Israeli military accused of war crimes by UN

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An Israeli soldier wearing a prayer shawl near a tank on the Israeli-Gaza Strip border. (Image: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, Flickr)

Report by Linda Gradstein, "The World"

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Israel is launching a diplomatic offensive against a United Nations report on the War in Gaza last winter. The report accuses both Israel and Hamas of war crimes during the three-week conflict, though most of the report focuses on Israel's actions.

The report was authored by South African Judge Richard Goldstone. He's prosecuted war crimes in Rwanda and the form Yugoslavia. Israeli President Shimon Peres says the report makes a mockery of history. And officials say they'll block any attempts to bring Israeli soldiers before a war crimes tribunal. 

Israeli officials said today that a nearly 600-page report was even worse than they had feared. The report said Israel had deliberately used disproportionate force against Palestinian civilians, and had employed weapons such as white phosphorous that should not be used in heavily populated areas.

The report also called on the UN Security Council to demand that both Israel and the Palestinians launched domestic investigations into possible war crimes or refer the issue to the International Criminal Court.

Israel did not cooperate with Goldstone's investigation saying it was ordered by a UN body with an anti-Israel bias.

Israeli Government spokesman Mark Regev said the report released yesterday clearly reflects that, "Israeli Government made the right decision in not cooperating with this almost kangaroo court. They had decided in advance who was the guilty party, and we saw that with the way they acted. Conducting public hearings in Gaza totally under the brutal control of the authoritarian Hamas Regime is like conducting a Stalinist show trial. It has nothing whatsoever to do with independent fact finding."

Hamas welcomed the UN report's condemnation of Israel, but Hamas official Mushir Al-Masri also criticized the report's accusations that Hamas rocket fire on civilian areas constituted a war crime. 

"There is no doubt that the United Nations' report was in some respects not balanced nor fair towards the oppressed Palestinian people since it equates the victim with the oppressor," said Al-Masri [Translated]. "And on the other hand, the report affirmed in some respects the credibility of Hamas, and the facts that it reported regarding crimes committed by the Zionist enemy. True war crimes and the killings of dozens of Palestinian families."

Even today, almost ten months after the fighting ended, there is no definitive casualty list.  Israel says some 1,100 Palestinians, most of them Hamas fighters, were killed; while Palestinians and human rights groups say the total is closer to 1,400, and most were civilians.

Israeli officials are working hard to discredit the UN report.

Gerald Steinberg runs NGO Monitor. It's a Jerusalem-based group that analyzes the reports of human rights organizations for anti-Israel bias. He told Israel Television that the Goldstone Report accepts claims by both Palestinian and human rights organizations without investigating them.

"I think every page is egregious because it's all based on not just hearsay, but NGO reports ... Human Rights Watch, Palestinian Center for Human Rights; which actually has no truth behind it, no credibility. The entire report has no credibility. It's a disaster in terms of international law. It's all made up as they go along. It's amazing that someone with the prestige and experience of Judge Richard Goldstone could put out such a terrible report." 

Israeli officials said today they would protect any Israeli soldiers and commanders from international prosecution. The report could make it more difficult for senior military officials to travel to Europe if they are eventually charged in the international criminal court. 

The ICC Prosecutor's Office said today it's, "examining all issues related to its jurisdiction in the Gaza case."

Gerald Steinberg of the NGO Monitor said it's wrong to equate Israel and Hamas, "Nobody is going to lift a hand against Hamas. Nobody is going to take Hamas or Iran to the International Criminal Court.  It won't make any difference. It's Israel that's the target here, and this is simply a façade to [SOUNDS LIKE] because you handle this to say okay we are being kosher.  We're not going out after Israel and I don't think anybody who takes this issue seriously is going to accept that kind of false moral or immoral equivalences."

Meanwhile, efforts today to restart the peace process appeared to stall. U.S. Special Mideast Envoy George Mitchell failed to get Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to a freeze on expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Palestinian officials say that without that freeze there won't be a three-way meeting between Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and President Obama at the U.N. General Assembly next week.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.

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