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US House Rejects Goldstone Report

 

Palestinian civilians flee during an Israeli strike on the Gaza strip town of Beit Lahia in January 2009. Arab delegates to the United Nations are floating a draft resolution that would require UN chief Ban Ki-moon to bring a damning report on the Gaza war before the Security Council. (AFP/File/Mohammed Abed) The US House of Representatives has rejected as "irredeemably biased" the findings of a UN-sponsored report which says Israel committed war crimes during its military assault on the Gaza Strip.

The house on Tuesday voted 344 to 36 in favour of a non-binding resolution calling on Barack Obama, the US president, to maintain his opposition to the report, which was written by a panel led by Richard Goldstone, a South African judge.

The report accused Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group, which has de facto control of Gaza, of war crimes during the 22-day conflict in December and January.

But most of its criticism was directed towards Israel's conduct during the offensive, in which human rights organisations say about 1,400 Palestinians - many of them women and children - were killed.

Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, were also killed over the course of the war, Israel has said.

Steny Hoyer, the Democrat House majority leader, said it was important to adopt an official resolution against the Goldstone report as it "paints a distorted picture".

It "epitomizes the practice of singling Israel out from all other nations for condemnation," he said on Tuesday.

UN assembly pressure

The US house vote came a day before the United Nations General Assembly is expected to debate its own resolution endorsing the findings of the Goldstone report.

Al Jazeera's Kristen Saloomey, reporting from the UN in New York, said that while the majority of the assembly's member nations were expected to vote in favour of the resolution, the US vote on Tuesday, although non-binding, was likely to dampen its impact.

"Remember - the key recommendation of Goldstone is to get a credible investigation into the alleged war crimes that the Goldstone commission found evidence of in Gaza, and the UN Security Council is the only body that can move forward and demand an investigation," she said.

"The general assembly just does not have that power. Of course, on the security council, the United States is a veto-wielding member and, as the congressional vote underscores, the US is not going to be interested in moving forward in the security council to call for an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC), or anyone else for that matter."

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian representative to the UN, criticised the Security Council for so far failing to act "in triggering the mechanism that Goldstone wanted, the investigation, the monitoring and then reporting after six months before considering moving into the ICC".

"The General Assembly, in a responsible way in the draft we have submitted by the Arab group, which hopefully in the next two days will receive large support, has taken some of the responsibility from the security council ... and asked for the investigation to begin," he told Al Jazeera.

The United Nations Human Rights Council, which sponsored the Goldstone commission, has already voted to endorse the report.

Bias claims

Steven Rothman, a Democratic congressman from New Jersey, told Al Jazeera that the report was biased against Israel, even after the Goldstone commission's mandate was expanded so that it could investigate war crimes alleged to have been committed by Hamas.

"The report was not written to talk about 12,000 rockets intentionally sent by Hamas to slaughter Israeli men, women and children, versus the Israelis trying in many respects to minimise the damage to Palestinian civilians," he told Al Jazeera.

"So there have been completely different standards applied." But when asked if he had read the Goldstone report in full, Rothman said he had read only the report's executive summary.

"I did not read the 400 or 500 pages, but I read the executive summary designed for members of congress and other world leaders to read, and I found it terribly, terribly biased and one-sided," he said.

But Brian Baird, a Democrat congressman for Washington state, said that the resolution failed to "accurately characterise" the Goldstone report and made no attempt to reflect the situation on the ground in Gaza.

"My belief is that it is incumbent on all of us who care about justice and peace in the region to look equally, with an equally critical eye, and all sides of this argument," he told Al Jazeera.

"One of the important elements of working towards peace and justice is that if someone of the calibre of Justice Goldstone, with the deligence and thoroughness of his investigation, ... reports on the kind of events that occured that merits further consideration.

"The resolution before us in the House would block that."

Goldstone clarifications

The result of Tuesday's vote had been widely anticipated.

In January, as Israel bombarded the Palestinian territory, the House had overwhelmingly backed a resolution "recognising Israel's right to defend itself against attacks from Israel".

The influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had lobbied strongly for the latest resolution and said it "strongly applauded" the House's action on Tuesday. 

Goldstone last week sent a letter to the US House of Representatives saying that the text of the US resolution had "factual inaccuracies and instances where information and statements are taken grossly out of context".

He offered several rejections and clarifications of the ideas expressed in the resolution.

In response to Goldstone's criticism, three parts of the resolution were amended on Tuesday to clarify that Goldstone had sought an expansion to the commission's mandate so that his team could investigate claims that Hamas had violated international law during the Gaza war.

The Goldstone report, which accused Israel of using "disproportionate force" and of deliberately targeting civilians, called for independent investigations to be held into Israel's and Hamas's conduct during the war.

The report called for the cases to be referred to the ICC in The Hague if Israel and Hamas do not investigate the war crimes allegations against them within six months.

Hamas has agreed to hold such an investigation, but Israel has not.

 

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