UN gives Israel, Palestinians grace period to investigate Gaza War charges

A new UN resolution has given Israel and the Palestinians five additional months to investigate the three-week Gaza war that left many Palestinian civilians dead or on the edge of survival.

Thousands of Gaza residents were made homeless a little more than a year ago following 22 days of Israeli fire that began in late December 2008 – a devastating war cost them everything. Today, they get by on handouts from the international community.

Ahmed Awaja's baby brother was killed during the war. His home and school are still piles of rubble. He has not seen his friends since moving to a tent city with his family, and he spends his days trying to escape the misery around him.

“I am on the computer as much as I can, it is my new best friend,” Awaja said. “I hate living here but I know we do not have a choice. I just really pray that we can leave soon.”

Things are no better for Ahmed's sister, Re’em. She attends classes at a nearby school, but she says it is hard to concentrate as her life has been turned upside down.

“What makes Gaza different from other places is that we could end up living in these tents forever,” she says. “They say it is only for now, but I am afraid we will never leave.”

According to the Palestinian statistics bureau, some 26,000 Gazans are now living in temporary shelters. And according to the most optimistic figures, the cost of getting the refuges, not to mention the rest of Gaza, up to speed will cost at least $2 billion dollars.

But the people here are not confident the money will keep flowing in, especially now that the UN fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict, headed by the respected South African judge Richard Goldstone, seems to have been put on the backburner.

Israelis expect the Goldstone Report, which was highly critical of Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip during the war, to eventually receive a poor man's burial. The Palestinians seem to share that view. Indeed, it is hard to find a single Gazan resident who believe that Israeli civilians will be forced to appear before an international criminal court in The Hague for alleged war crimes in Gaza, especially if America can be relied on to veto the move.

But there are some hopeful signs that the international community has not forgotten the plight of Gaza. Just last week, for example, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution giving Israelis and Palestinians five more months to conduct internal investigations into the conflict. However, Israel insists the inquiry it already completed is more than satisfactory and there is no need for Goldstone.

“The Israeli army… conducted an inquiry about all that had happened,” said Ruth Lapidot of Hebrew University. “All those cases, where there was suspicion that the soldiers did not behave properly, they have been tested and eight have gone to court for criminal prosecution and we did not need Mr. Goldstone to do that.”

Many Israelis feel the Goldstone Report is part and parcel of a growing anti-Israel sentiment sweeping the world, of which the UN is a part.

“The Goldstone mission did a very sloppy and inaccurate job in collecting the facts of the case,” said Dan Diker of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. “They made outrageous and grotesque accusations against Israel, which were found to be completely baseless and their entire process of analysis was largely flawed.”

However, Palestinians stand by the report although they are disappointed that more countries have not stepped forward to endorse it.

“It outlined not just individual criminal responsibility of soldiers, it did not just talk about individual acts that were committed as part of war. It talked about an overall systematic widespread policy that lead to the types of war crimes that were alleged to have been committed, possible crimes against humanity as well,” said Natalie Tabar of the Al-Haq International Commission of Jurists.

It is still too soon to say what will come out of the Goldstone Report and whether it will go down in the history books as a failure or a success.

However, for Ahmed and his family it makes little difference. As residents of Gaza's new tent city, the war's bitter reality is something they must face every day.

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