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Israel Cries Foul at United Nations

September 16, 2009 Leave a comment
Israeli missile strike in Rafah, southern Gaza. The Guardian.

Israel announced today that it would block any effort by the U.N. to investigate its 2008 military “offensive” in the Gaza Stip or to try Israel soldiers before an international war crimes tribunal.

South African jurist Richard Goldstone, who heads the UN report, said that Israel used disproportionate force which resulted in the death of hundreds of civilians and caused widespread damage to the area. The report is largely grounded in the mass of human rights reports released in 2009.

The Associated Press reports, “But the U.N. report could carry much more weight, both because it was authored by a widely respected former war crimes prosecutor and because it could ultimately lead to charges against Israel before the International Criminal Court.”

Palestinians inspect damage in Gaza, Jan. 14. The Guardian

Pundits suspects that the United States, which is known for playing the veto card for Israel in the Security Council, would block the prosecution of Israeli officials in the ICC. Rather, political actors here are awaiting the result of the Palestinian Authority’s request to join the ICC. If its membership is approved, the prosecution will bypass the Security Council.

In Israel, the report produced an uproar, with President Shimon Peres calling it a “mockery of history,” and many officials eliciting barbs about Anti-Semitism.

The AP reports,

Goldstone is a former South African judge who prosecuted war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Goldstone, who is Jewish and has close ties to Israel, was well aware that his work would draw fire. As a condition for heading the inquiry, he insisted that the panel look at the actions of Palestinian militants.

… Israel launched the three-week war in late December to quash Palestinian militants in Gaza who had bombarded southern Israel for years with rocket and mortar fire.

Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the conflict, including hundreds of civilians, and thousands more were wounded. Thirteen Israelis also died, including four civilians.

Peres, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping craft an interim 1993 peace agreement with the Palestinians, said the Goldstone report “makes a mockery of history.”

“It draws no distinction between the attacker and the attacked,” Peres said. “The report essentially grants legitimacy to acts of terrorism, shooting and killing, and ignores the right and duty of any country to self defense, as outlined in the U.N. charter.”

In his statement, however, Peres, founder of one of the first settlements in the West Bank, ignores the phrase “disproportionate use of force,” which grants legitimacy to the offensive.

At this time, both Hamas and Israel are citing self-defense for their actions December 2008 and onward.

The U.N. investigators recommended the Security Council require both sides to launch credible probes into the conflict within three months, and to follow that up with action in their courts.

If either side refuses, it said the U.N. should refer the evidence for prosecution by the International Criminal Court, a permanent war crimes tribunal, within six months.

Deputy Foreign Minister David Ayalon told the American Jewish Committee in New York, “The Goldstone Report should be treated like the UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism, thus we must mobilize and act with all force against the report in order to remove it.”

According to Haa’retz, Ayalon plans to meet with Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN to discuss ways to minimize the report’s damage to Israel’s reputation.

Time Magazine writes,

What worries authorities in Jerusalem is that many European countries are signatories to a Geneva Convention that allows their courts to arrest and prosecute individuals accused of committing war crimes in other countries. Such legal options, Israel fears, may be used to bring politically motivated charges against its citizens. The daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported Wednesday that Israel’s Foreign and Justice ministries have begun drawing up lists of law firms in different European countries that could be enlisted to defend Israelis in any future cases.

— Tina Carter, Trinity ’10