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Home arrow Blog arrow November 2009 arrow November 7, 2009

November 7, 2009
November 7, 2009: Goldstone, Gaza, Carter and the Intensifying Controversy   
New York Times
November 6, 2009

Op-Ed Contributor
Goldstone and Gaza
By JIMMY CARTER

Judge Richard Goldstone and the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict have issued a report about Gaza that is strongly critical of both Israel and Hamas for their violations of human rights. On Wednesday, a special meeting of the U.N. General Assembly began a debate on whether to refer the report to the Security Council.

In January 2009 rudimentary rockets had been launched from Gaza toward nearby Jewish communities, and Israel had wreaked havoc with bombs, missiles, and ground invading forces. Judge Goldstone’s claim is that they are both guilty of “crimes against humanity.” Predictably, both the accused parties have denounced the report as biased and inaccurate.

It is good to remember that Judge Goldstone, from South Africa, is one of the world’s most widely respected jurists, with an impeccable record of wisdom, honesty and integrity. He is a devout Jew and has long been known as a fervent defender of Israel’s right to peace and security.

In April 2008 I personally visited Sderot and Ashkelon, Israeli communities near enough to have been hit by rockets fired from within Gaza. While there, I condemned these indiscriminate attacks on civilians as acts of terrorism, and I consider their condemnation by Judge Goldstone to be justified.

A year later, after the Israeli attack on Gaza, I was able to examine the damage done to the small and heavily populated area, surrounded by an impenetrable wall, with its gates tightly controlled. Knowing of the ability of Israeli forces, often using U.S. weapons, to strike targets with pinpoint accuracy, it was difficult to understand or explain the destruction of hospitals, schools, prisons, United Nations facilities, small factories and repair shops, agricultural processing plants and almost 40,000 homes.

The Goldstone committee examined closely the cause of deaths of the 1,387 Palestinians who perished, and the degree of damage to the various areas. The conclusion was that the civilian areas were targeted and the devastation was deliberate. Again, the criticism of Israel in the Goldstone report is justified.

He has called on the United States, Israel and others who dispute the accuracy of the report to conduct an independent investigation of their own. Hamas leaders have announced that their investigation is under way, but Israel has rejected Judge Goldstone’s request.

Putting this dispute aside, it is important to examine present circumstances and the need to prevent further suffering. The rocket fire from Gaza is now being severely restrained, perhaps because of the certainty of Israeli retaliation, but the punishment of the 1.5 million Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza continues. Now and for the past 10 months, Israel has not permitted cement, lumber, panes of glass, or other building materials to pass their entry points into Gaza. Several hundred thousand homeless people suffered through last winter in a few tents, under plastic sheets, or huddled in caves dug into the debris of their former homes. The weather was warmer when I was there several months later, but the description of suffering through the winter cold was heartbreaking.

Another winter is now approaching, and neither the Israelis nor the international community has taken steps to alleviate the Gazans’ plight. United Nations agencies and leaders in the European community have offered to provide an avenue of channeling funds and building materials directly to the people in need, completely bypassing the Hamas political leaders. These officials, both in Gaza and in Damascus, have assured me that they would accept this arrangement.

There would be no chance for the misuse of such assistance for weapons, military fortifications, or other non-humanitarian purposes.

I was informed recently by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia that he has pledged $1 billion, and other Arab leaders have added an additional $300 million for this purpose. There is little doubt that other nations would also be generous.

Without ascribing blame to either of the disputing parties, it is imperative that the United States and the international community take steps to assure that the rebuilding of Gaza be commenced, and without delay. The cries of homeless and freezing people demand relief.

Jimmy Carter was president of the United States from 1977 to 1981 and is a member of the Elders.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/06/opinion/06iht-edcarter.html?_r=4&ref=global




Legal row over Gaza report intensifies
By Barbara Plett
BBC UN correspondent

The United Nations-backed report on the Gaza war has triggered major controversy since it was released nearly two months ago.

The lengthy document - named after its main author, the respected international jurist Richard Goldstone - details what it says is evidence of war crimes committed by Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters.

It calls on the UN to trigger a process of accountability that could end up in international criminal tribunals.

But the chances of concrete UN action are slim. A resolution that endorses the report, adopted this week by the General Assembly, is non-binding.

And diplomats from all parts of the political spectrum are expecting little if anything from the Security Council - the only UN body with powers of enforcement - as all five of the permanent representatives that wield a veto oppose council involvement.

Unconventional warfare

So why the fuss? Israel especially has launched an intense lobbying campaign against the report, which was most critical about the Israeli military.

Palestinians and human rights groups say 1,400 Gazans were killed in the conflict, although Israel puts the figure at 1,166. Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, died.

The Israelis argue they were acting in self-defence against years of rocket attacks by the militant Islamist movement Hamas, and took as much care for civilians as possible while fighting a non-conventional force embedded in the population.

They are particularly outraged with the assertion that Israel's offensive was a "deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population", a conclusion Israeli officials have denounced as completely "removed from reality".

That Mr Goldstone has authored the report amplifies their concern.

"It's given a new credibility to what we call the Israel-bashing movement in the UN," says Lt Col David Benjamin, who served as a legal adviser to the Israeli military during the Gaza war.

"He is one of the major figures in international criminal justice today, and the fact that he has put his signature to the report is very significant."

"I don't think this report is going to go away even if it doesn't go through the Security Council.

"I'm positive that there will be all sorts of efforts to get this into the international criminal court or encourage various individual states to exercise universal jurisdiction against Israelis."


Universal jurisdiction


That is the heart of the matter. Mr Goldstone recommends that the Security Council refer both parties to the International Criminal Court if they fail to conduct credible and independent investigations of the war-crimes charges.

“ The very mention of the fact that this could end up in the international court at the end of the road creates that extra pressure for domestic investigation ”


In doing so he invokes a growing body of international law that has the Israelis worried.


The past two decades have seen the emergence of UN-backed war-crimes tribunals and the International Criminal Court.


Parallel to that has been the development of "universal jurisdiction", where individual governments take it upon themselves to look into charges of war crimes or crimes against humanity committed elsewhere.

"I think all these changes have been very important, and they send signals which simply didn't exist even a decade ago, that if you commit these kinds of crimes, there can be consequences," says Steve Crawshaw of Human Rights Watch.

The Palestinians, although ordered by the report and the UN resolution to conduct their own investigations into charges of war crimes, are determined to use this system to hold Israel to account.

"The process started some time ago and is intensifying now with the Goldstone Report over the question of accountability and fighting against impunity," says the Palestinian representative to the UN, Riyad Mansour.

"If the Security Council continues to drag its feet and refuses to shoulder its responsibility, we have options, many options, and there is no limit to where we can go on this quest of accountability."

Already there have been attempts to arrest Israeli military officers visiting Britain, leading to what Israel's David Benjamin calls a "de facto travel ban".

Impact

Lt Col Benjamin insists this is part of a political struggle with no legal merit, what he calls "law-fare" rather than warfare, but does not dismiss the potential impact.

"To adopt the Goldstone report would have very dramatic consequences," he says, "not only for us, but also for any democratic country fighting… a terrorist army with substantial military force but hiding in a civilian population."

Lt Col Benjamin says the same problem could arise in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places.

That may have been a consideration for the US and some Nato countries which either voted against the UN resolution or abstained.

Publicly they expressed concerns that the report was unfairly weighted against Israel, although many supported its call for independent investigations on both sides.

That may be the most important result of the process so far, says Mr Crawshaw.

"The very mention of the fact that this could end up in the international court at the end of the road… creates that extra pressure for domestic investigation."

Either way, human rights groups say, the report and its international profile have reinforced growing efforts to tackle the issues of impunity and lack of accountability for war crimes.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/middle_east/8347861.stm

Published: 2009/11/06 22:40:14 GMT

 

   
 
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