[JURIST] Both Israel and Palestine committed war crimes that may amount to crimes against humanity during December and January's Operation Cast Lead [Global Security backgrounder] in the Gaza strip, according to a report [text, PDF; press release] released Tuesday by the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict [official website] headed by Richard Goldstone. The report found that Israel regularly impermissibly disregarded the welfare of civilians and even targeted civilians during the conflict in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention [texts]. The report also found that Israel failed to look into alleged misconduct by its soldiers and used white phosphorous [Global Security backgrounder] in violation of international law. The report accused Palestinian fighters of firing mortars indiscriminately into civilian areas and mistreating prisoner of war Gilad Shalit [JURIST news archive] in violation of the Third Geneva Convention [text]. Israel dismissed the report [MFA press release] as prejudiced and one-sided, citing the large number of countries that did not support the fact finding mission. The report, which will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council September 29, recommends that the UN Security Council [official websites] order Israel to investigate allegations of war crimes and prosecute any offenders. The report also recommended that a copy be sent to the International Criminal Court [official website] and that signatories of the Geneva Conventions begin to use universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] where possible to investigate and prosecute grave violations of the Conventions.
Last month, a separate report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] concluded [JURIST report] that Israel's Operation Cast Lead violated international law as well as Palestinian rights. The mission began its field operations in Gaza in June, entering Gaza through Egypt's Rafah crossing after Israel announced that it would not cooperate with the investigation because it doubted the mission's objectivity, and concluded hearings [JURIST reports] in July. Goldstone was appointed to head the investigation [JURIST report] in April, amid strong criticism [JURIST report] from Israel. The probe follows a previous report [text, PDF; JURIST report], authored by UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, which criticized Israel for failing to take adequate precautions to distinguish between civilians and combatants in their offensives in the region. Both Israel and the US criticized [DOS briefing] the report, calling the rapporteur's views "anything but fair." In April, an internal Israeli military investigation found that war crimes had not been committed [JURIST report] in the offensive despite individual reports by Israeli soldiers [Haaretz report]. Israel has already disputed [JURIST report] a previous report to the UNHRC that accused it of human rights violations.