J'lem refutes Goldstone war-crime claims

But 46-page paper documents steps taken to investigate IDF actions during Cast Lead.

By
January 31, 2010 01:58
J'lem refutes Goldstone war-crime claims

Barak at war ceremony298. (photo credit: Channel 1)

 
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Israel released a 46-page paper on Friday documenting the steps it has taken to investigate IDF actions during Operation Cast Lead.  Stressing that its military judicial system is independent and comes under civilian review, the document dismisses four of the 36 allegations of war crimes found in the Goldstone Commission report.

The paper, which the Foreign Ministry stressed was not intended as a “comprehensive rebuttal of the Goldstone Report or a catalogue of its flaws,” was made necessary because the UN General Assembly, which endorsed the Goldstone Report in November, gave Israel and Hamas until February 5 to launch independent investigations into their actions and report back to the secretary-general.

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to report to the General Assembly on that day, Friday, on what actions each party has taken to investigate itself.

The Israeli report, titled Gaza Operation Investigations: Update, focused on the investigations, legal proceedings and lessons learned from the Gaza offensive.

The IDF, meanwhile, is preparing an in-depth, point-by-point rebuttal of the entire Goldstone Report, which is expected to number more than 1,000 pages and be ready within a few weeks.

The report released on Friday did not address whether Israel would set up an independent inquiry to investigate the conduct of the Gaza operation.

As first reported last week in The Jerusalem Post, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi have modified their objections to the establishment of any independent commission, coming around to the idea of setting up a judicial investigative panel to review internal IDF investigations and to determine whether they were thorough enough and lived up to accepted legal standards.



While Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Menahem Mazuz, who just finished his term as attorney-general, have come out in favor of some kind of independent inquiry, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has not made his position on the matter known. He is expected to make a decision on the issue this week.

Israel, in the report released on Friday, frontally took on four war crime allegations, of premeditated destruction of civilian installations during the operation – the Namar water wells in the Jabalya refugee camp, the Gaza wastewater treatment plant in Gaza City, the Bader flour mill in Beit Lahiya, and the Abu Askar family home in Jabalya, and in each case said there was no reason to pursue criminal indictments.

Regarding allegations that Israel had intentionally sought to strike the water wells, the report said that “standing orders issued throughout the Gaza operation strictly forbade any acts damaging water installations,” and that the military advocate-general found no credible basis for the allegation that the strike was intended to deprive the civilian population of Gaza of water.

To the contrary, according to the report, “the IDF made significant efforts to ensure that the population of Gaza had a sufficient and continuous water supply.”

According to the report, the wells were housed within a closed Hamas military compound, which served as a regional command and control center and was used for military training and weapons storage. While the IDF did strike the compound, it did not know at the time that the wells were located there.

Regarding allegations that the IDF had targeted the sewage treatment plan to punish Gaza civilians, the report found that the site was not hit by an aerial strike.

“Taking into account all available information, the military advocate-general could not definitively rule out the possibility that IDF activity had caused the damage to the wall of the third basin of the wastewater treatment plant,” the report read. “At the same time, he could also not dismiss the possibility that the damage to the basin might have resulted from a deliberate action by Hamas as part of a defensive plan to hamper the movement of IDF forces in the area.”

With respect to the allegation of deliberate targeting of the Bader flour mill, the report concluded that “in the course of the operation, IDF troops came under intense fire from different Hamas positions in the vicinity of the flour mill. The IDF forces fired back toward the sources of fire and threatening locations. As the IDF returned fire, the upper floor of the flour mill was hit by tank shells. A phone call warning was not made to the flour mill immediately before the strike, as the mill was not a pre-planned target.”

The military advocate-general “did not find any evidence to support the assertion that the mill was attacked from the air using precise munitions,” as alleged in the Goldstone Report.

And finally, regarding allegations that the IDF deliberately destroyed the home of the Abu Askar family in Jabalya, the report found that the house “was used to store weapons and ammunition, including Grad rockets. Furthermore, the area where the house was located was frequently used as a launch area for rockets aimed at Israeli towns.”

“The military advocate-general concluded that due to its use as a large storage facility for weapons and ammunition, including Grad missiles, the house of Muhammad Abu-Askar was a legitimate military target. The strike was not directed against the residents of the house, but rather against the weapons stored in it.”

Other key points in the report include:

• The IDF has opened investigations into 150 incidents arising from the Gaza Operation. Of the 150 incidents, 36 have been referred for criminal investigation so far.

• Israel’s system for investigating allegations of violations of the Law of Armed Conflict is comparable to those adopted by other democratic nations, including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

• Israel’s investigative system, like that of many states, includes a range of checks and balances and multiple layers of review to ensure impartiality and independence. These include the Military Advocate-General Corps, which is independent and not subject to the military chain of command; the civilian attorney-general, by whom any decision of the military advocate-general as to whether to investigate or indict may be reviewed; and the Supreme Court, whose review of any decision of the military advocate-general or the attorney-general can be initiated by petition of any interested party, including NGOs, Palestinians, and other noncitizens.

Barak said on Friday that the report “again illustrates that the IDF is a uniquely responsible and serious military, that operates in a moral and accurate manner even under impossible conditions.

“The Goldstone Report was a distorted, false and biased report,” he added.

The Palestinians, meanwhile, submitted their own response, written by an independent commission appointed several days ago by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The preliminary report was submitted to the Secretary-General’s Office on Friday, according to the PLO ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour.

Speaking to reporters in New York, Mansour dodged questions concerning whether the report acknowledged wrongdoing by the Palestinian side during the war.

“There is no symmetry between the occupying power, Israel, and their criminal actions... and any actions that may have been committed by the Palestinian side, those who live under occupation,” he said.

He said the commission appointed by Abbas would conduct a “very independent and credible investigation” in the coming months. Asked how the commission and its preliminary report could be credible if it did not include Hamas’s point of view, Mansour said: “Whatever we do internally as Palestinians, these are internal issues.”

He added, “It is up to us to see how we can deal with our investigations without allowing anyone to try to deepen our divisions.”

E.B. Solomont contributed to this report from New York.

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