The respected South African jurist, Richard Goldstone, just released his long-awaited report for the UN Human Rights Council on human rights violations leading up to, and during the Gaza war. He found significant evidence of war crimes by both Israeli and Palestinian forces. Here is how the N.Y. Times characterized the elements of the report dealing with Israel:
…Though the 575-page report condemned rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups against Israeli civilians, it reserved its harshest language for Israel’s treatment of the civilian Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip, both during the war and through the longer-term blockade of the territory. The report called Israel’s military assault on Gaza “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”
…The report focussed on 36 cases that it said constituted a representative sample. In 11 of these episodes, it said the Israeli military carried out direct attacks against civilians, including some in which civilians were shot “while they were trying to leave their homes to walk to a safer place, waving white flags.”
In all but one of these civilian attacks, the report said, “the facts indicate no justifiable military objective” for them.
The report cited other possible crimes by the Israelis, including “wantonly” destroying food production, water and sewerage facilities; striking areas, in an effort to kill a small number of combatants, where significant numbers of civilians were gathered; using Palestinians as human shields; and detaining men, women and children in sand pits. It also called Israel’s use of weapons like white phosphorus “systematically reckless,” and called for banning it in urban areas.
…The panel rejected the Israeli version of events surrounding several of the most contentious episodes of the war.
Israel’s mortar shelling near a United Nations-run school in the Jabaliya refugee camp, which was sheltering some 1,300 people, killed 35 and wounded up to 40 people, the report said.
The investigation did not exclude the possibility that Israeli forces were responding to fire from an armed Palestinian group, as Israel claimed, but said that this and similar attacks “cannot meet the test of what a reasonable commander would have determined to be an acceptable loss of civilian life for the military advantage sought.”
Israel repeatedly accused Hamas of using mosques to shelter armed men or munitions, and a report by Israel said an attack against the Maqadmah mosque in Jabaliya had killed six known militants.
But the Human Rights Council report said the attack came during evening prayers, when some 300 men and women were in the mosque, and killed 15 people. There were no secondary explosions to indicate the presence of an arms cache.
If Israel wanted to destroy a mosque suspected as an arms cache, it should have done so in the middle of the night, Mr. Goldstone said.
The report also noted that some 10 Israeli shells, including white phosphorus, hit the main Gaza City compound of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency while up to 700 civilians were sheltered there. The compound contained a huge fuel depot, but the shells kept coming, it said, though United Nations officials spoke to their Israeli military liaison repeatedly.
In another episode, the report said the destruction of a house in which nearly two dozen relatives died, appeared to be “the result of deliberate demolition and not of combat.”
Not surprisingly and quite unfortunately, Israel refused to cooperate with the inquiry and so had no opportunity to influence the outcome. It has done its best to smear both the report and its author, a South African Jewish jurist who Israel’s supporters have called “anti-Israel.” You will certainly see Israel use the report to brand Hamas as war criminals, while conveniently omitting how poorly it fared.
Not to be outdone in lameness, Hamas released a rather feeble defense of its actions:
In Gaza, a spokesman for Hamas said it fired the rockets at Israel to try to defend itself. “We did not intentionally target civilians,” said Ahmed Yousef, a Hamas adviser. “We were targeting military bases, but the primitive weapons make mistakes.”
Neither side’s finest hour. Goldstone warned Israel and Hamas that if they did not carry out meaningful investigations within six months that he would recommend to the Security Council that the report be referred to the International Criminal Court for investigation for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. Israel is taking this possibility very seriously and Haaretz outlines how a referral might happen:
Foreign Ministry sources said Tuesday that they expect Arab states will begin to prepare a draft resolution which will call for the report to be transferred to the UN Security Council. In a worst-case scenario, the Security Council could decide to transfer the matter to the International Criminal Court. Under such circumstances, the ICC could issue international arrest warrants for senior Israeli officials who were involved in Cast Lead.
…IDF officers could be summoned by the international court and even charged.
While it remains to be seen whether the U.S. would allow the Council to make such a referral (I presume it could wield its usual veto in protecting Israel’s interests), merely bringing the matter up for discussion would be useful in shining the spotlight once again on the absolute ugliness that constituted Israel’s war on Gaza (along with Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilians).
The full report is available here in pdf format.