Israeli HR Groups: The recent statements by Richard Goldstone support the consistent position we have been upholding since the operation in Gaza

When concerns arise regarding harm to civilians due to violations of international law, an independent investigation must be launched.

Mon., April 4, 2011 – The human rights organizations – the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, B’Tselem, Gisha, the Public Committee against Torture, Bimkom, Yesh Din, Hamoked: Center for Defense of the Individual, Adalah, Rabbis for Human Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, and Breaking the Silence – have appealed to the Attorney General immediately following Operation Cast Lead, calling on him to investigate allegations regarding violations of the laws of war during the operation.

The organizations continue to stress that in cases of concerns regarding violations of the laws of war, Israel is obligated to initiate a thorough examination of the matter – by an independent and impartial investigative body.

Since the publication of the Goldstone Report, the Israeli army opened more than 50 investigations regarding events that took place during the operation in Gaza. 3 of those investigations led to indictments. More than two years after the operation, it is still unclear what happened to the majority of these investigations. Furthermore, no inquiry was initiated regarding the policies determined by senior military and government officials.

Although Israel has not yet established an independent and non-military inquiry committee to investigate the events of Operation Cast Lead, most of the investigations that were opened used information provided by various human rights organizations. We hope that the authorities have realized the importance of such investigations, and therefore we reiterate our appeal to the state, to launch and independent, non-military, and transparent investigative process to examine the body of complaints regarding the Israeli military’s conduct during Operation Cast Lead.

The Turkel Commission, an independent committee set up by the Israeli government following the events of the Gaza Flotilla, is currently examining whether the existing inquiry system is compatible with the obligations set upon the state by the laws of war. We call on the committee to recommend that the government set up a permanent independent inquiry body, according to the obligations defined in international law, and that this body shall be responsible for investigating suspicions regarding violations of international law when such suspicions arise, and not as a result of external pressures.

A country that seeks to uphold the laws of war and to minimize the harm to innocent persons, must also deal with suspicions of wrongdoing by the military. It is thus crucial to highlight the accepted norms of protecting civilian population during combat, and to do everything possible in order to minimize harm to civilians in the future.

Further background:

January 2009 letter to the Attorney General, submitted by eight human rights organizations and demanding the establishment of an independent mechanism to investigate the killing and injuring of civilians during the operation in Gaza: http://www.acri.org.il/en/?p=602

January 2010 letter to the Prime Minister (one year after Operation Cast Lead and before the UN debate the Goldstone report) urging Netanyahu to conduct an impartial inquiry: http://www.acri.org.il/en/?p=708

Gisha stands by the information that was published regarding the situation in Gaza before, during, and since the "Cast Lead" military operation. Gisha will continue to provide information and analysis about restrictions on movement to and from the Gaza Strip in Israeli and international fora, as was done in the cases of the Goldstone and Turkel Commissions.

In their joint statement to the Goldstone Commission, Gisha and other Israeli human rights organizations wrote that it is imperative for both sides active in hostilities to investigate their actions during the war. This demand is based on the fact that the obligation to investigate and be held accountable for one’s actions is binding for Israel just as it is binding for the Hamas movement, which until now has refrained from investigating the firing of rockets onto civilian population centers.

In addition to individual investigations, it is imperative to review decisions made at senior levels which have led to policies that deliberately and indiscriminately harm the civilian population.

Gisha works to promote thoughtful and transparent public debate about Israel’s policies toward the Gaza Strip. As part of that effort, Gisha provides information about the closure of Gaza and the impact it has on civilians. Recently, the Tel Aviv District Court held, in the context of a Freedom of Information Act petition filed by Gisha, that the closure policy must be transparent to the public.

Our position is that the movement restrictions imposed on the Gaza Strip are sweeping and far exceed what Israel’s security needs justify. This position was re-enforced following the events surrounding the flotilla, when in June 2010, the State of Israel adopted a policy whose official goal is to ease the closure and encourage economic development in the Strip. Unfortunately, the policy is being implemented slowly and only partially.