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

    Video Obama Remembers Fallen Troops for Memorial Day

    President urges Americans this holiday weekend to 'take a moment and offer a silent word of prayer or public word of thanks' to country's veterans

    Upsurge of Migratory Traffic Across Sahara From West to North Africa

    A report by the International Organization for Migration finds more than 60,000 migrants have transited through the Agadez region of Niger between February and April

    UN Blocks Access to Journalist Advocacy Group

    United Nations has rejected bid from nonprofit journalist advocacy group that wanted 'consultative status,' ranking that would have given them greater access to UN meetings

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora