Amnesty Int’l: United Nations Must Reject Israeli Campaign to Avoid Accountability for Gaza War Crimes

This came to me as a news release from Amnesty International:

Amnesty International Public Statement
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
United Nations Must Reject Israeli Campaign to Avoid Accountability for Gaza War Crimes, Says Amnesty International

Statements by Leading Israeli Politicians Are Based on “Deliberate Misinterpretation” of Justice Goldstone’s Comments in Newspaper Opinion Article

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, strimel@aiusa.org

Recent Israeli government calls for the United Nations 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 April 1, 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 U.N. 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 U.N. General Assembly.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Defense 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 U.S. State Department has supported this position, with a spokesperson saying that the U.S. 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 made clear today comments made in an opinion piece do not provide a sufficient legal basis for overturning a U.N. 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.

Background

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

See also John Dugard’s response in The New Statesman;

and the Society of Friends’ response, “Goldstone Retractions vs. the Facts;

and what the Goldstone op-ed Doesn’t Say at Mondoweiss.

15 Responses

  1. If I read Goldstone’s column correctly, he now says that Israel did not target civilians as a matter of policy; that investigations are being conducted (too slowly and not transparently enough but are being conducted) into whether field commanders targeted civilians on their own initiative; that Israeli policies and doctrines (rules of engagement) have been and are being modified to make civilian casualties less likely in any future conflict; that individual IDF members found to have committed crimes have been and are being prosecuted; and that Hamas has done and is doing none of these.

  2. The Israeli historian Ilan Pappe suggests that “Goldstone’s shameful U-turn” is not at all surprising, and worse may be coming.

    “We have been there before. In the late 1980s, Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote a similar, sterile, account of the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Palestinian academics such as Edward Said, Nur Masalha and Walid Khalidi were the ones who pointed to the significant implications for Israel’s identity and self-image, and nature of the archival material he unearthed.

    “Morris too cowered under pressure and asked to be re-admitted to the tribe. He went very far with his mea culpa and re-emerged as an extreme anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racist: suggesting putting the Arabs in cages and promoting the idea of another ethnic cleansing. Goldstone can go in that direction too; or at least this is what the Israelis expect him to do now.”

  3. Also not mentioned is the complete ostracism of Goldstone and his entire family by the local South African Jewish community since his original report was released. Perhaps he and his children are sick of being pariahs. It’s apparently not even possible for well respected Jews to criticize Israel these days, no matter how appallingly it behaves. They make sure anyone that does, suffers severe consequences. Israel and its supporters are belligerent, self-serving and completely out of control.

  4. Yeah, I think Phud is right. I also think that Amnesty saying that Goldstone does not dispute their findings of Israel/Hamas trying to minimize civilian casualties is a stupid argument. Goldstone also does not dispute that a leaf can be green. Goldstone only disputes or comments on his own findings compared to how they were thought of when the investigation started. He can’t go an refute Amnesty’s findings in an op-ed dedicated to his own report.

    I have a mini-summary of Goldstone’s op-ed on my blog.

  5. Phud: “he now says that Israel did not target civilians as a matter of policy;”

    Which he cannot prove from his statements.

    “that investigations are being conducted (too slowly and not transparently enough but are being conducted) into whether field commanders targeted civilians on their own initiative;”

    And when said officers are never punished, even assuming they are ever found guilty? All of which is guaranteed.

    “that Israeli policies and doctrines (rules of engagement) have been and are being modified to make civilian casualties less likely in any future conflict;”

    After Israel has explicitly said the next Cast Lead (not to mention another war on Lebanon) will be even more brutal than the last.

    “that individual IDF members found to have committed crimes have been and are being prosecuted;”

    As usual, like the Abu Ghraib case, a few grunts are made the scapegoats.

    “and that Hamas has done and is doing none of these.”

    Which is irrelevant to Israel’s obligations.

  6. “‘and that Hamas has done and is doing none of these.’ Which is irrelevant to Israel’s obligations.”

    That Hamas has conducted no investigation into it’s war crimes, including the deliberate targeting of civilians (which is its policy in firing rockets and mortar rounds into Israeli cities and villages) may be irrelevant to Israel’s obligations. Nevertheless, for you to condemn Israel, whose policy is to target military (i.e., Hamas) installations, some of which are deliberately placed among civilians, and ignore Hamas’ deliberate targeting of civilians and failure to conduct an investigation, demonstrates a lack of objectivity.

    One may criticize Israel for a slow response in conducting an investigation into civilian deaths in Gaza, but at least it has conducted an investigation. Hamas, on the other hand, has completely ignored its obligation to conduct an investigation. And it is easy to see why. It is Hamas’ deliberate policy to target Israeli civilians. To assume an equivalency between Israel and Hamas in this matter borders on the absurd.

    • There are almost no “civilian” Israelis older than 18, as most remain in the military as reservists. It’s very interesting to note the coordination between the US, Saudis and Israelis in executing the Arab Counter-Revolution. Arabs gaining universal freedom will mark the demise of the Sauds and the end of the US and Israeli Empires–a development that can’t happen too soon.

      • “There are almost no ‘civilian’ Israelis older than 18, as most remain in the military as reservists.”
        Thus any Israeli is a legitimate target? Let me ask your opinion on this point, then: In January 1945, Japan drafted every citizen into the Army. So legally there were no civilians in Japan after that time. So, was American bombing of Japanese cities, including the atomic bombs, completely legal?

        “Arabs gaining universal freedom will mark the demise of the Sauds and the end of the US and Israeli Empires–a development that can’t happen too soon.”
        Au contraire. I expect that, when the anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli propaganda that the Arab despots use to distract their populations from the oppressive, criminal governments goes away, the hostility to Israel (and the US) will decrease significantly.

    • Are you still living under the illusion that Israel’s rulers do not have as their ultimate goal the disappearance of the Palestinian people? They say what they must when the world’s cameras are turned on. But the logic of their “military” strategy is to make life unbearable for the Palestinians so that they no longer hang around and press their claims for stolen property – because the claim is factually true. Hamas did not steal Judea from the Hebrews, Rome did. But the Israeli state of today is the continuation of the Zionist organizations who Jabotinsky called upon years ago to do unto the Arabs what America had done unto the Indians. We didn’t annihilate the Indians because our population growth eliminated them as a political threat, but Arabs, alas, breed too quickly to be swept under the rug.

      I don’t see why it is so shocking to point out the obvious, given that we Americans have done the same and many of our European ancestors have done the same. We grab land and then pass laws to prevent others from grabbing it from us.

      • “Are you still living under the illusion that Israel’s rulers do not have as their ultimate goal the disappearance of the Palestinian people?”
        Are you still living under the illusion that Gaza’s rulers do not have as their ultimate goal the disappearance of the Israeli people? They are quite open about it:
        link to thejerusalemfund.org
        Or are you aware of it and is that OK with you?

        • “Are you still living under the illusion that Gaza’s rulers do not have as their ultimate goal the disappearance of the Israeli people?”

          When the PLO accepted the idea of a two state solution Israel continued to take more land in the West Bank.

          Why would Hamas advertise their willingness to compromise as thoroughly when previous factions have found that adopting that position just leads to Israeli politicians doing a victory dance while taking more Palestinian land?

        • So the Palestinians and Israelis are morally equal in wanting each other to go away. But the Palestinians were there for centuries, and had their land seized in a pre-meditated scheme. If I steal your car, you want me to go away and I want you to go away, but in the eyes of the law I am the criminal.

          You just think the Palestinians won’t suffer as much if they are the ones to slink away and die in the alley as the Israelis because they’re less human than Israelis and they’re naturally suited for poverty and degradation. Isn’t that always the underlying assumption when white and brown people fight each other for the same survival resources? I despise most of all the sort of caucasian bourgeoise eunuchs who kill with legalisms and propaganda so they can claim to have no blood on their hands – maybe I respect the Arabs more for being honest about how far they’ll go to get their homes back while Israelis bask in their beach resorts and expect their airstrikes and drones to commit genocide for them.

    • “That Hamas has conducted no investigation into it’s war crimes, including the deliberate targeting of civilians (which is its policy in firing rockets and mortar rounds into Israeli cities and villages) may be irrelevant to Israel’s obligations. Nevertheless, for you to condemn Israel, whose policy is to target military (i.e., Hamas) installations, some of which are deliberately placed among civilians, and ignore Hamas’ deliberate targeting of civilians and failure to conduct an investigation, demonstrates a lack of objectivity.”

      Israel is country, allegedly democratic, and which advertises their IDF as ‘the most moral military in the world’, they purport that they are are committed to human rights and international law.

      If they choose not to uphold their stated ideals, it’s newsworthy and those involved do deserve to be held accountable for their decisions and actions.

      Hamas, whatever its orgins and however just its cause, is a terrorist organisation and make few parallel claims about being fuzzy-bunny-huggers.

      When they behave like what they are, it’s not newsworthy.

      That Israel’s partisans complain their plucky little home of the brave isn’t treated the same way as Hamas, it is a more damning indictment of the nation than anything any anti-semite could hope come up with.

  7. As ever the standard of “deliberately” targeting civilians — that is, by a US ally — is a ridiculously silly standard.

    You can bomb several blocks to bits, but until someone finds a memo that says “deliberately target civilians,” then ‘it was all a mistake in the fog of war which we have standards which we follow to avoid that,’ and so on and so forth.

  8. obvious you can’t blame Israel for anything. amazing to watch. somethings never change. oh well. same old same old.

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