Issue 246, Friday 30 October 2009 - 12 Dhu al-Hijjah 1430
Editorial 1: Collusion with war criminals
It is nine months since Israel’s latest massacre of more than 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza. Such was the blatancy and intensity of the bloodletting that it provoked a huge backlash of opinion worldwide against Israel. Millions joined in mass demonstrations; sit-ins were staged at dozens of UK universities; in the British Parliament, MPs condemned Israeli leaders as “mass murderers” and “war criminals. For the very first time, it seemed that Israel finally would be brought to account for its continuous defiance of international law.
Back in January, Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, told MPs that the British Government supported an independent investigation into Israel’s war crimes after resisting pressure to join the international outrage. Miliband insisted that allegations of war crimes must be “closely and speedily investigated” to “find out if they are true and, if they are, take appropriate action.” But following the publication UN-sponsored Goldstone report that evidenced the extent of the atrocities, he remained silent.
Despite previous pledges, the US and EU governments refused to endorse the conclusions of the independent fact-finding mission led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone. The Report found that the entire population of Gaza was still being subjected to collective punishment. Goldstone himself insisted that it was “time for action” when presenting his findings to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. “The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point; the ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters violence,” he warned.
The report was eventually endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council, despite opposition from the US and Britain and France abstaining. US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, instead supported the Israeli claim that it was “one-sided” but did not go as far as accusing Goldstone of being a so-called “anti-Semite,” as many have done, despite being Jewish and a Zionist.
The main recommendation was for the Security Council to require Israel to report within six months on prosecutions it carried out on war crimes accusations and to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court in the Hague if it failed.
Human Rights Watch described the US effort to dismiss the report as “downright shameful” as an Administration that claims to promote the rule of Laws and accountability for war crimes. “It was also deeply disappointing that key EU governments did not seize this valuable opportunity to demand justice for victims on both sides of the conflict,” its Geneva Director, Juliette de Rivero, said. Amnesty International, which reported similar findings to Goldstone, said that it showed “a lack of political will to deal robustly with issues of accountability for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in Gaza and southern Israel.”
The position by Britain was to seek a delay. The UK’s Permanent Representative at the UN Mission in Geneva, Peter Gooderham, said the Report has “flaws.” He argued that it did not reflect “the right of Israel to protect its citizens or paid sufficient attention to Hamas’s actions.” His sense of logic was that “because Israel did not cooperate with the mission, the report lacked an authoritative Israeli perspective.”
Given that Israel has acted with impunity in killing an average of between two to three Palestinians every day since its creation over 60 years ago, the latest prevarications should come as no surprise. There was not even a war crimes’ investigation relating to the killing of over 1,100 civilians during its 2006 invasion of Lebanon, where Israel remains in defiance of a UN request to disclose the locations of 350,000 cluster bombs dropped.
The extent of the US double-standards towards Israel was also confirmed in a report in the Washington Times, confirming that President Barak Obama reaffirmed a 4-decade-old secret understanding to allow Israel to keep a nuclear arsenal without opening it to international inspections. Obama was also seen offering little hope of even implementing the first initial step of the supposed road map to Middle East peace, when bowing down to Israel’s defiance in continuing to build illegal settlements.
For its part, the British Government even went as far as welcoming Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, to Labour’s annual conference in Brighton in the face of attempts to arrest him for war crimes. Miliband insisted that the unlisted meetings on the sidelines of the conference would go ahead regardless of the threatened court action.
“He is the democratically elected Defence Minister of Israel and I will be pleased to meet him,” he was quoted saying. Needless to say attempts by British lawyers acting on behalf of Gaza victims failed to obtain an arrest warrant after Westminster magistrates’ court was reported to have asked the Foreign Office to clarify the status of Barak’s unpublicised visit. It was judged that the Israeli minister should be offered immunity from prosecution as “he would not be able to perform his functions efficiently if he were the subject of criminal proceedings.” The only conclusion that can be drawn is that a British court is more independent than a UN-mandated international jurist.
It remains doubtful that Israel will be brought to justice as any UN Security Council referring the crimes to the ICC would almost certainly be vetoed by the US. The role of Britain will be to catch ‘diplomatic flu’ and will again abstain rather than stand up against human rights abuses as it does with other countries.