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Musa Keilani: Dismissing Israeli claims
April 11, 2011
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Richard Goldstone, the respected South African jurist, has dismissed Israeli claims that he was seeking to nullify his own findings about the war that Israel waged against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in late 2008 and early 2009.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Goldstone said Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s assertions to the contrary were false.

The controversy came after Goldstone wrote an op-ed piece published on April 1 in the Washington Post in which he said that he would have written the report differently if Israel had co-operated with him when he was preparing it.

He was referring to Israeli investigations into the war since his report was released in September 2009.

But he affirmed on Tuesday that he had no intention to write to the UN Human Rights Council to nullify any part of his report.

That should have dampened the enthusiasm of Israeli leaders who fear that the Goldstone report could open the door for trial for their soldiers on charges of war crimes.

The report has pushed Israel into the back feet because it suggested that the Israeli army to a large extent and the Hamas rulers of Gaza to a smaller extent had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during Israel’s three-week war on the Gaza Strip. Some 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of women and children, and 13 Israelis, mostly soldiers, died in the war.

Israeli officials worry that the report could spark calls for war-crimes trials against Israeli soldiers at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and keep the demands fuelling. Not that there was and is any realistic chance of any Israeli being put on trial at the ICC in view of the US protection that the Jewish state enjoys at almost all international forums. But Israel could do with as much international attention on its actions against the Palestinians.

And that is why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and others grabbed Goldstone’s article in the Post and demand that the UN shelve his report on the war against the Gaza Strip.

They tried to interpret Goldstone’s comment as exoneration and vindication of the Israeli military. In reality, however, there is no ground for such a demand. In his Post article, Goldstone wrote that since his report’s was released in September 2009 “Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct.”

That is indeed in line with Goldstone’s emphatic calls on Israel and the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip to investigate incidents where non-combatants were targeted. He appeared to consider favourably the Israel’s investigation and compare it with the Hamas failure to carry out any inquiries.

However, Goldstone was immediately contradicted by Israeli human rights groups which said the Israeli investigation were not independent and transparent. In their view, conducting an investigation is in itself is no any defence against the charges levelled in the Goldstone Report.

There are many aspects to the Goldstone affair. First of all, Israel refused to accept the UN-authorised investigation and refused to co-operate with Goldstone, who had in fact insisted on access to the Gaza Strip as well Israel to interview Israeli military officers and other leaders as one of his conditions to accept the mandate.

Goldstone visited the Gaza Strip, but Israel denied Goldstone entry to the areas under its control. The Israeli refusal to co-operate with him did have an impact on Goldstone’s mission. However, he completed his work after conducting many interviews.

Then came the presentation of the report to the UN Human Rights Council. After initially welcoming the report enthusiastically, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas tried to apply brakes on the course of the report. The reason was also clear: The US applied pressure on him and even warned him that peace negotiations with Israel were at peril if the report was sent to the UN Security Council.

Abbas then found himself under pressure from his own ranks and he was even accused of trying to shield Israel. This left him with no option but to let the UN take its course.

The UN demanded that both Israel and Hamas conduct their own investigations and present reports to the council. When the deadline for the reports passed without Israel and Hamas making a credible effort to investigate whether their forces committed war crimes, the council extended the deadline. Israel conducted an inquiry but Hamas is not deemed to have done so.

In any event, the Goldstone Report stands. So do the charges that Israeli soldiers committed war crimes. Israel could do little to counter the charges that the soldiers used white phosphorus, a banned substance, against the Gazans, excessive force in the war and even used Palestinians as human shields.

It was clear that the Israeli leaders had hoped that Goldstone’s latest comments would help them to pre-empt war-crimes trial for its soldiers. An unnamed Israeli legal expert was quoted as interpreting the comments as an expression of confidence in Israel’s system that would help it to forestall calls for war-crimes against its people.

All said and done, we cannot expect any of these arguments to have an effect on the course of the Goldstone Report. The UN Human Rights Council has recommended that the General Assembly refer the report to the Security Council, a body which could refer it to the ICC; that is, only if the US permits it and that is highly unlikely.

At the same time, the latest controversy and Goldstone’s affirmation that he does not seek to nullify any part of the report would definitely have an impact on what appears to be an Israeli plan to launch yet another offensive against the Gaza Strip. We have to watch closely how the Israelis would take it up from here on the Goldstone Report.

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