News / Middle East

Battle Brewing Over How to Investigate Gaza Conflict

FILE - Members of the Serbian delegation, First Counsellor Sasa Obradovic, left, William Schabas, center and Andreas Zimmermann, right, await the start of public hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands, March 3, 201
FILE - Members of the Serbian delegation, First Counsellor Sasa Obradovic, left, William Schabas, center and Andreas Zimmermann, right, await the start of public hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands, March 3, 201
Reuters

Even before starting work as chairman of a U.N. human rights commission investigating the Gaza war, Canadian law professor William Schabas has been vilified as an apologist for Iran incapable of setting aside his perceived anti-Israel bias.

Full page adverts have been taken out against him in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, while the Facebook page of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a leader of the anti-Schabas campaign, has attracted more than 30,000 “likes.”

The make-up of Schabas' commission is still being finalized - George Clooney's fiancee, Amal Alamuddin, turned down the invitation so another one or possibly two members must be found - but already he is worried about whether the team will be allowed to get into the region to conduct its inquiry.

“There is going to be an issue for the commission getting access, getting into Gaza and going to Israel,” he told Reuters in an interview, speaking from his home in England, where he is a professor of international law at Middlesex University.

“Other fact-finding bodies of this nature have had difficulty in the past,” he said. “I can't rule it out.”

In the meantime, Schabas finds himself defending comments he has made criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and explaining how he can set aside his personal feelings about the Middle East to carry out a balanced investigation.

“We all have views about Israel, Palestine and things that have gone on in the past and we all have to put those things to one side,” he said. “I'm determined to do that. The question is whether the person is capable of doing it. I think I'm capable of doing it and no one has any proof to the contrary.”

Heavy death toll

The month-long war against Hamas, with Israel carrying out airstrikes, artillery bombardments and ground operations in response to constant militant rocket fire and attacks via tunnels, left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead, most of them civilians, as well as 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians.

It was the deadliest war in Gaza since Israel unilaterally withdrew from the territory in 2005 and included several incidents in which Israel was accused by rights groups of excessive use of force, war crimes or crimes against humanity.

For its part, Hamas fired rockets indiscriminately at Israeli towns and cities, was accused of using civilians as human shields and of carrying out attacks from next to hospitals, from ambulances and inside densely populated areas.

In two cases, U.N.-run schools being used as shelters were hit by Israeli artillery, killing 25 people, and in another incident four boys playing on a beach were killed by shell fire.

Israel said the area around the schools had been used to  fire rockets - rockets were found at three empty U.N. schools - while describing the death of the boys as a “tragic outcome” in which Hamas fighters were the intended target.

Schabas would not be drawn on which events in the war would be most closely scrutinized, saying the commission had to be fully constituted first. But he made clear that the mandate was for a broad investigation, covering both sides.

Israel had already given “brief but nevertheless significant” explanations for some of its actions, he said. The aim would be to get more detail and clarity, from all parties.

“When we see young boys being killed on a beach, it may not be enough to say that we were acting in self-defense and we try to minimize civilian casualties,” he said. “We need more detail to understand.”

'Greatest threat'

From Rabbi Boteach's point of view, there is nothing Schabas can say that will make his investigation credible.

Having once described Netanyahu as “the greatest threat to Israel” and declared him his “favorite” to appear before the International Criminal Court, Schabas is, in the minds of most Israelis, unfit to serve as an independent investigator.

His part-sponsorship in 2011 of a human rights conference in Iran alongside an organization Boteach described as “fundamentalist and anti-Semitic” has enraged detractors.

“Someone like William Schabas, who has a proven record of bias, who has served as a fig-leaf and toadie for the Iranian regime, has no credibility to adjudicate any kind of human rights commission,” the U.S.-based rabbi said in an interview.

“If he had any decency he would recuse himself. He doesn't like Israel and he hates its prime minister.”

Netanyahu has not kept out of the fray either, saying that Schabas's inquiry has already been written.

“They have nothing to look for here. They should visit Damascus, Baghdad and Tripoli,” he said last week.

Part of the frustration for Israel is what it feels is an excessive focus on its every action, with past U.N. inquiries, most infamously the Goldstone Report into the 2008-9 Gaza war, focusing far more on Israel than any Hamas violations.

More than a year after his report was published, Judge Richard Goldstone separated himself from some of its findings, saying subsequent information provided by Israel had convinced him that some of the original conclusions were wrong.

Schabas said he hoped Israel, which refused to cooperate with Goldstone's inquiry, would not do the same this time.

“Goldstone essentially said 'if I had known then what I know now about certain issues, then the conclusion of my report would have been different,' ”  said Schabas.

“That is a very compelling argument to encourage Israel to cooperate with this commission. If they think its fruitless or futile to cooperate, it's a good argument to bear in mind.” 

You May Like

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Igor from: Russia
August 18, 2014 10:50 PM
It high time for Israel to shake hands with Syrian government to make peace and co-operation rather than letting Syria fall to the hands of brutal Islamic State. Those islamic terrorists would be the biggest threat to the Jewish State. Israel should not follow the disastrous policy of Obama.

by: Talat from: Nottingham. UK
August 18, 2014 5:46 PM
when will the US media start reporting news,as at the moment its the month piece for the Zionist lobby . I feel sorry for the US public as if they want real news they would have to look outside the country

by: Jack Epstein from: Rockville MD USA
August 18, 2014 2:46 PM
The article repeats, uncritically, the assertion that the Gazan dead are mostly civilians. That is the Hamas party line. Israeli sources contend many, if not most, of the dead are combatants. In past conflicts, the Israeli estimate has proven more accurate. The author should either include both estimates, or qualify the estimate as "according to Gazan sources".

by: Dr. Miranda S. from: EU
August 18, 2014 2:03 PM
how to investigate the Gaza "conflict"..?? Taken at the aggregate we are witnessing the resurgence of Sunni Islam all across the ME. A despicable atrocity that threatens Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, Saudi, Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey.
There is nothing to "investigate" because it is not over...!!! As we speak Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood has butchered more Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai... ISIL has slaughtered 700 Yazidis and Christians and abducted 1000s of female children to "wed" Islamic child sexual predators...

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs