Israel's Campaign to Avoid Accountability for War Crimes Must be Rejected

Justice Richard Goldstone’s opinion piece (April 1, 2011) in the Washington Post ‘Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes’ does not ‘vindicate’ the State of Israel as the government of Israel would have us believe, nor was the Op-Ed piece a ‘retraction’ of the report in its entirety as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal would have had us believe.

Goldstone’s opinion piece simply stated that in light of evidence presented by Israel through military investigations, he does not believe Israeli forces intentionally targeted civilians “as a matter of policy” during Operation ‘Cast Lead,’ Dec. 27, 2008 – Jan. 18, 2009.  The original report initially asserted that in certain cases, Israeli forces carried out “direct intentional strikes against civilians.”

Assessing whether specific Israeli attacks on civilians during the conflict were deliberate is extremely difficult because the Israeli military has not released the evidence that would allow independent parties to evaluate its conclusions.  Amnesty has not argued that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) targeted Palestinian civilians “as a matter of policy”, but that IDF rules of engagement and actions during the conflict failed to take sufficient precautions to minimize civilian casualties.  Justice Goldstone’s recent comments do not dispute this assessment.

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Demand Justice Now for all victims of the Gaza Conflict – Act Now

Jan. 27, 2011 UPDATE:  See new video below.

AI Norway (photo: Kristian Hvesser)

This past December 27th marked the second year anniversary of the Israeli air strikes over the Gaza Strip that killed and injured hundreds, including over 300 children as the initial attacks took place as children were leaving school.

More Palestinians were killed in that one day than in all 60 years of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories; it also was the first day of 22 long, torturous days of death and destruction.

Over 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel – three of the Israelis and the majority of the Palestinian fatalities were civilians. In September 2009, a UN-mandated Fact-Finding Mission (UN FFM) led by Justice Richard Goldstone published its findings that found both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups had committed grave violations of international law, including war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the conflict. The report recommended that the relevant authorities should investigate the crimes it identified and that, if they failed to do so, the UN Security Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

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ACT Now: Why the U.S. must listen to Goldstone

The United States is fast losing their credibility in the region and among Human Rights organizations and activists over our reluctance to support the recommendations contained in Justice Richard Goldstone’s report (pdf).

Justice Richard Goldstone, who gained respect internationally for his work in the UN International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda and his human rights work in Argentina, South Africa and Kosovo led an investigation into violations of international law committed by all parties involved in the fighting last winter in Gaza and southern Israel.  The UN mandated investigation found that both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups committed grave violations of international law, including war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, during the conflict.  The report supports Amnesty International’s own findings of war crimes committed by both sides.

US made Hellfire missile manufactured in Orlando, FL used in incident where two Palestinian medics and a child were killed.

US made Hellfire missile manufactured in Orlando, FL used in incident where two Palestinian medics and a child were killed.

See prior blog post for more details.

Remarks from the State Department and specifically Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice do not bode well for the report’s reception in the Human Rights Council and the recommendation that the HR Council take concrete steps to move the process of accountability forward.  Ambassador Rice has said she has ‘serious concerns’ about the mission’s mandate and that it is imperative to not get distracted and look forward to resolve the conflict.

Amnesty International believes that justice and accountability can never be an impediment to peace, but are the foundation to an enduring peace in the region.  And that the recommendations contained in the Goldstone report are the best hope for achieving justice for the victims and to end the atmosphere of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators from both sides and help end the cycle of violence.

Justice Richard Goldstone is scheduled to present the findings of his team’s investigation Tuesday, September 29th to the Human Rights Council.  The HR Council will then discuss the findings and has the ability to refer the report and its recommendations for consideration by the UN Security Council.  The United States recently joined the HR Council and has the ability to sway the council one way or the other.

Send a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ambassador Susan Rice urging them to support the recommendations contained in Justice Richard Goldstone’s report.

Goldstone report findings support Amnesty's own field investigations

Amnesty International said yesterday that the recommendations of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict, if implemented, offer the best hope for justice and accountability. The UN-mandated report by Judge Richard Goldstone found that both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups committed grave violations of international law, including war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, during the Gaza conflict this year.

 

 The report supports Amnesty International’s own findings of war crimes committed by both sides.

Donatella Rovera, who headed Amnesty International’s fact finding mission last winter in Israel and the Gaza Strip, said:

“The UN Security Council and other UN bodies must now take the steps necessary to ensure that the victims receive the justice and reparation that is their due and that perpetrators don’t get away with murder. The responsibility now lies with the international community, notably the UN Security Council, as the UN’s most powerful body, to take decisive action to ensure accountability for the perpetrators and justice for the victims. The Security Council must refer the Goldstone findings to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor if Israel and Hamas do not carry out credible investigations within a set, limited period.”

Note:  The United States holds the Presidency of the United Nations Security Council for the month of September.

Despite powerful evidence of war crimes and other serious violations of international law which emerged during and in the aftermath of the conflict, both Israel and Hamas have failed to carry out credible investigations and prosecute those responsible.  The UN Security Council condemned attacks against civilians during the conflict and urged both sides to respect international law, but so far it has turned a blind eye to the allegations of war crimes and other grave violations committed by both sides.

The report’s findings are consistent with those of Amnesty International’s own field investigation into the 22-day conflict during which some 1,400 Palestinians and nine Israelis were killed (four other Israeli soldiers were killed by their own side in ‘friendly fire’ incidents).

Most of the Palestinians killed by Israeli forces were unarmed civilians, including some 300 children. Amnesty’s investigations also found Israeli forces carried out wanton and wholesale destruction in Gaza, leaving entire neighborhoods in ruin, and used Palestinians as human shields.  Amnesty’s findings also agree with the Goldstone report in that the rocket fire into southern Israel by armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas, was indiscriminate which constitutes a war crime.

Key findings of the Goldstone report include:

• Israeli forces committed violations of human rights and international humanitarian law amounting to war crimes and some possibly amounting to crimes against humanity. Notably, investigations into numerous instances of lethal attacks on civilians and civilian objects revealed that the attacks were intentional, that some were launched with the intention of spreading terror among the civilian population and with no justifiable military objective and that Israeli forces used Palestinian civilians as human shields.

• Israeli forces committed grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, notably wilful killing, torture and inhumane treatment, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly. As grave breaches these acts give rise to individual criminal responsibility.

• Israel violated its duty to respect the right of Gaza’s population to an adequate standard of living, including access to adequate food, water and housing. Notably acts which deprive Palestinians in Gaza of their means of sustenance, employment, housing and water, that deny their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country, that limit their access to an effective remedy and could amount to persecution – a crime against humanity.

• Palestinian armed groups violated the principle of distinction by launching rocket and mortars attacks which cannot be aimed with sufficient precision at military targets and that their attacks into civilian areas which had no intended military target constituted deliberate attacks against civilians. Such attacks constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity.

• Palestinian combatants did not always adequately distinguish themselves from he civilian population and they unnecessarily exposed civilians to danger when they launched attacks close to civilian or protected buildings.

• The Fact-Finding Mission found no evidence that Palestinian armed groups directed civilians to areas where attacks were launched or that they forced civilians to remain within their vicinity, nor that hospital facilities were used by the Hamas de-facto administration or by Palestinian armed groups to shield military activities, or that ambulances were used to transport combatants, or that Palestinian armed groups engaged in combat activities from within hospitals or UN facilities that were used as shelters.

Dear President Obama, When you meet with President Peres …

Israeli President, Shimon Peres, speaking to AIPAC at annual conference today.

Israeli President, Shimon Peres, speaking to AIPAC at annual conference today.

Israeli President, Shimon Peres, flew to the United States to give a speech at the 2009 AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) annual conference in Washington DC Monday and to meet with President Obama Tuesday at the White House.  YouTube already has a video of his speech.

Although George Mitchell, Special Envoy to the Middle East who was appointed by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has met with Israeli officials, this will be the first meeting between President Obama and a high ranking official from the newly established Israeli government under Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu which is considered ’right-wing’.

 AIUSA asked President Obama to raise the issues of increasing settlement expansion in the West Bank and the eviction of Palestinian families and demolition of homes in east Jerusalem.  Despite repeated U.S. statements condemning the demolitions and settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories, settlement expansion and demolitions continue.  Settlement building/expansion, evictions and demolitions in occupied territory are also illegal under international law.

Demolitions in east Jerusalem have increased dramatically in the last two years with wide swathes of land slated for demolitions.  Settlement expansion which has been in the works for some time is now being given the green light by newly elected government officials. 

Obama has also been asked to follow up on recent events in Gaza.  Despite statements by Sec’y Clinton that goods and humanitarian aid is getting into the Gaza Strip, other sources such as the U.N. and other monitors on the ground continue to report excessive restrictions which continue to keep out spare parts for medical equipment or equipment needed to rebuild, such as bulldozers.

We’ve also asked that Obama urge Israel to cooperate with the investigation being conducted by the team created by the United Nations Human Rights Council and under the leadership of Justice Richard Goldstone, a highly respected war crimes prosecutor.  Justice Goldstone has stated that he will be investigating the allegations of human rights abuses by all parties involved in the conflict.  The team is currently meeting in Geneva to organize and outline their investigation into war crimes committed during the Gaza crisis.  The government of Israel has publicly stated that they do not plan to cooperate with the team.

Even though the two leaders will be focused on the peace process, human rights are directly linked to any workable resolution.  Both parties must respect the basic human rights of each other and the United States must play a key role in getting all the  parties involved to recognize this basic tenet.

UPDATE May 6, 2009: Video covering comments made at AIPAC conference and responses.