Apr 3, 2009 12:26 | Updated Apr 3, 2009 19:25
Jewish judge to probe 'Gaza war crimes'
By JPOST.COM STAFF AND AP
The United Nations on Friday appointed a widely respected South African judge who is a trustee of Hebrew University to lead a high-level mission to investigate alleged war crimes committed by Israel in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead.
Israel refused to say if it would cooperate.
Richard Goldstone, the former UN chief prosecutor for war crimes in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, was named to head the investigation ordered by the Human Rights Council in January.
According to the mandate, the investigation should focus on Palestinian victims of the three-week operation against Hamas earlier this year.
But Goldstone, a Jewish former judge of the South African constitutional court, said his team would investigate "all violations of international humanitarian law" before, during and after the conflict that ended Jan. 18.
"It's in the interest of the victims. It brings acknowledgment of what happened to them. It can assist the healing process," he told reporters in Geneva. "I would hope it's in the interests of all the political actors, too."
Martin Uhomoibhi, the council president, explained the apparent contradiction by saying the mission always intended to evaluate the proportionality of Israel's response, which requires that acts of both warring parties be examined.
"I am confident that the mission will be in a position to assess in an independent and impartial manner all human rights and humanitarian law violations committed in the context of the (Gaza) conflict," he said in a statement.
Israel has rejected any participation in previous council investigations, including one led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, calling them biased.
It would not say Friday if it would cooperate with the delegation, which also includes British professor of international law Christine Chinkin, Pakistani lawyer Hina Jilani and retired Irish Army Col. Desmond Travers.
"This committee is instructed not to seek out the truth but to single out Israel for alleged crimes," said Yigal Palmor, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. He called the 47-nation body "discredited" and said it has no "practically credibility at all."
Goldstone said he was "shocked, as a Jew," to be invited to head the mission.
"It adds an additional dimension," said Gladstone, who is on the board of governors at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "I've taken a deep interest in what happens in Israel. I'm associated with organizations that have worked in Israel. And I believe I can approach the daunting task that I have accepted in an evenhanded and impartial manner."
On Monday, Judge Advocate-General Brig.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit exonerated the IDF and closed a Military Police investigation into accounts of alleged serious human rights violations during Operation Cast Lead.
Mandelblit launched the investigation last week after "testimonies" from soldiers, leaked to the media by head of the Rabin Pre-Military Academy, Danny Zamir, claimed that soldiers had deliberately shot and killed innocent Palestinians during the operation.
Yaakov Katz contributed to this report