Fear in Israel over Gaza ‘war crimes’ accusations

Tel Aviv, September 30: Israel is mulling setting up an inquiry into its troops’ conduct in the Gaza war to ward off damage from a damning UN report that accused the Jewish state of war crimes.

Hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed with cabinet ministers the idea of creating an independent commission of investigation, a senior official said.

On Tuesday, the judge who led the inquiry into the Gaza offensive urged the United Nations to refer Israel and the Palestinians to the International Criminal Court if they fail to conduct investigations.

The probe led by Richard Goldstone, published earlier this month, accused both Israel and the Palestinians of committing “war crimes” during the 22-day Israeli war on Gaza in December and January.

Israeli Social Affairs Minister Yitzhak Herzog called for the creation of a commission to assess the potential judicial consequences of the Goldstone report.

“The rules of the game have changed. We need to create a state body that can manage the effects of the Goldstone report that plunges us into a new situation at the international level,” he said on the radio.

On Tuesday, British activists sought to have Defence Minister Ehud Barak arrested for war crimes but a London court rejected the bid because his current official Israeli status gave him ‘diplomatic immunity’.

Law expert Ruth Lapidot of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem said Israel’s best defence would be to set up an independent investigation.

“It would be the perfect antidote, clearing Israel of any responsibility as a state for any grave blunders committed individually by soldiers in Gaza,” said Roland Roth, also a law expert.

However, non-Israeli experts say another whitewash probe by Tel Aviv is not likely to fool Goldstone or many respectable independent courts.

Activists had lodged an application in a London court for the arrest warrant over Israel’s offensive in Gaza in 2008, which left more than 1,400 Palestinians, mainly civilian.

The request was denied by a judge after a hearing on the grounds of diplomatic immunity for Barak, according to lawyers who filed the application.

Barak said Israeli officials should be able to move freely between countries without fearing arrest.

“Israel has to see to it that Israeli officials and high ranking officers can move freely in the world,” Barak said in a brief statement to reporters in Brighton.

In London, lawyers lodged an application at the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court for the arrest warrant to be issued for Barak, on grounds of war crimes in connection with the Gaza offensive.

“We are disappointed that the application for an arrest warrant was denied by the judge today,” lawyer Tayab Ali said.

“He (Barak) was effectively able to hide behind the diplomatic immunity he has been given because of his senior position in the Israeli government.”