The UN Security Council has agreed to Libya’s request for an emergency session to discuss a report on Israeli war crimes in its Gaza incursion last year. The closed door talks will take place later today to discuss South African Justice Richard Goldstone’s Report into the war which was produced without the co-operation of Israel. Palestine has approved the talks a week after deferring a UN debate on the matter to March 2010. But Libyan spokesman Ahmed Gebreel said his country had requested the meeting "because of the seriousness of the report and because we think it's too long to wait until March". (photo of Israeli air assault on Gaza on 28 Dec 2008 by Amir Farshad Ebrahimi)
The UN released the report entitled “Human rights in Palestine and other occupied territories: Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict” last month. The 575 page report looked at Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and its military air and ground offensive which lasted from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009. An estimated 1,500 people were killed in the invasion of which just ten were Israeli soldiers (4 of these died from friendly fire) and three were Israeli civilians.
During the 22-day war, Israeli attacks totally destroyed the Palestinian Legislative Council and the Gaza main prison. The report rejected the Israeli justification these buildings were part of the “Hamas terrorist infrastructure” and said they were deliberate attacks on civilian objects. The report also condemned the attacks on six police stations which resulted in the deaths of 99 police officers and nine civilians. Israel deliberately targeted police on the grounds they were considered part of the Palestinian military but the report found they were a civilian law-enforcement agency.
The report found that Palestinian militants launched rockets from urban areas and did not adequately distinguish themselves from non-combatants. However, it found no evidence that mosques or hospitals were used as “military shields”. It also acknowledged Israel made significant efforts to issue warnings for civilians to get out of harm’s way but many of their warnings were not specific and lacked credibility.
It condemned Israel for its flagrant attack on the UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency) field office which offered shelter to 700 people. The IDF attacked the building with high explosives for several hours despite the fact they were aware of who was there and the fact the compound contained a huge fuel depot. On the same day (15 January), Israel also attacked a Gaza City hospital without warning. The attack caused a day-long fire and panic among evacuated patients.
The report also criticised an Israeli attack on al-Fakhura junction in Jabalya next to a UNRWA school where 1,300 people were taking shelter. Mortar shells killed at least 35 people in an attack that was “indiscriminate in violation of international law”. The report said 10 out of another 11 attacks on civilian targets had no military objective. The impact was compounded by Israeli refusal to evacuate wounded or permit access to ambulances. It said IDF conduct was “criminal” and constituted “grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of wilful killings.”
The report also condemned deliberate attacks against industrial installations, food production, sewage treatment and housing. Israel also used blindfolded Palestinian shields to enter houses of suspected militants and detained large numbers of men, women and children for the duration of the conflict. The entire mission was carried out according to “Dahiya Doctrine” (also practiced in the Lebanon war in 2006) which involves disproportionate force, maximum disruption and damage and the transformation of civilians into military targets.
The report also considered the continued detention of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who was captured in 2006 by a Palestinian group. While the report said Shalit was entitled to POW status and is entitled to a visit from the Red Cross, it did not justify the blockade of the Strip as it constituted “collective punishment”. It certainly does not justify the imprisonment of 8,100 Palestinian political prisoners.
The report also accused Gaza forces of targeting five Fatah members who were killed for their political affiliation. It also accused the Palestinian Authority of torture and inhumane treatment of Hamas prisoners in the West Bank. Goldstone considered the West Bank situation as “closely interrelated” to Gaza but Israel refused access for them to visit the territory (they were able to visit Gaza via Egypt). The report said that attacks in the West Bank coincided with the Gaza assault and the IDF killed a number of protesters. Israel has taken no action to punish soldiers and settlers for violence against Palestinians.
The report also blamed Gaza for its persistent rocket attacks. It said that Palestinian armed groups have launched 8,000 rockets into southern Israel since 2001 with a range of 40kms from the border. These attacks have killed three people and injured another one thousand causing a high level of psychological trauma and an exodus of residents from the area. The report said they were indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations in order to spread terror and is contrary to humanitarian law.
The report recommended international legal action against Israel and Hamas for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. It recommended the findings are handed to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague and also urged the UN Security Council and, separately, the General Assembly, to ensure that those responsible for the crimes are brought to justice.
But Palestinian authorities initially did not support a UN review of Goldstone’s report. A week ago, President Mahmoud Abbas withdrew Palestinian support for a vote in the UN Human Rights Council to have the report sent to the General Assembly for possible action. Such a vote may have eventually led toward possible war crimes tribunals. Palestinian officials said Abbas’s decision was made “under heavy US pressure”. The decision was widely criticised within Palestine. Electronic Intifada called it “the most blatant case yet of PA betrayal of Palestinian rights and surrender to Israeli dictates.”
But now a senior Palestinian politician, Yasser Abed Rabbo, has said they had erred by seeking the deferral. "We must say a mistake has been made,” he said. “This mistake should not be underestimated or concealed.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile claimed the report's conclusions would "devastate the peace process". This is a disengenous complaint given that peace talks are currently going nowhere due to Netenyahu’s insistence on continuing with illegal settlement-building in the West Bank. It is Israel who have "devastated" the peace process just as they devastated Gaza ten months ago.