Israel on Wednesday rejected U.N. calls to open an independent inquiry into its conduct during an offensive in the Gaza Strip in December and January.
A U.N. investigation released Tuesday found both Israel and Palestinian militants violated international law during the conflict. The report faulted Israel for targeting civilian government buildings, hospitals, a mosque and farms in Gaza. It also faulted Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas, which controls Gaza, for rocket attacks against civilians in Israel.
The report calls for an independent investigation, adding that if one is not carried out, the matter should be referred to the International Criminal Court.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said his country would take action to protect its troops from prosecution abroad. He said Israeli diplomats would lobby U.N. Security Council members against further action.
"Every time a democracy will want to take measures to defend itself from terror, it will have to take into consideration a wide international legal campaign against its leaders and officials, based on the propaganda of the terrorists," Palmor said.
Israel's Own Investigation
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev tells Robert Siegel that the Israeli military is conducting its own investigation into the conflict, adding that the inquiry, like all conducted by the military, is open to review by civilian courts.
"Our own internal investigations are much more serious than what is being produced by this report," Regev says.
South African Judge Richard Goldstone, who heads the U.N. report, dismisses the Israeli investigation.
"The Israeli investigations have been done behind closed doors in secret by the military," he tells Siegel. "That's hardly an investigation by any acceptable standard."
Israel launched the three-week offensive in December to quash militants in Gaza who had bombarded southern Israel with rocket and mortar fire. More than 1,000 Palestinians, including civilians, were killed. Thirteen Israelis, including four civilians, were also killed.
Avoiding Civilian Casualties
Israel maintains that it made immense efforts to avoid civilian casualties during the conflict. It distributed leaflets in civilian areas and made phone calls to areas that were about to be attacked.
Goldstone, a former South African judge who prosecuted war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, says though those measures were taken, actions by the Israeli Defense Forces also caused panic.
"There were telephone calls on two occasions warning of a bombing that never happened," Goldstone tells Siegel. "People evacuated, nothing happened. They went back days later, there was a second warning; nothing happened, and they went back.
"And after the third warning, in fact, the factory was pretty badly smashed up."
Israel has refused to cooperate with the investigation.
"We made a decision upfront not to cooperate with the Goldstone group precisely because the mandate given was so one-sided," Regev says.
Goldstone is Jewish and has close ties to Israel. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post newspaper, his daughter Nicole described Goldstone as a Zionist who loves Israel.
"I know better than anyone else that he thought however hard it was to accept it, he was doing the best thing for everyone, including Israel," she told the newspaper. "He is honest, tells things how he sees them and wants to uncover the truth."
Goldstone tells Siegel that he had seen the interview.
"What she says is correct," he says.
Regev, however, was not as impressed.
"If he had said ... 'I refuse to have anything to do with this sort of kangaroo court,' I would have more respect for him," he says.