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Palestinians back Goldstone as Gaza report faces test

Sept. 29, 2009 8:15 A.M. (Updated: July 17, 2010 9:46 P.M.)
By Jared Malsin

Gaza – Ma’an – Palestinian support for Justice Richard Goldstone’s call for further investigations into allegations of war crimes committed during Israel’s war on Gaza last winter is overwhelming.

In dozens of interviews with ordinary people, civil society activists, and political figures of all stripes, Ma’an did not find a single person opposed to Goldstone or his time, aside from minor critiques of the report.

Goldstone, a Jewish South African judge, presented his team’s findings to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday. Ultimately, the report will need the backing of the Security Council to be referred either to the International Criminal Court or to a possible special tribunal similar to those established for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

Salah Samouni, 31, who lost 29 of his relatives to the Israeli onslaught in January, is one of the people who testified to Goldstone’s United Nations Fact Finding Mission when it visited Gaza. His family was massacred when Israeli soldiers herded nearly 100 of his relatives into a single building and then shelled it.

Samouni said he supported the investigation. “If you watch foreign or Indian films, people who are oppressed at the beginning usually get their rights at the end. If we don't get our [financial] rights, we will be living in a jungle, survival of the fittest.” he told Ma’an.

Although he hadn’t read the 574-page report he said that he found Goldstone’s team to be professional and thorough.

“After everything that happened, we still want to know why. We are civilians. There was no resistance in this area. … Give us a reason,” he said, standing on the ruins of his cousin Wa’el’s house, the same house where members of his family were killed.

Sharhabeel Az-Zaeem sits on the board of the elite American International School of Gaza, whose building was leveled by Israeli warplanes on 6 January. Standing in front of the now-collapsed school, he said the report “met my expectations.”

“The team was very well composed, very professional,” he said of Goldstone’s commission.

Ahmad Yousef, an advisor to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of the Hamas-led government in Gaza, said that the report, by putting Israel and Palestinian groups on equal footing, was unfair.

“You shouldn’t blame Hamas or those militant groups that were defending Gaza against aggression. The Israelis started that war, and they used all the high technology in their hands to cause large-scale destruction. Militant groups are going to use whatever means is necessarily, any means at hand to defend the people.”

“The report tried to equate, in one way or another, between the aggressors and the victims. That is actually where we are not satisfied totally with the report,” Yousef said in an interview at his home in Rafah.

“But in general,” he said, “the report highlighted Israeli crimes against humanity, and they recommended that the United Nations, also, pressure the Israeli authorities to conduct more investigations to bring the criminals to justice.”

On the opposite side of the Palestinian political equation, a Fatah-affiliated member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), Faisal Abu Shahla, said he also met the Goldstone team and found them to be “fair,” but leveled the same critique that Hamas did.

“They were talking about Israeli crimes in Gaza. But they were not fair when they compared the Palestinians’ resistance to the people that were attacking them and occupying their land, making a balance between them,” said Abu Shahla.

He added in an interview in his Gaza home, “Of course we are not fond of killing others, but we are defending our land.”
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