New Israeli ambassador to UK defended Operation Cast Lead
Daniel Taub to be Israel’s next UK ambassador
Daniel Taub, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s deputy legal counsel will be the next Israeli ambassador to the UK.
British-born Mr Taub will replace Ron Prosor, who is now Israel’s ambassador the UN.
The appointment was decided by a senior committee at the Foreign Ministry, chaired by director-general Raphael Barak.
But sources claim the Foreign Ministry’s union may mount a legal challenge to the appointment, as Mr Taub is an internal appointment and not a career diplomat.
Mr Taub is a regular spokesman for the Israeli government and has been a member of the Israeli teams in Israel’s negotiations with both Syria and the Palestinians, and served as head of the Israeli side of the Israeli-Palestinian Culture of Peace negotiations.
He also wrote the popular Israeli soap opera HeChatzer, about Orthodox Jews and has spoken regularly at Limmud.
He holds degrees from the University of Oxford and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He currently lives in Jerusalem with his wife Zehava and his children.
Accused of crimes in Gaza, Israel offers a defense in Geneva
Tribune de Geneve interview with MFA Senior Deputy Legal Adviser Daniel Taub
Translated from French, released by Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
“During its operations in Gaza last December, Israel abided by international law and acted in the same manner as other nations have done in the past when confronted with terrorism. More than 400 investigations are currently underway, 14 of them criminal investigations of combatants. If any crimes were committed, they will be punished.”
This past Friday, Daniel Taub, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Senior Deputy Legal Adviser, presented the conclusions of a 200 page report, which he had a hand in writing, regarding the legal and factual aspects of Israel’s Gaza operations last year.
Mr. Taub made his presentation before the UN Human Rights Council, which according to Aharon Leshno-Yaar, Israel’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, is “an organism that has demonstrated in the past that it is controlled by Arab interests,” Before boarding the plane on Friday, Mr. Taub granted Tribune de Genève and RSR an interview at the airport.
During this conflict, which according to Israeli figures has claimed more than 1000 victims, 300 of them non-combatants, and according to Palestinian NGOs more than 1500 victims, 900 of them non-combatants, UN offices, as well as schools, hospitals, and humanitarian convoys were bombed or shelled.
Faced with an avalanche of reports (from Amnesty International, the UN, and Breaking the Silence) accusing Israel of war crimes, as well as breaches of international law, the Israeli report, which was issued on July 30, contains photographic evidence that the aforementioned sites were used by Hamas combatants. “Hamas used what it learned during the Lebanese war, applying this tactic involving human shields and keeping its short range artillery mobile,” Mr. Taub noted.
Justifying Israel’s operations on the grounds that Hamas has targeted Israeli civilians (more than 3000 rockets last year), Mr. Taub contrasted the deliberateness of these attacks to the accidental loss of human life occasioned by Israel’s military operations. He emphasized that “the damage sustained by UN offices only involved seven of the UN’s 700 organisms in the Gaza strip” – but does not minimize the damage, which is “taken very seriously.” Mr. Taub also underscored the fact that “the Israeli army made efforts to avoid civilian casualties by means of various warning measures (2.5 million leaflets and 165,000 phone calls), and also allowed the civilians affected by the war to have access to humanitarian aid (passage of 1500 trucks).”
Finally, regarding the white phosphorus that the Israeli army has admitted to having used, Mr. Taub stated that “it was not used as a weapon” and pointed out that the Israeli report nonetheless recommends “that other operational modes be used in the future.”
Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefing on the Goldstone Report
01 October 2009
– TRANSCRIPT –
Director General Gal Ladies and gentlemen of the press, good afternoon. This briefing is about the Goldstone Report. Later, the legal advisor will elaborate on the flaws of the report and also talk about the Israeli system of self-examination and self-investigation. Deputy Minister Danny Ayalon will touch on the political ramifications of this development. And I, with your permission, want to say a few words in general about the report.
We believe that this intolerable report discredits the whole cause of human rights. It does a great injustice to the cause of fighting terrorism and does a lot of disservice to the noble cause of the United Nations as a whole.
Our views regarding the Human Rights Council in Geneva, I think, are very clear and nothing new. But we strongly believe that this report rewarding terrorism brings the situation to a new level of hypocrisy with possible far-reaching consequences.
You know, if somebody comes from outer space and lands in Geneva and goes through the minutes and the reports of the Human Rights Council, he will discover that of the nine special sessions devoted to specific countries by the Human Rights Council, five were dedicated to the State of Israel and four to the rest of the world, to the rest of the 191 countries on this globe. He will further discover, that guy from outer space, that the Council had devoted more than 25 resolutions to the State of Israel, more than all of the resolutions devoted to other countries put together.
The Goldstone Mission was created as a result of a resolution passed in January 2009 by the Human Rights Council, and the State of Israel decided not to cooperate with this body for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, in the very mandate of the mission, the mandate already determines the outcome. It reads, and I quote, that the mission “Decides to dispatch an urgent, independent international fact-finding mission to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying Power, Israel, against the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, due to the current aggression.”
Indeed, Justice Goldstone announced that he was about to change the terms of reference, but that change was never legally endorsed and never legally binding. And the mandate remained as stated before.
Furthermore, in a letter sent to Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, Justice Goldstone asked for, and I quote, “access to Israel, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem”, and so on and so forth.
We have decided, as I said, not to cooperate with this committee for a lot of reasons. I just mentioned the mandate. I would also like to note that no Western country member of the Human Rights Council supported the establishment of this committee. I should also note that quite a number of prominent figures that were asked to head this committee declined to do so. A number of names come to mind: I think that Mary Robinson, Desmond Tutu, Former President Ahtisaari, Former Foreign Minister Rupel, they all declined to help the committee. And I tend to believe that we are not the only ones who were thinking at the time that the conclusions and the recommendations were stamped and sealed even before the committee began its work.
I think that we should also recall the fact that a number of members of the committee expressed their opinions – very clear opinions – before the committee even started its work. The first one that comes to mind is, of course, mission member Christine Chinkin, who signed an open letter published on the 11th of January, 2009 in The Sunday Times in which she wrote, “Israel’s actions demonstrate aggression, not self-defense.” And this, in our opinion, does not really demonstrate any impartiality that is so badly needed in cases like this.
I think that it is also worth mentioning the way the committee conducted its proceedings through holding televised open hearings in Gaza and elsewhere, the kind of precedent that I am not really familiar with in the work of similar committees.
In short, we think that this report goes beyond any conceivable sense of partiality. We think that the conclusions of this biased report go beyond any acceptable international norms and standards of balanced inquiries. Of the 575 pages of the report, very few, I think not more than two, are devoted to the Israeli suffering, to the fact that thousands of missiles and Kassam rockets were landing on our heads. There’s hardly any reference to terrorism. There’s hardly any reference to the whole context and very little in terms of information from the Israeli side.
As I said, in this briefing we will go through an analysis of the report; which Mr. Daniel Taub, the Deputy Legal Advisor, will do in detail. We are engaged, of course, through our diplomatic contacts, with all of the members of the international community, various members of the Human Rights Council and members of the United Nations in trying to confine this report to where it belongs – to Geneva.
But first, before we go into the detailed analysis of the report, I will ask Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon to speak about the political ramifications. Thank you very much.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon Thank you, Ambassador Gal, and welcome, all of you here to the Ministry. Good afternoon.
The fact that this report is biased, not professional, I would say is a given. But I think it’s important to note that the ramifications or the implications are not at all what we are trying to achieve here, which is peaceful coexistence, peace with the Palestinians.
Now, if indeed – and this is what’s important to note – if, indeed, the Human Rights Council takes any action on this report, it really will be turned into a terrorism rights council. And why? Because this report not only takes away the right to self-defense from democracies, it gives this self-defense to the terrorists. Because, as we speak, Hamas in Gaza is getting more ammunition and more equipment, making more terrorism plans and more fortifications, and is waiting to see the results in Geneva or in New York. And that could easily give Hamas and organizations like Hamas, whether it’s Islamic Jihad or Al-Qaida or any other terror organizations, the tools to really continue hitting civilian targets and democracies with impunity basically, or without any recourse.
This is something which has global effect, especially where the international community, at this point, is engaged in a very bitter struggle against extremists, against fanatics, whether it’s in Afghanistan, whether it’s in Kashmir, whether it’s in Iraq or any other place around the globe. So this is something which concerns each and every country, certainly all democracies, certainly all decent countries with the rule of law.
The second issue that is also very important to note is the implications for any potential dialogue, political dialogue, on the peace process, with the Palestinians. And I can tell you here that any action taken on this report, unfortunately, is going to have a detrimental effect on the peace process, if not, indeed, striking it a mortal blow. And why is that? Well, first of all, if we are trying to engage with the Palestinians to achieve something good, we cannot be under constant attack by the same Palestinians. And attacks today in these complex theaters or the battles that we see today, can be implemented with grenades or bullets or with words. And sometimes words – and we know this from history – can be more dangerous than bullets.
So the Palestinians, with all due respect, cannot hold sticks in both hands. They cannot just try and dialogue with us and talk about peaceful coexistence and a two-state solution and, on the other hand, keep attacking us. And whether attacking us militarily, economically or politically, there is no difference. Today the attacks in the international arena, whether it’s New York or Geneva or anywhere else, is just as bad in terms of media and PR. Everything ties together in a campaign of trying to delegitimize Israel and to actually further try to paint it into a corner and create more pressure. This will not work.
But there is another implication here, which is, how this government of Israel or how any future government of Israel can have any flexibility in the future to make concessions to the Palestinians and take further risks. We have been taking enormous risks in the pullout of Gaza, in what’s actually happening in the West Bank, where we removed more than two-thirds of the checkpoints and roadblocks and in trying to really push the Palestinian economy forward. And if, with all these risks, there is no reciprocity from the Palestinian side, but further attacks, I don’t think there will be any basis here for continuing any dialogue with the Palestinians.
And this is something which is very, very important to realize because what we are trying to engage in with the Palestinians is difficult enough, complex enough, emotionally-laden enough, problematic enough, to add a real blow to any basis of trust that we are trying to build with the Palestinians. And without any trust, whether it’s on the political level or the operational level, it is also very important to note that in order to create a Palestinian state, which I would say now most Israelis believe in, you need to have not only the trust of the leaders and the trust of the public, but also cooperation between the professionals, whether military or otherwise, on both sides. This, now, is nonexistent. Certainly the Palestinians, people in the Palestinian Authority, members of Fatah, who are the ones who are actually pushing us to do away with Hamas, are now trying to push us and take us into these international courts and everything that come along with that.
So this is something which I want to emphasize is going to be very detrimental to any possibility of a dialogue and peaceful peace process with the Palestinians. Not to mention the fact that the ones – and I want to emphasize this – who are benefiting from this report are the extremists everywhere, anywhere, and especially in Gaza, which are very much backed by Iran.
Unfortunately there was no action taken for eight long years for more than one million Israeli civilians. Israelis on our southern borders were subject to terrorism on a daily basis from the attacks of Hamas. There was no action taken against crimes against humanity by Hamas, which not only targets populations, and only civilian populations but they’re also hiding behind civilian populations, a double crime here. Not only was no action taken then, no action was taken against other violations of human rights all over the world. Ambassador Gal mentioned that – why we didn’t have any faith in the process, why we do not, indeed, have any faith, if you look at the composition and you look at the mandate of this report and the composition of the Human Rights Council.
So what we want to convey from this podium today is that we cannot change the past. You know, the genie of this report is out. We understand that it cannot be put back into the bottle. But it is incumbent upon the international community, it is incumbent upon the responsible member states, to do away with this report, not take any action as the Palestinians want, which is, again, contrary to what they say, prima facie, as moving forward on the peace process. You cannot do it.
And this is why the call from here, and this is what we have conveyed, and we will continue to convey, to friendly capitols, around the globe – to do away with this report, because it does a disservice not just to morality, not just to the issue of human rights, it really diminishes and abuses the very lofty idea of safeguarding human rights. It gives rights to the terrorists but – and this is the political message – it will have a really detrimental effect on the peace process. And this is the main message today. Thank you very much.
And now we will hear from the very distinguished legal advisor of the Foreign Ministry, Mr. Daniel Taub.
Deputy Legal Advisor Taub: Good afternoon. There are at least a dozen reports that I’m aware of that have been prepared about events in Gaza at the beginning of this year, and yet, of all the reports, it’s this report, the Goldstone Report, that has generated the strongest response amongst the Israeli public, amongst the Israeli leadership and amongst supporters of Israel. And I think if we ask ourselves why that is, there are three main reasons.
The first one is the narrative that lies at the heart of this report. This is a report which says that Israel’s operation in Gaza had nothing to do with 12,000 Hamas missiles on Sderot, it had nothing to do with self-defense, it had nothing to do with the smuggling of weaponry under the Egypt-Gaza border into Gaza. In fact, in the 500-plus pages of the report, there is not a single mention of the right of self-defense or the smuggling of weapons. It is a report that says that Israel’s operation in Gaza was a deliberate disproportionate massive attack directed against civilians. And that is something that no one who knows Israel can really countenance.
This morning I read an article by the head of Betzelem who was saying that this is a conclusion which is simply not supported by the evidence in the Goldstone Report. And it’s true; in order to come to this conclusion the report really does have to play fast and loose with the evidence. First, there’s a tremendous amount of selectivity in choosing the incidents that it actually investigates. So, for example, the report admits that there have been allegations that Hamas placed its headquarters or one of its headquarters in the bases of the Shifa Hospital, but we can’t address these because that wasn’t one of the incidents that we chose to investigate. Or we can’t confirm or deny allegations that Hamas used mosques for terrorist activity, because they only investigated one case that had to do with a mosque and found no evidence in that particular case. In fact, in parentheses I say “in that particular case, according to Palestinian websites,” five of the people that were killed were actually terrorist activists, members of the Al-Qassam Brigades.
They play fast and loose with their sources, relying on almost every conceivable source that supports evidence against Israel and rejecting almost any evidence that is supportive of Israel or is detrimental to Hamas. And sometimes actually the same source is regarded as being reliable as far as its accusations against Israel is concerned but regarded as being unreliable when it points to, for example, Israel’s humanitarian efforts or Hamas abuse of civilians, and so on.
And we have prepared an initial response to the report, some 20 pages, which highlights some of the most obvious legal and factual errors: There’s reliance on Israeli laws that have been off the books for years; there’s misquotations of United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and so on.
The reason that this narrative is so troubling is that it really leaves no room for genuine debate about how to engage in a conflict of this nature. You know, we generally don’t think and the military doesn’t think that we have all the right answers. But we are, by and large, asking the right questions. And asking ourselves whether an attack or an operation could have been more humane, more effective, is a genuine debate that we need to engage in with the international community as well. But with a body that says that your fundamental goal was to cause massive punishment on the civilian population, there is no room for any debate of that nature.
So that’s the first reason. The second reason why I think this report has generated such a strong response is that it represents a full frontal attack on the Israeli legal system. And this is something that should worry not just Israel but also most Western and democratic countries that have very, very similar systems for actually investigating and checking their conduct in the course of military operations.
Israel, as I’m sure you know, has a multi-layered system for investigating allegations of wrongdoing; that consists of field investigations, criminal investigations, supervision by the Military Advocate General, upon that, supervision of our Supreme Court, and so on. In this particular case, in additional to all of those systems, following the operation, five large-scale command investigations were opened into general questions of principle arising in the conflict, things like incidents in which there was injury caused to medical facilities, caused to UN facilities when there are large numbers of civilians casualties, and so on.
In the course of those five command investigations, there were 30 specific incidents that came under investigation, and they’re currently on the desk of the Military Advocate General who has to decide whether to open criminal investigations. And because of the sensitivity, the Attorney General has said that he will also review the decision of the Military Advocate General.
In addition to those command investigations and the specific investigations that came out of them, there are an additional 70 to 80 specific investigations that were opened up as a result of complaints received by human rights organizations, like Betzelem and Addala, direct complaints by individuals to the Military Advocate General or to the Attorney General.
Out of all of those complaints so far, 23 criminal investigations have already been opened and are in various stages. From the information that I received this morning, at least 11 of them have already proceeded to the stage of taking evidence from the Palestinian complainants and the others are at various stages.
Correlating those with the 36 incidents that the Goldstone Report chose to investigate, 12 of the incidents in the Goldstone Report are at various stages, either already of criminal investigations or investigations that may lead to criminal investigations.
I should mention that 12 of the incidents that are referred to out of the 36 incidents in the Goldstone Report were not known to the Israeli authorities until the publication of the report. Those are mainly dealing with damage to property and so on. And that means that no complaint had been received by the Israeli authorities. They were raised for the first time in the Goldstone Report, and those have been referred to the authorities for examination and investigation at the moment.
I’ll just finish the legal aspect by saying that obviously all of the decisions along the way, whether it’s the decision of the Military Advocate General or the Attorney General whether to open criminal proceedings or not open criminal proceedings, are all subject to review by our Supreme Court, which, as you know, can be petitioned for judicial review by Israelis, Palestinians, human rights organizations.
So, really, the dismissive attitude of the report for this entire system is very, very troubling, very troubling for Israel, very troubling for other countries that have similar systems, and troubling for other countries that often rely on the jurisprudence of our Supreme Court. I actually just received through my e-mail today, a decision of a Canadian Court, a Superior Court in Montreal, which last week relied on the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court. And so the attack on the legitimacy of this report is troubling from a legal point of view.
And, finally, I think the third reason why it’s such a troubling report is its recommendations. Its recommendations, I think, are unprecedented, both in terms of their scope and in terms of their one-sidedness. There is an attempt in the recommendations of this report to harness not just the Human Rights Council but the Security Council, the General Assembly, the International Criminal Court, the domestic legal systems of almost every country – every country in the world, in fact – as part of a political campaign against Israel, and in a really blatantly one-sided manner.
We’re talking about a recommendation that there be a moratorium on the use of certain weapons by Israel, but no restriction on the use of weapons by Hamas. We’re talking about the establishment of an escrow fund it’s called, a fund for supporting victims, but the victims are all Palestinians, and the only party required to pay into this fund, of course, is Israel. We’re talking about the use of what’s called universal jurisdiction, putting Israelis on trial abroad. But it’s clear from the report the intention is only to put Israelis on trial abroad and not to put any other violators of human rights and so on. So, very, very damaging, very one-sided, very non-credible recommendations.
So I think those are the three main reasons why there’s been such a strong response to the report. And I’ll just finish with one final personal comment as a legal advisor within the government, within the system. And I think the role of any legal advisor, governmental or military legal advisor, is to be two-faced. Maybe all lawyers are two-faced, but by “two-faced” I mean spending part of our time being advocates of governmental policies to the world, but also turning round and doing the other half of our job, which is to be advocates of compliance of international law within the system, to our political leaders and to the military.
And a report of this nature, a report which pretends to represent international law but really perverts international law, really undermines the advocates of international law within the system because it really says that there is no lawful response to the charges of terrorism. And that’s simply not true. It’s not a workable proposition, and ultimately it’s going to undermine respect for international law both in our region and probably elsewhere across the world. Thank you.
Question: Deputy Minister Ayalon, you were talking about the political implications. Can we conclude that if this report goes forward and it heads to the ICC that Israel will refuse to take part in peace talks?
Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon: I’m saying, objectively, I don’t think that this report or any action on it can be conducive to creating the right conditions for moving forward. Quite the contrary, in terms of no trust, in terms of no cooperation and mostly, with the Israeli public, not understanding, taking any risks.
So, yes, you can take it as a very, very cautionary, I would say, statement from me, that this report, whether by design or default, can really be an obstacle towards peace.
Question: Should I take it to the conclusion that this is a condition for resuming peace talks that this report not go forward?
Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon: You know, it would be inconsistent for me to say that we have any preconditions. We do not have any preconditions, as we expect the other side not to have any preconditions. On that issue we are standing on firm ground. However, I am trying to analyze now and say that it will be very, very difficult to come to any kind of a process when we know that the other side has not ceased fire. And this is what I’m saying here, that this report is really an attack on the State of Israel, it’s an attack on its leaders and it’s an attack on its people, as Mr. Taub said, an attack on our legal system. This is totally unacceptable.
So you cannot really – that’s what I’m trying to convey to the Palestinians – they cannot hold the stick in both hands. They cannot try and talk peace on the one hand and attack us on the other hand. We see it as a frontal attack.
Question: Can you tell me what the government is doing to offset the threats of the universal jurisprudence? I was told that – in fact, you have to understand that there’s a battery of senior lawyers gathered together to work on this problem?
Deputy Legal Advisor Taub: Thank you for the question. First of all, I think it’s worth pointing out that universal jurisdiction is not a new problem and it’s not a problem that’s created by this report. We’ve already been going back to the case of Prime Minister Sharon in Belgium, and so on. We’ve been faced with what’s clearly not just a legal campaign but a political campaign to try and use the tools of domestic legal jurisdictions to harass and put on trial Israelis.
It’s a complex area to deal with because obviously every country has its own domestic legislation and its own different rules, and so on and so forth. It’s an area that is dealt with, as you said, by an interministerial group of senior lawyers who deal with it on a case-by-case basis. And I’m not sure that I can really share with you any more information other than that at the moment.
Question: Deputy Minister Ayalon, putting aside the rhetoric of even Israel and the Prime Minister you’ve just expressed, what practical sanctions or steps will Israel take against the Palestinians if this report is adopted?
Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon: Well, we don’t want to think about any specific sanctions. We are not planning to take any specific steps, certainly not at this stage. We simply state what should be the obvious: When people are shooting at you, you cannot talk to them. Either you talk or you shoot, but you cannot have it both ways. What I’m trying to really drive across is the fact that today we are under constant fire by the Palestinians. By the way, it’s also against all the agreements with them. And they attack us, they attack us in New York, they attack us in Geneva, and this is totally unacceptable. So if we are attacked, we have to defend ourselves.
And today, of course, there is no difference whether the attack is done militarily or diplomatically and politically. If we want to build trust, if we want to really move forward, if we want to really abide by former signed agreements, then we just expect the very minimal step from the Palestinians of stopping the attacks on Israel. Otherwise, there is no point in moving forward.
So, again, I want to specify, there are no sanctions that we are planning. On the contrary, we have been taking a lot of risks, and we are doing a lot in trying to more than jumpstart the Palestinian economy and the economy in the West Bank. They’ve had the best year in a decade or more in terms of economic developments. We have removed more than two-thirds of all the roadblocks and checkpoints. We are really allowing a very, very conducive atmosphere for foreign investments. Tourism is up. Commerce is up. We are taking Palestinian businessmen here and more work permits are being given.
We certainly will not stop any of this, because it’s important that the Palestinian people not be punished for the misdeeds of their government or their leadership. But in terms of moving forward politically, this will be totally impossible and, indeed, would be absurd.
Question: Kevin Flower from CNN. Deputy Minister, are there discussions in the government right now about forming any form of independent commission to look at the conduct of the IDF during the course of the war? And if so, would you be supportive of that process, a non-IDF investigation but, rather, an independent investigation by judges or legal minds appointed from Israeli society?
Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon: Well, I want to tell you that we have full confidence and I think we need the public here, in the jurisprudence, and in the conduct of the Military Advocate General and the system which investigates itself. However, as you know, there are different ideas – maybe Daniel would like to talk about it. But anything that we might or might not do will, of course, be dependent on our own needs, as we perceive them, whether we need to check something, because we want to maintain the very highest moral standards for ourselves. And all of you here live in Israel and you know us, and it is very important for us to maintain these standards, no matter what.
Certainly, we will not take any action following this very biased and unprofessional report. Not only that; I can guarantee you that any step that Israel may take will not change the action that the Palestinians are pushing on other Arab and Muslim countries with notorious records on human rights, like Saudi Arabia or Cuba. I can guarantee you that none of the actions Israel may or may not take will influence their vote in Geneva or even in New York.
So to sum it up, it may or may not take further actions independently of the military. It is subject to our own decision about developments that we will see emerging – and Daniel Taub can tell you even more about the cases that have been investigated by the military, and even tried. And if more action will have to be taken or if we feel that it is not satisfactory, as implemented by the military, we have the means to continue with that in other ways, as you mentioned.
Question: If I could follow up, for both of you, just to cut straight to it, is the government talking about this right now? Are you actively having discussions about an independent commission, whatever form it may take and whatever its goals are? Is that an active discussion right now?
Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon: It is an accurate observation, yes, that the government is talking about it. So far the decision is that there is no reason to take it out into an independent commission of inquiry.
Deputy Legal Advisor Taub: Maybe I’ll just put it in a little bit of context. The fact is, the correct way to investigate allegations of military wrongdoing is an ongoing debate not just in Israel but in most democratic countries, certainly ones that find themselves in armed conflict. You’ll find it’s one of the issues that was addressed quite at length in the Winograd Commission Report following the last Lebanese War, and so on and so forth. There’s a very interesting debate there as well.
Having said that, the question is whether we can improve the system, not a lack of vote, a lack of confidence within the system. The fact is, if we look at the record over recent years, there have been something like 140 indictments filed against soldiers for criminal activity; over 100 have resulted in convictions. I think that that’s a mark of a very firm hand, a genuine commitment to try and uphold the law in extremely difficult situations.
I think Deputy Minister Ayalon is absolutely right. If there are changes that are made to the system in any way, they’ll be despite the report; they won’t be because of it. And I think it plays into one other thing, which is another theme in this report that I didn’t touch on, but in many ways it’s a very anti-democratic report. There’s an entire section of the report, for example, which is headed “Repression of Dissent”, which is directed not against Hamas, of course, for any repression of dissent in Gaza but directed against Israel. And the evidence for the repression of dissent in Israel remarkably is the fact that so many Israelis supported the operation in Gaza, from which the report concludes that there is a totalitarian atmosphere in which dissent is not tolerated in the country. And the notion that maybe Israelis supported an operation which was designed to stop missiles falling on their houses is simply not countenanced by the report.
Question: Howard Schneider, Washington Post. You started to sort of account for the 36 cases and you said 12 were under investigation and 12 weren’t known to you before and are being referred. I’d like to know what’s going on with the other 12, and have there been any convictions yet?
Deputy Legal Advisor Taub: The answer is I don’t have a full accounting and I put those figures together based on the information that I received. Obviously, you’ll understand it’s different sources that are dealing with different things. You’ll understand that there is a reluctance from the military to publish things before they’ve reached a certain stage. We obviously, within the Foreign Ministry, are trying to encourage them to make public as much as possible.
I’m not sure that I can share anything more with you at this stage about what’s actually going on as far as those particular investigations are concerned.
Question: Well, have there been any convictions?
Deputy Legal Advisor Taub: Have there been any convictions? Yes, there’s been only one conviction so far. There have been a number of disciplinary proceedings even prior to the question of whether criminal proceedings will be opened. That was in a case of looting. In the normal course of events, it’s the simplest cases that get heard first simply because of evidentiary questions and the more serious questions, like allegations of shooting in the direction of civilians and so on and so forth, that are dealt with further down the line.
If I can just take the opportunity to make another comment. One of the accusations that is leveled against the Israeli authorities in this report, which, again, I think shows a real disconnect from an awareness of what goes on in military operations, is the accusation that there has been undue delay in the conduct of these investigations. I think that anybody who does a search across the board into the way in which these investigations are conducted will find that it holds strongly against almost any military operations that have been conducted. A number of them were actually initiated during the conflict.
You have to bear in mind that a large percentage of our fighting forces are not permanent soldiers but people who are called up from their studies, from their workplaces and so on. So it means actually summoning them back for the process of investigations. And as far as the military is concerned, we understand that proceeding with these investigations is a matter of very high priority.
Question: If I could, for Deputy Minister Ayalon, what did you expect the Authority to do here, just keep their mouths shut and not say anything about this? Would that have been acceptable? It seems like they’re sort of being blamed for the United Nations.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon: No. We would expect the Authority, not just in this case but – they are the ones, actually, that instigated the report, and they are also the ones that called for measures to be taken, whether to bring it to the Security Council or to the General Assembly, to bring it to the ICJ and bring it to the ICC.
Yes, we would expect them to cease this altogether, not just because there is no basis for it but also because this is a most unfriendly act, if we really want to deal together on the most difficult issues with the Palestinians.
Question: Yes, Deputy Minister, I wanted to know, did I understand you correctly to say that you think that there is nothing that Israel can do to stop it either through moving to New York or from New York on to the Security Council and to the ICC? And then my second question is what is the position of the Americans? Do you expect the Americans to stand with you both in Geneva and in New York?
Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon: Well, first of all, Israel certainly cannot do anything. We are not even a member of this Human Rights Council. But this is not to say that we are not approaching our friends and allies to stop it. And in this respect, I will suffice with what the U.S. administrations have been saying all along: that it should stay in Geneva.
In my very important meeting with Ambassador Susan Rice just a day or two after the report was released, I think we pretty much saw eye to eye with the Americans’ views. I’m not in any position to speak for the Americans, but I think it is important to say that we certainly understand the negative implications for the peace process, we understand the negative implications for the war against terrorism or defending democracies. And in terms of action points, I think the Americans said it should stay in Geneva and no further action should be taken.
Question: But you do expect it to move to the Security Council and then to the ICC?
Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon: Well, not necessarily. We’ll see what emerges with the votes tomorrow. I understand that, on a legal basis, pretty much any country can, based on this report, try and approach to the Security Council. And then, of course there is the process in the Security Council, whether or not they have the quorum of nine votes to bring it into a full session and consultations. I think that the international community will have the decency to reject it outright.
There is another problem of the General Assembly, which is very unruly. And the General Assembly can also try to refer it to the ICJ. If that happens, I think is a real blow to the entire international system, the architecture that we have been trying to build since World War II.
Question: You’ve been asked about whether Israel’s going to do an investigation, as the report suggests or demands, into your behavior in Operation Cast Lead. But those who have read the report carefully, and I think Daniel Taub is one of them, are impressed with the number of contradictions, incredible sloppiness of the report. Is there any suggestion within the government that they should do an investigation of the Goldstone Commission’s modus operandi?
Deputy Legal Advisor Taub: I think, as Ambassador Ayalon has said, our focus at the moment is on what we do to try and limit the political damage, if you like, or the political poison of this report. I think it may be worth just taking a step backward and seeing something that’s happened over the last 30 or 40 years. I know it’s not the usual journalistic frame of thinking, but I think it’s important, because if we go back 30 or 40 years, we know that there’s an automatic majority, unfortunately against Israel, in the institutions of the international community on any votes relating to the Middle East. All the Arab, Muslim and non-aligned states vote one way, and all the Jewish states vote the other way, and the results are a foregone conclusion.
Now, until about 30 years ago, that political leverage was basically limited to the political organs of the United Nations, the General Assembly, for example, the vote that Zionism is racism, and so on. During the ’80s and ’90s, what we saw was a deliberate attempt to try and expand that circle of influence to the human rights and humanitarian organs of the international community. That’s when we saw Geneva become the travesty of human rights that it is today, with one agenda item for Israel and one agenda item for the rest of the world together, and so on.
And what we’ve seen over the last 10 to 15 years is the deliberate attempt to expand that circle of political leverage broader to a third arena of the international community, and that is the judicial and legal institutions of the international community. And that’s, of course, a cause for great concern. We see attempts to try and do it with the International Court of Justice, with the International Criminal Court, with the principle of universal jurisdiction. And the moment that these institutions, which are absolutely fundamental to the architecture of international relations, become poisoned with the same degree of politicization that we see in the political organs, it’s going to result in fundamental damage to the international community. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re trying so hard to stop this actually expanding still further.
I’m sorry I can’t say more than that. Thank you very much.