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Israel Hits Roadblock Over Dismissal of War Crimes Charges

Inter Press Service

The Israeli government and South African jurist Richard Goldstone may be heading for a political confrontation over war crimes charges against Tel Aviv and a subsequent selective retraction of some of those charges.

Israeli President Shimon Peres told reporters Friday that Goldstone, who has expressed his "regrets," is apparently refusing to "correct the mistakes" and is unwilling to repudiate the conclusions of the report.

The 575-page report, released in September 2009, was a blistering attack on both Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas for war crimes committed during the 22- day conflict in 2008-2009.

In his report, Goldstone made some 400 accusations against Israel, Peres said. "We checked each one of them — with facts on the ground," and only three were valid, he added.

Peres also said that Israel conducted its own investigation of the charges and produced a report. "But Hamas did not."

Asked why Israel is complaining about an investigation with which it had refused to cooperate in the first place, Peres would only say: "It is not a matter of jurisdiction."

In an op-ed piece in the Washington Postlast week, Goldstone wrote: "We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09 than we did when I chaired the fact-finding mission appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council that produced what has come to be known as the Goldstone Report."

"If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document," he wrote.

Goldstone said Israel did not intentionally target civilians as a policy during the Gaza War — a retraction from the original charge.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called on the United Nations to repudiate and withdraw the Goldstone Report.

Asked for his comments, U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS the Goldstone Report and its follow-up were commissioned by the Human Rights Council, in Geneva, and therefore the Council should decide how to proceed with that process.

"The secretary-general (Ban Ki-moon) believes that it is fundamentally important for the parties to conduct independent and credible investigations," Haq said.

The secretary-general is glad that the most recent U.N. follow-up report has recognized Israel's efforts in this regard, while noting that most investigations are still ongoing, he added.

"It is logical that Judge Goldstone would himself acknowledge these efforts, and would also acknowledge that his report would have benefited from the full collaboration of the Israeli side, which both he and the secretary-general had encouraged from the outset," Haq said.

During the ruthless 22-day military operation in 2008-2009, codenamed “Operation Cast Lead,” the Israelis destroyed houses, factories, wells, schools, hospitals, police stations and other public buildings in occupied Gaza.

The number of Palestinians killed during the conflict was 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 Israeli government has been mining Goldstone's op-ed piece, pointing out that it is more sinned against than sinning.

But Goldstone is refusing to go beyond what he has said in the Postarticle.

Peter Weiss, vice president of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS the official Israeli reaction "deliberately distorts his op-ed".

Goldstone only retracted one charge — that Operation Cast Lead deliberately targeted civilians.

"But the report is replete with various instances of war crimes, for which intent is not required," said Weiss, who also serves as the president of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and is a member of the executive committee of Americans For Peace Now.

"And Goldstone says that, two years after the event, the investigations of those crimes have not led to prosecutions," he added.

Also, his "attack" on Hamas merely states the obvious fact, already mentioned in the report, that launching weapons on purely civilian targets constitutes a war crime, Weiss declared.

The report, authored by a four-member international fact-finding mission headed by Goldstone, details war crimes charges against both Israel and Hamas.

The U.N. mission, and specifically Goldstone, was 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 six months, on investigations and prosecutions it should carry out with regard to the violations cited in the report.

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 experts' 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.

But the report's strongest indictment is not against Hamas but against the state of Israel, which is accused of imposing a blockade on Gaza "amounting to collective punishment" carried out as part of a "systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip".

The report was favorably voted by the 47-member Human Rights Council in Geneva: 25 in favor, six against, 11 abstentions and five no-shows.

It also received overwhelming support in the 192-member General Assembly: a vote of 114 in favor and 18 against, with 44 abstentions.

The 15-member Security Council debated the report but refused to take a vote, primarily because of opposition by the United States, a veto-wielding member of the Council, which has traditionally been protective of Israel.

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama said the charges of war crimes in the Goldstone Report should be within the purview of the Human Rights Council, not the Security Council.

The report was also the subject of a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, traditionally sympathetic towards Israel. That vote, condemning the report, was 344 in favor and 36 against.

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