Democrats Ignore Shocking Findings of Atrocities in Gaza War
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On October 1, the Obama administration successfully pressured the Palestinian delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva to drop its proposal to recommend that the UN Security Council endorse the findings of the Goldstone Commission report. The report, authored by renowned South African jurist Richard Goldstone, detailed the results of the UNHRC's fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict. These findings included the recommendation that both Hamas and the Israeli government bring to justice those responsible for war crimes during the three weeks of fighting in late December and early January. If they don't, the report urges that the case be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for possible prosecution.
The Obama administration has declared — in the words of U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice — that such a recommendation is "basically unacceptable." It has insisted that any legal remedies be handled by the respected parties internally. Since neither Hamas nor the Israeli government will likely prosecute those responsible for war crimes, the administration's action will essentially prevent these Palestinian and Israeli war criminals from ever being brought to justice.
Indeed, the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress appear to be continuing the Bush administration's policy of ignoring and denouncing those who have the temerity to report violations of international humanitarian law by the United States or its allies.
The Role of the UN
The UN has special responsibility for human rights in territories under belligerent military occupation, since the treatment of civilians in such territories falls under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel withdrew its illegal settlements and its soldiers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, in belated compliance with a series of UN Security Council resolutions. But the territory legally remains under this status as a result of the continued Israeli siege of the region, including the blockading of its port, control of its air space, as well as most land access. The original mandate given by the UNHRC was for the creation of a commission to investigate "all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying power, Israel, against the Palestinian people."
Goldstone, who has had a longstanding reputation for fairness and objectivity and previously led the war crimes prosecutions for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, is a Zionist Jew and longtime supporter of Israel. Goldstone agreed to accept the appointment only if the commission's mandate were expanded to look at the actions of both sides of the conflict. The HRC agreed to these conditions and the investigation went forward looking into violations of international humanitarian law by both Israel and Hamas. The Goldstone Commission report cited in detail a whole series of violations of the laws of war by Hamas, including rocket attacks into civilian-populated areas of Israel, torture of Palestinian opponents, and continued holding of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
What has upset Obama administration officials and congressional Democrats, however, was that the report also concluded that Israel's military assault on Gaza was "a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish humiliate and terrorize a civilian population," citing Israel's deadly attacks against schools, mosques, private homes and businesses nowhere near legitimate military targets. These conclusions echo detailed empirical reports released in recent months by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, among others.
Response to Report
Despite the report's evenhandedness, both Hamas and the Israeli military rejected the commission's finding. They denied ever targeting civilian populations and claimed that their actions were in self-defense.
The United States has rejected the commission's findings as well, calling it "deeply flawed." Rather than challenge the content of the meticulously documented 575-page report, U.S. officials have instead issued strong but vague critiques. For example, Ambassador Rice was particularly critical of the report's recommendation that those Palestinians and Israelis suspected of war crimes should be tried before the International Criminal Court. "Our view is that we need to be focused on the future," she argued. Though Rice had argued just a few months earlier during a UN debate on Darfur that war crimes charges should never be sacrificed for political reasons, she reinforced Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley's insistence that the report "should not be used as a mechanism to add impediments to getting back to the peace process."