As Palestinian human rights organizations, we welcome the report by the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (the Fact Finding Mission) , released on 15 September 2009 and emphasize the importance of the recommendations of the report for the restoration of justice to the victims of Israel’s offensive attack, Operation Cast Lead. The Fact Finding Mission was established by the President of the Human Rights Council, following Human Rights Council Resolution S-9/1. Headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, the Fact Finding Mission embarked on a thorough investigation which addressed the violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law committed both by Israel, Palestinian armed groups and the Palestinian National Authority in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
The scope of the investigation by the Fact Finding Mission and its detailed legal analysis is commendable, especially considering the refusal by Israel to cooperate with the Fact Finding Mission. The Fact Finding Mission confirmed the findings and reports of many Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations, and strongly refuted Israeli claims that its military and political operations were conducted in accordance with international law. Investigations conducted by the Fact Finding Mission confirmed that Israel was responsible for the perpetration of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, war crimes, and serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. The Fact Finding Mission also found sufficient evidence to indicate that crimes against humanity were committed. All allegations, including those relating to both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups, demand effective judicial remedy. Victims’ rights must be respected.
In particular, the Mission noted that, “While the Israeli Government has sought to portray its operations as essentially a response to rocket attacks in the exercise of its right to self defence, the Mission considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole.”
These findings by the Fact Finding Mission cannot be left without redress. Consequently, Palestinian human rights organizations concur with the recommendations of the report which emphasize the need for accountability, whether it be through the Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, referring the situation to the International Criminal Court or that by States fulfilling their obligations to bring perpetrators to account under universal jurisdiction. We also support the Mission’s recommendations to create a mechanism to compensate Palestinian civilians for damage or losses incurred during the military operations, but contend that such reparations should be made by the State of Israel in accordance with its international legal obligations. The international community has been relieving Israel from the economic burden of the occupation for far too long.
As Palestinian human rights organizations we stress the roles and responsibilities of the international community: the rule of law must be brought to the forefront of international relations. States must re-evaluate their relationship with Israel; normal relations cannot be conducted with States that have committed and continue to commit serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including crimes against humanity. All States must exert real pressure on Israel to ensure its compliance with international law. The illegal blockade on the Gaza Strip must finally be lifted and reconstruction must be allowed to begin. Palestinians’ legitimate right to live in human dignity and, as stated in the report, to “determine their own political and economic system” must be respected.
The reality of Israel’s longstanding occupation of Palestinian land was graphically illustrated by the events of Operation Cast Lead. The occupation has been characterized by systematic violations of international law; Palestinians’ legitimate rights, including the right to self-determination, have been consistently violated and ignored. To date, the international community has been effectively silent on the commission of these crimes, granting impunity to Israel that has allowed it to act as a State above the law. The results of this impunity are evident. This situation cannot be allowed to persist.
If the rule of law is to be relevant, it must be upheld. As long as individuals and States are allowed to act with impunity, they will continue to violate international law and civilians will continue to suffer the horrific consequences. Individual States and the United Nations must fulfill their legal obligations, and their moral duty, to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for international law can be maintained.