South African Nobel Laureate, Desmond Tutu, the head of a fact-finding mission looking into the deadly 2006 Israeli shelling of a village in Gaza, says the incident may be a war crime. Nineteen Palestinians, including 18 from one family were killed when Israeli shells landed on the Gaza town. Lisa Schlein has this report from Geneva, where the former Archbishop of South Africa submitted a final report to the U.N. Human Rights Council (on September 18, 2008).
Archbiship Desmond Tutu was appointed to head the fact-finding mission shortly after the Israeli attack on Beit Hanoun took place. He says he and his team finally were able to travel there in the last week of May, after 14 months and many failed attempts.
"What we saw in Gaza shocked us," Tutu said. "I have said previously, nothing that we had been told prepared us for what we saw and experienced. The scars of the shelling on eighth November 2006, which claimed the lives of 19 civilians are all too obvious ... Many of the wounds, indeed, have not yet healed, particularly the psychological wounds. The right to life has been violated, not just through the killings, but also through the lack of adequate investigation of the killings."
Tutu says the story of the Beit Hanoun shelling is the story of the failure of the rule of law. He says no independent, impartial investigation has been held. No one has been held to account.
"The Israeli military has admitted responsibility but claimed a technological error. As we say in our report, this response of a largely secret, internal military investigation is absolutely unacceptable from both legal and moral points of view," Tutu said. "Faced with this absence of a well-founded explanation from the Israeli military, the mission has to conclude that there is a possibility that the shelling of Beit Hanoun constituted a war crime."
During the three-day visit to Beit Hanoun, Tutu and his team visited survivors and senior Hamas officials. He says he told Hamas that Palestinian militants must stop firing rockets into Israel. He says such actions put both Israeli and Gaza civilian lives at risk and violates international law.
The Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, rejects Tutu's report as another regrettable product of the Human Rights Council. He says Israel had conducted a thorough internal investigation of Beit Hanoun military operations and had shared the results with the United Nations.
He says reports such as this contribute nothing to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
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