Wed, Oct 14, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Israel bashes war crimes trials

UN REPORT Netanyahu denounced a UN report that accused Israel and Hamas of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday vowed never to allow Israeli leaders or soldiers to stand trial on war crimes charges over their actions during last winter’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip, furiously denouncing a UN report in a keynote address to parliament.

Netanyahu’s fiery rhetoric — and his decision to open the high-profile speech with remarks on the report — reflected the deep distress felt among Israeli leaders after a UN commission accused Israel of intentionally harming civilians when it launched a massive attack in Gaza to stop years of rocket fire.

“This distorted report, written by this distorted committee, undermines Israel’s right to defend itself. This report encourages terrorism and threatens peace,” Netanyahu said in his address at the opening of parliament’s winter session. “Israel will not take risks for peace if it can’t defend itself.”

The UN report, compiled by a team led by former war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone, accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. It specifically accused Israel of using disproportionate force, deliberately targeting civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure, and using people as human shields. It accused Hamas of deliberately targeting civilians and trying to spread terror through its rocket attacks.

Israeli officials across the board have condemned the report, saying their country had little choice but to take harsh action against militants who were terrorizing southern Israel. They also blame Hamas for civilian casualties, saying the Islamic militant group took cover in residential areas during the fighting.

However, Goldstone’s strong credentials as a respected South African jurist, his Jewish faith and past support for Israeli causes have made it hard for Israel to dismiss the claims.

Netanyahu angrily noted the report’s portrayal of Israeli leaders as war criminals.

“The truth is exactly the opposite. Israel’s leaders and its army are those who defended the citizens of Israel from war criminals,” he said, before vowing to defend the nation’s wartime leaders.

“We will not allow [former prime minister] Ehud Olmert, [former ­foreign minister] Tzipi Livni and [former defense minister] Ehud Barak, who sent our sons to war, to arrive at the international court in the Hague,” he said.

While Netanyahu has repeatedly lashed out at the UN report, Monday’s comments appeared to be a direct response to a new Palestinian push for a vote on the report in the UN’s Human Rights Council. If the vote takes place, the matter could be referred to higher UN bodies that could theoretically push for war-crimes prosecution.

Earlier this month, the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had agreed to delay the vote for six months. That decision, which came under heavy US pressure, sparked sharp criticism and protests across Palestinian society, particularly from the rival Hamas government in the Gaza Strip.

UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said on Monday that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke with Abbas on Sunday about the matter and said he would support Abbas’ proposal to reopen discussion of the Goldstone report at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In contrast to predecessors who have used parliamentary addresses to speak of bold visions of peace, Netanyahu spoke in far bleaker terms. He focused on past Jewish suffering and criticized the futility of previous peace efforts, blaming Arab adversaries for their failure.

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