Israel says no need for external investigations – but senior UN official says there must be accountability

Here are two different but related items, which are juxtaposed here for full consideration —

I.) From the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a communication dated 27 January 2009:
FAQ – Answers to questions on the operation in Gaza – MFA Spokesperson responds to frequently asked questions about the IDF operation against Hamas terror in Gaza (27 Dec 2008 – 18 Jan 2009):

“1. Q: Will Israel cooperate with investigations of war crimes?

A: Israel takes every report of war crimes seriously, provided it comes from a credible source. However, no official body or organization has presented any evidence of war crimes allegedly committed by Israel. All accusations have been based on rumor, half-truths, anonymous reports from unconfirmed sources, and manipulations of the truth. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) routinely and thoroughly scrutinizes its operational activities and when necessary, is subject to oversight by judicial and governmental authorities. Therefore, there is no need of outside intervention. It is important to emphasize that no credible evidence or proof of war crimes allegedly committed by Israel has been presented”…

The Israeli MFA statement continues:
“On the other hand, proven war crimes have been committed by Hamas. Over many years, Hamas has targeted civilians with rockets and mortars, as well as committing suicide attacks, which are deemed “crimes against humanity” by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In addition, the tactic of using Palestinian civilians as human shields, which Hamas is openly proud of, also falls in the realm of war crimes.

2. Q: Will Israel investigate the illegal use of phosphorus?

A: During the operation in Gaza, there was no illegal use of phosphorus or any other material. The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jacob Kellenberger, told the New York Times on 14 January that no evidence was found of illegal use of phosphorus by Israel. The investigation of this matter, which was reported by the Israeli media, were routine IDF checks of its internal operating procedures and in no way indicated any illegal use

4. Q: The UN accused Israel of shooting at schools; it also claimed that Israel changed its story afterwards.

A: When IDF forces were shot at, they returned fire towards the source of the shooting. Defensive actions of this type are explicitly allowed under the Geneva Convention. The IDF did not fire directly at UNRWA schools; clearly had a school been targeted directly, it would have been completely destroyed, and there would have been countless casualties among those civilians sheltering there. Rather, in the tragic incident which caused civilians casualties, the IDF justifiably returned fire at the Hamas cell that had launched mortar shells at Israeli forces from a position adjacent to the building. Unfortunately, the return fire hit the building and caused casualties. Israel mourns the loss of innocent life, however responsibility for all injuries and damage lies fully with Hamas, which deliberately drew the fighting into a civilian facility. In the case of the school in Jabalya, two independent media reports (AP and New York Times) confirm Israel’s version that mortar fire came from a position located very close to the building. The reports by these respected media outlets contradict the claim made by a UNRWA spokesperson that there is no evidence to support Israel’s investigation. Rather, Hamas was launching mortars from a distance of mere meters from the walls of the school, which explains how the return fire hit the building. Contrary to claims, Israel did not ‘change its story’ regarding this incident. More accurately, it gave out details as they became available during the fighting, and corrected minor discrepancies which were revealed with further investigation. These incongruities were indeed insignificant, and concerned whether the launches came from the school compound versus from its immediate vicinity. Despite Israel’s best efforts, it is not reasonable to expect a conclusive and definitive investigation during the heat of battle.

5. Q: Why were women and children killed?

A: Israelis were profoundly pained by the sight of dead children and the Prime Minister officially expressed his deep sorrow over the civilian casualties. However, it should be asked who is responsible for their deaths and whether the causes have been thoroughly examined”…
This Israeli MFA document can be inspected and pondered in full here.


II.) Excerpts from a Statement to the United Nations Security Council in New York by John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, 27 January 2009:
I expected a distressing situation, but was nevertheless shocked by the degree of human suffering and destruction I saw. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, whose figures have not been seriously challenged, around 1,300 Palestinians were killed, and more than 5,300 were injured. 34 % of these were children. In short, 1 out of 215 Gazans was either killed or injured during the three weeks of this conflict. While some areas I saw were relatively untouched, in others virtually every building was destroyed or full of holes. Many thousands of people saw their homes destroyed, with thousands more badly damaged … Widespread destruction was caused to Gaza’s economic and civil infrastructure. I saw an entire industrial and residential area in East Jabalia which had been systematically bulldozed, an area of at least one square kilometer; one of the best schools in Gaza reduced to rubble; and much of the Al Quds hospital in Gaza City burned out. The ICRC reports that in Jabalia, between one and two thousand households are now living in the rubble of their houses. Damage to power, water, sanitation, medical, education and agricultural infrastructure was widely visible … Conversations with a range of Gazans brought out the psychological trauma, as civilians cowered for three weeks, with nowhere safe in Gaza and nowhere to flee to, and parents became horribly aware of their inability to protect their children … Mr. President, the reckless and cynical use of civilian installations by Hamas, and the indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian populations, are clear violations of international humanitarian law. However, even taking into account Israel’s security concern to protect its own civilian population, it is clear that there are major questions to be asked about the failure of the Israeli Defense Force to protect effectively civilians and humanitarian workers in Gaza. Given the scale and nature of the damage and loss of life, there are also obvious concerns about a lack of wider respect for international humanitarian law, particularly the principles of distinction and proportionality. There must be accountability … “

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *