Dora McPhee (VIC) writes to the Prime Minister re Goldstone Report 20Sep09 September 20, 2009

September 20, 2009

Dear Prime Minister,

On the release of the Judge Richard Goldstone’s report: “Human Rights in Palestine and other Occupied Arab territories – Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict” A/HRC/12/48 (15 September 2009), I write to ask that the Australian government support its recommendations in the United Nations.

After an intensive six-month inquiry, based on dozens of interviews and investigations, this United Nations mandated report is consistent with the findings of two significant reports issued by Amnesty International, five reports issued by Human Rights Watch and reports issued by a number of Israeli-based human rights organizations.

It is not only Justice Richard Goldstone’s own impeccable record as former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda that lends credibility to the report but the fact that there is an agreement across all reports that civilians were targeted and the damage wrought by Israel was of such a degree that, while Palestinian groups were also guilty of war crimes it was overwhelming clear the vastly greater proportion and serious level of destruction was that meted out by Israel on the population of Gaza effectively held captive and unable to flee to safety.
The report shows that Israel targeted civilians many of whom sought shelter in UN buildings as well as civilians who were carrying white flags, and systematically targeted the infrastructure much of which was for civilian purposes and calculated to effect maximum longstanding damage and suffering to the entire population of Gaza. Other reports also came to the same conclusions: that the Palestinians were not using hospitals to hide Hamas officials; there was no evidence that the ambulances Israel targeted were carrying Hamas militants or ammunition and most significantly there was no evidence whatsoever that Hamas was guilty of using human shielding whereas there is significant evidence that it was Israeli soldiers who were guilty of using Palestinians as human shields.
This United Nations fact-finding mission found Israel “punished and terrorized” civilians in its three-week assault on Gaza from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 and cited strong evidence that Israeli forces committed “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions. The figures – more than 1,400 Palestinians, about a third of them women and children, killed in the assault against thirteen Israelis deaths – along with the comparative level of destruction shows a grossly disproportionate response to what Israel claimed was an act of self-defence.

What is of grave concern is that contrary to Israel’s claim that is was acting in self-defence and was not targeting civilians intentionally, the findings of the report indicate that the people of Gaza as a whole have, and are still being, targeted not only by the nature and intensity of the  Gaza military operation “Cast Lead” but by the punitive siege and blockade that was in place prior and subsequent to it. The report concludes that : “what occurred in just over three weeks at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.” This is a shocking indictment but hardly surprising for those of us who are aware of a long and ongoing history of violations against the Palestinians and who support the struggle of Palestinians for their inalienable right to self-determination in their homeland, which has long been denied them.

Australia as a member state of the United Nations should be fully supporting the report’s recommendations. As the report notes public statements justifying the use of disproportionate force, attacks on civilians and the destruction of civilian property as a legitimate means to achieve Israel’s military and political objectives “not only undermine the entire regime of international law, they are inconsistent with the spirit of the United Nations Charter and, therefore, deserve to be categorically denounced.”

The report also found that Israel’s continuing occupation was the fundamental factor underlying violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and that “the harsh and unlawful practices of occupation, far from quelling resistance, breed it, including its violent manifestations”. Australia along with other member states should be calling for the implementation of the binding UN resolutions that speak to the ending of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and the Palestinian people.

Not only is the ongoing dispossession of the Palestinian people allowed to go on unchecked as evidenced by the continued illegal settlement construction and building of the Wall on occupied Palestinian land, but also the criminal siege and blockade continues to wreak its devastating effects so that recovery from the unacceptable destruction of Gaza and its people is made impossible. Justice Goldstone’s report is a significant contribution in taking steps to redress these omissions and failure to protect the Palestinian people and to restoring faith in the means civilized society has to prevent further violations but it requires our governments to support its recommendations.

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