Israel’s war crimes report

REVERBERATIONS of the devastating offensive by Israeli defence forces against Gaza in January are still in the air. In a 22-day onslaught launched in response to rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave, IDF killed 1,417 civilians including 400 children under 16. On the Israeli side three civilians and 10 soldiers died. 

Not content with this brutal response, Israel has imposed total blockade of Gaza and has spurned UN appeal to allow relief supplies, to the besieged population — clear violation of the international humanitarian and human rights laws. 

The vast destruction of civilian infrastructure and indiscriminate demolition of the houses aroused international anger and outrage. Richard Falk, UN special representative on human rights, condemned Israeli practices as violation of Fourth Geneva Convention and a crime against humanity. 

The level and range of Israeli brutal offensive were so disproportionate and inhuman that UN Human Rights Council in Geneva decided to send a high-level delegation to fully investigate the war crimes committed by Israel. The delegation was led by Richard Goldstone, a Jew and former chief prosecutor for war crimes in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Israel refused to cooperate and did not allow the Commission to visit Israel. 

The Goldstone commission presented its report on September 14 saying “actions amounting to war crimes and possibly in some respect crimes against humanity were committed by the IDF.” The 575-page report is replete with cases of barbaric practices where civilians were shot while leaving their homes trying to run for safety, waving white flags and sometimes even following IDF instructions. Targeting of a mosque at prayer time killing 15 people was also mentioned as an illustration of “a direct and intentional attack”. 

Goldman, a former judge of South Africa Supreme Court and Constitutional Court was also critical of Palestinian armed groups for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity by firing rockets at cities in northern Israel. The report understandably has been rejected by both Israel and its mentor — the US. A State Department spokesperson expressed “very serious concern” on commission’s recommendation that the issue may be taken up at international forums, outside Human Rights Council and national courts of country, not party to the conflict. 

The damning indictment of IDF for war crimes has also been supported by International NGOs such as Amnesty International (AI) and Human Right Watch (HRW). The AI report corroborated Goldman commission’s findings and held Israel guilty of war crimes. “Much of the destruction was wanton and resulted from direct attack on civilian objects” AI concluded by appealing for International arms embargo against Israel. ‘Intentionally using civilians to shield a military objective is a war crime’, said AI. 

It rejected Israel’s allegation that Hamas used civilians as human shield. The report mentioned a number of instances where “women and children were shot at short range when posing no threat to the lives of Israel soldiers.” According to AI report 300 children were among those killed. It also documented the use of white phosphorous and high precision weapons by Israel. 

New York-based HRW carried out a similar study in March 2009 and arrived at similar conclusions. It noted the IDF ‘s indiscriminate use of white phosphorous shells over densely populated areas of Ghaza. An Israeli NGO — ‘Breaking the Silence’ interviewed and collected testimony of 30 Israeli soldiers stating that massive destruction wrecked on Palestinian population was “a direct result of IDF policy.” Based on these interviews the study established that whole sale demolition of the houses, wilful killings and use of civilians as human shield was a deliberate policy. 

Amnesty International has demanded that in view of unassailable evidence of Israeli crimes, the Goldstone report must be implemented. It should be referred to the Security Council and victims should receive justice and reparations that is their due and that perpetrators do not get away with murders. 

Despite these facts, there is little likelihood of any meaningful action from the international community. George Kaufman, a British Jewish MP, has succinctly summed up the unwillingness of world powers to condemn Israel for its brutal inhuman policy in Gaza stating — “the present Israeli governments ruthlessly and cynically exploit the continuing guilt from the gentiles over the slaughter of the Jews in Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians”. 

The Goldstone report was presented to the 47-member Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 17. It was expected that Israeli practices would be condemned through a resolution as recommended by the commission. However, the move was postponed until next session scheduled in March next year as a result of intense lobbing by the US. It was argued that any precipitate action by HRC would adversely affect the restart of peace negotiations by the US. 

Pakistan on behalf of Arab, Islamic and African sponsors moved a resolution on October 2, but the group under strong US pressure withdrew the resolution “to give more time for broad-based and comprehensive consideration”. The Palestinians also capitulated under “intense US diplomacy” and in surprising move dropped support for the resolution. The uncritical US support has encouraged Israel to commit crimes with impunity. The issue has been postponed until the next session of HRC in March 2010 but in effect the matter has been adjourned sine die.

By Tayyeb Siddiqui: The writer is a former Ambassador. Courtesy Dawn, 18 October 2009.


Israel hardened its opposition Tuesday to international calls for an independent inquiry into its fierce offensive against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip last winter, saying it would urge the US to prevent the issue from advancing at the United Nations.

The decision came at a special Cabinet meeting called to discuss a UN report that has accused Israel and Palestinian militants of committing war crimes during the three-week operation.

The report, which was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council last week, recommends war crimes proceedings if the sides do not conduct credible independent investigations into their actions.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a fierce critic of the report, blocked a planned discussion Tuesday on whether to launch an investigation, senior officials said.

Instead, Cabinet ministers established a special lobbying team that will urge the US to use its veto power in the Security Council to prevent legal action against Israeli officials.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported Barak’s position, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.

‘Our struggle is to delegitimize the continuing attempt to delegitimize the state of Israel,’ Netanyahu told the meeting, according to a statement from his office. ‘The most important sphere we need to work in is the sphere of public opinion in the democratic world.’

Both men have argued that the report was one-sided and undermines Israel’s right to defend itself. They also say that internal military investigations are sufficient. So far, the internal probes have cleared the army of any systemic wrongdoing.

But international pressure for an independent query has mounted since last week’s vote in the rights council.

Washington, which has reacted coolly to the report, is likely to veto attempts to prosecute Israelis.

Still, the Israeli government is taking no chances. Tuesday’s decision by the Security Cabinet, a group of seven senior ministers, assigned legal, political and diplomatic officials to the lobbying effort, the officials said.

The UN report, overseen by respected South African jurist Richard Goldstone, has created an uproar in Israel. Officials say the Human Rights Council, which includes many Arab and Muslim countries, is hopelessly biased against Israel.

But Goldstone’s credentials as a former war crimes prosecutor in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, his Jewish faith and his close ties to Israel have made it hard for Israel to ignore his findings. Goldstone has personally urged Israel to hold an independent investigation.

Israel attacked Gaza last December in a bid to end eight years of relentless rocket fire by Palestinian militants. Some 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 900 civilians, were killed in the three-week war, according to Palestinian officials and human rights groups. Thirteen Israelis, including four civilians, also died.

The Goldstone report concluded that Israel deliberately struck civilians and repeatedly destroyed civilian infrastructure without military justification.

It also accused Palestinian rocket squads affiliated with Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza, and other Palestinian armed groups of deliberately going after Israeli civilians. Each side has rejected the war crimes allegations against it. -AP

Israel’s war crimes report: