(The Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, named after its chief author, eminent international jurist Richard Goldstone, has established a historic milestone by indicting Israel for war crimes during its 22-day war in Gaza between December 2008 and January 2009. This marks a rare occasion when an international body like the UN has taken a bold and unequivocal stance on Palestine, recognising that Israel has hitherto enjoyed impunity, and recommending that Israel be brought to book for imposing “collective punishment” on the people of Gaza.
Predictably, Israel has lobbied intensely against the report. The Obama administration has condemned the report as ‘biased,’ and undeserving of legitimacy, and as has the US House of Representatives. In November, UN General Assembly overwhelmingly affirmed the report, with 114 countries voting in favour, 14 against, and 44 abstentions. Earlier, the UN Security Council debated the report but refused to take a vote, mainly because United States which enjoys a veto power, opposed a vote. Naturally the US and other imperialist powers are motivated not only by the goal of protecting Israel but also by the fear that if Israel’s impunity can be challenged, it will set a precedent whereby their own impunity might receive a blow and they might be forced to face justice for their own war crimes!
Shamefully, the Indian Government has betrayed India’s traditional support for the Palestinian cause and once again sought to appease the US and Israel by expressing “reservations” over the report. Even as India voted for the resolution at the General Assembly, the Indian Deputy Envoy to the United Nations, Manjeev Singh Puri said that India could not make an “unqualified endorsement” of the report since “We do not approve of the referral to the Security Council and the ICC.” In other words, India paid lip service to the Palestinian cause while recommending impunity for Israel and undermining the operative part of the report!
Below is an excerpt from the conclusions of the Goldstone Report.- Ed/-)
In carrying out its mandate, the Mission had regard, as its only guides, for general international law, international human rights and humanitarian law… This in no way implies equating the position of Israel as the Occupying Power with that of the occupied Palestinian population or entities representing it. The differences with regard to the power and capacity to inflict harm or to protect, including by securing justice when violations occur, are obvious and a comparison is neither possible nor necessary….
The Mission is of the view that Israel’s military operation in Gaza between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 and its impact cannot be understood and assessed in isolation from developments prior and subsequent to it. The operation fits into a continuum of policies aimed at pursuing Israel’s political objectives with regard to Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territory as a whole. …
…The continuum is evident most immediately with the policy of blockade that preceded the operations and that in the Mission’s view amounts to collective punishment intentionally inflicted by the Government of Israel on the people of the Gaza Strip. When the operations began, the Gaza Strip had been for almost three years under a severe regime of closures and restrictions on the movement of people, goods and services. This included basic life necessities such as food and medical supplies, and products required for the ordinary conduct of daily life such as fuel, electricity, school items, and repair and construction material. These measures were imposed by the State of Israel purportedly to isolate and weaken Hamas after its electoral victory in view of the perceived continuing threat to Israel’s security that it represented. Their effect was compounded by the withholding of financial and other assistance by some donors on similar grounds. …Prior to the military operation the Gaza economy had been depleted , the health sector beleaguered, the population had been made dependent on humanitarian assistance for survival and the conduct of daily life. Men, women and children were psychologically suffering from longstanding poverty, insecurity and violence, and enforced confinement in a heavily overcrowded territory. The dignity of the people of Gaza had been severely eroded. This was the situation in the Gaza Strip when the Israeli armed forces launched their offensive in December 2008. …
…The progressive isolation and separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank, a policy that began much earlier and which was consolidated in particular with the imposition of tight closures, restrictions on movement and eventually the blockade, are among the most apparent. Several measures adopted by Israel in the West Bank during and following the military operations in Gaza also further deepen Israel’s control over the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and point to a convergence of objectives with the Gaza military operations. Such measures include increased land expropriation, house demolitions, demolition orders and permits to build homes in settlements, greater and more formalized access and movement restrictions on Palestinians, new and stricter procedures for residents of the Gaza Strip to change their residency to the West Bank. Systematic efforts to hinder and control Palestinian self-determined democratic processes, not least through the detention of elected political representatives and members of government and the punishment of the Gaza population for its perceived support for Hamas, culminated in the attacks on government buildings during the Gaza offensive, most prominently the Palestinian Legislative Council.
…The Gaza military operations were, according to the Israeli Government, thoroughly and extensively planned. While the Israeli Government has sought to portray its operations as essentially a response to rocket attacks in the exercise of its right to self defence, the Mission considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole.
In this respect, the operations were in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas, and possibly with the intent of forcing a change in such support. The Mission considers this position to be firmly based in fact, bearing in mind what it saw and heard on the ground, what it read in the accounts of soldiers who served in the campaign, and what it heard and read from current and former military officers and political leaders whom the Mission considers to be representative of the thinking that informed the policy and strategy of the military operations.
…The timing of the first Israeli attack, at 11:30 am on a week day, when children were returning from school and the streets of Gaza were crowded with people going about their daily business, appears to have been calculated to create the greatest disruption and widespread panic among the civilian population. The treatment of many civilians detained or even killed while trying to surrender is one manifestation of the way in which the effective rules of engagement, standard operating procedures and instructions to the troops on the ground appear to have been framed in order to create an environment in which due regard for civilian lives and basic human dignity was replaced with the disregard for basic international humanitarian law and human rights norms.
…The repeated failure to distinguish between combatants and civilians appears to the Mission to have been the result of deliberate guidance issued to soldiers, as described by some of them, and not the result of occasional lapses.
…It is clear from evidence gathered by the Mission that the destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces. It was not carried out because those objects presented a military threat or opportunity but to make the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population.
Allied to the systematic destruction of the economic capacity of the Gaza Strip, there appears also to have been an assault on the dignity of the people. This was seen not only in the use of human shields and unlawful detentions sometimes in unacceptable conditions, but also in the vandalizing of houses when occupied and the way in which people were treated when their houses were entered. The graffiti on the walls, the obscenities and often racist slogans all constituted an overall image of humiliation and dehumanization of the Palestinian population.
…The Mission notes that the international community has been largely silent and has to-date failed to act to ensure the protection of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip and generally the OPT… When the international community does not live up to its own legal standards, the threat to the international rule of law is obvious and potentially far-reaching in its consequences.
The Mission was struck by the repeated comment of Palestinian victims, human rights defenders, civil society interlocutors and officials that they hoped that this would be the last investigative mission of its kind, because action for justice would follow from it. It was struck, as well, by the comment that every time a report is published and no action follows, this “emboldens Israel and her conviction of being untouchable”… The Mission is of the view that longstanding impunity has been a key factor in the perpetuation of violence in the region and in the reoccurrence of violations, as well as in the erosion of confidence among Palestinians and many Israelis concerning prospects for justice and a peaceful solution to the conflict.
The Mission considers that several of the violations referred to in this report amount to grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It notes that there is a duty imposed by the Geneva Conventions on all High Contracting Parties to search for and bring before their courts those responsible for the alleged violations.
The Mission considers that the serious violations of International Humanitarian Law recounted in this report fall within the subject-matter jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).The Mission notes that the United Nations Security Council has long recognized the impact of the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, on international peace and security and that it regularly considers and reviews this situation. …The Mission is of the view that the prosecution of persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law would contribute to ending such violations, to the protection of civilians and to the restoration and maintenance of peace.