Israel should use delay in UN vote on Goldstone report to investigate own conduct

Israel should use delay in UN vote on Goldstone report to investigate own conduct

Jessica Montell [Executive Director, B'Tselem]: "In the recent session of the UN Human Rights Council, the US and Israel – each for their own, somewhat disingenuous reasons – argued that a peace process is incompatible with international scrutiny of war crimes in the Cast Lead operation, and that the former is to be preferred over the later. Heavy US pressure reportedly convinced the Palestinian Authority to withdraw its motion for the Council to endorse the Goldstone report [PDF file]. The issue is now postponed until the next Council session in March.

So Israel now has a six-month hiatus until the issue is again up for discussion at the Council. This hiatus may prove helpful in encouraging Israel to ensure some domestic accountability for its conduct in Operation Cast Lead.

The Goldstone report has re-ignited the dormant Israeli conversation regarding accountability for Cast Lead. Admittedly, the conversation is heavily skewed toward denial rather than soul-searching. Most of the speeches, newspaper columns and blogs focus on the problems with the fact-finding mission and the report, the biases of the UN Human Rights Council, and the strategies to deflect international criticism. At the same time, the fact that the issue is back in the public debate is welcome, and here and there amidst the denial, one can also find voices calling for Israel to conduct its own independent investigation into Cast Lead.

This is what the human rights community has been calling for all along. This is also the bottom line of the Goldstone report: justice must be done at home. Only if domestic accountability mechanisms are impossible does the international community step in to fill the vacuum. To date, Israel has opened a limited number of military police investigations into soldiers' conduct in Cast Lead. These include documentation by B'Tselem and others that soldiers used Palestinian civilians as human shields, and also Palestinian civilians killed while waving white flags. However, there have been no criminal investigations opened into the larger questions regarding the overall aims and policies concerning the fighting: were civilian buildings and infrastructure defined as legitimate military targets and if so, by whom? Were soldiers properly instructed regarding the obligation to safeguard civilians? Why were civil police forces targeted on the first day of the operation?

These and other pressing questions cannot be answered by isolated military police investigations; they require investigation into decisions made by the highest military and civilian echelons. For this reason, Israeli human rights organizations have called for the establishment of a comprehensive, independent, impartial inquiry, a call that has so far been rejected. But perhaps now, with six-months until the issue may be referred to the Security Council and even the International Criminal Court, Israel will reconsider this rejection and understand that domestic accountability is in Israel's own self-interest."

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