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Michael Sfard is one of the top Israeli human rights lawyers. His Tel Aviv-based practice represents many Israeli human rights groups and high profile rights cases. Most famous is his firm's challenge of the separation wall annexing land from the West Bank village of Bil'in. A former conscientious objector, Sfard represents reservists and others who refuse to participate in the occupation of the Palestinian Territories.
The UN Goldstone report, published nearly a year ago, found evidence
that Israel as well as HAMAS committed war crimes in the recent war on
Gaza. The report mandated UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to
publish his assessment of the progress of both parties in their internal
investigations. Though the Palestinian Authority (PA) and HAMAS
progress is not yet public, the Israeli is. Ki-Moon praised Israel for setting
up an independent commission to look into the Flotilla incident of May
31st because it will also attempt to answer whether Israel's internal
investigation methods even conform to international law. Ki-Moon also
praised Israel and noted that it has committed extensive resources to
conducting a thorough and independent investigation, a conclusion that
could get Israel off the hook in the international law arena.
LIA TARACHANSKY, PRODUCER [VOICEOVER], TRNN: The latest move in the so-called "Goldstone wars" was unveiled this week. On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon published his second assessment of Israel's internal investigation into accusations of war crimes in its attack on Gaza. He praised Israel's progress, an assessment that will play a key role in deciding whether Israel will be brought before the International Criminal Court, something human rights groups have been calling for for years. Israel was accused of war crimes by the UN fact-finding mission in what's known as the Goldstone Report. Top Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard says its significance is that it pointed out the weakness in Israel's internal investigation methods.MICHAEL SFARD, ISRAELI HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER: What is really new about the Goldstone Report, I think the point of strength of the Goldstone Reportï¿½and that is why it is being treated so harshly by the state of Israelï¿½is that the Goldstone Report was the first UN-backed professional report which said we cannot trust Israeli internal investigations or the Israeli method of dealing with allegations of malbehavior or criminal activity by its soldiers. And that's huge. It's huge because this is the only, by the way, way to allow universal jurisdiction or cases being investigated and tried in other places. Only if the country involved is unwilling or unable to provide justice by its own procedures and agencies, only then does international criminal law allow for a foreign state to do so.TARACHANSKY: Israel refused to cooperate with the UN investigation. When the report was published almost a year ago, Israel's supporters went on the offensive. The report was attacked in the media, as was its chief writer, retired South African judge Richard Goldstone. The US Congress even called it distorted, biased, and unworthy of further consideration. But the mission examined the 22-day war, the result of which was the death of 1,400 Palestinians, 13 Israelis, and the destruction of much of Gaza's infrastructure. The report investigated both sides and found that Hamas was guilty of war crimes for the barrage of rockets from Gaza into south Israeli cities. It also found that Israel was guilty of collective punishment, directly targeting Gaza's civilians and using disproportionate force. It allowed a time frame within which the parties were to conduct internal investigations.~~~INTERVIEWER, AL JAZEERA: And your report actually accuses both sides of wrongdoing.RICHARD GOLDSTONE, FMR. SOUTH AFRICAN JUDGE: Well, I don't think one can compare them. The question of proportion doesn't relate to comparing what Israel did on the one side and what the armed military groups did on the other. Proportionality relates solely to the means taken by the military to achieve military objectives.~~~TARACHANSKY: If UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon felt their investigations were insufficient, the report recommended the cases go up to the International Criminal Court. So Ki-moon published his second assessment on Wednesday. He concluded that so far Israel has devoted extensive resources to conducting thorough and independent investigations. He listed Israel's achievements as: Israel reviewed dozens of cases, including against high-ranking officials; Israel is pursuing criminal investigations and has charged one soldier with manslaughter; the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] updated its internal rules to include provisions for safeguarding civilians and property in future conflicts. But rights groups disagree. Human Rights Watch released the following statement: "Israeli military investigations into the Gaza war have brought some results over the past 18 months but fall far short of addressing the widespread and serious allegations of unlawful conduct during the fighting".~~~INTERVIEWER, AL JAZEERA: The report has these various horrific examples. I mean, in one case they're shooting children at point-blank range whose family members were holding white flags. What are we supposed to think about how this happens?GOLDSTONE: If the facts we found are correct, and I certainly think we took every precaution to check and double-check against other evidence, it indicates, I think, an unfortunate lack of discipline in the Israeli Defense Force.INTERVIEWER: But is it a lack of discipline, or is it actually a top-down [inaudible] GOLDSTONE: Well, you know, that's an open question. That's exactly why one needs a full investigation, to see where it comes from and how this happens.~~~TARACHANSKY: It is precisely this question that the Goldstone Report raises but which Israel decided to ignore. The Israeli military advocate general, Avichai Mandelblit, decided to prosecute individual soldiers for misconduct, such as disobeying orders. In the most severe case, he charged one soldier with manslaughter. Ki-moon's praise for Israel's progress included a commission Mandelblit set up to look into the events of the flotilla attack on May 31. This commission, however, will also tackle the larger question of whether Israel's internal investigation methods even conform to international law. That decision is still to come. However, Ki-moon's praise for Israel's investigation methods could mean Israel would get off the hook in the international law arena. As for the Palestinians, the PA issued a statement of intent to conduct an investigation. Its progress is not yet public. Hamas also intended to conduct its own investigation. If Human Rights Watch believes Israel's progress is insufficient, Hamas, it says, has done nothing. Hamas authorities in Gaza have neither investigated nor disciplined anyone for ordering or carrying out hundreds of deliberate or indiscriminate rocket attacks into Israeli cities. Last weekend, a 16-member team created by the Human Rights Council and headed by Judge Goldstone visited Gaza. Its visit intended to investigate Hamas' progress. This information isn't public yet either, but once the full progress of all sides is evaluated, the UN will decide whether to refer the cases to international courts. From Ki-moon's assessment, however, it at least seems unlikely in the case of Israel.
End of Transcript
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