UN investigator Richard Goldstone on Tuesday urged the international community to end the "culture of impunity" for violations of international law in Israel and "occupied Palestinian Territory," according to a United Nations statement.
Speaking to the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday, Goldstone defended the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict's report, which found that both Israel and Palestinian armed groups had committed actions which amounted to war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity.
The judge urged the committee to refer the report to the UN Security Council, citing the fact that neither Israeli nor Hamas had carried out any internal investigations into Operation Cast Lead. Should parties fail to respond to Security Council demands, he said, the matter would be forwarded to the International Criminal Court.
"Now is the time for action," Goldstone told the Human Rights Council. "A culture of impunity in the region has existed for too long. The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point; the ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters violence. Time and again, experience has taught us that overlooking justice only leads to increased conflict and violence."
Among the findings of the report, the investigative team found that Gaza terrorists' firing of Kassam rockets into Israel constituted war crimes. It also stated that the blockade Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip since Hamas's violent takeover some four years ago amounted to "collective punishment and ... a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation."
While Goldstone conceded that "Israel has a duty to protect its citizens," he said that this fact "in no way justifies a policy of collective punishment of a people under effective occupation, destroying their means to live a dignified life and the trauma caused by the kind of military intervention the Israeli Government called Operation Cast Lead."
"This contributes to a situation where young people grow up in a culture of hatred and violence, with little hope for change in the future. Finally, the teaching of hate and dehumanization by each side against the other contributes to the destabilization of the whole region," he added.
Israeli Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Aharon Leshno-Ya'ar, described the report as "shameful," claiming it cherry-picked incidents which occurred during the conflict for political effect, ignored Israel's right to self-defense, and provided "support and vindication for terrorist tactics."
The Palestinian ambassador in Geneva, Ibrahim Khraisha, welcomed the report and said it was an "objective" account of what had happened in Gaza.
A resolution by Arab and Muslim countries proposes endorsing the report, including a recommendation that it be referred to the powerful UN Security Council in order to require both sides to show they are carrying out credible investigation into alleged abuses during the conflict.
"Israel is committed to fully examining every allegation of wrongdoing, not because of this report, but despite it," Leshno-Ya'ar told the council.
Goldstone, however, has called Israel's efforts so far "pusillanimous." He also described investigations by Hamas as a "complete failure."
European nations on the 47-member rights council cautiously welcomed the report, but diplomats have made clear they don't support all of its findings and are critical of how the document was compiled.
The US, which took part as a member for the first time in the council's three-year existence, also criticized the report.
"We disagree sharply with many of the report's assessments and its recommendations and believe it to be deeply flawed," US Assistant Secretary of State Michael H. Posner said.
Washington also rejected the suggestion that the allegations be taken up by the UN Security Council in New York.
"If this standard were applied in every conflict situation around the world where there are alleged violations, then the role of the Human Rights Council would be dramatically different," he said.