Israel under pressure over Gaza conduct

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MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston. A UN report accusing Israel of war crimes continues to reverberate. This week Israel's deputy prime minister called for an independent inquiry into Israel's conduct in Gaza last winter. Israel is under increasing pressure to launch its own investigation after the UN Human Rights Council adopted the report by Judge Richard Goldstone. The report accuses both Israel and Hamas of war crimes in Gaza but it mostly focuses on Israel's actions. Linda Gradstein reports from Jerusalem.

LINDA GRADSTEIN: In an interview published today in the Ha'aretz newspaper Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said one of the best ways Israel can defend itself in the international arena is by investigating itself. He said even if the Goldstone Report is biased, as many here have charged, Israel should investigate the reports claims that in some cases Israel targeted Palestinian civilians. Last week the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted the war crimes report. The report says both Israel and Hamas must launch independent investigations within six months or the matter will be referred to the International Criminal Court and that court could issue arrest warrants. Yesterday in the Israeli Security Cabinet, Defense Minister Ehud Barak cut off all discussion on establishing an independent commission. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev says the army has already opened more than 100 investigations and 20 have been referred to the military police. He says opening an independent investigation would be giving in to the UN.

MARK REGEV: The issue here is what will make the Human Rights Council happy. And I think the bottom line is nothing. We're talking about a council that has a systematic and consistent anti-Israel bias where countries with atrocious human rights records; countries that give no freedoms whatsoever to their own people use the council as a vehicle just to bash Israel.

GRADSTEIN: But calls are growing in Israel for an independent investigation. Uri Dromi is a former director of the Government Press Office.

URI DROMI: I think cooperating with external investigation is important but more important is running a credible, vigorous, internal independent investigation in the first place. That would have made the Goldstone Report either redundant or at least marginal.

GRADSTEIN: Israel did not cooperate with Judge Goldstone during his investigation, claiming it was biased from the start. Goldstone, who describes himself as a Jew who has supported Israel and its people all of his life, has faced scathing criticism here since the release of his report last month. In an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post this week, Goldstone struck back at his critics saying quote Israel missed a golden opportunity to actually have a fair hearing from a UN-sponsored inquiry. He also said he was surprised and shocked by the destruction and misery he saw in Gaza. Uri Dromi thinks that Goldstone's Report should not equate Palestinian gunmen firing rockets at Israeli civilians with Israeli soldiers who entered Gaza to stop the rocket fire. But at the same time he says, Goldstone's conclusions make many Israeli's uncomfortable.

DROMI: Goldstone hits at the core of the Israeli ethos and that is that we don't shoot at civilians intentionally. Excessive force � maybe. Stuff happens � maybe. Fog of war; you start a battle and you don't know how it develops. I give you an example from the air force. I come from the air force and I can tell you that there's no country in the world where air force is going out of its way to differentiate between the villain and the innocent.

GRADSTEIN: The US Envoy to the United Nations Susan Rice who was visiting Jerusalem today told Israeli President Shimon Peres that the US will stand by Israel in its fight against the Goldstone report. China also said it will oppose bringing the report to a discussion in the UN Security Council. For The World I'm Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem.