Who's being unfair?

Whos being unfair

The responses from the government of Israel to the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Gaza have been deeply disappointing. The mission's mandate enabled Israel to bring its concerns and facts relating to Operation Cast Lead publicly before a UN inquiry. It could have been used by Israel to encourage the UN and especially the Human Rights Council to move in a new direction beneficial to the interests of Israel. I repeatedly requested the government of Israel to do that, and to meet with me in Jerusalem to discuss how the Fact-Finding Mission should approach its mandate. Even after that approach was rejected, the mission sent a substantial list of questions to the government requesting information on issues in respect of which we proposed to report. We did not wish to make findings adverse to Israel public without having the benefit of the facts and its views on them. That request for information also fell on deaf ears. So it is hardly fair for Israel to accuse the mission of "getting its facts wrong." In short, the benefits of an even-handed mandate from the Human Rights Council were squandered by Israel. I am also surprised and disappointed that some critics of the Report have dismissed its criticisms of Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza, who have committed serious war crimes against the civilian population of southern Israel. These have been fully documented and the terror they have caused to so many has been comprehensively described and condemned. There has been criticism of the Report on the basis that it devotes disproportionate attention to the conduct of Israel. That was unavoidable considering the many incidents the mission was obliged to investigate in Gaza. The factual inquiries we were called upon to make relating to a severe three-week military operation from the air, sea and land were far more complex than the comparatively unsophisticated launch of thousands of rockets into Israel as acts of terror. IN ITS report on Operation Cast Lead, the government of Israel acknowledges in unequivocal terms that it considers itself bound by the norms of international humanitarian law. In particular, it recognizes the crucial principle of distinction - the legal requirement to protect civilians consistent with military necessity. It cannot, I suggest, interpret that requirement of proportionality to mean that all members of Hamas are combatants. In that context, the government of Israel has not provided any explanation for the bombing of food factories, egg-producing chicken farms and what was the sole flour factory in Gaza. It has not explained why it destroyed or severely damaged thousands of homes. And it has not explained why the bombing on the first day of the military operations of densely populated civilian areas was timed for the busiest time on a weekday when the streets were full of people going about their business. These and the other serious issues raised in the report call for responses and evaluation. I would add that there appears to be no issue as to the intention of the Israel Defense Forces. They bombed targets that were carefully and deliberately chosen. The sophistication of their weaponry and their careful planning admits of no other conclusion. I still nurture the hope that in the coming days, people of goodwill in Israel and the occupied territories do some soul-searching and come to realize that unaccountability for serious violations of international law creates a barrier to peace. The recognition of the humanity of all people - the recognition of Israel by Hamas and the recognition of the Palestinian right to self-determination - are both pre-requisites for peace. And I still nurture the hope that the facts contained in the Report of the Fact-Finding Mission will assist, even in a small way, to finding a peaceful way forward in the Middle East. The people of the region have waited all too long for that. The writer leads the UN-mandated Gaza Fact-Finding Mission established to investigate alleged crimes committed during Operation Cast lead earlier this year. The Mission released its 575-page report last week.