In May, the UN came out with a report accusing Israel of “negligence or recklessness” in the Gaza war. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he would seek compensation from Israel for damages numbering at $11 million to UN facilities. Led by Ian Martin, former head of human rights group Amnesty International, the UN inquiry cited that Israel was at fault for nine incidents of damage to UN property.
The 184-page report blamed Hamas for one case of damage, stating that a Palestinian rocket fired at a UN warehouse had caused $29,000 in damages, while according all other damages to Israel.
Indeed, the report apparently did not point out the millions of dollars in damages that Hamas rockets caused in the southern region of Israel or call for an investigation into the nine Israeli schools that Gaza missiles struck during the war.
Israel’s deputy UN ambassador, Daniel Carmon told Reuters that the report was one-sided. “We were really shocked to see a report where the board is limiting itself to the facts of damages only, ignoring the context, ignoring that there is war against terrorism.”
According to The Australian (May 7), the UN inquiry apparently made no mention of the UN’s initial accusation that Israeli shells directly hit a UN school in Jabaliya, killing more than 40 civilians.
UN officials accused Israeli Defense Forces of firing a mortar rocket at an UNRWA school on January 6, killing 43 people. CNN, France24, China Daily, Indian Express, BBC World, and the Israeli Haaretz all ran headlines stating that Israeli Strike Kills 40 at UN School. The New York Times added the word reportedly in its headline.
Only one lone international newspaper, the Canadian Globes and Mail came out 3 weeks later with a follow-up story to the UN allegation, entitled Account of Israeli Attack Doesn’t Hold up to Scrutiny (Jan 29).
Reporter Patrick Martin found that physical evidence and interviews with several eyewitnesses including a teacher in the UNRWA school yard at the time of the shelling revealed that no one inside the compound had been killed. ” Those who died were all outside on a street where the mortal shells landed.”
According to the Globes and Mail article, the teacher who was interviewed refused to give his name because he said UNRWA staff told him not to talk to news media.
Furthermore, the article pointsout that John Ging, UNRWA’s operations director in Gaza blamed Israel for the confusion over where the victims were killed. “Look at my statements…I never said anyone was killed in the school. Our officials never made such allegations.”
Indeed in the European Observer (Jan. 7), Ging condemned the attack as “horrific” and suggested that Israel knew it was targeting a UN facility. “We have provided the GPS co-ordinates of every single one of our locations,” he told the BBC in response to the alleged Israeli attack on the school. “It’s very clear that these are UN installations.”
Only in February 2, 2009, did the United Nations finally admit that it had made a mistake-calling the misleading statements “a clerical error.” According to Haaretz, Maxwell Gaylord, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Jerusalem admitted that the IDF mortars fell in the street near the compound and not on the compound itself. “We would like to clarify that the shelling and all of the fatalities took place outside and not inside the school,” said Gaylord.
Meanwhile the damage had been done. The misleading UN statements and media coverage had led to international outrage with strong condemnations against Israel popping up everywhere including from the European Union.
Not surprisingly, a clerical error of such significance was simply not deemed newsworthy by much of the international press. Except for the Canadian Globe and Mail, and Israeli newspapers including Haaretz, little international media coverage was given to Gaylord’s statements.
And now in June, the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict is spearheading another investigation. Led by South African Judge, Richard Goldstone, the UN investigation has currently focused its investigation in Gaza, interviewing Hamas along with Palestinians. Israel has refused to cooperate in the investigation, citing anti-Israeli bias by the investigation’s sponsor, the UN Human Rights Council, who has conducted numerous reports on Israeli treatment of Palestinians but little of the Palestinian rocket terror impacting southern Israelis.
The UN Fact Finding team includes Christine Chinkin, a law professor at the London School of Economics who signed an editorial published in the Sunday Times in January calling the Israeli offensive a war crime.
Come September, when the UN report is due, can one really expect an impartial, objective examination of the Gaza war? The recent comments of a Hamas official perhaps summed it best. In an AP news article (June 9), Hamas official, Ahmed Yousef, said that he hoped the UN report would be “like ammunition in the hands of the people who are willing to sue Israeli war criminals.”