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War crimes in Gaza, says UN Goldstone Commission

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By Afro-Middle East Centre

The United Nations (UN) fact-finding mission on the Israeli attacks on Gaza from December 2008 to January 2009 has slammed Israel for committing serious war crimes and breaches of humanitarian law, saying that these may amount to crimes against humanity.

The 575-page report (6.8MB) by the four-person mission, headed by South African Judge Richard Goldstone, was released on 15 September 2009, and a presentation to the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva is scheduled for 29 September.

The four members of the mission were appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council in April 209, with a mandate to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed before, during and after Israel's "Operation Cast Lead" in Gaza.

Goldstone, the most prominent member of the commission, is a former judge of South Africa's Constitutional Court, and the first prosecutor at The Hague on behalf of the International Criminal Court for Former Yugoslavia. He also served as the chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda. His participation in this Mission has led to the report being widely called "The Goldstone Report".

The report contains detailed analysis of incidents in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel, as well as analyses of documentation, photographs and videos accessed by the Mission and interviews that it carried out. Members of the mission heard testimonies during two separate public hearings held in Gaza and Geneva; both were webcast in their entirety. The decision to hear participants from Israel and the West Bank in Geneva was taken after Israel denied the Mission access to both locations. Israel also failed to respond to questions posed to it by the Mission and its failure to do so has earned Israel criticism by civil society and the media. Palestinian authorities in both Gaza and the West Bank cooperated with the Mission.

Whilst the report implicates both Israeli and Palestinian forces (in particular, Hamas) for war crimes, overwhelming condemnation is reserved for Israel, mainly due to its disproportiante use of force against the people of Gaza, in contravention of international law.

Some of the conclusions of the report are:

  • There is evidence indicating that serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity;

  • In the lead up to the Israeli military assault on Gaza, Israel imposed a blockade on the strip, which amounted to collective punishment, and it carried out a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip;

  • A number of incidents may constitute war crimes, including direct and intentional attacks on the Al Quds Hospital, an adjacent ambulance depot in Gaza City, targetting a mosque during prayer time, attacks in the Samouni neighbourhood and seven other incidents concerning the shooting of civilians who were trying to reach safer places and holding white flags; and

  • Violations arising from Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank include excessive force against Palestinian demonstrators, sometimes resulting in deaths, increased closures, restriction of movement and house demolitions. The detention of Palestinian Legislative Council members effectively paralyzed political life in the OPT.

Last modified on Friday, 20 February 2015 08:49