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Gaza war: Palestinians battle bitterly over Palestinian forces’ conduct

JERUSALEM — On this day last year, a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel took effect after three brutal weeks of fighting that left close to 1,500 people dead.

JERUSALEM — On this day last year, a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel took effect after three brutal weeks of fighting that left close to 1,500 people dead. And while today, the guns are largely quiet, the truth of what happened in that devastating war is still being bitterly fought over – not between Palestinians and Israelis, but among Palestinians themselves.

That point was clear this week as 11 Palestinian human rights groups came together to demand that Palestinian leaders – both of Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank – investigate accusations of Palestinian violations outlined in the Goldstone Report. The organizations asked that Ismail Haniyeh, who acts as Hamas’s prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, launch investigations into the conduct of various Palestinian forces during the war.

The groups are demanding that leaders move on the issue before Feb. 5, when the UN Secretary-General is to report to the UN General Assembly on compliance by both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Goldstone’s report
The Goldstone Report, named after South African Judge Richard Goldstone, immediately engendered controversy when it was released last September.

The 575-page report, the result of a UN fact-finding mission, found fault with both sides in the conflict and said there was evidence of both sides having committed war crimes. The report saved its most scathing criticism for Israel, whose military campaign to stop rocket fire from Gaza, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, lead to the deaths of 1,417 Gazans, according to a Palestinian count; the Israel army says its count is 1,166. Thirteen Israelis were also killed.

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But the report also pointed up alleged behavior by Palestinian officials and militants. This included militants using other Palestinians as human shields, shooting rockets from homes and crowded areas knowing that Israel would likely retaliate from the source of the fire, summary execution of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel, and torture of suspects.

“Whereas the bulk of the report addressed violations by Israel, the occupying power, it also considered violations by Palestinian authorities in Gaza and the West Bank,” states the letter, which included prominent local human rights groups such as Al-Haq, Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, Ad-dameer Association for Human Rights, and two Israel-based groups – Adallah and the Arab Association for Human Rights.

“We urge you to immediately take clear and public steps toward holding to account all those who prove to be responsible for the violations detailed in the report,” the organizations wrote in their letter.

Samer Musa, a lawyer for Ad-Dameer in Gaza, explained what the organizations were hoping to achieve through the letter – and through making it public.

“We want both parties, both the PA and Hamas, to take concrete steps to implement the conclusions of the Goldstone Report,” Mr. Musa says in a phone interview from Gaza. “The government authorities in Gaza and the West Bank must implement these recommendations by performing an internal investigation based on trust, by taking clear public steps, and showing that they can bring to justice people who committed real violations outlined in the Goldstone report.”

The groups specifically mentioned the Palestinian Authority (PA) as well as Hamas because the Goldstone Report points to the arrest and torture of suspects in the West Bank, where the PA had launched a crackdown on Hamas members.

“Of course, we have to realize that we’re looking at the Goldstone report through several levels,” Musa added. “We are the victims, and the Israelis attacked us in Operation Cast Lead. But moving from there, we should examine the reaction of different military groups and whether what they did was according to the international standards of war.”

No official response to demands
The Hamas government in Gaza has not given any official response to the groups’ demands. However, the Minister of Justice in Gaza, Muhammed Faraj al-Ghool, made a general statement Tuesday about plans “to investigate people who committed violations outlined in the Goldstone report,” Ad-Dameer said. Nimr Hamad, an aide to Mr. Abbas in Ramallah, says that the PA favors having the Arab League form a commission of inquiry.

Israel has resisted calls to form an independent commission of inquiry to investigate accusations in the Goldstone report, and its officials have said that they do not want any outside bodies investigating the Israel army.