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Goldstone tells Ma'an: Israel has yet to deny our findings

Sept. 16, 2009 7:21 A.M. (Updated: Nov. 4, 2009 6:46 P.M.)
Washington - Ma'an - Despite its outrage, Israel has not disputed any single allegation contained in a bombshell United Nations report released on Tuesday, according to its author, Richard Goldstone, in an interview the same day.

"There hasn't been any attempt thus far to deal with the contents of the report at all," insisted the former South African justice, who was appointed to head the UN Human Rights Council's investigation of the assault last winter that left some 1,400 Palestinians dead by mid-January.

Goldstone, an expert on international law and the laws of war, was chief UN prosecutor for the Yugoslavia and Rwanda post-conflict international criminal tribunals in the early 1990s, and later chaired the international independent panel on Kosovo.

After a six-month inquiry, his UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict released a stream of allegations on Tuesday against Palestinian armed groups and Israel's military, accusing both of war crimes, but singling out Israel for specifically targeting "the people of Gaza as a whole."

While opting not to address the task force's charges, Goldstone explained over the phone, Israeli spokespersons and ministers attacked the report as a concept and criticized its authors just minutes after receiving the document, and despite that it totaled nearly 600 pages.

Israel's immediate response was to attack the report's perceived bias, a tactic perhaps necessitated by the UN's failure to provide advance copies to Israeli representatives in Geneva, or to Hamas in Gaza, until less than an hour before Goldstone began addressing reporters, according to one HRC official.

"Both the mandate of the Mission and the resolution establishing it prejudged the outcome of any investigation," the Israeli Foreign Ministry insisted in its own statement to Ma'an.

However, Goldstone dismissed those and other denunciations from Israeli officials, particularly remarks alleging bias by the prime minister's spokesman, Mark Regev, which he "found disappointing because it sounds to me like he hadn't read the report."

"I certainly have every confidence that any reasonable person would regard the report as being even-handed, and looking into all relevant allegations on all sides," Goldstone said, countering allegations that he set out to blame Israel from the beginning.

"I think that's for objective people to judge," he added, before moving on to one of the stranger allegations distributed by the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, that Hamas officials joined his team throughout its investigation in Gaza.

'Hamas didn't follow us'

"You know, this allegation keeps being made," Goldstone said, even though he said his report accused Hamas in unmistakably clear language of war crimes for its targeting of Israeli civilian population centers. "It is absolutely without any truth at all."

Israel's Foreign Ministry had claimed that "at every stage of their visit to Gaza the Mission members were accompanied by Hamas representatives," citing unspecified Palestinian media reports. "If so, this was clearly a major obstacle to obtaining genuine evidence."

But Goldstone insisted that "Hamas didn't follow us at all," much less "at every stage" of the visit. "They were nowhere near any of the interviews we held, and there was just no question; there was no issue."

He added, "Had they attempted in any way to do that, I would have found that objectionable and I would not have accepted it - but it just didn't happen."

Although he said Hamas never tried to harm the investigation, Israel refused to cooperate with the UN mission, forcing Goldstone and his team to enter the besieged coastal strip via Egypt's crossing, and forcing Israeli victims to testify in Geneva.

Team's findings unanimous

On Tuesday, the ministry explained in a statement why it opted to obstruct the team, citing a resolution establishing the inquiry that Israel considered "one-sided" and that "prejudges the outcome of any inquiry."

"Prior to any investigation, it determines that Israel has 'caused massive violations of human rights' and accuses Israel of targeting medical facilities and systematically destroying Palestinian cultural heritage," the statement said. "It does not accuse the Hamas of any violations."

"It was for this reason that many distinguished individuals who were asked to head the Mission refused," the statement went on to say. "One of them was [former Irish president] Mary Robinson," the former high commissioner for human rights often the target of Israel's ire, but who nevertheless refused a seat on the mission due to what she called a one-sided nature of the preliminary mandate.

But what the ministry failed to mention, according to Goldstone, is that the fact-finding mission's mandate was changed to a targeted investigation of all violations of law committed "at any time" during the Gaza assault, "whether before, during or after."

"The mandate Mary Robinson refused was not the mandate I accepted," the South African justice explained. "It's comparing apples and pears."

In any case, Goldstone, who is Jewish and somewhat well-respected in Israel, urged the country's leaders to respect his findings and act accordingly by investigating its own actions rather than elements of perceived bias on the part of the UN team.

"I can vouch for the independence and the integrity of all the members of the mission," he said of his four-member group. "All the findings were made after a lot of debate between the four of us but we ended up, I'm happy to say, with unanimity."
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