UN investigation team
Photo: Reuters

More facts or more blame?

Anav Silverman doesn’t expect much of new UN Investigation into Gaza war

The three-week Gaza war has been keeping the UN obsessively busy with months of inquiries and fact-finding missions into supposed Israeli war crime violations.


In May, the UN came out with a report accusing Israel of “negligence or recklessness” in the Gaza war. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he would seek compensation from Israel for damages amounting to $11 million to UN facilities. Led by Ian Martin, former head of human rights group Amnesty International, the UN inquiry said Israel was at fault for nine incidents where UN property was damaged.

The 184-page report blamed Hamas for one case of damage, stating that a Palestinian rocket fired at a UN warehouse had caused $29,000 in damages, while attributing all other damages to Israel.


Indeed, the report apparently did not point out the millions of dollars in damages that Hamas rockets caused in the southern region of Israel or call for an investigation into the nine Israeli schools that Gaza missiles struck during the war.


Israel’s deputy UN ambassador Daniel Carmon told Reuters that the report was one-sided. “We were really shocked to see a report where the board is limiting itself to the facts of damages only, ignoring the context, ignoring that there is war against terrorism.


According to The Australian, the UN inquiry apparently made no mention of the UN’s initial accusation that Israeli shells directly hit a UN school in Jabaliya, killing more than 40 civilians.


UN officials accused the IDF of firing a mortar rocket at an UNRWA school on January 6, killing 43 people. CNN, France24, China Daily, Indian, Express BBC World, and the Israeli Haaretz all ran headlines stating that an Israeli strike Killed 40 people at UN School. The New York Times added the word “reportedly” in its headline.


Only one international newspaper, the Canadian Globe and Mail came out three weeks later with a follow-up story to the UN allegation, entitled Account of Israeli Attack Doesn’t Hold up to Scrutiny.


Reporter Patrick Martin found that physical evidence and interviews with several eyewitnesses including a teacher in the UNRWA school yard at the time of the shelling revealed that no one inside the compound had been killed. "Those who died were all outside on a street where the mortar shells landed."


According to the Globe and Mail article, the teacher who was interviewed refused to give his name because he said UNRWA staff told him not to talk to news media.


Furthermore, the article points out that John Ging, UNRWA’s operations director in Gaza, blamed Israel for the confusion over where the victims were killed. “Look at my statements…I never said anyone was killed in the school. Our officials never made such allegations.”


‘Clerical error’

Indeed, in the European Observer (Jan. 7), Ging condemned the attack as “horrific” and suggested that Israel knew it was targeting a UN facility. “We have provided the GPS co-ordinates of every single one of our locations,” he told the BBC in response to the alleged Israeli attack on the school. “It’s very clear that these are UN installations.”


Only on February 2, 2009, did the United Nations finally admit that it had made a mistake - calling the misleading statements “a clerical error.” According to Haaretz, Maxwell Gaylord, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Jerusalem, admitted that IDF mortar shells fell in the street near the compound and not in the compound itself. “We would like to clarify that the shelling and all of the fatalities took place outside and not inside the school," said Gaylord.


Meanwhile, the damage had been done. The misleading UN statements and media coverage had led to international outrage with strong condemnations against Israel popping up everywhere.


Not surprisingly, a clerical error of such significance was simply not deemed newsworthy by much of the international press. Except for the Canadian Globe and Mail, and Israeli newspapers including Haaretz, little international media coverage was given to Gaylord’s statements.


By June, the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict was spearheading another investigation. Led by South African Judge Richard Goldstone, the UN investigation has focused its investigation in Gaza, interviewing Hamas along with Palestinians. Israel has refused to cooperate in the investigation, citing anti-Israel bias by the investigation's sponsor, the UN Human Rights Council, who has issued numerous reports on Israeli treatment of Palestinians but little on the Palestinian rocket terror impacting southern Israelis.


The UN fact finding team includes Christine Chinkin, a law professor at the London School of Economics who signed an editorial published in the Sunday Times in January calling the Israeli offensive a war crime.


Come September, when the UN report is due, can one really expect an impartial, objective examination of the Gaza war? The recent comments of a Hamas official perhaps summed it best. In an AP news article (June 9), Ahmed Yousef said that he hoped the UN report would be "like ammunition in the hands of the people who are willing to sue Israeli war criminals."


Anav Silverman is the international correspondent for Sderot Media Center: . She is a graduate of Bar Ilan University and a student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem


UNWRA issued the following response to the article:

The above article has a number of inaccuracies and claims which are, at best, misleading. Anav Silverman makes false claims against UN officials alleging that they deliberately mislead reporters by accusing the IDF of firing a mortar rocket at an UNRWA school only to later retract the accusation. Silverman has rehashed these claims from articles published in the Toronto Globe and Mail and The Australian, which she herself cites. Silverman’s article fails to mention that both the Toronto Globe and Mail and The Australian published retractions to the articles that refer to an incident on 6 January near the UNRWA school in Jabalia, Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of over forty people.


The retractions acknowledge that all reporting by UNRWA was accurate and consistent. From the outset UNRWA reported that the attack happened outside the school, while the Israeli authorities initially claimed they were returning fire against militants operating inside the school. When these Israeli reports were discredited later that same day, they corrected their reporting to state that they were firing at militants operating in the vicinity of the school. The UNRWA statements were accurately reported in many major international media outlets and are a matter of public record.


פרסום ראשון: 06.28.09, 11:03
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