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(photo credit: AP [file])
Bucking the Israeli government's policy of non-cooperation with the fact-finding committee established by the UN Human Rights Council on Operation Cast Lead, Noam Schalit testified before the committee on Monday in Geneva, along with four other Israelis - Dr. Mirella Siderer, an Ashkelon gynecologist whose face was disfigured in a Hamas rocket attack on her clinic, Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin, Dr. Alan Marcus, and Noam Bedein of the Sderot Media Center.
Schalit, in his testimony before the mission led by Richard Goldstone, called for it to work toward releasing his son from Hamas captivity.
"My son's violent abduction and his continuing detention subject to extortion is, equally, a violation of international law," he told the mission's members, and submitted a two-year-old recording of his son released by Hamas showing "the callous cynicism of his captors and the grief that his words have caused me and my family."
Schalit then turned to the people of Gaza, telling them that Hamas leaders "have committed a crime with respect to my son. They hold him to ransom and, by the same token, they hold all of you to ransom. For three years now, you have been held hostage to the inflexible demands of your leaders and their unwillingness to compromise. They issue demands which, I fear, the Israeli government will never meet. My son's fate is the means through which your leaders distract your attention from the destruction they have brought upon you. Is this humane? Are these the acts of an honorable regime?"
He called on his son's captors "to release my son. You have the power to act with grace. Do it for the respectability that you wish the international community to accord you. Do it because you see yourselves as statesmen acting with humane intent. Do it for the sake of the respect you say you show this mission. Do it not for gain but do it, I beg you, because it is the just and right thing to do. But most important of all, do it for the peace and welfare of your own people."
The government, meanwhile, continues to reject the Goldstone mission's "biased, one-sided mandate," Ambassador to Geneva Ronnie Lashno-Yaar told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
"This mission is doing things that have no precedent in the history of the UN. For example, this is the first time a public hearing like this has been held in the UN, and its only purpose is to embarrass Israel and bring the Gaza conflict back into the headlines," said Lashno-Yaar.
The Goldstone mission is a fact-finding committee established by the UN Human Rights Council in January to investigate alleged Israeli human rights abuses during the Gaza conflict. It has been criticized by Israel for its founding resolution, which named Israel as the sole aggressor and did not mention Hamas.
"Goldstone is desperate to get some shred of legitimacy from Israel. Lacking the government's participation, he turned to Israeli citizens, paid their tickets to Geneva and allowed them to give testimony," said Lashno-Yaar.
"We have nothing against this. I'm even willing to help Israelis here. I understand the need people feel to testify before the mission. But at the end of the day, I think the final product will be very problematic for Israel, and our decision not to participate was the right one."
According to the watchdog group UN Watch, "it was a rare and welcome sight to see the UN - which upholds a permanent infrastructure of special agencies and mechanisms designed to demonize Israel - for a change invite Israeli victims to testify."
"At the same time," said UN Watch director Hillel Neuer, "there's a risk that the UN will use [the hearings with Israelis] to legitimize a mission that is severely problematic in mandate and execution."
Neuer believes Goldstone, the South African judge who heads the mission, "is sincere. But the original resolution was made by a kangaroo court [the Human Rights Council]. They declared Israel guilty and then set up a mission to investigate this. Goldstone got terms that allow him to investigate Hamas, but he submits his report to the same council."
Both Neuer and Lashno-Yaar noted that others, such as former UN high commissioner for human rights Mary Robinson, turned down the mission chairmanship because the resolution was one-sided.
On Tuesday, UN Watch will formally ask that mission member Christine Chinkin recuse herself. A law professor at the London School of Economics, Chinkin signed an editorial published in the Sunday Times of London in January calling Operation Cast Lead a war crime.
"I don't know if [Goldstone] has seen her statement. I trust that he's an honorable man," said Neuer.
A spokesperson for the Goldstone mission did not respond to queries from the Post by press time.