Posted by: Sammi Ibrahem
Chair of West Midland PSC
Two topics interested much of today’s media—inclusive of domestic newspapers, radio news, TV news, and quite a few international newspapers: the murder of Juliano Mer Khamis on the one side, and the Goldstone report and retraction. The first item below reflects the interest in the actor-director. The final 2 items (of 7) reflect reactions to Goldstone’s re-thinking. There were also supporters of Goldstone’s supposed retraction. I have not included these.
Item 1 includes Palestinian reactions to the murder of Juliano Mer Khamis and some background.
Item 2 informs readers that on the eve of the meeting of Shimon Peres and President Obama in Washington, Israel announced the extensive building of more housing units in the West Bank.
In item 3 Merav Michaeli writes that Israel’s leaders are confusing victimhood with foreign policy—that is to say, they are using victimhood as a means, rather than having a policy that would get Israel out of the morass that it is in.
Item 4 reports “pernicious propaganda” against Israel by anti-Israel Jews. This of course does not represent any view that I hold. I instead share many perhaps all the views of those Jewish critics. I thought it worth including this piece because it gives at a glance reasons for being critical of Israel, as uttered by well-known individuals.
Item 5 is entitled “Prominent Israelis will propose a peace plan.” The bare skeleton of the plan does not furnish sufficient information to judge the plan. But from the little that we have, this peace plan, supposedly resembling the 2002 Arab League initiative. In actual practice it appears to resembles others that have gone before it, e.g., the Oslo agreements. What is needed, however, is less a plan than action. Since the present government does not prefer peace to war, we probably will see more of the latter before we see any signs of peace. The time has come to ‘do’ peace rather than merely talk about it, as if a magic wand could bring it into being. ‘Doing peace’ requires first and foremost ‘doing justice,’ and since that seems an unlikely move at present, peace will have to wait until Israel will have leaders that realize that means other than the use of force have to be used to achieve peace, and with it, the security for life and limb that many of us—Palestinian and Israeli–cherish.
Items 6 and 7 are both about Goldstone’s rescinding part of his opinion in the report, and state that his remarks do not cancel out the main arguments. Item 6 is by the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, and is entitled “The Stain Remains.”
Item 7 is by Amnesty International, which insists that “Israeli campaign to avoid accountability for Gaza war crimes, must be rejected.” This final item is quite long, but is worth your time.
All the best,
1. Washington Post,
April 05, 2011
Palestinians memorialize slain Arab-Israeli actor, theater activists say the show will go on
By Associated Press, Tuesday, April , 11:14 AM
JENIN, West Bank — Scores of tearful Palestinians held a memorial service Tuesday for a popular Israeli-Arab actor who was shot dead outside the theater he founded, and his business partner said the theater would press forward with its work despite fears that the killers objected to its activities.
The memorial for Juliano Mer Khamis took place at the Freedom Theater, the amateur stage company he founded in 2006 as a way to restore normalcy for the town’s youth after years of bloodshed with Israel.
Mer Khamis, 52, was adored by his followers but also had infuriated many in this conservative corner of the West Bank with his outspoken views that criticized Israelis and Palestinians alike. Many also objected to the mingling of boys and girls at the theater.
The actor was shot to death by a masked gunman in the Jenin refugee camp, about 50 yards (meters) away from the theater, according to police. Nobody claimed responsibility, but the theater’s co-founder, former militant Zakariya Zubeidi, blamed an “extremist criminal” and insisted the killing was politically motivated, not personal.
A decade ago, Zubeidi headed the local wing of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades militant group, gaining a reputation as a ruthless fighter. But as the Palestinian uprising against Israel fizzled out, he chose to lay down his arms, was granted amnesty by Israel and chose theater as his nonviolent path toward Palestinian independence.
“I promise you to catch whomever did this very soon,” Zubeidi told the somber memorial, where about 200 Palestinians and foreign activists gathered next to a large picture of the slain director flanked by a Palestinian flag and black flag of mourning.
He said the theater would not be intimidated into halting its work. “The theater will continue,” he vowed.
Young Palestinian actors, in their early twenties, were in anguish.
“We will not forget our teacher Juliano, and we’ll follow his path,” said actor Moamin Sweitat.
Despite the pledges to carry on, the theater could have a hard time without Mer Khamis. The slain actor, whose work included a role in the 1984 movie “The Little Drummer Girl,” was a personality whose international connections brought funding and foreign actors to the theater. Monday’s killing could also deter people, particularly foreigners, from getting involved with the theater.
Palestinian leaders ordered security forces to launch a full-scale manhunt for the shooter, and security officials said late Tuesday that one man was in custody.
A woman who was with Mer Khamis and was lightly wounded in the shooting was trying to identify the killer but was having difficulty because his face was covered during the attack, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.
Mer Khamis was the son of a Jewish mother and a Christian Arab father — a rarity in a land where the two populations almost never intermarry. He also was an Israeli citizen who served in the Israeli military as a youth. His split identity fueled a long career as an actor and a vocal activist against Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.
Mer Khamis’ mother, an Israeli Jew, ran a youth theater in Jenin in the 1980s, before a pair of Palestinian uprisings made it all but impossible for Israelis to visit the town. The theater was destroyed in 2002 during an Israeli military offensive against Palestinian militants, some of them young men who had once been actors there.
The new Freedom Theater — which aimed to introduce children to the wider world beyond their harsh surroundings — drew criticism and vandalism from some Palestinians who were suspicious of Mer Khamis ,and who appeared to see the theater as a threat to their traditions.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
© 2011 The Washington Post Company
2. NY Times Monday, April 4, 2011
On Eve of Meeting in Washington, Israel Announces More Housing Construction
By ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM — On the eve of a White House meeting between President Obama and President Shimon Peres of Israel, officials here took steps on Monday to advance controversial new housing in the West Bank and a disputed area of Jerusalem.
The steps, by two separate agencies, are the latest in a succession of awkwardly timed housing announcements. International players are seeking ways to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which stalled last September when a partial Israeli moratorium on new building in the settlements expired.
Washington has given up its efforts to persuade Israel to commit to an additional settlement freeze; the Palestinians refuse to negotiate with Israel as long as settlement building continues.
On Monday, a municipal planning committee in Jerusalem gave preliminary approval for nearly 1,000 new housing units in the residential district of Gilo, in the south of the city. And the Israeli Ministry of Defense said it had completed zoning plans for several Jewish settlements in the West Bank, retroactively legalizing construction that was already under way.
Aides traveling with Mr. Peres, who was in Washington on Monday, refused to comment on the building plans.
Elie Isaacson, an adviser to Mayor Nir Barkat of Jerusalem, said there was no connection between the Gilo action and the timing of Mr. Peres’s visit.
“There are no secrets whatsoever,” Mr. Isaacson said. “The plan is merely going from one bureaucratic stage to the next bureaucratic stage. The building policy in Jerusalem has been the same for 40 years.”
He added that the area of privately owned land was zoned for construction 10 years ago, and that it would take at least five years for the new housing to receive final approval and for the contractors to break ground. And he said the municipality was also considering hundreds of requests by Palestinians for building in Jerusalem, though Palestinian projects tend to be on a smaller scale.
Mr. Peres is expected to talk to Mr. Obama about security cooperation between Israel and the United States; the recent upheavals in the Middle East and the potential for democratization in the region; and possible ways of restarting the peace talks. One issue that may come up is whether Mr. Obama will go to Israel this year to make a major speech, and if so whether he will put forth an American peace plan. Administration officials say Mr. Obama has indicated that he would like to address Israelis about a range of issues, including the turmoil unfolding in the Middle East. But timing remains an issue, one administration official said Monday.
The role of president in Israel is mainly a ceremonial one, but Mr. Peres, who is regarded internationally as an elder statesman, has played a more active role than most of his predecessors. Relations between Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were chilly from the start, and in a departure from diplomatic norms, Mr. Peres met with Mr. Obama in 2009 before Mr. Netanyahu did, to try to smooth the way.
The issue of settlement construction has severely strained Israeli-American relations since Mr. Obama took office.
Gilo is in a part of the city that Israel annexed after capturing it from Jordan in the 1967 war. Most Israelis consider it an integral neighborhood of Jerusalem, but to the Palestinians and much of the world, it is a settlement built in occupied territory in violation of international law. Israel’s claim to sovereignty in the area of Jerusalem beyond the 1967 lines is not recognized internationally, and the Palestinians claim it as part of their future state.
In February, 14 of the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council backed a resolution demanding a halt in what it termed illegal construction in Israeli settlements. Only a veto by the United States blocked the resolution.
Peace Now, an Israeli advocacy group that opposes any Israeli building beyond the 1967 lines, said the Defense Ministry had approved development plans for four West Bank settlements. But it is not clear whether the plans relate to areas that are already built up or for additional sites.
Tensions over building in Jerusalem peaked in March 2010, when Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was on a visit here meant to underscore American support for Israel. The Israeli Interior Ministry announced 1,600 new housing units for Jews in Ramat Shlomo, in East Jerusalem, infuriating the Obama administration. Mr. Netanyahu said at the time that he had been surprised by the move; the interior minister, Eli Yishai, leader of the right-wing Shas Party, insisted that the timing was coincidental.
After that episode, the prime minister’s office said it would track the advancement of building plans more carefully to avoid new surprises.
But in November, Israel published plans for more than 1,000 housing units in other disputed areas of Jerusalem. That announcement came days before Mr. Netanyahu met with Mr. Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in the United States, drawing criticism from Mr. Obama.
Mr. Netanyahu’s office announced three weeks ago that hundreds of new units had been approved for West Bank settlements in areas Israel intends to keep under any deal with the Palestinians. The news came shortly after five members of one family, including three children, were killed in the Itamar settlement.
Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington.
3. Haaretz Tuesday, April 05, 2011
Latest update 02:52 05.04.11
Israel is confusing victimhood with foreign policy
Israel’s belief that ‘the world is against it’ has in recent years turned into a real obsession, a sense that we are constantly under attack, a fear of delegitimization, an insanity of persecution.
By Merav Michaeli
In an op-ed piece published in The Washington Post, Richard Goldstone wrote that if he knew then what he knows today, the report would have looked different and that it would have been best had Israel cooperated with him.
In fact, it was immediately after Goldstone’s report was publicized that many here concluded that it would have been best for Israel to lend its cooperation to the UN-appointed committee, according to a study conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute. Indeed, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel made a recommendation along these lines to the government before the Goldstone commission was even formed.
But this is not the conclusion that Israel’s leadership has drawn. Both Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the decision not to cooperate with Goldstone “was the correct one.”
While Israel had reasons to believe that an inquiry commissioned by the UN’s Human Rights Council would be hostile, in this extraordinary case, it was possible to think otherwise. Goldstone is known to be a particularly serious individual, a Jew and a supporter of Israel. Indeed, he was opposed to the original mandate which required that he focus his probe solely on Israel. Goldstone agreed to lead the investigation after he was given clearance to examine Hamas’ actions as well. Israel had nothing to lose by cooperating with Goldstone.
This lesson could have been learned from a previous episode – the 2004 hearings held in the International Criminal Court in The Hague involving the West Bank separation fence. The ICC is an important, independent legal authority. There was no reason to suspect that it would be one-sided. But then, too, Israel refused to recognize its authority. It did not take part in the discussion nor did it present its position, all so that it could later claim that the ruling handed down was one-sided and caused Israel serious international damage.
It is often said that a wise man learns from the mistakes of others, while a fool learns from the mistakes of his own. Those who do not learn from their own mistakes confirm that insanity is repeating the same act while expecting a different result. In our case, this insanity is an insanity of persecution.
Our belief that “the world is against us” has in recent years turned into a real obsession, a sense that we are constantly under attack, a fear of delegitimization, an insanity of persecution. It is unclear whether Israel is truly capable of differentiating between a real enemy and those who wish it well, or if it is simply complaining about being persecuted because it believes this serves its interests. Now the prime minister is demanding that the Goldstone report be nullified, while the defense minister is calling for “Goldstone to be compelled (! ) to speak before the UN.” If this gambit doesn’t succeed, it will serve as yet further proof that we are being persecuted.
As the years pass, Israel has grown stronger militarily, economically, and demographically. This has not prevented our leaders from intensifying their warnings about the campaign to get us. They are wont to complain about the one-sidedness and the bias in favor of our enemies. They are also quick to warn against attempts to delegitimize, even destroy, Israel.
There are great parallels between our leaders’ statements decrying the persecution of the State of Israel and their statements decrying the persecution aimed at them personally. This holds true for Lieberman, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu. As our leaders feel increasingly persecuted on an individual basis, they respond by ratcheting up the rhetoric that all of us are the victims of persecution.
Aside from the instinctive reflex of all Israelis to assume the role of victims, there is also cynical exploitation here of real hostility that does exist. As such, there is no room for an honest analysis of these statements, and reality becomes distorted.
As he laments the “persecution” to which he and his wife are subjected, much the same way that he railed against the “persecution” of Israel, Netanyahu is so deeply immersed in his suffering that he doesn’t even notice that in both cases, the whining simply does more damage – both to him personally and to the image of the State of Israel. Complaining about persecution is not a policy, nor is it a strategy. Rather, it is a tactic that just inflicts more damage on us.
April 05, 2011
Richard Goldstone Photo: AP
The anti-Israel Jews
Op-ed: Jews at forefront of anti-Israel campaign do much to tarnish Jewish state’s reputation
Every day, more celebrated Jewish personalities – writers, artists, academics – are depicting Israel as a racist, vicious and inhumane “entity” that has to be dismantled. Many of them have assumed pivotal roles in the global campaign to delegitimize the Jewish State. Their relentless attacks could well play out in ways that indeed puts an end to Israeli sovereignty.
The severest blow to Israel’s reputation in a decade was delivered by a Jewish judge, Richard Goldstone. Meanwhile, there is uproar in Herzliya over renaming part of a city street after Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Israel’s most influential philosopher, who coined the “Judeo-Nazis” expression for the Israeli army.
George Steiner, who has been proclaimed the most important literary critic in the world, questioned whether Israel should have come into being at all. Elsewhere, Eric Hobsbawm, one of the greatest living historians, supported the Second Intifada, endorsing the “the cause of liberation.”
Marek Edelman, one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, wrote letters to “Palestinian partisans.” The late historian Tony Judt has been outspoken in his rejection of Israel’s right to exist and offered Israelis the fate of other religious minorities in the Middle East.
United Nations envoy Richard Falk is one of the most radical demonizers of the Jewish State. Historian Norman Finkelstein is one of the staunchest Western supporters of Hezbollah. Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, film directors Ken Loach and Mike Leigh and historian Ilan Pappe have been the most famous anti-Israeli figures in the UK.
The initiative for an anti-Israel boycott in London was taken by Stephen and Hilary Rose, two renowned Jewish academics. The linguist Noam Chomsky, considered “the intellectual godfather” of the anti-Israel campaign, seeks the abolition of the Jewish State. Jewish philosopher Judith Butler is leading the divestment from Israel.
Michael Lerner’s magazine, Tikkun, is probably the most virulently anti-Israel screed ever published under Jewish auspices. There are the Israeli “neo- Canaanites”, Haim Hanegbi and Meron Benvenisti, who have come to the conclusion that “Israel as a Jewish state can no longer exist.” In Paris, bestselling author Stephane Hessel, himself of Jewish origin, is also inciting against Israel.
There are dozens of Jews leading the NGOs promoting campaigns for boycotts and sanctions against Israel. Now, a new book by the historian Deborah Lipstadt, titled The Eichmann trial, sheds light on another Jewish philosopher who demonized Israel, Hannah Arendt, who followed the Eichmann trial as correspondent of the New Yorker magazine. Arendt accused David Ben Gurion of speaking “the same language of Eichmann” and discussed “the bankruptcy of Zionism.”
For well over a century, Jewish intellectuals (and especially German-Jewish academics) rejected the legitimacy and desirability of harnessing the interests of the Jewish people into a political state. Only the Shoah, the most extreme demonstration imaginable of evil versus Jewish powerlessness, succeeded in turning the objections of these intellectuals to Israel into an embarrassment.
The extreme damage to Israel’s reputation inflicted by these and other Jewish intellectuals has been greatly underestimated. Indeed, with their words and actions they are boosting pernicious Judeophobic propaganda. Now, we are again in an era where the Jews are once more sentenced to solitary confinement on the moral high ground, with no other nation except Israel expected to disappear from this world.
Giulio Meotti, a journalist with Il Foglio, is the author of the book A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel’s Victims of Terrorism
April 4, 2011
Prominent Israelis Will Propose a Peace Plan
By ETHAN BRONNER
JERUSALEM — A group of prominent Israelis, including former heads of Mossad, Shin Bet and the military, are this week putting forth an initiative for peace with the Arab world that they hope will generate popular support and influence their government as it faces international pressure to move peace talks forward.
Called the Israeli Peace Initiative, the two-page document is partly inspired by the changes under way regionally and is billed as a direct response to the Arab Peace Initiative issued by the Arab League in 2002 and again in 2007. It calls for a Palestinian state on nearly all the West Bank and Gaza with a capital in much of East Jerusalem, an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, and a set of regional security mechanisms and economic cooperation projects.
“We looked around at what was happening in neighboring countries and we said to ourselves, ‘It is about time that the Israeli public raised its voice as well,’ ” said Danny Yatom, a signer of the document and former head of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service. “We feel this initiative can bring along many members of the public.”
Another member of the group, Yaakov Perry, a former head of Shin Bet, the internal security agency, said he sent a copy of the document on Sunday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who replied that he looked forward to reading it. The official unveiling is set for Wednesday in Tel Aviv, but a copy was made available to The New York Times.
“We are isolated internationally and seen to be against peace,” Mr. Perry said in a telephone interview. “I hope this will make a small contribution to pushing our prime minister forward. It is about time that Israel initiates something on peace.”
Mr. Yatom has been a member of Parliament from the Labor Party, and Mr. Perry, now a banker, has recently joined Kadima, the main opposition party. Like all 40 people who signed the initiative, they are politically to the left of Mr. Netanyahu and most of his rightist government.
But the group was selected to seem as mainstream as possible. It includes scholars, businesspeople, and the son and daughter of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995. While polls show that the Israeli public has moved right in recent years, many political analysts argue that the public worries about the country’s diplomatic isolation and is open to a peace deal.
The initiative’s goal is resolution of all claims and an end to the Israeli-Arab conflict. It acknowledges “the suffering of the Palestinian refugees since the 1948 war as well as of the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries.” It says it shares the statement of the Arab Peace Initiative “that a military solution to the conflict will not achieve peace or provide security for the parties.”
The two-state solution envisioned for Israel and Palestine resembles the Clinton parameters of 2000. Palestine would be a nation-state for the Palestinians, and Israel “a nation-state for the Jews (in which the Arab minority will have equal and full civil rights as articulated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence).”
The document calls for the 1967 lines to be a basis for borders, with agreed modifications based on swaps that would not exceed 7 percent of the West Bank.
Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods would go to Israel, and Arab neighborhoods to Palestine; the Temple Mount, known as the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims, would be under no sovereignty, although the Western Wall and Jewish Quarter of the Old City would be under Israel. On Palestinian refugees, the plan suggests financial compensation and return to the state of Palestine, not Israel, with “mutually agreed-upon symbolic exceptions” allowed into Israel.
Regarding Syria, the proposal calls for Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, with agreed minor modifications and land swaps in stages taking no longer than five years.
Mr. Yatom said one goal was to be heard in neighboring states. “We want to signal to moderate Palestinians and Syrians that there is a new horizon and light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
6, The Guardian,
5 April 2011
Gaza: the stain remains on Israel’s war record
Richard Goldstone’s partial retraction of his own report doesn’t excuse the conduct of Israel’s war in Gaza
The Netanyahu government is doing everything it can to interpret a recent Washington Post op-ed article by Justice Richard Goldstone as vindication of Israel’s conduct in the 2008-09 Gaza conflict. It is nothing of the sort. Israel’s reluctance to confront that reality finds a parallel in its refusal to date to conduct credible investigations into the serious violations of the laws of war that it committed in Gaza. The Goldstone article does not relieve it of the obligation to pursue those investigations.
As is well known, Goldstone led a UN commission that issued a detailed and damning report on the Gaza war, finding that both Israeli and Hamas forces committed war crimes. In his article, Goldstone backed away from a particularly controversial charge in the report – the allegation that Israel had an apparent high-level policy to target civilians. He now says that information from Israeli investigations indicates “that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy”.
Goldstone was right to make that amendment. Human Rights Watch also investigated some of the cases in which Israeli troops fired at and killed Palestinian civilians. In seven cases, for example, Israeli troops killed a total of 11 Palestinian civilians who had been waving white flags to signal their civilian status. In six other cases, Israeli drone operators fired on and killed a total of 29 Palestinian civilians, including five children, even though drone technology offers the capacity and time to determine whether the targets were combatants. Deeply troubling as these cases were, they were too isolated for us to conclude that the misconduct of individual soldiers reflected a wider policy decision to target civilians.
But Goldstone has not retreated from the report’s allegation that Israel engaged in large-scale attacks in violation of the laws of war. These attacks included Israel’s indiscriminate use of heavy artillery and white phosphorus in densely populated areas, and its massive and deliberate destruction of civilian buildings and infrastructure without a lawful military reason. This misconduct was so widespread and systematic that it clearly reflected Israeli policy.
What has Israel done to redress these violations? Mainly, it has investigated the common soldier while leaving the top brass and policymakers untouched. Israel’s investigations look good only by comparison with Hamas, which has done nothing at all to investigate its war crimes. The Hamas justice minister responded to the Goldstone article by attempting to justify deliberate rocket attacks on populated areas of Israel as part of the “right of self-defence of the Palestinian people” – a position wholly at odds with the laws of war.
As for Israel, a recent UN report mentioned in Goldstone’s article found that the Israeli military has examined the conduct of individual soldiers in about 400 cases of alleged operational misconduct in Gaza. But the report raised serious questions about the thoroughness of these investigations. When Human Rights Watch scrutinised Israel’s investigative response, we found that military prosecutors had closed some cases in which the evidence strongly suggested violations of the laws of war.
To date, Israeli military prosecutors have indicted only four soldiers and convicted three. Only one soldier has served jail time – seven and a half months for stealing a credit card.
Most important, Israel has failed to investigate adequately the policy-level decisions that apparently lie behind the large-scale indiscriminate and unlawful attacks in Gaza. Those decisions are obviously the most sensitive because they involve senior officials, not just troops on the ground.
Part of the problem is that the military has been asked to investigate itself – never an ideal way to arrive at the truth. Moreover, the person leading the military investigations – Israel’s military advocate general – probably took part in the policy decisions that should be investigated. That’s why a genuinely independent investigation is needed, as Israeli human rights groups have requested.
7. AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
Index: MDE 15/023/2011
5 April 2011
Israeli campaign to avoid accountability for Gaza war crimes must be rejected
Recent Israeli government calls for the UN to retract the 2009 report of its Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict are a cynical attempt to avoid accountability for war crimes and deny both Palestinian and Israeli victims of the 2008-2009 conflict the justice and reparations they deserve, Amnesty International said today.
Statements by leading Israeli politicians that Israel’s conduct in the 22-day conflict in Gaza and southern Israel has been vindicated, following the publication of a Washington Post opinion piece by Justice Richard Goldstone on 1 April 2011, are based on a deliberate misinterpretation of Justice Goldstone’s comments. The international community must firmly reject these attempts to escape accountability and act decisively for international justice, as it has done on Libya, Sudan and other situations where war crimes and possible crimes against humanity have been committed.
The UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, composed of Justice Goldstone and three other eminent international jurists, examined violations of international humanitarian and international human rights law committed by all sides during the 2008-2009 conflict. Its September 2009 report echoed the findings documented by Amnesty International, other human rights organizations and independent observers, and called on the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to conduct credible, independent investigations into alleged war crimes and possible crimes against humanity within six months or face potential UN Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court.
The report’s recommendations concerning potential international justice mechanisms remain unimplemented more than 18 months later, despite the fact that the Israeli authorities and Hamas de facto administration have both failed to conduct investigations that are prompt, thorough, independent, impartial, and effective, as required by the UN General Assembly.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, and other senior Israeli politicians have seized on Justice Goldstone’s new statement that the Israeli military did not intentionally target civilians during the conflict and has conducted some investigations to call for the entire Fact-Finding Mission’s report to be retracted – or, as Prime Minister Netanyahu put it, “tossed into history’s trash can”. The US State Department has supported this position, with a spokesperson saying that the US government did not see any evidence that the Israeli government had committed any war crimes during the conflict.
As a spokesperson for the Human Rights Council has today made clear, comments made in an opinion piece do not provide a sufficient legal basis for overturning a UN report that has been discussed and endorsed by both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. Nor are the self-serving calls of Israeli political leaders, some of whom were members of the Israeli war cabinet which made the policy decisions during Operation “Cast Lead”, the 22-day conflict in which some 1,400 Palestinians, including some 300 children, were killed by Israeli forces. Aborting the process towards an international justice solution would also preclude any possibility of justice or reparations for Israeli victims of the conflict, who suffered from hundreds of indiscriminate rockets and mortars launched into southern Israel by Hamas’ military wing and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza.
Amnesty International has monitored and critiqued the Israeli military investigations into its actions during Operation “Cast Lead”, and has condemned both the continuing failure of the Hamas authorities to investigate alleged violations committed by Palestinian armed groups during the conflict and the ongoing firing of indiscriminate rockets into southern Israel.
In consequence of the failure of both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to conduct proper independent investigations and ensure accountability and justice for the victims, Amnesty International has called on a range of international actors to now bring international justice mechanisms to bear in order to meet these objectives and end impunity.
In particular, Amnesty International has called on the General Assembly to consider the Fact-Finding Mission’s report at its 66th session starting in September 2011, and submit the report to the UN Security Council with a recommendation that the latter body consider referring the situation to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This recommendation was also included in a resolution passed by the Human Rights Council on 25 March 2011.
Amnesty International also urged the ICC Prosecutor to seek a legal determination from the Pre-Trial Chamber on whether an investigation could be launched on the basis of a 2009 declaration by the Palestinian Authority accepting the Court’s jurisdiction over crimes committed on the Palestinian territories. Finally, we have consistently called for national authorities of other states to exercise universal jurisdiction over war crimes committed during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict, just as we urge states to exercise universal jurisdiction over war crimes in other conflicts where the domestic authorities are unwilling or unable to act.
In a personal op-ed, Justice Goldstone contrasted the investigations conducted by the Israeli military into alleged violations by Israeli forces with the Hamas de facto administration’s failure to investigate alleged violations by Palestinian armed groups in Gaza. He also commented that the Israeli military investigations indicate that civilians in Gaza “were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy” by Israeli forces. The op-ed is available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/reconsidering-the-goldstone-report-on-israel-and-war-crimes/2011/04/0
While Justice Goldstone’s comments question one of the Fact-Finding Mission’s conclusions – that certain Israeli attacks during Operation “Cast Lead” intentionally targeted civilians – the op-ed in no way constitutes a retraction of the entire Fact-Finding Mission report. The other three members of the UN Fact-Finding Mission have not issued similar public comments questioning any of the report’s conclusions.
The Fact-Finding Mission report examined 11 incidents in which Israeli forces launched direct attacks against civilians that resulted in civilian deaths, and found that in these incidents, “the conduct of the Israeli armed forces constitutes grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of wilful killings and wilfully causing great suffering to protected persons and, as such, give[s] rise to individual criminal responsibility.” Justice Goldstone’s op-ed mentions only one of these incidents, an Israeli attack on 5 January 2009 which killed 21 members of the al-Sammouni family, which is the subject of an ongoing Israeli military investigation. Assessing whether specific Israeli attacks on civilians during the conflict were deliberate is extremely difficult because the Israeli military has not released the evidence that would allow independent parties to evaluate its conclusions. Amnesty International has not argued that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) targeted Palestinian civilians “as a matter of policy”, but rather that IDF rules of engagement and actions during the conflict failed to take sufficient precautions to minimize civilian casualties. Justice Goldstone’s recent comments do not dispute this assessment.
Amnesty International, the Fact-Finding Mission, and other human rights organizations documented many other serious violations by Israeli forces, including war crimes, during the conflict. These include indiscriminate attacks and the use of weapons such as white phosphorus and flechettes in civilian areas; wanton destruction of civilian property and infrastructure; attacks on UN facilities, medical facilities and personnel; and the use of Palestinian civilians as “human shields”. While the Israeli authorities have investigated some of these incidents, all the investigations have been conducted by the Israeli military, and overseen by the Military Advocate General Corps, the same body which was responsible for providing legal advice to the IDF during Operation “Cast Lead”.
As noted in the recent report of the UN Committee of Independent Experts appointed to monitor and assess the investigations, Israel has failed to investigate the actions of “those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw Operation Cast Lead”, the Israeli military investigations have lacked transparency, and more than one third of the incidents highlighted by the Fact-Finding Mission are still “unresolved or unclear”. To date, only four Israeli soldiers have been indicted on criminal charges relating to Operation “Cast Lead”, and only one has served prison time for credit card theft.
Amnesty International’s own assessment of the Israeli investigations concurred with the Committee of Independent Experts’ report. More than two years after the conflict, there is no way for objective, impartial observers to view Israel’s investigations as adequate, independent, or effective in bringing perpetrators of alleged violations to justice.
The Committee of Independent Experts’ report, released on 18 March 2011, is available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/16session/A.HRC.16.24_AUV.pdf
Amnesty International’s latest assessment of the Israeli and Palestinian investigations into the Gaza Conflict, released on 18 March 2011, is available at: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/MDE15/018/2011/en
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