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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the years 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs