Few major mainstream American news outlets exposed the sordid details of a 2009 United Nations (UN) fact finding report that revealed how Israel's military illegally aimed chemical missiles at a United Nations Relief & Work Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees in a 22-day invasion of the Gaza strip that began in 2008 called "Operation Cast Lead."
As the U.S. and world media watch to learn if claims that President Barack Obama will execute a military strike against Syria, without a vote of Congress or the support of the UN, the same media outlets are burying information that suggests preparation for war could be premature. Little media attention is being paid to claims from a UN commission that Syrian rebels, not government soldiers under President Bashar al-Assad's control, were responsible for recent chemical weapons attacks that killed over 300 Syrians.
"During our investigation for crimes against humanity and war crimes, we collect some witness testimony that has made to appear that some chemical weapons were used. In particular, nerve gas," said Carla del Ponte, a member of the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria. "What appears to our investigation is that this was used by the opposition, by the rebels. We have no indication at all that the Syria government have used chemical weapons."
What's also questionable is why Obama has drawn a "line in the sand" over highly questionable allegations that Syrian soldiers used chemical weapons when the Israeli military was proven, and officials have admitted, to using chemical warfare to attack a United Nations relief compound. The facility provided shelter and medical attention to Palestinian refugees in 2009.
Cleveland Challenger obtained a copy of the 575 page 2009 UN report that a fact finding mission headed by ex-South African Judge Richard Goldstone prepared after an investigation of the events surrounding Operation Cast Lead.
The Israeli missile and ground assault on the Gaza strip began on December 27, 2008 and ended on January 18, 2009. The attack resulted in an estimated 1100 to 14oo Palestinian deaths. 13 Israeli soldiers were killed. Four died from friendly fire.
The invasion was stimulated by Israel's claims that rockets were being fired at Israeli's by Hamas militants. Three Israeli civilians and one soldier were killed by Hamas' rockets in the days leading up to the assault that led to an estimated $1.3 billion in damage to Palestinian property and businesses. Israel's military was also accused by the UN fact finding mission of violating war protocols by using Palestinians as human shields, murdering unarmed civilians, destroying water and sewer treatment plants, and wiping out food supplies and production facilities to starve the population.
The UN commission Goldstone led met extensively with Palestinian officials, victims and survivors after the Israeli military assault. The interviews and investigation led to the discovery of information and evidence that Israel's military deployed missiles containing "white phosphorous" against civilians and the hospital.
White phosphorous is a highly-combustible chemical agent that burns on contact with air. In humans it burns upon contact with skin and creates very deep tissue wounds. It can also cause death when inhaled. It's customary use has been as a "smoke screen" although it is illegal to use against civilians in times of war. The UN commission found Israel's use of the burning agent against the hospital to be particularly deplorable.
When first questioned about the white phosphorous missile allegations that struck the UNRWA compound, the Israeli military's first response was to issue a denial. On January 15, 2009, three days before the attack ended, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the chemical weapon attack a "grave error" and allegedly apologized to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. On the same day, Israeli President Shimon Peres apologized for the attack, but added the false claim that Israeli troops were being fired upon from inside the facility.
The UN fact finding group challenged the claims made by Israeli officials and accused them of understating the nature and extent of the chemical missile strikes. They identified 10 strikes inside the UNRWA compound, with seven white phosphorous container shells discharging completely or very substantially in the confines of a very limited space.
"This is not a matter of a limited number of wedges falling inside the compound or shrapnel or parts of shells landing in the compound as the shells exploded elsewhere. It is important to emphasize that we are dealing with shells exploding or discharging inside the compound in areas where hazardous material was stored."Israeli government and military officials took issue with the report, but mainly focused effort at discrediting claims that they "randomly" and "intentionally" targeted and slaughtered Palestinian civilians. UN interviews revealed that Israeli soldiers herded an unarmed family of 29 into a home and bombed it.
"Secondly, the claim that this result was neither intended nor anticipated has to be reviewed carefully. In the first place the Mission affirms the result to be reviewed is not fragments and wedges landing in the compound but ten shells landing and exploding inside the compound. It is difficult to accept that the consequences were not appreciated and foreseen by the Israeli armed forces."
"Those in the Israeli army who deploy white phosphorous, or indeed any artillery shells, expertly trained to factor in the relevant complexities of targeting, including wind force and the earth's curvature. They have to know the area they are firing at, possible obstacles in hitting the target and the other environmental factors necessary to ensure an effective strike. It is also clear that, having determined that it was necessary to establish a safety distance, the presence of the UNRWA installations was a factor present in the minds of those carrying out the shelling."
"The question then becomes how specialists expertly trained in the complex issue of artillery deployment and aware of the presence of an extremely sensitive site can strike that site ten times while apparently trying to avoid it."
Instead of sharing any of the details of the 575 page report with newspaper and magazine readers, and television viewers, the U.S. media concentrated all its attention on Israeli claims that denied the allegations.
Goldstone's opinion reflected that he'd only changed his mind about whether or not Israel "intentionally" targeted civilians in the 22 day military invasion of Palestine.
"The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion. While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee's report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy."Goldstone also took the opportunity to balance a legitimate Israeli government complaint that his 2009 report concentrated the majority of its criticism on Israel and made little or no reference to Hamas' attacks on innocent Israeli citizens.
Nothing, however, in Goldstone's opinion two years later, denounced his fact finding mission's findings as U.S. reporters seem to have intentionally tried to shield Israel from criticism.
As I indicated from the very beginning, I would have welcomed Israel's cooperation. The purpose of the Goldstone Report was never to prove a foregone conclusion against Israel. I insisted on changing the original mandate adopted by the Human Rights Council, which was skewed against Israel. I have always been clear that Israel, like any other sovereign nation, has the right and obligation to defend itself and its citizens against attacks from abroad and within. Something that has not been recognized often enough is the fact that our report marked the first time illegal acts of terrorism from Hamas were being investigated and condemned by the United Nations. I had hoped that our inquiry into all aspects of the Gaza conflict would begin a new era of evenhandedness at the U.N. Human Rights Council, whose history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted.