By: Michelle Sherger, Pace International Law Review, Case Note and Comment Editor
On December 27, 2008, Israel launched an assault on Gaza. The assault, which lasted 22 days, killed over 1,300 Gaza residents, wounded over 5,000 other residents, and wreaked havoc on Gaza’s infrastructure. According to Israeli authorities, the purpose of the assault was to prevent Hamas from firing rockets into southern Israel from Gaza.
On April 3, 2009, the President of the United Nations Human Rights Council established an international fact-finding group to investigate whether Israel’s actions during the Gaza War violated international human rights laws. Richard Goldstone, a South African jurist who was once the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal tribunals in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, was appointed to lead the group. The fifteen investigators in Goldstone’s group headed for Gaza on June 1, 2009, intending to spend their time speaking with victims, witnesses, Palestinian, Israeli, and international NGOs, and other experts. Facing resistance from Israeli authorities, the group entered Gaza through Egypt rather than Israel.
The Israeli military maintains that it did not violate international law during the three-week war in Gaza. During its internal investigations, it said, it had not found a single case of an Israeli soldier deliberately hurting innocent Palestinian civilians. The military also indicated that it used white phosphorus only to create smokescreens. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, however, maintain that Israel violated international law during its three-week assault on Gaza by using weapons that contained white phosphorus in civilian areas. According to the Geneva Conventions, phosphorus bombs can be used to create smokescreens but cannot be used as weapons in civilian areas.
Hamas, unlike Israel, has pledged to fully cooperate with the UN investigators. The investigators were expected to conclude the first portion of the investigation on June 5, 2009.