After Beit Hanoun report, Archbishop Desmond Tutu to receive Fulbright Prize for International Understanding at U.S. State Department

There is a message here.

Just about a month after delivering his final report — from the heart — to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on the Israeli shelling of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza that killed 19 Palestinian civilians in November 2006, an announcement has come from the U.S. State Department saying that Archbishop Desmond Tutu is to receive the 2008 Fulbright Prize in a ceremony in Washington on Friday.

The totally unedited announcement says:
“Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Goli Ameri and the Fulbright Association will co-host a ceremony honoring Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Friday, November 21, 2008, at 11 a.m. in the Dean Acheson Auditorium of the U.S. Department of State. The 2008 J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding will be awarded to Archbishop Tutu for his work for peace in South Africa and elsewhere. The prize carries a $50,000 award provided by The Coca-Cola Foundation. In addition to Archbishop Tutu, other speakers will include poet Maya Angelou; Coca-Cola Company Chairman of the Board Neville Isdell; Goucher College Professor Kelly Brown Douglas; and Fulbright Association President Suzanne E. Siskel. The J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding was created by the Fulbright Association in 1993 to recognize individuals who have made extraordinary contributions toward bringing peoples, cultures, and nations to greater understanding of others. Past Fulbright Prize recipients include Bill Clinton, Colin Powell, Václav Havel, Jimmy Carter, and Nelson Mandela.”

Tutu: "It is the silence of the international community … (concerning Gaza) … which most offends"

As he was presenting his final report on killing of 19 Palestinian civilians by Israeli mortar shelling in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza, in November 2006, Archbishop Desmond Tutu told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday that “What we saw in Gaza shocked us…the psychological injuries are more than the physical”.

Tutu also said that “in our view, increasing the accountability of the Israeli military for its actions is the most effective means to protect Palestinian civilians against any further … assaults”.

And Tutu called the Israeli military-administered blockade against the Gaza Strip “unjust and illegal”.

He concluded with this strong reproach. “The international is failing to fulfill its role in respect of the suffering of the people of Gaza. It is the silence of the international community in the face of what is happening there which most offends. This silence begets complicity. In our efforts to discharge our mandate, we have witnessed positions based on political objectives rather than on principle — by all relevant parties … Addressing human rights violations suffered by individuals in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territory must be the prime motivating force for members of the [Human Rights] Council and others with influence in the region.”

Israeli response to Tutu Mission to investigate deaths of 19 civilians in Novembe 2006 IDF shelling of Beit Hanoun, Gaza

Israel on three occasions over nearly two years declined to give a visa for the mission authorized by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the civilian deaths caused, the Israeli military says, by “technical error” in the IDF’s November 2006 shelling of the northern town of Beit Hanoun.

So, now let’s look at what the final report of the mission led by South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu says about Israel’s response. Here are some excerpts from the report:

“A total of 19 of the Beit Hanoun victims died as a result of the shelling. Two of the greatest needs of the surviving victims are a credible explanation for the attack on the town, and, where appropriate, the holding of individuals to account for the attack. In the mission’s view, neither of these needs have been met … The victims of the shelling are persons who individually or collectively suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights as a result of the shelling; they include the immediate family or dependants of the direct victim and persons who have suffered harm in intervening to assist victims in distress or to prevent victimization. The mission notes that there has been no systematic follow-up of the situation of victims to assess their progress, their ongoing medical or other needs”.

“Following the shelling, the Prime Minister and Minister for Defense of Israel ‘expressed their regret over the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun’ and offered ‘urgent humanitarian assistance and immediate medical care for the wounded’. The Israeli military similarly expressed regret but stressed that ‘the responsibility for this rests with the terror organizations, which use the Palestinian civilian population as a ‘human shield’, carrying out terror attacks and firing Kassam rockets at Israeli population centres from the shelter of populated areas’. The Minister for Foreign Affairs said that ‘unfortunately, in the course of battle, regrettable incidents such as that which occurred this morning do happen’.

“On 8 November 2006, Israel announced an inquiry into the shelling of Beit Hanoun earlier that day, intimating that the shells were not fired on civilian areas of Beit Hanoun intentionally but rather as a result of some technical error. Use of artillery in Gaza was halted pending the outcome of an investigation. It has been reported to the Mission that artillery has not been used in Gaza since 8 November 2006. [n.b., what is meant by “artillery”? Would it include the firing by an Israeli tank of shells packed with “flechettes” or razor-sharp darts, such as the one that killed Reuters cameraman Fadel Shani in Gaza

The report continues. “The Israeli military appointed an internal investigation committee of military staff headed by a senior officer. Some 15 months after the shelling, the committee presented its findings to the Military Advocate General, who then decided that ‘no legal apction is to be taken against any military official regarding this incident’. According to a press communiqué issued by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the reasons for this decision were that:
(a) The shelling of civilians was not intentional;
(b) The error was ‘directly due to a rare and severe failure in the artillery fire-control system operated at the time of the incident’ causing ‘incorrect range findings that lead, unknowingly, to fire at a different target then planned initially’;
(c) The malfunction was so rare that ‘it is not possible to point to a legal circumstantial connection, between the behaviours of the people involved in the incident and the result of the incident’.

Neither the report of the committee nor that of the Advocate General has been made public. The mission requested copies of both on a number of occasions, but these requests remain unanswered. The mission finds this lack of transparency for a process that is in effect to date the only means for accountability for the deaths of 19 civilians, highly disturbing.

“The Israeli military appears to be of the view that, if an error is caused by malfunctioning technology, there can be no causal link (and thus no responsibility) on the part of individuals, be they designing, building or operating the technology. The Mission also notes that press reports of the investigation quote military sources as suggesting that ‘it would be worthwhile to look into whether the artillery battery team could have nonetheless avoided the incident through more proper performance, and careful monitoring of the equipment’. This proposal is strengthened by the reported recommendations of the investigation, one being to require ‘human tracking of where shells are falling in addition to the radar’.

“According to a number of sources, the Israeli military version of events on 8 November 2006 is as follows: On or at some time prior to 8 November, the military received information that rocket launching would take place from a field near Beit Hanoun. ‘In an effort to disrupt and thwart the launching of rockets at Israeli population centers’, Israeli artillery directed twenty-four 155 mm shells at two targets near Beit Hanoun. In the military’s view, artillery shelling of a site of potential rocket launching is an effective deterrent. The first 12 shells landed in the correct location, however 6 of the second round landed 450 metres away from their intended target and resulted in the civilian casualties.

“This view is in conflict with the information received by the mission. Numerous sources show that 12 shells hit the area around Hamad Street, possibly 13. The mission received no evidence of shelling in a field near Beit Hanoun before the shelling, which resulted in casualties. Indeed testimonies indicate that, just before the shelling, the majority of Beit Hanoun residents were sleeping or at prayer, which would have been quite abnormal if heavy artillery fire had been directed just 450 metres away from the residential area. Furthermore, investigations carried out by the explosive ordnance disposal unit of the Palestinian Police and presented to the mission suggest that six 155 mm artillery shells were fired from a location to the east of Beit Hanoun, and another six from a separate location to the south-east, suggesting the attack was not conducted from one single artillery battery, as reported by the Israeli military, but two.

“Victims and survivors interviewed by the mission are seeking an explanation for the shelling, a common refrain being ‘why did this happen to us?’ Many expressed doubts as to claims that they had been shelled in error. More than one remarked that they ‘could believe one shell fired in error but not 12’. Others indicated that the level of Israeli monitoring of Beit Hanoun (including by unmanned aerial drones as witnessed by the mission) is such that an error of this magnitude is highly unlikely. Yet another survivor juxtaposed the alleged 450-metre error in the Beit Hanoun shelling with the precision with which the Israeli military carry out targeted assassinations in the occupied Palestinian territories. Others noted that an error of 450 metres would have placed Israeli soldiers at the nearby Erez crossing at risk of shelling, a risk survivors felt the Israeli military would not take.

The mission strongly endorses the position put forward by others, particularly human rights organizations, that the use of artillery in urban areas, especially in densely populated urban settings such as Gaza, is wholly inappropriate and likely contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. The risks of this practice were compounded by the reported reduction by the Israeli military of the ‘safety zone’ for artillery shelling from 300 to 100 metres earlier in 2006. The 155 mm artillery shells fired on Beit Hanoun have an expected lethal radius of 50 to 150 metres and a casualty radius of up to 300 metres. Firing such a shell within 100 metres of civilians appears to the mission almost certain to cause casualties at one time or another. In litigation by human rights groups against the safety-zone reduction, it was reported that Israeli military officers ‘admitted that the new regulations put Palestinian lives at risk but insisted it would help strike back at Palestinian militants launching rockets at Israeli civilians’…”

According to an AP report published in Haaretz yesterday, the day the final Tutu report was published, “Israel’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, refused to discuss the war crimes allegation because Israel rejects the validity of Tutu’s report … Leshno-Yaar said he was furious that Tutu’s report de facto legitimizes Hamas control of Gaza … But Leshno-Yaar said Israel’s own investigation into the incident that found that hitting civilians was accidental was sufficient. He noted that the results had been shared with the United Nations. ‘There is no need for such a mission by the Human Rights Council and by Archbishop Tutu’, he said”. The full story can be read in Haaretz here.

Tutu final report on Beit Hanoun – the "depth of human suffering is only partially conveyed through the third-party reports"

“The mission wishes to underline the importance of its travelling to Beit Hanoun to witness first-hand the situation of victims and survivors of the shelling, in particular to comprehend the deep distress of the victims of the shelling and of the population generated by the ongoing blockade. This depth of human suffering is only partially conveyed through the third-party reports on the situation.”

Here are the bare-boned facts:
1. Israeli military operations were carried out in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun “around 8 November 2006”.
2.)The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on 15 November 2006 calling for a high-level fact-finding mission to be established and for the mission to travel to the town of Beit Hanoun.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu was appointed to lead the mission.
3.) “On three occasions, the mission attempted to travel to Beit Hanoun via Israel. Each of these attempts was frustrated by the refusal of the Government of Israel to cooperate with the mission”…
4.) In May 2008. the mission actually made a two-day trip to Beit Hanoun — travelling from Egypt in and out of the otherwise closed Rafah Crossing into Gaza — in May 2008.
5.) The mission made its final report to the UN Human Rights Council on 15 September 2008.

The mission’s final report stated that “Gaza is under the effective control of Israel and is thus occupied by it … The mission also witnessed the constant surveillance of Gaza by Israeli forces, most strikingly from unmanned aerial drones”…

The report stated that “the events preceding the shelling on 8 November (in particular the incursion of 1 to 7 November – n.b. this incursion was named ‘Autumn Clouds’, and focussed on Beit Hanoun ) had a direct and negative impact on the situation of victims and survivors of the shelling. The control exercised by the Israeli military over inhabitants was reaffirmed. Inhabitants of Beit Hanoun lived in a state of constant fear and anxiety and were traumatized by the deaths and injuries they witnessed, the destruction of property and the uncertainty as to what would occur next”…

The mission’s final report gives this graphic description of what happened: “The shelling took place early on the morning of Wednesday, 8 November 2006, some 24 hours after the Israeli military withdrew from the town and concluded operation Autumn Clouds. Residents of Beit Hanoun, including the Al-Athamna family, were returning to normal life after the trauma of the incursion. Those interviewed by the mission spoke of the night of 7 November as being the first time they and their children could again ‘get a proper night’s sleep’. Another survivor noted that it was the first night she could bake bread. Another noted that it was the first time he could rise and pray at the mosque rather than at home. At approximately 5.35 a.m., the first 155 mm shell from Israeli artillery hit a house in the heavily populated neighbourhood of al-Madakkha in northern Beit Hanoun. Over the following 30 minutes or so, a total of 12 shells struck an area of approximately 1.5 hectares along the western side of Hamad Street, which lies around 800 metres from the armistice line. The shells struck six houses as well as surrounding areas in Hamad Street and lanes between houses. Six shells fell on an area of 50 metres in diameter. The mission saw the extensive damage caused by the shells, including holes blasted through reinforced concrete walls and floors, and blast damage to surrounding buildings. Amateur video footage obtained by the mission shows the last three shells landing with intervals of around one minute and 15 seconds. The victims of the shelling were either asleep in their homes or, as was the case with a number of the men, returning from morning prayer. Following the first shell, which hit a house killing and injuring people inside, most residents fled to the street. Once in the street, people congregated to assist those who had been injured. More shells then landed in the street and surrounding lanes, killing and injuring dozens more. A number of survivors ran into surrounding fields. Others indicated running towards the nearby Erez crossing, believing that the Israeli installation there would offer safety. The testimony received by the mission paints a horrific scene. Woken by the first shell, families fled their homes and assembled in the street outside, where dead and injured persons already lay. One mother described being faced with one of her children with an open skull wound while trying to help another son as he scooped his intestines back into his abdomen. Another spoke of helping his injured father to the door of the house, only for him to be killed by a direct shell at the door. As people gathered and attempted to provide assistance to the injured, more shells landed in the street. There was, according to one witness, ‘no one left standing’. The nature of injuries caused by artillery shells meant the street was ‘strewn with limbs’. Children were decapitated and a mother worries for her surviving son who ‘saw his brother cut in half’. Some time after the first shell landed, the injured started to arrive by private vehicle at the Beit Hanoun hospital, most having lost limbs or requiring amputation. Within a short amount of time, 30 to 40 injured people arrived at the hospital. The director of the hospital declared an emergency and called for ambulances from across Gaza to assist. The first ambulance to reach the scene of the shelling itself came under fire, the driver and assistant being forced to abandon the vehicle. Footage obtained by the mission of the scene in Beit Hanoun hospital as casualties from the shelling arrived showed an extremely disturbing scene of a small hospital crowded with medical staff, victims with blast injuries and their families. Medical staff interviewed by the mission described not only the trauma in dealing with the onslaught of casualties, but also of their exhaustion following their efforts during the Autumn Clouds incursion, as described above. The shelling resulted in the immediate death or mortal wounding of 19 civilians, including seven children and six women. All but one of the victims were from a single family group, the Al-Athamna. Over 50 others were wounded during the attack”.

In an earlier section, the report stated that “During the incursion (n.b. during the week before the deadly shelling), Israeli military personnel occupied houses in Beit Hanoun for hours at a time, including the house of the Al-Athamna family, which was occupied twice; first for four hours, the second time for six. ‘They knew who slept in each room, they knew it was a family home’, reported one witness”.

The report continues: “A number of the more seriously injured required treatment that could not be provided in Gaza. Families of the injured ran directly to the Erez crossing to plead for Israeli approval to transport injured people to Israeli hospitals. According to survivors, approval to move some injured to Israeli hospitals was received only some 12 hours after the shelling. Survivors told how significant obstacles were placed in the way of individuals travelling to Israel for emergency treatment, in particular: (a) The refusal by Israeli authorities in some cases to allow the injured to be accompanied by family members. This was particularly distressing in the case of the elderly and children who travelled without their closest relatives; (b) The refusal by Israeli ambulances to transport the injured from Erez crossing to Israeli hospitals without an immediate payment of some thousands of shekels. These fees were later reimbursed by the International Committee of the Red Cross”.

The mission report also notes that “In addition to the special session of the Council at which resolution S-3/1 was adopted, on 30 November 2006, the General Assembly adopted resolution ES-10/16, in which it deplored Israeli military assaults on the Gaza Strip, in particular the killing of many Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun. The Assembly requested the Secretary-General to establish a fact-finding mission on the attack. The fact-finding mission has never been conducted”.

And, the mission report states, “the mission saw no evidence of any necessity for the shelling of Beit Hanoun on 8 November and certainly none that the need for such an attack was ‘instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation’. The fact that the Israeli military had been in almost full control of Beit Hanoun in the days prior to the attack only reinforces this argument…[T]he use of force with an impact on civilians is permissible if it is directed at a legitimate military target and is proportionate to the overall threat faced. The mission received no evidence that the shelled area of Beit Hanoun was a legitimate military target and notes that it had been occupied by Israeli military earlier in the week…The firing of artillery towards Beit Hanoun on the morning of 8 November 2006 was a deliberate act in the context of the long-term occupation of Gaza and of the deaths of civilians and destruction of property in Autumn Clouds. Taken together with further facts (such as the reduction of the safety zone for artillery use referred to above) and the nature of the ‘intransgressible obligation'” to protect civilian life, the mission considers that there is evidence of a disproportionate and reckless disregard for Palestinian civilian life, contrary to the requirements of international humanitarian law and raising legitimate concerns about the possibility of a war crime having been committed…The investigation of the Israeli military referred to above was not independent (it was carried out by a committee comprised of Israeli military personnel) and the lack of transparency makes it impossible to determine whether or not it was rigorous or effective. The failure of Israel to comply with the procedural requirement adds to the frustration and anger felt by survivors, who have received no credible explanation for what occurred. Survivors have come to perceive the rule of law as having no meaning for them…The Israeli military internal investigation referred to above concluded that there would be no prosecutions of individuals or other disciplinary action arising from the shelling; therefore, no one has been held to account for the injuries suffered. A further recent example involving the killing of a media cameraman and eight youths reinforces the culture of impunity decried by the mission in its previous report…An Israeli law preventing Palestinians from claiming compensation from Israel following military operations was partially struck down by the High Court on 12 December 2006. However, the court left standing a provision that bars compensation to Palestinians harmed in combat operations.”

Among its conclusions, the report says that the 8 November 2006 attack on Beit Hanoun “took lives, inflicted horrendous physical and mental injuries, tore families apart, destroyed homes, took away livelihoods and traumatized a population. Its aftermath compounded those ills. The courage of the victims in the face of continuing hardship deserves our admiration. Their recovery is not aided by continuing incursions into Beit Hanoun including on the night after the mission’s visit to the town”.

The report also concludes that “The people of Gaza must be afforded protection in compliance with international law and, above all, the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Israeli military must place at the centre of its decision-making and activities in the occupied Palestinian territories the consequences of the use of force on civilians. In the absence of a well-founded explanation from the Israeli military (who is in sole possession of the relevant facts), the mission must conclude that there is a possibility that the shelling of Beit Hanoun constituted a war crime as defined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Similarly, as the mission made clear to Hamas at the highest level, the firing of rockets on the civilian population in Israel must stop. Those in positions of authority in Gaza have not only an international humanitarian law obligation to respect international humanitarian law norms relating to the protection of civilians, but also a responsibility to ensure that these norms are respected by others”.

And, the report says, “One victim of the Beit Hanoun shelling was the rule of law. There has been no accountability for an act that killed 19 people and injured many more. The Israeli response of a largely secret internal military investigation is absolutely unacceptable from both legal and moral points of view. The mission notes that Israel has adopted a similar response to other killings by its military, with similar results. The mission repeats its position that, regardless of whether the casualties at Beit Hanoun were caused by a mistake, recklessness, criminal negligence or willful conduct, those responsible must be held accountable. It is not too late for an independent, impartial and transparent investigation of the shelling to be held; indeed, the mission notes other instances in which the courts have ordered the Israeli military to open investigations into the killings of civilians by the military … Accountability involves providing a remedy and redress for victims. To date, neither has been forthcoming from Israel, despite its admission of responsibility for the attack … The present report outlines some of the obstacles put in the way of victims seeking justice. While the mission calls on Israel to remove these obstacles, it is of the view that victims should not be forced to fight for compensation through Israeli courts when all accept that damage was inflicted on individuals by the State. The mission recommends that the State of Israel pay victims adequate compensation without delay. In the light of the magnitude of the attack on a small community, and in addition to compensation to individuals, the mission also recommends that Israel make reparation to the community of Beit Hanoun in the form of a memorial to the victims that constitutes a response to the needs of survivors. Possibilities include a health facility such as a much-needed physiotherapy clinic … The situation of victims and survivors of the shelling, as witnessed by the mission, remains grim. Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have human rights obligations towards the victims. Most of the ongoing violations, however, are caused by Israeli action or inaction. The mission calls on Israel to honour its obligations to the people of Beit Hanoun, and more generally to the people of occupied Gaza, to respect, protect and fulfil their human rights. A major barrier to the enjoyment of human rights is the ongoing blockade that limits individuals’ ability to provide an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families and the capacity of local authorities to provide essential services for the population. A central need of victims is access to health services. Israel must desist from obstructing victims’ access to health-care services, be it through restricting the flow of medical goods and personnel into Gaza, or through restricting victims’ ability to leave Gaza to seek health care elsewhere.”

And, the report concluded, “one of the most effective and immediate means of protecting Palestinian civilians against any further Israeli assaults is to insist on respect for the rule of law and accountability. We have seen that even the flawed Israeli investigation into the Beit Hanoun shelling resulted in a decision to discontinue use of artillery in Gaza, one of the main causes of civilian death and injury in the territory…During a press conference at the conclusion of its visit to Gaza, the mission indicated that the international community is failing to fulfil its role in respect of the suffering of the people of Gaza, in particular in its silence which begets complicity. In its efforts to discharge its mandate, the mission witnessed positions based on political objectives rather than on principle by all relevant parties”.


Archbishop Tutu will travel to Gaza through Egypt this week on UN Mission

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva reported on Sunday evening that an independent High Level Fact-Finding Mission led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu (of South Africa) would be traveling to Gaza on 27 and 28 May – and entering from Egypt through the Rafah crossing.

The High Level Fact-Finding Mission to Beit Hanoun was established and authorized by the UN Human Rights Council after a Special Session in Geneva, following an IDF tank attack on two homes in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun during an IDF operation against Palestinian militants just before dawn in November 2006 in which 19 persons were killed, including 7 children – most of them still sleeping.

After several weeks of cooling their heels in Geneva, the Mission was “postponed” in January 2007.

“There were several previous efforts to go, but they never came to fruition – they never got the necessary clearances, so the Mission was officially left in suspense”, one UN official said from Geneva.

“Israel wouldn’t give permission for the UN Mission, or Egypt either”, the UN official said. “The shift has been on the Egyptian side”.

This development comes as Egyptian-led negotiations are apparently nearing conclusion on some kind of truce between Israel and Hamas.

The Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv was asked for a comment, but has not yet replied.

“It was sorted out in the last couple of weeks, and everybody signed off on it over the past couple of days”, another UN official from Jerusalem told Al-Bayan on Monday.

Archbishop Tutu will be accompanied on this Mission by Professor Christine Chinkin, of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the London School of Economics.

A UN press release says that the Mission is “scheduled to hold a range of meetings in Gaza, including with survivors and witnesses of the attack on 8 November 2006”.

A more recent similar tragedy occurred in Beit Hanoun at the end of April this year, when a mother and her four children were killed while having breakfast. Palestinian eyewitnesses thought that these deaths had been caused by an IDF tank shell exploding beside the family home. But, an Israeli investigation asserted that in fact the Israeli Air Force had fired at a group of Palestinian militants carrying weapons, and that a secondary explosion of those weapons caused the blast that killed the young family.

Aryeh Mekel, spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, expressed surprise to hear about the plans, and said he would check to see if anybody in the Foreign Ministry was aware of the imminent visit.

Asked about coordination, Mekel said: “We are not in Gaza … Do you think our soldiers would protect somebody in Gaza?”

Mr. Mekel later returned this reporter’s call, with this comment: “What we know is that Desmond Tutu was appointed by the Human Rights Council to investigate something that happened two years ago. Our position is that we will of course allow Desmond Tutu to enter Israel if he wants to do so — he’s a well-known personality, and he is welcome. But we will not cooperate with him if he intends to investigate this event of two years ago. The reasons is that the UN Human Rights Council has an unbalanced attitude toward Israel”.

In addition, Mr. Mekel said that “We are not aware that Desmond Tutu is in Cairo [n.b.,he may be arriving just today], and we have not heard of this thing [the Mission], apparently for a long time, the last time was about a year ago”.

Normally, however, coordination would at least assure that IDF forces who might carry out operations in Gaza during the period of the visit would be aware that a UN Mission would also be there.

Both UN officials contacted today said they were “not sure” how the coordination was being done”.

Presumably, the South African government would have made some kind of representation on behalf of Archbishop Tutu, and perhaps the British government might have done the same on behalf of Professor Chinkin.

The Fact-Finding Mission is meeting up today in Cairo, will be driving to Rafah on Tuesday, and hopes to spend Tuesday and Wednesday and early Thursday in Gaza, including a planned visit to meet survivors in Beit Hanoun. They will be leaving for Cairo on Thursday and flying out from Cairo on Friday.

Archbishop Tutu will formally report back to the Human Rights Council in Geneva during its September session. He has previously denounced, in speeches to the Human Rights Council, the foot-dragging by Israel on approval for this Mission.

However, he is also expected to give a press conference during his time in Gaza.

A great controversy arose out of remarks that Archbishop Tutu made to a conference in the United States in 2007, after which he was accused of anti-Semiitism. Following a detailed examination of a full transcript of his remarks, Jewish groups then denounced the hasty condemnation of Archbishop Tutu, and most of the effects were rescinded.

According to the transcript, what Archbishop Tutu said was: “My heart aches. I say why are our memories so short? Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten the humiliation of wearing yellow arm bands with the Star of David? Have my Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten the collective punishment? The home demolitions? Have they forgotten their own history so soon? And have they turned their back on their profound noble and religious traditions? Have they forgotten that their God, our God, is a God who sides with the poor, the despised, the down trodden? That this is a moral universe? That they will never, they will never get true security and safety from the barrel of a gun? That true peace can ultimately be built only on justice and equity? We condemn the violence of suicide bombers. And if Arab children are taught to hate Jews, we condemn the corruption of young minds too. But we condemn equally unequivocally the violence of military incursions and reprisals that won’t let ambulances and medical personnel reach the injure; that wreak an unparalleled revenge, totally imbalanced, even with the Torah’s law of an eye for an eye – which was designed actually to restrict revenge to the perpetrator and perhaps those supporting him”.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Sometimes not making a decision is making a decision

Israel’s lack of cooperation with South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s UN Human Rights Council-mandated mission to go Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza, has been “very distressing”, the Archbishop told journalists at the UN in Geneva on Monday.

Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner, has waiting in Geneva since 1 December for official visas to travel to and through Israel, to Gaza.  Last week, the UN announced that Tutu would leave on the weekend — but he is still in Geneva.

Israel hasn’t refused to issue the visas — it just hasn’t responded, just as it didn’t respond on other similar occasions, notably after the IDF attack on Jenin [Palestinian] Refugee Camp in the spring of 2002.

News agencies are reporting that Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel was concerned about the mission’s mandate, which “advances a biased anti-Israeli agenda”.  Regev nevertheless reportedly said that Israel was “still considering the request” for the authorisation to travel.

The UN news centre is reporting that “Israel”s lack of cooperation has prevented a fact-finding mission from the United Nations Human Rights Council from visiting Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, where an Israeli attack last month killed 19 Palestinian civilians, the head of the team, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, said today.  ‘This is a time in our history that neither allows for indifference to the plight of those suffering, nor a refusal to search for a solution to the present crisis in the region,’ Mr. Tutu told reporters in Geneva…’The events leading up to the shelling at Beit Hanoun are documented and the basic facts are not in dispute. The broader context, however, is complex, and this warranted that we also visit Israel, where in the pursuit of our mandate we had hoped for meetings with members of the Government at a high level.’

Archbishop Tutu is supposed to report to the UN’s Human Rights Council by mid-December.

Archbishop Tutu waiting for Israeli green light

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper is reporting that “A UN mission to investigate the deaths of 19 civilians in the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanun, led by South Africa’s Desmond Tutu, has been delayed because Israel has yet to authorize the trip, a spokeswoman said Saturday. The Nobel Peace laureate had been due to leave for the Middle East at the weekend, but he would not now leave before Monday, mission spokeswoman Sonia Bakar said. ‘We are still waiting for a sign from Israel’…

Haaretz reported that “Israel has yet to grant the South African anti-apartheid campaigner and former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town the necessary travel clearance, said three different officials close to the talks between the global body and Israel. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions were continuing, said they had yet to receive any indication from Israel that the mission will take place at all.”

The Haaretz story said that “Tutu chaired South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the end of white rule. Tutu, who was in Geneva, could not be reached for comment…The UN Human Rights Council passed a seventh resolution criticizing Israel on Friday, this time for its failure to act on earlier recommendations that it end military operations in the Palestinian territories and allow a fact-finding mission to the region … The rights body, which has only condemned the Israeli government in its seven-month existence, noted with regret its July resolution urging the release of all arrested Palestinian ministers has yet to be carried out … Israel’s ambassador to the global body in Geneva criticized the council for ignoring a Nov. 26 cease-fire agreement that ended five months of fierce fighting in Gaza.”, Haaretz reported. The Haaretz story on Archbishop Tutu’s mission to Beit Hanoun is here.

Archbishop Tutu expected to leave for Beit Hanoun this weekend

Archbishop Tutu will be joined by a professor of international law at the London School of Economics and at the University of Michigan, Christine Chinkin. The two are expected to leave on their fact-finding mission this weekend.  They were appointed by the President of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, and must report back to the Human Rights Council by mid-December.

At least 18 Palestinian civilians were killed in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, by a pre-dawn shelling attack by Israeli Defense Forces tanks on 8 November.

Archbiship Tutu and Professor Chinkin’s mission includes assessing the situation of victims, addressing the needs of survivors, and making recommendations on ways and means to protect Palestinian civilians against further assaults, according to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

Archbishop Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head UN probe of Israeli shelling in Beit Hanoun

Archbishop Tutu, who was an anti-Apartheid activist, and who later chaired the South African Human Rights Commission, has been named to head a team to go to Beit Hanoun and look into the 8 November shelling that the Israeli Government has said was a result of a technical error (see report below). The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on 15 November calling for this investigation. It is not yet clear whether Israel will agree to cooperate. The UN General Assembly in New York has also voted to conduct its own fact-finding into the events surrounding the shelling.

UN Looks into Deaths of 19 Palestinians in Beit Hanoun

A day after 19 Palestinians were killed in, or while fleeing, their homes at dawn in Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza, by Israel shelling, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) issued a statement about the attack in Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza, saying that: “All the evidence of the inquiry indicate that the Palestinian civilian casualties were caused by IDF artillery, and that the primary cause of the incident was a technical failure in the ‘Shilem’ System, which directs artillery fire. In light of the inquiry results, the Chief of Staff had instructed to halt all artillery fire aimed at the Gaza Strip until further technical, professional, and operational inquiries are completed“.

Some of the wounded Palestinians are being treated in Israeli hospitals.

The IDF statement added that: “The Chief of Staff expressed his regret for the civilian casualties as a result of the technical failure”

IDF Forces reportedly had pulled out of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza before the attack that hit a row of houses.

A statement was issued on in Geneva by the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, John Dugard, saying that: “On 25 June 2006 Israel embarked on a military operation in Gaza that has resulted in over 300 deaths, including many civilians; over a thousand injuries; large-scale devastation of public facilities and private homes; the destruction of agricultural lands; the disruption of hospitals, clinics and schools; the denial of access to adequate electricity, water and food; and the occupation and imprisonment of the people of Gaza. This brutal collective punishment of a people, not a government, has passed largely unnoticed by the international community. The Quartet, comprising the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and the Russian Federation, has done little to halt Israel’s attacks. Worse still, the Security Council has failed to adopt any resolution on the subject or attempt to restore peace to the region. The time has come for urgent action on the part of the Security Council. Failure to act at this time will seriously damage the reputation of the Security Council.”

The United States later vetoed a proposed Security Council resolution condemning the attack on Beit Hanoun.

It also voted against a related resolution in the United Nations General Assembly on 17 November, which passed by 156 votes — despite other negative votes also cast by Israel, Canada, Ivory Coast, and several Pacific island-states. This resolution asked the Secretary-General to send a fact-finding mission to Beit Hanoun and to report back within 30 days on the circumstances surrounding Israel’s shelling of the town. It also asked the Quartet (the United States, Russian Federation, European Union and United Nations) to look into taking steps to stabilize the situation.

Earlier, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva had voted to call for a UN investigation into the Israeli shelling of Beit Hanoun. UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour then made a five-day visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, including Gaza Strip. At the conclusion of her trip on 23 November, the High Commissioner said that civilians on both sides expressed a feeling of abandonment by the international community. Ms. Arbour urged that discussion of the crisis between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as action to address it, should take place within the context of international human rights law.