Leading article: Israel must investigate seriously

Wednesday 03 February 2010 01:00

When a United Nations report by the South African judge Richard Goldstone accused the Israeli military of using disproportionate force in its December 2008 Gaza incursion, the Israeli government rejected the findings as "flawed from A to Z", "biased" and "ludicrous".

But now significant cracks are opening in that facade of rejection. Last week, the Israeli government sent a document to the UN revealing that it had reprimanded two officers for firing artillery shells at a UN compound in Gaza where 700 Palestinian civilians were taking refuge. The document also claimed that Israeli military inquiries had found that the al-Badr flour mill in Gaza did not come under air attack in the operation, contradicting the Goldstone report which said the mill was attacked from the air. Yet it has since emerged that a bomb defused last year at the mill was of the sort commonly dropped by F-16 jets.

This is adding to the pressure on the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to order an independent investigation into the Gaza offensive. The alternative is UN action to bring war crimes charges against Israel.

The Israeli government's reluctance to scrutinise fully the behaviour of its military in Operation Cast Lead has done it no favours. And the minor punishments that appear to have been handed out to the two officers over the UN compound shelling are hardly sufficient to convince the world that Israel is taking Goldstone's accusations seriously. The Israeli government could stall and hope that its ally, the US, blocks efforts in the UN to hold it to account. But it would be wiser to take the initiative and establish a state commission of inquiry into the Gaza war. The Kahan Commission, which examined the massacre of Palestinian refugees after the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, provides a respectable model.

A new Kahan Commission is needed to look into every action of the Israeli military's behaviour in Gaza, from the testimony of soldiers on the killing of civilians, to the revelations that troops were cheered into battle by extremist rabbis. Strong democratic nations are able to scrutinise their own behaviour, even in times of conflict. It is time for Israel to demonstrate its own democratic strength.

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