Israel to present response to Goldstone report

21:05, January 29, 2010      

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The Israeli government will present its response on Friday to the Goldstone report, which suggested Israel may have been guilty of war crimes during its military operation in and around the Gaza Strip a year ago.

Many buildings were destroyed and people lost their lives when Israeli tanks and troops moved into the Palestinian coastal enclave in early January, 2009. A week earlier, Israeli military aircraft paved the way for the ground invasion with air strikes.

The Israeli paper is eagerly awaited not only in the UN, where it will be accepted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, but also in the Muslim world and amongst international non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They have been highly critical of Israel's actions during what it dubbed Operation Cast Lead and are demanding Israeli leaders be placed on trial.

Most Israelis seem to be of the opinion that the Goldstone inquiry and what has followed were part of a witch hunt against the Jewish state.

ISRAELI POSITION

The war began after some eight years during which thousands of rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel. While the casualty numbers were fairly low, given the apparent lack of accuracy of the home-made projectiles, Israel eventually said enough was enough and launched a hard-hitting three-week operation in a bid to end the missile fire.

As a result, as many as 1,400 Palestinians were killed. Palestinian medical officials claimed most were noncombatants. Israel challenges that suggestion and questions the casualty numbers.

Israel maintains that during the fighting it did whatever possible to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties and insists that very often Hamas fighters in Gaza were shooting at Israeli targets from positions within populated areas, even inside occupied apartment blocs.

Israel is of the opinion that the international condemnation of its actions is part of a broader issue. Israeli politicians and members of the public alike see the international community as largely dead set against the Jewish state.

Israeli leaders deny that this is down to paranoia, arguing that the facts speak for themselves. The UN Human Rights Council ( HRC), which initiated the Goldstone inquiry, discusses Israel disproportionately to its size and to its actions, the Israelis say, adding that other states that are far more guilty of committing war crimes hardly get a mention.

Voting at the council and UN General Assembly is a foregone conclusion, they say. The 21 Arab League states, the Muslim bloc and the non-aligned nations hold some 130 seats at the UN and virtually all of these vote automatically against Israel. As a result all votes in the UN concerning the Middle East go against the Jewish state.

When it comes to the report itself, some in Israel, particularly on the hawkish side of the political spectrum, believe Israel should simply ignore its findings and not submit a formal response to the UN.

"I am very surprised that Israel is taking this seriously and I felt that the charges of the Goldstone report were such that I was frankly surprised that someone with (Judge Richard) Goldstone's reputation had taken on the task," said Ira Sharkansky, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

CASE AGAINST ISRAEL

Sharkansky's view is rejected by Sarah Colborne, the director of campaigns and operations at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign ( PSC), based in Britain.

She insists Goldstone changed the terms of reference when he took on the job and that can be witnessed in the fact that in his report he not only lambasted Israel, but also leveled serious accusations against Hamas, which controls Gaza.

However, what is more important to Colborne is that justice is done.

"(The report) acknowledges that the Israeli justice system is not perceived to deliver justice for Palestinians. They need to fully investigate the accusations in the Goldstone report of war crimes and bring the people responsible to justice," she said.

The PSC has leant its support to Palestinian individuals and human rights groups who have so far unsuccessfully tied to have Israeli leaders arrested when they have landed on British soil. It is not the only country where this is taking place. Organizations like the PSC argue that if Israel will not mete out justice appropriately, others will have to do this instead.

The PSC, along with some other NGOs, is pressing the UN to push the debate on the Goldstone report into the jurisdiction of the UN Security Council, which in turn could refer the matter on to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"We will be pushing as hard as we can to make sure that it does because that is what Goldstone has said is necessary," Colborne told Xinhua.

WHOSE JUSTICE?

Israel is extremely concerned a referral to the ICC may come to fruition and is lobbying hard with its allies in North America and Europe to block such a move.

Colborne and other campaigners believe that Israel is simply trying to avoid dealing with the conclusions of the Goldstone inquiry.

"Goldstone talks about 'a culture of impunity' for Israel and if those who committed the crimes in Operation Cast Lead are not brought to justice, then that culture of impunity will continue and the Israeli government will think they have a green light to pursue further atrocities," said Colborne.

Sharkansky rejects the calls for justice from Goldstone, Colborne and many others, maintaining that there is no such thing as justice.

"Justice is in the eye of the beholder and I think in many cases justice is used as a public-relations club and it's certainly being used in that way in this case," he said.

Source: Xinhua
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