Netanyahu discusses establishing Israeli commission of inquiry on Gaza war

The Jerusalem Post reported that “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was expected to meet with his top ministers on Wednesday evening, for the second time in one day, to discuss establishing a commission of inquiry to investigate IDF actions during Operation Cast Lead”.

However, this is not being painted as a any kind of concession to those who have been calling on Israel to establish its own independent investigation.

The JPost stated that “The commission would aim to curb a recent wave of calls to prosecute Israeli leaders and top IDF officials for alleged war crimes, after the release of the Goldstone Report, Army Radio reported. According to Israel Radio, senior Israeli officials said that as the Goldstone report is full of lies and distortions, Israel should probe how Richard Goldstone and the other members of the commission reached their conclusions”.

In an apparently related development, the JPost said, “Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, in an attempt to garner the latter’s support in the campaign against the report. In a statement released Wednesday, the defense minister’s bureau said that over the course of the conversation, the former Supreme Court president said that if the relevant bodies requested it of him, he would ‘agree to examine the investigations conducted by the IDF, thus potentially contributing to the battle against the report … [Ehud] Barak trusts the IDF’s probes and consistently rejects any external investigation in their place’, the statement added. The defense minister ‘contends that the Goldstone Report is fraudulent, biased and manipulative; it turns the tables and analogizes the bloodthirsty terrorists and their victims, who exercised their right to self-defense’.” This report can be read in full here .

UPDATE: On Thursday, Haaretz reported that two of Israel’s leading educators, both lawyers, former education minister Amnon Rubinstein, and Uriel Reichman, president of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, have issued a statement calling for an independent Israeli probe- Reichman told Haaretz that “A commission headed by a Supreme Court justice must immediately be established to examine Operation Cast Lead. And although the [Goldstone] report is very much not fair and borders on incitement, it also raises questions regarding our actions in Gaza … The situation requires balance between protecting our existence and the humanist heritage of our people. The harsh accusations of the Goldstone report being disseminated worldwide cannot be ignored. We must investigate Israel’s conduct in Operation Cast Lead to stand guard over the combat morality of the Israel Defense Forces”. Reichman added that “Israel is presented as a murderous country. Without saying so outrightly, [the report] describes Israel as an apartheid state. It says the Israeli justice system is unreliable in overseeing the military and in its attitude toward the Arab minority. It determines that the Arab minority lacks freedom of expression and protest” The statement said that “The most infuriating thing is the invalidation of the legal system. After the Israeli legal system has been attacked from within for interfering too much, the Goldstone report now argues that it does not interfere enough”. This report can be read in full here.

UPDATE TWO: The JPOST is reporting that the UN Human Rights Council will vote on Friday on a proposed resolution to send the Goldstone report to the UN General Assembly in New York [this would merely accelerate the normal process in the usual course of events, as the UN General Assembly receives reports, via the Economic and Social Council, of all the activities of the UN Human Rights Council], and to accept the report’s conclusions. The JPost says that Israel’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Aharon Leshno Yaar, has confided that he ” ‘will never have the numbers’ to block the resolution endorsing the report that will come before the council”. The JPost also says that “The draft text, as of Wednesday evening, stated that it ‘reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the inadmissibility of the acquisition of land by the use of force’. It affirmed the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory, including east Jerusalem’. The resolution condemned Israel for not cooperating with the fact finding mission and recommended that the Goldstone Report be sent to the UN General Assembly. Finally, it endorsed the Goldstone Report’s conclusion, a move that is interpreted to mean that the report would be sent to the Security Council … A spokesman for the Human Rights Council in Geneva told the Post that ‘at present, negotiations are still under way on this draft. As the draft now stands, if passed, the concerned parties, as well as UN bodies, would be called on to implement the recommendations found in the report’. He added that once a resolution was passed, the President of the Human Rights Council would inform the General Assembly of the decision. France’s Human Rights Ambassador Francois Zimeray said that the United States and the European countries were working to amend the text to create a more balanced resolution. France is one of six Western countries that can vote on the resolution, along with Belgium, Italy, Norway, United Kingdom and the US … PLO UN ambassador [Ibrahim] Khraishi said he hoped that a ‘common consensus’ language would be found that would allow the US and the European countries to support the resolution. But the Palestinians, he said, stand firm both on the need to endorse the report and to send it on to the General Assembly in New York. The report was both professional and objective, and Israeli opposition to the report was ‘a mistake’, said Khraishi. Palestinians have a right to full protection under international humanitarian law, he said, adding that respect for that law benefits Israel as well”. This JPost report can be read in full here.

South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone was mandated by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to head a Fact-Finding Mission into the Gaza conflict, and he presented the final version of his report in a day of public meetings of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday. According to Haareth, he later said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday that “some of the killing…was certainly intentional. There was no mistake in bombing factories. The Israeli intelligence has very precise information”. Haaretz also reported that Goldstone said: “we certainly looked into the fact [report or claim] that Hamas put their weapons near civilians. We looked for proof but didn’t find it”. An account of Goldstone’s interview with CNN was published in Haaretz, which reported that Goldstone said he would be delighted if Netanyahu had establish an investigative commission to probe the report’s findings.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu kept up his battle against any international action on the Goldstone report’s recommendations: “If the report reaches the international court in Hague, it will bring the peace process to a halt because Israel won’t take the risks necessary to achieve peace if it is not assured the right to defend itself. Anyone who desires peace must stop this report right now … Anyone who supports the Goldstone report and its conclusions is in effect against peace,” the prime minister continued, “since no country, and no people, would be willing to take risks for the sake of peace if their right to self defense was taken away”. This Haaretz report can be read in full here.

Haaretz also reported that Netanyahu “finally agreed Tuesday to a request by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to rebuild a Gaza hospital damaged during Operation Cast Lead”. Sarkozy apparently asked Netanyahu for the approval earlier this year — and then asked Netanyahu about it again last week, when the two men met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s high-level session in New York.

Netanyahu’s decision does not mean that Israel will either repair pay for the damage done to the hospital (Al-Quds Hospital, managed by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in Gaza) — it means that Netanyahu is instructing the Israeli Defense Ministry, which controls everything that goes in and out of Gaza, to allow the rebuilding, which will apparently be funded by Qatar.

The Haaretz report added that “Netanyahu atold Sarkozy by phone Tuesday that he had decided to approve the project as a humanitarian gesture. The premier also said he wished to accommodate Paris due to the “strident stance that France has taken on Iran’s nuclear program.” Sarkozy had asked Netanyahu for theapproval earlier this year — and Sarkozy asked Netanyahu about it again last week, when the two men met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s high-level session in New York.

Haaretz reported that “Upon his return to Israel, Netanyahu instructed defense officials to make the necessary preparations to allow for the hospital’s reconstruction.
Yesterday, Sarkozy called Netanyahu, who gave the go-ahead for the project. ‘We have decided to allow the rebuilding of the hospital’, Netanyahu told Sarkozy. ‘I am doing this as a humanitarian gesture and in light of the great friendship between us’. Officials in both the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry had proposed that Israel condition its acquiescence to the initiative on a gesture from Qatar. Netanyahu, however, rejected these ideas, insisting that the move was a bilateral gesture toward France.” The Haaretz report is posted here.

The JPost reported that “Netanyahu said he would instruct the defense establishment to approve the construction, which would entail allowing concrete and other building materials into the Strip, something Israel has been hesitant to do, for fear the material would be used to make weapons”. The JPost account is published here.

Ma’an News Agency also reported this story, and received this comment from Mahmoud / Palestine, which Noted: “Having visited the premises, it is important to precise that only one building was completely destroyed (the administrative building…). The Al-Quds hospital has been hit but only slightly and is being fixed with the funds from Qatar”. The Ma’an article and the comment were posted here .

For the past two years, construction materials (and most normal consumer goods as well) have not been allowed into Gaza.  The Israeli Ministry of Defense’s Coordinator of [Israeli]  Government activities in the Territory, COGAT, has a very restricted list of items that they permit in, with rare exceptions, and usually only after international pressure.

Ma’an also reported that “Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved on Tuesday the immediate important of palm fronds from the Gaza Strip to Israel, according to the Hebrew daily Ma’ariv. The move came at the behest of the Israeli Minister of Religious Services, Yakov Margi, who feared that a shortage of palm fronds and a local monopoly on the item would send prices skyrocketing for the Jewish holiday Sukkot. For the weeklong holiday, many Jewish Israelis build a sukkah (literally, booth) using palm fronds for the hut’s roof. The temporary shelter is constructed in remembrance of the forty years that, according to religious tradition, the ancient Israelites wandered in the desert. Margi reportedly thanked Barak for the decision, stating that it would keep the prices of palm fronds down and would preclude local merchants from overcharging customers. The department of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), along with the Ministry of Religious Services and the Ministry of Agriculture, will be responsible for implementing the export of the palm fronds from Gaza, despite the ongoing Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip”.   This account of the unusual permission to export palm branches from Gaza — for the forthcoming holiday enjoyment of Israeli families — can be read in full here.

In the past two years, the only other reported exports from Gaza have been boxed cut flowers that were flown to the European market after the specific intervention of European governments (the Dutch, and maybe one other) to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and Women’s Day.

As we reported last June, here, a brilliant piece in Haaretz recounted how COGAT officers explain the logic of the Gaza sanctions policy in their own words: “A senior COGAT officer explains to Haaretz that it’s not a siege policy, but rather the restriction of entry of luxury products. The decision as to which products qualify as ‘luxury’ changes from week to week, and sometimes from day to day. Some of these changes are the result of international pressure exerted upon Israel. For example, when he visited Gaza last February, U.S. Senator John Kerry was stunned to discover that Israel was not allowing Palestinians to bring in trucks loaded with pasta. Following American pressure, on March 20 the cabinet decided to permit the unrestricted transfer of food products into Gaza. Incredibly, the COGAT personnel do not see any contradiction between this decision and the serious restrictions that are nevertheless imposed on the entry of various food items” … The Haaretz article notes that “The policy is not fixed, but continually subject to change, explains a COGAT official … Sources involved in COGAT’s work say that those at the highest levels, including acting coordinator Amos Gilad, monitor the food brought into Gaza on a daily basis and personally approve the entry of any kind of fruit, vegetable or processed food product requested by the Palestinians. At one of the unit’s meetings, Colonel Oded Iterman, a COGAT officer, explained the policy as follows: ‘We don’t want Gilad Shalit’s captors to be munching Bamba [a popular Israeli snack food] right over his head‘.” … Now, this Haaretz article also reports that “The ‘Red Lines’ document explains: ‘In order to make basic living in Gaza possible, the deputy defense minister approved the entry into the Gaza Strip of 106 trucks with humanitarian products, 77 of which are basic food products. The entry of wheat and animal feed was also permitted via the aggregates conveyor belt outside the Karni terminal. After four pages filled with detailed charts of the number of grams and calories of every type of food to be permitted for consumption [by] Gaza residents (broken down by gender and age), comes this recommendation: ‘It is necessary to deal with the international community and the Palestinian Health Ministry to provide nutritional supplements (only some of the flour in Gaza is enriched) and to provide education about proper nutrition’. Printed in large letters at the end of the document is this admonition: ‘The stability of the humanitarian effort is critical for the prevention of the development of malnutrition’. These quantities allow a very slim margin for error or mishaps … The Haaretz article also reports that an unnamed “senior officer who was serving in COGAT when the blockade was imposed” said: “If you go back two years, you see that it was utter foolishness … There was a vague, unclear policy, influenced by the interests of certain groups, by this or that lobby, without any policy that derived from the needs of the population. [ it is also important to add that this policy was also administered by the military without any other effective governmental oversight] For example, the fruit growers have a powerful lobby, and this lobby saw to it that on certain days, from 20-25 trucks full of fruit were brought into Gaza. It’s not that it arrived there and was thrown out, but if you were to ask a Gazan who lives there, it’s not exactly what he needs. What happened was that the Israeli interest took precedence over the needs of the populace.” The Haaretz article, Gaza Bonanza, can be read in full here.

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