The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict will issue a report today accusing Israel of “actions amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity” during its military incursion into Gaza from December 27 to January 18. The mission headed by respected South African judge Richard Goldstone is a major development in the controversy and could put the United States in a very difficult position.
The 400-page report was written without the cooperation of Israel, which insisted that the body should have considered “the thousands of Hamas missiles attacks on civilians in southern Israel that made the Gaza Operation necessary.” There is no question that those acts are crimes themselves and are relevant to any reviewing of the cause or justification for the invasion. However, this investigation focused on how the invasion was carried out — a separate issue.
The UN found that Israel failed to minimize casualties, used white phosphorous in civilian areas, intentionally fired upon hospitals using high-explosive artillery shells, and did not effectively warn civilians of attacks. It also accused some Israeli soldiers of using civilians as human shields and attacking food supplies for civilians.
The mission does call on the Palestinians to investigate war crimes by their side and to release soldier Gilad Shalit.
In the most worrisome part for Israel, the mission calls for an investigation by the International Criminal Court for possible war crimes prosecutions. Goldstone previously denounced Hamas for war crimes.
If Israel defies such an investigation, it would be in the same position as Serbia and other rogue nations. This could further isolate the country at a time when it has allowed the controversial “natural growth” of settlements in occupied areas.
With the hardline government of Binyamin Netanyahu, there will be a considerable effort to oppose any war crimes prosecution and he will likely look to the United States to help block that effort. The government has already denounced the findings as “propaganda,” here. After dismissing the Obama Administration’s demands for a halt to the settlement construction, it will be an awkward moment for Netanyahu to demand the U.S. use its power to stop an investigation. However, there will be many in Congress who will likely assist in that effort.
Of course, Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are already limiting any domestic investigation into war crimes committed by our government in its torture program.
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