188 individuals and reviewed more than 300 reports, submissions and other documentation, consisting of 10,000 pages, more than 30 videos and 1,200 photographs. In addition, field visits and investigations of incident sites were held in the Gaza Strip, in order to observe the “first-hand situation on the ground [and to] speak to many witnesses and other relevant persons.”
The report accuses both Hamas and the Israeli forces of war crimes, but held Israel accountable for most of the occurrences violating international law throughout its military offensive.
Some of the report’s conclusions are that the Israeli armed forces “violated the customary international law requirement to take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and method of attack with a view to avoiding and in any event minimizing incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.” According to article 39 of the report, the Israeli forces are held accountable for “directly and intentionally attack[ing] the Al Quds Hospital in Gaza City and the adjacent ambulance depot with white phosphorous shells.” This is just one example of the types of accusations that Israel has not been held accountable for.
According to article 1754 of the report, human rights defenders and others said that they hoped they would never have to go through such an investigative mission again, due to actions of vengeance from Israel that will follow from it. Also, the report notes the surprise of one of the comments made throughout the investigation stating that “every time a report is published and no action follows, it “emboldens Israel and her conviction of being untouchable.” According to the report, Israel denying accountability “reinforces impunity and impacts negatively on the credibility of the United Nations and of the International community.”
Despite the accuracy of the report, the Israeli side has still managed to find excuses and is attempting to lower the significance of Goldstone’s findings, by, as always, attributing to any material of critique, the tag “anti-Semitic.” The reactions were strong on the Israeli side, including Israeli Prime Minister Natenyahu who described the Goldstone report as “prewritten” and as a “prize for terror” which “makes it difficult for democracies to fight terror.” These comments are absurd, because the report is a direct attempt for justice for the Palestinians who had to suffer the terrorizing attacks made by Israel itself.
Despite all the UN efforts to put together proof and statements proving Israel’s flagrant war crimes against the Palestinians, the truth is that the Palestinians will have to pass on this opportunity for justice. Under heavy U.S. pressure and due to the argument that such a report will halt the peace efforts between Palestine and Israel, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, surprisingly decided to withdraw Palestinian support in favor of the vote to have the report sent to the UN General Assembly “for possible action” leading to war crimes tribunals. This lead to set the report aside for six months and caused tremendous frustration and anger among the Palestinian population, who have yet not seen any sign of compensation for the atrocious attacks that were inflicted on them.
This vote took place during the second day of a special session that the Arabic and Islamic members of the council had asked for. “Twenty-five countries, out of the 47-nation council voted in favor of the report while six states, including the United States […]” were against it.
As one can notice, even such a report did not successfully incite the international scene to convict Israel. The question is: until when and how can a country such as Israel, having an incredible amount of proven war crimes on its list, get away with such acts?
Postponing the report to six months later proves that international law, justice and such a clear and balanced report fail to be taken seriously. Israel’s “immunity to such accusations” considered being at the same level as “war crimes” and perhaps “crimes against humanity” is a tragedy in terms of providing a proper example to countries, like Israel, who occupy, destroy and abuse an entire nation. The facts are that Israel has committed war crimes against the Palestinian population and its motives and ways adopted to justify such deadly actions can now be considered “illegitimate” due to the Goldstone Report. The failure to endorse such an accurate report not only proves how international law cannot defeat the “power of the wealthy” and gives Israel the green light to commit more war crimes against the Palestinians, but also completely obstructs international law and order.
Sarah Khalil is the International Coordinator at the Manitoban.