Israel targeted “the people of Gaza as a whole” in the three-week military operation which is estimated to have killed more than 1,300 Palestinians at the beginning of this year, according to a UN-commissioned report published yesterday.
A UN fact-finding mission led by the South African judge Richard Goldstone said Israel should face prosecution by the International Criminal Court unless it opened fully independent investigations of what the report said were repeated violations of international law, “possible war crimes and crimes against humanity” during the operation.
Using by far the strongest language of any of the numerous reports criticising Operation Cast Lead, the UN mission, which interviewed victims, witnesses and others in Gaza and Geneva this summer, says that while Israel had portrayed the war as self-defence in response to Hamas rocket attacks, it “considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole”.
“In this respect the operations were in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas, and possibly with the intent of forcing a change in such support,” the report said.
The 575-page document presented to yesterday's session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was swiftly denounced by Israel.
The UN report claims that the statements of military and political leaders in Israel before and during the operation indicated they intended the use of “disproportionate force” aimed not only at the enemy but also at the “supporting infrastructure”. The mission adds: “In practice this appears to have meant the civilian population.”
The mission also had harsh conclusions about Hamas and other armed groups, acknowledging that rocket and mortar attacks have caused terror in southern Israel and saying that where such attacks were launched into civilians areas they would “constitute war crimes” and “may amount to crimes against humanity”.
While the Israeli government refused to co-operate with the inquiry — or allow the UN team into Israel — on the grounds that the team would be “one-sided”, That said, the much greater part of the report — and its strongest language — is reserved for Israel's conduct during the operation. Apart from the unprecedented death toll, the report says that “the destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces”.
The purpose was not to avert a military threat but “to make the daily process of living and dignified living more difficult for the civilian population”. The report also says vandalism of houses by some soldiers and “the graffiti on the walls, the obscenities and often racist slogans constituted an overall image of humiliation and dehumanisation of the Palestinian population”.