Desmond Tutu: Prosecute Israelis, Palestinians who kill civilians
Archbishop calls for those responsible for deaths from Beit Hanun shelling, Qassam rocket fire be prosecuted
Archbishop Desmond Tutu said Wednesday that Israeli and Palestinian authorities should prosecute people on both sides who attacked civilians in the Gaza town of Beit Hanun and in nearby parts of Israel last year.
"Regardless of whether the casualties at Beit Hanun were caused by a mistake, recklessness, criminal negligence or were willful, those responsible must be held accountable," Tutu told the UN rights body that assigned him to investigate the November 2006 Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
Israel twice declined to grant visas to the Nobel peace laureate and his UN-appointed fact-finding team to investigate the killings of 19 civilians in an Israel Defense Forces artillery barrage, Tutu said in a report to the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council. He said he also wanted to investigate the impact of Palestinian Qassam rockets in neighboring Israel.
He recalled that Israel refused to grant the visas last December and disclosed that he made a second application May 4 but was again unable to receive Israeli approval.
Itzhak Levanon, Israel's ambassador to the UN offices in Geneva, said he had received the report shortly before the council meeting and that it was difficult to react immediately, but that he held Tutu in high esteem.
He said he had met with Tutu and told him that "we have examined the case and issued an apology for the tragedy."
Levanon said the council had been biased against Israel in singling it out for other investigations and that he had asked Tutu to use his moral authority to call upon the council to ensure that it will be fair, balanced and non-selective.
"There was deep domestic disappointment within Israel when we are confronted with imbalanced and one-sided resolutions in this council which utterly ignores the fact that we live with terrorism every day and that more than 3,000 Qassam rockets have been launched into Israel since we withdrew from Gaza," Levanon said. "Unfortunately a large part of these missiles have been launched precisely from towns such as Beit Hanoun."
Tutu told the council that Israel had offered to let the team visit as private individuals, but that the team rejected the proposal on the grounds that it would have prevented them from carrying out their mission in an acceptable way.
"It is a matter of grave concern to the team that it was unable to fulfill its mission due to the noncooperation of the Israeli government," Tutu said.
Israel also failed to reply to the team's request for a copy of the IDF's report on the Beit Hanun shelling.
The council asked the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town to assess the situation of victims, address the needs of survivors and make recommendations on ways to protect Palestinian civilians against further Israeli attacks.
The Beit Hanun shelling, which Israel said was unintended, came after its troops wound up a weeklong incursion meant to curb Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel from the town.
Palestinian militants frequently use Beit Hanun as a staging ground for their rocket attacks on Israel.
"The lack of accountability for those firing Qassam rockets indiscriminately on civilian areas in Israel, as well as a lack of accountability for civilian deaths caused by Israeli military activity in Gaza have resulted in a culture of impunity on both sides," Tutu's report said.
Tutu recommended that a commission of two well-respected individuals, one representing each side, be established to monitor human rights in Gaza and neighboring Israel.
And he said an independent, impartial and public investigation should be undertaken into the violence on both sides and that reparations be paid for the loss of life and livelihoods, injury and damage to property.
Israeli officials were not immediately available to comment, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said last December that the team had canceled its trip even though no final decision had been made by Israel.
"We had a problem not with the personalities, we had a problem with the institution," Regev said. "We saw a situation whereby the human rights mechanism of the UN was being cynically exploited to advance an anti-Israel agenda."
"This would do the Israelis, the Palestinians and peace in the Middle East no good at all. This would also have done nothing to serve the interest of human rights," Regev added.