The UN Reports on Gaza: How Will We Respond?Posted: September 16, 2009
The long awaited UN Human Rights Council Fact Finding Report on Israel’s war in Gaza has finally been released and its conclusions are breathtaking. The mission led by Justice Richard Goldstone (above) has concluded that serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.
Some background: Justice Richard Goldstone, who is Jewish, is a highly respected international jurist. He is a former member of the South African Constitutional Court and former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. His mission compiled a 574 page report, which contains detailed analysis of 36 specific incidents in Gaza, as well as a number of others in the West Bank and Israel. According to the UN press release announcing the report:
The Mission conducted 188 individual interviews, reviewed more 10,000 pages of documentation, and viewed some 1,200 photographs, including satellite imagery, as well as 30 videos. The mission heard 38 testimonies during two separate public hearings held in Gaza and Geneva, which were webcast in their entirety. The decision to hear participants from Israel and the West Bank in Geneva rather than in situ was taken after Israel denied the Mission access to both locations. Israel also failed to respond to a comprehensive list of questions posed to it by the Mission. Palestinian authorities in both Gaza and the West Bank cooperated with the Mission.
Here is what the Mission concluded:
In the lead up to the Israeli military assault on Gaza, Israel imposed a blockade amounting to collective punishment and carried out a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip. During the Israeli military operation, code-named “Operation Cast Lead,” houses, factories, wells, schools, hospitals, police stations and other public buildings were destroyed. Families are still living amid the rubble of their former homes long after the attacks ended, as reconstruction has been impossible due to the continuing blockade. More than 1,400 people were killed during the military operation.
Significant trauma, both immediate and long-term, has been suffered by the population of Gaza. The Report notes signs of profound depression, insomnia and effects such as bed-wetting among children. The effects on children who witnessed killings and violence, who had thought they were facing death, and who lost family members would be long lasting, the Mission found, noting in its Report that some 30 per cent of children screened at UNRWA schools suffered mental health problems.
The report concludes that the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population. The destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy which has made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population.
The Report states that Israeli acts that deprive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip of their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water, that deny their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country, that limit their rights to access a court of law and an effective remedy, could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, has been committed.
According to the JTA, the Israeli government and the American Jewish establishment has wasted no time in pouncing on the report. But from what I’ve read so far, none of the respondents have addressed its substance. Not surprisingly, they’re only interested in attacking the UN – in particular, the UN Human Rights Council.
Israeli Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said, “The same U.N. that allows (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) to announce on a podium its aspiration to destroy the State of Israel has no right to teach us about morality.” According to ADL Director Abe Foxman: “This is a report born of bias. What do you do with an initiative born of bigotry?”
AJC Director David Harris:
Let us not forget that this commission was a creation of the Human Rights Council, arguably the U.N.’s most flawed body. The Council has consistently demonized Israel, while giving a free pass to some of the world’s worst tyrants, from Sudan to Iran.
My two cents:
It is worth noting that this “flawed, biased” commission had this to say about Palestinian human rights abuse during the Gaza war:
The Fact-Finding Mission also found that the repeated acts of firing rockets and mortars into Southern Israel by Palestinian armed groups “constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity,” by failing to distinguish between military targets and the civilian population. “The launching of rockets and mortars which cannot be aimed with sufficient precisions at military targets breaches the fundamental principle of distinction,” the report says. “Where there is no intended military target and the rockets and mortars are launched into civilian areas, they constitute a deliberate attack against the civilian population.”
The Mission concludes that the rocket and mortars attacks “have caused terror in the affected communities of southern Israel,” as well as “loss of life and physical and mental injury to civilians and damage to private houses, religious buildings and property, thereby eroding the economic and cultural life of the affected communities and severely affecting the economic and social rights of the population.”
The Mission urges the Palestinian armed groups holding the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to release him on humanitarian grounds, and, pending his release, give him the full rights accorded to a prisoner of war under the Geneva Conventions including visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Report also notes serious human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial executions of Palestinians, by the authorities in Gaza and by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
So much for the accusations of bias.
If Foxman, Harris, et al have any problems with the procedural process of the Mission (with which Israel refused to cooperate) I’m interested in hearing it. And if they have any evidence that counters the findings of the report, then let them bring it. Until this happens, I’m not sure their general opinion of the UN is germane to the matter at hand.
Based upon comments and e-mails I get on a daily basis, I know I will be considered by some to be a self-righteous simpleton at best and a traitor to my people at worst. But here goes: as a Jew, I am devastated by these findings. The moral implications of this report should challenge us to the core. And I am deeply, deeply troubled that the primary response of our Jewish communal leadership is to attack the source of the report while saying absolutely nothing about its actual content.
Yes, there are other human rights abusers in the world. And yes, some of them are even worse than Israel. Yes, the structure and governance policy of the UN is far from perfect. And yes, nations tend to use the UN for their own self-serving ends. But do these facts give us a pass on holding Israel up to the most basic standards of human rights and international law?