Analysis: Israel hands UN detailed rebuttal of Gaza allegations

By Anshel Pfeffer, February 4, 2010
Richard Goldstone (second from right) in Gaza. He accused Israel of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead

Richard Goldstone (second from right) in Gaza. He accused Israel of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead

Israel has handed the United Nations a detailed rebuttal of the Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last year.

The document denied the main allegations made by the committee headed by Judge Richard Goldstone: that Israel had intentionally targeted Palestinian civil infrastructures; that the IDF had committed dozens of alleged war-crimes; and that these incidents were not being properly investigated.

Israel has to inform the UN imminently what kind of commission it plans to set up to investigate the findings of the Goldstone Report.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has in private agreed with the position of the foreign and justice ministries that the government should appoint an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the allegations, with powers to summon and question IDF officers.

The IDF’s high command and Defence Minister Ehud Barak strenuously object to anything more than a legal panel that will review the IDF’s investigation process, and without a mandate to question officers.

The IDF said the phosphorous was used according to regulations

The prime minister has not yet confronted the generals on this issue or come to a final decision.

The Israeli document rebutting Goldstone, which was prepared by the IDF’s Military Advocate General, Major General Avichai Mendelblitt, and legal experts in the foreign and justice ministries, described in great detail the process of criminal investigation within the army and the nature of the IDF’s internal judicial procedures.

The report argued that the IDF’s judicial decisions were completely under the civilian oversight of the Attorney General and the Supreme Court, and that the army’s investigations procedure was similar to the system used in Western armies including in Britain, the United States and Australia.

To counter the charge that the Israeli investigations are insufficient, the report details all that has been done in the year since the operation.

Six special investigative teams were appointed to look into serious allegations and teams of military police investigators have questioned 500 soldiers and officers and 100 Palestinian civilians.

A hundred and fifty incidents during the operation have been the subject of investigations, most of them still ongoing, and 36 criminal procedures have been launched as a result.

So far, one soldier has been convicted for theft of a credit card.

In addition, two senior officers, Brigadier General Eyal Eisenberg, who commanded the operation, and Colonel Ilan Malka, were disciplined by the commander of the IDF’s Southern Command, Major General Yoav Galant, for exceeding their authority in the use of artillery in one instance.

The disciplinary hearing for the two senior officers resulted in a reprimand and was the only surprising new detail in the report.

The incident in which they had approved the use of artillery, unnecessarily endangering civilians, was a skirmish with Hamas fighters in a southern suburb of Gaza City close to a United Nations compound.

In a previous report, Israel had admitted that it had used phosphorous artillery shells in that incident.

On Tuesday, the IDF clarified that the officers had not been disciplined for the use of phosphorous, which had been used according to regulations, but for the firing of standard explosive shells too close to civilian homes.

The IDF has stated in the past that it uses shells with phosphorous to create smoke-screens to shield its forces.

These shells are not illegal by international treaties and are used also by many Nato armies.

Senior Israeli diplomats said that they do not believe that the Israeli rebuttal report will be enough to reduce international support for the referral of Israel to the International Criminal Court over the Goldstone findings.

Last updated: 6:32pm, February 4 2010