Can the Goldstone report be used to promote legal action against Israeli officials? Legal experts told Ynet that the UN's findings on the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip in early 2009 have "no immediate legal meaning" as far as International Crimes Court (ICC) in The Hague is concerned, but may be used to justify private lawsuits.
UN-appointed former South African Judge Richard Goldstone released his inquest report into Operation Cast Lead Tuesday, stating that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes.
The report said that "Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity," adding "there was also evidence that Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity," by firing rockets into southern Israel.
"Neither Israel nor the Palestinians are a part of the ICC Convention and that is the only way Israeli military personnel can be held criminally liable," international law expert Dr. Robbie Sabel told Ynet.
"No one body, with the expectation of the ICC, has the authority to determine whether or not war crimes were committed," he said, adding that until Israel becomes part of the convention, or the ICC declares the Palestinian Authority a state which can join it, the chances of any Israeli solider facing charges is very low.
Should the UN hand the report to the ICC, Israel's image will, however, suffer great damage.
Individual legal action possible
Still, Sabel believes the Goldstone report could prompt private lawsuits in countries which allow an individual citizen to sue another nation.
In places like the UK, he said, "The report can be used as ammunition against Israel, since the legal establishment does not interfere in the process of filing complaints, leaving their validity for the case judge to decide.
"European governments have refrained from filing official charges so far and it is likely that they will continue to do so in the future, since they know the facts."
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Attorney Michael Sefarad, who specializes in human rights international law, was more cautious: "The Goldstone report is highly unusual, since it states Israel's inquests into the operation were unworthy. The bottom line is that this report brings us one step closer to seeing foreign courts hear war crimes cases involving Israeli officials."
Sefarad too said the report carries no immediate repercussions, adding that it does, however, correlate with previous reports – all of which could potentially lead to the conclusion that war crimes were indeed committed during Operation Cast Lead.
"The report may prompt Western countries to detain and try Israeli officers and officials. The UN Security Council can delegate the ICC to launch an official probe, but the US' veto power renders that unlikely as well."
Sefarad said that a "true, comprehensive investigation of the operation and the allegations of war crimes by Israel and the IDF, could have prevented any international proceedings."