Israel reacted with “satisfaction” to the report Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered to the member states of the UN on Thursday night, a report that included Israel’s 46-page account documenting steps it has taken to look into allegations of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead.
“Israel expresses satisfaction that the UN secretary-general faithfully reflected the Israeli document that was presented this week,” a Foreign Ministry statement read.
Israel last week gave Ban its document, titled “Gaza operation investigations: an update,” which summarized the steps it has taken to investigate IDF actions during last winter’s offensive against Hamas.
“The Israeli document,” the Foreign Ministry statement said on Friday in response to Ban’s report, “gives full expression to Israel’s obligation to conduct an independent and trustworthy investigation that fulfills international legal standards.”
Despite the difficult combat conditions against Hamas in Gaza, the statement read, Israel was “careful in respecting international norms, and will continue to do so in the future, alongside fulfilling its primary obligation to the peace and security of its citizens.”
In the introduction to Ban’s 72-page report, the vast majority of which was made up of annexes that were simply the Israeli and Palestinian reports of the actions they have taken to investigate the Goldstone Commission’s allegations of war crimes, Ban wrote that since the investigative processes were ongoing, “no determination” could be made as to whether the sides have met the General Assembly’s demands to carry out “credible, independent investigations into their own actions.”
A UN General Assembly resolution in November endorsed the Goldstone Commission findings, and called on both sides to carry out “independent, credible” investigations that were “in conformity with international standards.” The General Assembly gave the secretary-general three months to report back on the status of those investigations, which is what Ban did on Friday.
“I believe that, as a matter of principle, international humanitarian law needs to be fully respected and civilians must be protected in all situations and circumstances,” Ban wrote in the report’s introduction. “Accordingly, on several occasions, I have called upon all of the parties to carry out credible domestic investigations into the conduct of the Gaza conflict. I hope that such steps will be taken wherever there are credible allegations of human rights abuses.”
Ban also wrote that he hoped the General Assembly resolution “served to encourage investigations” by Israel and the Palestinians.
The Palestinians, in an annex included in Ban’s document, provided a decree from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas establishing “an independent investigative commission,” and a preliminary report by that commission, which was set up around two weeks ago.
Riyad Mansour, the PLO’s permanent observer at the UN, wrote in a letter included in Ban’s report that the Palestinians’ “firm position” is that there is “absolutely no symmetry or proportionality between the occupying power and the occupied people and thus our rejection of any equating of the military aggression and crimes committed by Israel, the occupying power, against the Palestinian people with actions that may have been committed by the Palestinian side.”
No Hamas response was included in Ban’s report.
One Israeli government official warned that even though Israel was satisfied with Ban’s report, it was too early to celebrate the “burial” of the Goldstone Report, and it was not clear where the report would go from here.
At the same time, it does seem that there is no longer a sense of urgency in Jerusalem to set up some kind of independent judicial inquiry or commission to investigate either the war crimes allegations, or how the IDF has investigated them, in order to combat fallout from the Goldstone Report.
While Israel was pleased with the UN chief’s response, Ban took heat from human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, for what they said was a failure to adequately assess investigations being carried out by both sides.
“We were hoping that the secretary-general would give more of an evaluative assessment,” said Fred Abrahams, a senior researcher at HRW. Instead, “He clearly avoided the issue.”
“He’s declining to pass judgment on whether the investigations are adequate or not, but at the same time, he’s saying that they have to do it,” Abrahams said.
HRW does not believe either side has conducted an adequate investigation.
“Until we see concrete action, and not just statistics in reports, we cannot determine that the Israeli investigations are truly impartial,” Abrahams said. “We’ve firmly and unequivocally rejected Hamas’s conclusion that it did no wrong. It’s absurd to claim that they were only targeting military objects in Israel when all the evidence suggests they were targeting civilians.”
A spokesman for Ban, Martin Nesirky, defended the secretary-general’s response, telling reporters in New York that it was not his job to analyze what the parties told him.
“It’s the right, and I guess you could say the obligation, of human rights groups to look carefully and scrutinize and criticize. That’s what they do. They work very hard to ensure that people are held to account. That’s right and proper,” Nesirky said.
“The bottom line here, in the three-page report from the secretary-general [that was included in the UN’s 72-page document],” he added, “is that the work is still continuing.”
Nesirky stressed that Ban was not asked to analyze, or to “express his
views on the responses that were received,” and he made clear that
regarding any future action, the General Assembly would decide what to
“The secretary-general remains personally moved by the
plight of all civilians harmed during the Gaza conflict,” Nesirky said.
“He has consistently called for credible domestic investigations, and
did so again in the report.”