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(photo credit: AP [file])
Human rights groups on Thursday protested reports attributed to the Foreign Ministry that Israel would not cooperate with a UN Human Rights Council investigation into whether war crimes were committed during Operation Cast Lead earlier this year.
"It is unfortunate that Israel is continuing to oppose efforts to investigate its actions," said attorney Sari Bashi, head of the human rights organization Gisha. "A free society should welcome such an examination, especially when serious allegations, including by some of its own soldiers, are raised regarding violations of international law."
According to The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, "it would be better for Israel to cooperate with the committee. This is no petty committee or something like the Durban conference. It is serious."
On April 3, the Human Rights Council appointed South African jurist Richard Goldstone to head an independent fact-finding mission to investigate alleged international human rights and humanitarian law violations by Israel and the Palestinians during the fighting that lasted from December 27 to January 18.
Goldstone previously chaired the Commission of Inquiry Regarding Public Violence and Intimidation in his native South Africa and served as chief prosecutor of the UN war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
The other members of the committee include Christine Chinkin, professor of International Law at the London School of Economics; Hina Jilani, advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan; and Col. (ret.) Desmond Travers of Ireland.
Upon his appointment, Goldstone, who is Jewish and has served on the Board of Governors of the Hebrew University, said the mission would "have regard to all human rights violations and international humanitarian law violations committed both in Israel and in Gaza and in the occupied territory. I should make it very clear that as far as I am concerned, the invitation I received from the president [of the Human Rights Council] makes it very clear that this is to be an independent, evenhanded and unbiased investigation."
In explaining Israel's opposition to the committee, the country's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Aharon Leshno Yaar, said, "It's not about Justice Goldstone. [However,] it's clear to everybody who follows this council and the way it treats Israel that justice cannot be the outcome of the mission."
Bashi said the committee "should be given a chance. It is not acceptable for a democratic society not to investigate its own behavior and then prevent others from doing so.
"During the war, Palestinian residents of Gaza were shocked by the behavior they saw," she went on. "They said to me, 'Sari, what is going on? We know the Israelis. They don't act like this.' These acts need to be investigated."
ACRI spokeswoman Nirit Moscowitz said Israel stood to gain from the investigation because the committee had also announced that it would investigate the abduction and incarceration of IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit and the firing of Kassam rockets by Palestinian terrorists.
"This is one case in which concern for human rights and Israel's interest and political wisdom merge," she said.