On July 6th, I traveled to Geneva to testify before the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. Participating in the delegations were Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin, Dr Alan Marcus the director strategic planning branch in Ashkelon, Ophir Shinhar of Sapir College, and Dr. Mirelda Sidrer who was injured during a rocket attack on a medical facility at the Ashkelon mall.
The Israeli delegation also included Noam Shalit, who impassionedly spoke on behalf of his son, Gilad, who was abducted three years ago by Palestinian terrorists and has since been held by Hamas.
The Israeli government officially refused to cooperate with the UN mission, since the UN investigation had already formulated conclusions asserting that Israel had committed war crimes during the December-January war.
At the same time, however, the head of the UN fact finding mission, South African Judge Richard Goldstone, told the Israeli media that he would like to hear both sides of the conflict. “The aim of the public hearings was to let the face of human suffering be seen and to let the voices of the victims be heard.”
In preparation for the Geneva hearing, the UN mission invited the Sderot Media Center , a Sderot NGO, to prepare material, footage and information regarding the impact of the Gaza bombardment of the Israeli civilian population in the Negev during the Gaza war. The UN Mission aimed to at obtain an unofficial Israeli perspective.
Before the UN hearing in Geneva, the Israeli delegation received a briefing from Hillel Neuer, head of NGO ‘UN Watch.’ Neuer provided background on the UN fact finding mission and the agenda of each judge on the UN investigating board.
During the days leading up to the testimony, it was not easy to sleep – as the only resident of Sderot and the western Negev in this delegation, knowing that there would be only 30 minutes to convey how aerial terror has devastatingly impacted the civilian population of Sderot.
At the same time, the UN afforded an opportunity for Sderot Media Center, which specializes in communicating the human story of Sderot and life under continuous rocket terror to decision makers around the world , to finally reach the UN.
While the delegation got ready to testify in the “lion’s den,” it was less than sobering to know that one of the UN judges included Professor Christine Chinkin from London. In a Sunday Times article published on January 11th , Judge Chinkin supported the allegation that “Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is not self defense, it’s a war crime.”
Israeli reporters in Geneva asked hard questions:
Why testify before a such a ‘neutral’ judge who claims that Israel does not have the right to defend her citizens and whose actions “ amount to aggression violating international law and human rights law?”
Why testify when the government of Israel itself has boycotted the investigation which already formulated it allegations against Israel before the investigation commenced?
However, the presence of a UN invited delegation from Israel created a precedent.
Hillel Neuer of Human Rights Watch noted that never in the 16 years of operating in Geneva had there ever been a time when the UN invited and even sponsored a delegation from Israel to give testimony – until now.
This time, the UN provided an opportunity for ordinary people from Israel to make their voices heard across the world. It was an honor as a resident of Sderot to partake in such an event.
Yet the long road to peace and justice for Sderot and Negev residents does not end before a panel of UN judges or a commissioned report.
Residents of Israel who act as witnesses to terror against the Jewish people, are obligated to speak up and convey the experience of what it is like to live under sustained rocket attacks-defined as a terror act and crime against humanity.
After screening two short videos in front of the panel of UN judges, which depicted the 15 seconds that Sderot residents and their children have to run for their lives when the rocket alarm is activated by impending Gaza rockets, I concluded my presentation with the following thoughts and questions.
“I do not have enough fingers, to count on my hands the amount of times rockets exploded just a few meters from a kindergarten–would any other western democracy in the world tolerate even one rocket being fired towards their territory? Why is it that we must wait, until a kindergarten or classroom packed with children, is struck directly by a rocket in order for Israel to gain international support, to protect and do what is right for our own people?”
US President Barack Obama put it best when he visited a devastated home in Sderot during the 2008 campaign:
“If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that, and would expect Israel to do the same think.”
There were no questions or reactions from the UN judges. We will all have to wait, along with all the residents of southern Israel, to peruse the Geneva verdict on the war when the UN Mission report will be released in September.
*For more news coverage on the Israeli delegation in the UN and SMC’s presentation, click on the news sites below:
Israel National News: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/132246