U.N. Affirms Israeli-Hamas War Crimes Report
By Thalif Deen
November 06, 2009 -- UNITED NATIONS, Nov 5 (IPS) - A 575-page blistering report by Justice Richard Goldstone detailing war crimes in Gaza last December is refusing to die despite an aggressive Israeli smear campaign to kill it.
The report, which was favourably voted by the 47-member Human Rights Council in Geneva last month, received overwhelming support Thursday in the 192-member General Assembly.
The vote was 114 in favour and 18 against, with 44 abstentions.
The 18 countries that voted against the resolution included the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Israel.
Ambassador Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, singled out Ireland, one of the few Western nations to vote for the resolution, for "supporting" it.
He also noted that a "sizeable number of European nations" abstained on the resolution.
Among the abstentions were Britain, France, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Denmark and Greece.
"The General Assembly sent a powerful message," he told reporters, adding that if Israelis do not comply, "We will go after them."
The Assembly requested Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report within three months on the implementation of the resolution.
Among other things, the resolution calls upon both the Israelis and the Palestinians to undertake independent investigations of their own on the serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws during the 22-day conflict in Gaza in December.
Still, Mansour said he rejects any equation of the "occupying power's aggression and crimes with actions committed in response by the Palestinian side".
"We wish to clearly reaffirm that there is absolutely no symmetry or proportionality between the occupier and the occupied," he added.
U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff rejected the Goldstone report as "deeply flawed" and "unbalanced".
He said the United States was fully committed to a two-state solution - Israel and Palestine - and will do nothing to hinder it.
Last month, the 15-member Security Council debated the report but refused to take a vote primarily because of the opposition by the United States, a veto-wielding member of the Council.
In Geneva, the Human Rights Council endorsed the report last month by a vote of 25 in favour, six against, 11 abstentions and five no-shows.
The report was also the subject of a vote Tuesday by the U.S. House of Representatives, traditionally sympathetic towards Israel. That vote, condemning the report, was 344 in favour and 36 against.
Nadia Hijab, senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Palestine Studies, told IPS the importance of the Goldstone Report is evident given the amount of effort Israel, the United States and their allies are investing in trying to bury it.
She said irrespective of the strength or weakness of the General Assembly resolution, the report is important because of its very existence.
Not only does it provide an authoritative basis for Palestinians seeking reparations and accountability, but it also puts the world on notice that international law must be upheld and impunity must end, she said.
"It's simply not going to go away," said Hijab.
The report, authored by a four-member international fact-finding mission headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, details war crimes charges against both Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
The mission, and specifically Goldstone, has been politically crucified by pro-Israeli groups in the United States.
The U.N. mission recommended that the Security Council require Israel to report to it, within the next six months, on investigations and prosecutions it should carry out with regard to the violations cited in the report.
During the ruthless military operation, codenamed 'Operation Cast Lead,' the Israelis destroyed houses, factories, wells, schools, hospitals, police stations and other public buildings.
The number of Palestinian killed during the conflict is estimated at between 1,387 and 1,417, mostly civilians, compared with four Israeli fatal casualties in southern Israel and nine soldiers killed during fighting, four of whom died as a result of friendly fire.
The report also recommended that the Security Council set up its own body of independent experts to report to it on the progress of the Israeli investigations and prosecutions.
"If the expert's reports do not indicate within six months that good faith, independent proceedings are taking place, the Security Council should refer the situation in Gaza to the Prosecutor in the International Criminal Court (ICC)," the report recommended.
Hijab told IPS the Goldstone Report has already had an impact on the Israeli-Palestinian scene.
"It will ensure that henceforth the Israeli state as well as Palestinian armed groups are more careful about the use of force," she said.
In addition, she said, the initial misguided attempt by the leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to "postpone" consideration has strengthened the hand of political parties and civil society in setting limits on how far the PA/PLO can go in their alliance with the U.S. and its erosion of Palestinian human rights.
In short, the Goldstone Report has had a significant before it even reached the General Assembly, and it continues to be discussed the world over, Hijab declared.