This meeting has been called to discuss the Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, known as the Goldstone report. I welcome Colonel Desmond Travers, retired member——
UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict: Discussion of Goldstone Report.
I am sorry to interrupt. Before the Chairman welcomes Colonel Travers, I want to raise some issues related to the manner in which this committee is doing its business and in which this meeting has been ordered. This is a very important meeting and it is important that, at a meeting of this nature, members be as informed as possible and have an opportunity to address issues that arise in a considered way. Too frequently this committee deals with issues in a superficial way designed to attract headlines rather than to provide solutions to problems, particularly in respect of the Middle East. My problem concerns the manner in which this meeting has been organised. I am aware that the Chairman is about to welcome Colonel Travers and I am sorry for interrupting him. It would be unfair to the colonel, whom the Chairman will ask to address us, not to let him know the point I am making.
This meeting has been called to consider a very substantial report, of over 500 pages, on a conflict that has given rise to considerable concern and public comment, in addition to partisan comment on different sides that is not always helpful in dealing with issues. We were notified of the meeting by e-mail last Friday. Most of us were involved with issues associated with the Lisbon treaty and, as a consequence, I saw the e-mail on Monday. It stated the secretariat was doing its best to obtain hard copies of the report to make available to members. As recently as yesterday — I am open to correction — we received another e-mail stating there was an attempt to obtain hard copies. In fairness, we were sent a link to a site from which we could download a copy of the report, and my secretary did so. We were furnished with a summary and recommendations but not the body of the report. I do not know how many members went to the trouble of downloading the report in full.
The report is very substantial and I have done my best to read most of it in the time available. I doubt that all of us had time to read most of it, never mind digest it. This meeting is premature and it would have been an extraordinarily good idea to have it next week rather than this week. I say this to Colonel Travers because I believe he may provide us with some valuable insight.
Too frequently this committee holds meetings for the sake of doing so without giving thought to what work members may want to do in advance of those meetings. It results in our coming here and making set piece speeches. All members have different views and occasionally somewhat emotional ones on issues related to the conflict in the Middle East. Based on the nature of the conflict, that is completely understandable.
It is not for me to query how many colleagues have had the opportunity to read the full report but, based on what has been happening in the Parliament this week and the pressures exerted by the Lisbon issue, I very much doubt that members have worked their way through it in full. Having been involved in other issues this week, in addition to doing work related to other committees, I was up at 6 a.m. this morning trying to complete my reading of the report under discussion today.
Members of the committee should have been provided with a hard copy of the report. Our own secretaries are busy enough without having to download and find such reports. On the basis that we are all capable of doing so, we should have had more than what was in effect two or three days' notice, in practical terms, that this meeting was to take place. This would have allowed us not only to read the report but also to read the plethora of documents and commentaries thereon, with which we have been inundated since this meeting was called. Some of the commentary is critical and some supportive. We should have had time to consider it all. This meeting should be postponed for a week so all members will have the opportunity to read the report in full, not just a summary and recommendations.
The second matter I wish to raise is very specific to the way in which we do our business. In all the papers circulated to us — I am open to correction in this regard and may have missed a point — it is revealed that what commenced the Goldstone inquiry was a UN Human Rights Council resolution——
Deputy Shatter is now getting to the meat of the debate.
If Senator Norris could contain himself.
Deputy Shatter is frustrating the work of the committee.
I am not getting to the meat of anything.
Deputy Shatter, you have made your point.
No, I have not made this point. I insist I make it because it will take me less than a minute.
Chairman, could I interject? Did the committee secretariat receive any item from Deputy Shatter regarding his concerns? We are all busy people. It would have been fair if he had raised these concerns, circulated them to members of the committee and asked if this meeting could be delayed for one week. However, to come to the committee now and tell us to call off the meeting——
Has Senator Daly read the 500-page report?
Deputy Shatter is on about a procedural issue.
Chairman, could we hear Colonel Travers without fear or favour and then hear Deputy Shatter?
I will not——-
Did Deputy Shatter contact the committee secretariat about his concerns?
The committee should not go through the usual route of set piece speeches on a report most members I believe have not read. It is a disservice to Colonel Travers.
Did Deputy Shatter contact the committee secretariat about his concerns on Monday?
My office would have telephoned the secretariat looking for bound copies of this report on a number of occasions.
I understand Deputy Shatter asked for a hard copy of the report which was not available. A copy of the report is available on the UN website. We have the exceptional opportunity of having one of the authors of the report to give an initial presentation on it. That is what the committee set out to do and will do today.
Can I complete my point?
We will allow Deputy Shatter to finish his point.
The final matter I want to raise, which I had started before Senator Norris got unduly excited, is that the UN Human Rights Council passed a motion——
Deputy Shatter does not unduly excite me.
It is a great relief to hear that; the feeling is mutual. In the ninth special session of the UN Human Rights Council, a motion was passed on 12 January which set out the council's views on events happening in Gaza at the time. A paragraph in the motion established Colonel Travers's committee. As a very minimum, I would have thought that part of the background information — the full text of the motion- would be furnished to members of the committee.
Can I make a point——
I propose to proceed——
I am sorry if I am upsetting members but I am merely making the point that the motion should be circulated to members of the committee.
I asked Colonel Travers to attend the committee. I did not ask him to bring any other documentation.
Did Senator Daly read the report?
I read the report. It was tedious reading.
Did the Senator read the protocol?
I did not ask him——
Has the Senator read the report?
Chairman, there is much hectoring going on. Can we hear Colonel Travers and then postpone the discussion if Deputy Shatter feels we do not have adequate time? Let us hear the gentleman who was invited to attend the committee today. We can then postpone the discussion and give plenty of time for it at a later date. I propose we hear Colonel Travers immediately.
If Deputy Shatter wants to propose a motion, let him do so as it is a free country.
On a point of order, Chairman. I indicated I wish to speak and you called me. Several other members have sought to shout over the Chair, however. I would appreciate if the Chairman could control members while I make my point.
There is some merit in what Deputy Shatter has said. I find it unedifying and embarrassing that we are squabbling in front of Colonel Travers who participated in a fact-finding mission on Gaza. I take on board the point that members perhaps have not read the full report. However, we are not here as judge and jury. I am most anxious to hear Colonel Travers——
——and then we can squabble in private session.
We will proceed on that basis.
Can I speak briefly?
I can be very brief.
I believe we should take advantage of the presence of Colonel Travers and hear him. I have no problem about postponing the discussion and the presentation of the full report at a later meeting. It should also be accompanied by any other information people may wish to submit, including the information from the European affairs committee in its examination of Article 2 of the association agreement.
And the Israeli Embassy.
I have been a member of this committee for a long time. I respect everyone's views, including those which differ from mine. However, I object to views being regarded as set speeches and superficial before members have even heard them. In fact that is the problem on the committee.
I wish we could all come to the committee and give our contributions based on our experience of visiting these areas. I also wish we could come with an open mind. I will say no more about that but if people want to go down the road of prefacing all our meetings with the exchange of insults, by God, there will be people well willing to reply to them.
We will now proceed and I apologise to Colonel Travers for this situation.
May I ask that the motion passed by the UN Human Rights Council be circulated to members of the committee for their information?
Of course it can.
We have been at this for 20 minutes now.
If any other member of the committee has any other evidence of any kind, terms of reference or whatever, will they submit it to the secretariat before the substantive meeting? We can then have the substantive meeting at which we respect each other and do not make insults in advance before people open their mouths.
That is agreed. As Colonel Travers can see, this is an issue in which the committee has been involved for some time. The committee has visited the region twice with substantial delegations and had deep conversations with many parties. The committee visited Gaza recently in a joint effort with the Joint Committee on European Affairs. We are particularly focused on trying to bring peace to the Middle East and to all parties. One of Colonel Travers's conclusions in his report was the bringing on of current political initiatives and the committee is very interested to hear from him on this issue and his fact-finding mission.
Colonel Desmond Travers
A dhaoine uaisle, baill an Chomhchoiste Um Ghnóthaí Eachtracha, tá áthas orm go bhfuil sé ar mo chumas freastal os bhur gcomhair chun an tuarascáíl seo a chur in iúl dhaoibh.
I understand members of the committee have received the document I intended to read about the matters which I believe are germane to its inquiries into the events that occurred in Gaza in December and January 2009. Due to the time issue, I will just extract salient points from the document and when and where necessary I will elaborate on them.
The report in question is titled, the Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, comprising 570 pages and involving the study of 10,000 documents and 200 hours of photo and video footage. The High Commission's website contains all the unexpurgated interviews with expert and victim witnesses from both sides. I had the honour to be selected as a member of this distinguished group comprising Mr. Justice Richard Goldstone, Professor Christine Chinkin and Ms Hina Jilani. They all have distinguished past experience in the investigations of similar crimes and events, both in the Middle East and Darfur. Mr. Justice Goldstone has a very wide and distinguished reputation because he also activated the tribunals for the former Yugoslavia. I am very conscious of Deputy Shatter's comments with respect to the original mandate because the original Council resolution was of great concern to us and I would have stayed any inquiry, I believe, until Mr. Justice Goldstone very ably and skilfully managed to amplify the resolution to produce a mandate that was workable, fair and capable of investigating all parties openly and thoroughly. That mandate I shall refer to again — it is on the top of page 2 — because it is very important. It relates to the investigations of "all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after".
That amplification enabled us to examine all of the germane issues with respect to the events that occurred. These included the activities of Hamas both towards the citizens of southern Israel and those of Gaza, the Palestine Administration's actions towards Hamas and the Israeli security forces' actions towards Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and in Israel. All of the issues that impacted on the events that took place during what is described as Operation Cast Lead could, and were, examined thoroughly.
The mission sought the co-operation of all parties in its inquiries. This was not acceded to by the state of Israel. This denial of co-operation was to have implications not alone for the investigation of events in southern Israel, but for access to Gaza and to the occupied territories in the West Bank. These latter difficulties in my view, and that of my fact-finding mission, were largely overcome by initiatives that were put in place by Mr. Justice Goldstone. This was by innovative methods of inquiry which were to institute public hearings in Gaza, Amman, Jordan and Geneva. These were in addition to prior hearings which we had held for a full week in Gaza, and also for the retention of our investigation teams, to allow them to continue their research work while we returned to Geneva to contemplate further actions.
I want to mention Ireland's modest but significant contribution, where I caused an expert in military analysis to come before the Commission, namely, Lieutenant-Colonel Raymond Lane of the Irish Army Ordnance Corps, who made a presentation to us which was critical in the analysis and examination of the various munitions fired into and on to Gaza and southern Israel. He was also able to elaborate for our benefit the acceptability or otherwise of those munitions, and where acceptable, the acceptability or otherwise in the manner in which they were used. Lieutenant-Colonel Lane used the resources of the Army Ordnance School in the Curragh, its staff and students to produce a manual which we refer to quite frequently in coming to determinations of concern with respect to the use or overuse of certain munitions, during our inquiries.
In addition we received a very impressive and informative overview of all of the issues relating to Gaza, southern Israel and the Middle East from Mr. John Ging, who is the operations director at UNRWA. Again, as the committee may know, Mr. Ging, who is a former Irish Army officer, served with me in Sarajevo as a civilian practitioner with OSCE. I am very proud, again, to mention him, along with Lieutenant-Colonel Lane as significant influences in the determination of the events that took place.
As we know the report is now a matter of record. Its publication has had worldwide effect. I have had the time to do some analysis of that effect and I am happy to report that by and large, the world's media have accepted its contents and as far as I am aware have not produced any criticism of its integrity and judgment. We received a barrage of criticisms, however, throughout our investigations, mainly directed at personalities within the Commission including the integrity of a man I admire greatly, Mr. Justice Goldstone, and also Professor Chinkin. Not a single assertion that I am aware of challenges the facts we examined and the findings we came up with, and that situation obtains to date.
As the committee probably knows, the report has not been ratified by the Council for reasons that are still a matter of intense debate but appear to be associated with the withdrawal or deferment of the resolution by the Palestinian Authority. That does not mean the report is not under consideration, however. It is still under active consideration and by the Security Council, perhaps, also. Nevertheless, it is deferred and in effect that means justice is being denied, not alone to the many thousands of homeless citizens in Gaza, but to the distressed and traumatised citizens of southern Israel. There are post-conflict impacts and concerns in Gaza that we became aware of only in the very latest stages of our negotiations. These are critical issues. Gaza is potentially uninhabitable if it is not attended to — because of the damage to the environment, the air, water, the seas, the land, the soil, the sewage. It is a hazardous place in which to live. There is an urgent requirement for an environmental and post-impact analysis not alone on these aspects, but on human tissue and on survivors who were injured to determine and take measures to ensure people's survivability. The impact has been so critical that some experts advise that coastal Israel and coastal Egypt are now affected.
I also want to alert the committee to other post-impact damage which creates dust that by virtue of the prevailing winds could travel eastwards into southern Israel. Therefore it is in Israel's best interests, too, for its citizens to assist actively in the monitoring of such post-impact consequences. My concluding comment is an urgent recommendation to the committee to the effect that whatever decision is taken about this report, some method should be put in place by the international community to start monitoring this troubled part of the world to save lives and maintain some reasonable semblance of quality of life. I thank the committee for facilitating my attendance and take cognisance of Deputy Shatter's comment on the short timeframe in which to examine this very complex report. I accept that it is complex. I am happy to come before the committee at any time to elaborate on matters in the future.
I thank Colonel Travers and call Deputy Billy Timmins.
I thank Colonel Travers very much for his remarks. The committee would love to hear about his personal experience, from when he went there and listened to the evidence and saw the impact. He talks about restrictions on time and access, and the impact this has had. I do not know whether we are going ahead, today, with the discussion.
Unless members are seeking particular points of clarification now we can have a full discussion on another day, when we will have more information to consider.
Colonel Travers has indicated that he is willing to come back, and we should have a detailed discussion with him then. Based on the time and access restrictions, is he satisfied that the report is a full document and that there are no shortcomings in it? Is he satisfied with the key recommendations in it and its findings?
I thank the colonel for his presentation, and for the offer to come back when we are having the more substantive discussion. Taking up the point he mentioned on the environmental damage, which international agencies should set about this work? The post-conflict examinations on both sides to which he referred are very important, but does he have a view as to which agencies might do that work in the short term? I see problems with negotiating entry for different agencies. If it was to be the consequence of a long political process, it might take much time. I get the sense that these matters are urgent.
It would be useful if the preface to the handbook being prepared on ordnance was made available to the committee, so that we can deal with an issue that arises regarding human rights conditions on awareness of the use of ordnance. When Colonel Travers comes back for the second discussion, perhaps we could have a copy of that.
I thank the colonel for coming in. Like Deputy Timmins, I would like to hear of his personal experiences out there. We visited Gaza recently and saw for ourselves the effects of the violence. It was a totally disproportionate response, having regard to the difficulties Israel had with incoming rockets. I am concerned at the point made about the environmental damage to the soil, sewerage, air and water systems in Gaza, as well as the use of weapons and the damage those weapons did. Colonel Travers referred to tungsten in DIME, the use of phosphorous and the long-term damage that can do.
What can this committee do? What should Ireland, the EU and the UN do to ensure that we do not have a repetition of that sort of violence anywhere in the world?
I echo what Deputy Higgins said. There is urgency coming into winter as 40,000 homes are without windows and doors which were blown out in the conflict. We see no reason windows and doors could not be brought in urgently. UNRWA is ready to install them.
The other urgent thing to do is to complete the buildings. There are more than 9,000 buildings ready for occupation if they can be completed. By not allowing the cement in, it cannot be done, but it could be done through the UN agency.
I will contribute briefly, because there is a vote in the Seanad and I will have to leave. I welcome Colonel Travers and the fact that he said he is prepared to come back. We should have a more detailed review at a later date. Whatever our views; all of us should be in a position to support a call for an environmental and post-conflict impact analysis. That is about establishing scientific fact and we need to know that. I hope everybody will support that.
I receive much information, including briefings from the Israeli Embassy, and if anything is intemperate, it is the comments from the Israeli embassy. They start off on the point of the rockets from Gaza. We are making a mistake in suggesting that these rockets are proportionate and are of equal value. I am glad of the mandate and the remit for the colonel's group, because I understand that the rockets had virtually ceased immediately prior to the Israeli blitzkrieg on Gaza. To use that as an attempt to justify this massive attack on a civilian population is cynical, scandalous and does not reflect the facts. Can Colonel Travers comment on that? We were warned about leaning over backwards in an attempt to be balanced by no less a person than Professor Ilan Pappé. Anybody who raised human rights issues about Israel stands in danger of being accused of being anti-Semitic. I am not Jewish, but I have had a long and affectionate relationship with the country of Israel. I understand that Mr. Justice Goldstone, who has received enormous credit and international awards for his work in South Africa, is Jewish. Presumably, one could accept that at least he is immune from the charge of anti-Semitism.
Colonel Desmond Travers
He is not immune. He has been accused of being a Jew-hating Israeli.
I apologise, but if I do not appear for the vote, I will be accused of being at an expense account lunch by the newspapers.
We do not really mind if the Senator misses the vote. He is on the Opposition side. Would Colonel Travers like to respond now?
Colonel Desmond Travers
I thank Deputy Timmins for his comments. I will take Deputy Higgins's comments first.
The question about the modalities for investigating the environment is very interesting. I have a suspicion Deputy Higgins probably has some prior knowledge of the concerns about the modalities, as I do. There are findings and there are environmental inquiries. It is critically important that an independent international body can conduct a cocktail of inquiries into soils, air, seawater, sewage, and human tissue. This may require a series of interconnected analyses by different bodies from different parts of the world. When they produce their work for analysis, they should have access to certain or a battery of certain analysis facilities. Otherwise, some of the findings, which could be critical and which could be embarrassing to western technologies, will not see the light of day. Deputy Higgins's questions are enormously important, and the modalities would have to be critically formulated by somebody who knows what is required.
Another interesting question dealt with the variety of weapons, because it required an immense multi-layered examination of the issue of munitions. For example, the use of white phosphorous was until now a legitimate chemical that produced illumination at night for troops when used in a certain way, or produced smoke to obscure the manoeuvres of troops when used in another way. It has always been considered to be a benign, non-lethal chemical. Nevertheless, my Army, which was modestly technologically competent in those, days when I was a young soldier, and is much more so today, saw fit to withdraw white phosphorus from arsenals in the 1970s. White phosphorus is a pyrophoric chemical, which means it is energised by contact with the air. When it is discharged from a projectile and falls towards the earth, it remains volatile until either its energy is exhausted or it is denied access to air. If it lands on human tissue, it will continue to burn right to the bone. There are cases in the hospitals I visited where white phosphorus, in attempts to extract it from people who were suffering from burns, continued to burn and also affected the medical staff trying to treat it. This is because it has toxicity in the fumes and in the chemical itself.
The other point that was distressing about white phosphorus was that a 10% burn was enough to be fatal, whereas, for example, people can survive burns of up to 60% in household incidents. There are people who have been treated for white phosphorus burns in Gaza who should ordinarily have recovered but returned days later with systems failure, where the central nervous system, the liver, the kidneys and the heart failed. It is a highly toxic chemical. Therefore, it should never be used in an urban environment. I would go further and say it should never be used, even in military ranges.
For example, here, if one fires white phosphorus and it lands in wet bog land in the Glen of Imaal, it could lie there until the following summer when the heat dries the area and ignites and kills, burns or maims wild animals such as deer or sheep. It is an environmentally hazardous chemical. Children's feet were burned by white phosphorus 21 and 24 days after these shells were discharged over Gaza.
In some respects, that is what the Gaza operation has revealed to us that we may not have been aware of before. It has put the militaries and those who produce military equipment on notice that this chemical should now be considered for withdrawal.
I could go on and tell the committee about other chemicals such as flechettes. The small flechette darts are discharged from tank shells which explode, burst and form a fan of dart-like pellets 4 cm long, which then spray out in a cone, killing, maiming and injuring civilians, including women and children. They should never have been used in an urban environment. However, in addition, when one examines the situation much more closely, one begins to realise that the flechette, the little device that makes a very minor penetration injury is, in fact, designed to tumble when it impacts on human flesh. As a result, the flechette is not just once but doubly to be condemned and should now be withdrawn from all of the arsenals of all of the armies of the world.
There is also the question of using heavy metals in explosive materials such as tungsten, which is used to confine an explosion to a certain target area. It could be described as being target specific, minimising danger to persons outside of the target area, and, therefore, could be considered to be in accordance with the wishes of good combat operations. However, on examination and analysis, we found that persons who survived tungsten detonations have now had problems, including potential problems of cancer development. There is, for example, one young man who survived an attack of a missile containing tungsten shrapnel on the al-Makadma mosque in the Jabaliya area of Gaza. He has a small piece of tungsten, 3 mm cubed, close to his spine, which cannot be removed. He will probably now have quality of life issues for the balance of his life, and the balance of his life may be curtailed.
In some respects, these military operations have put us on notice about weapons that were hitherto considered to be acceptable, having been designed during the Cold War in preparation for major wars when we were less sensitive to the human consequences of their use. This Gaza operation has highlighted the fact that we should now revisit the acceptability of what were conventional weapons in the past and perhaps consider removing them from the arsenals of the armies of the world.
I thank Colonel Travers for attending and for his presentation. I am concerned about theraison d’être of the whole mission and the political implications in regard to the violations and apportioning blame. The importance of the report is more in the lessons to be learned from what happened in regard to the use of flechettes, phosphorus and tungsten than to apportion blame to one side or the other on who violated what, and the underlying political reasons for the whole conflict in that area. Does Colonel Travers agree? Where is the balance, as far as the commission is concerned?
As the Chairman has already stated in regard to the question of doors and windows having been blown out, with winter coming, it appears that what the report can do for the welfare of the people in Gaza this winter is most important. I am also interested to know the Israeli response to the report in regard to the various headings concerning the mandate of the mission. Who broadened the mandate of the mission? Who decided it was not only to include the violations by the Israelis against Gaza? With regard to the conduct and composition of the mission, I am sure the colonel has already received the initial response from the Israelis, which lists ten items which are fairly substantial and which need to be addressed.
These are all very wide and broad questions which I put to Colonel Travers but they are issues that are raised in my mind and would probably be better addressed at a further substantive meeting in the future. It is not up to us to decide on the conflict between Israel and Palestine. We are more concerned about the welfare of the people involved there, to ensure that women, children and the general population are not harmed and that they have a good quality of life, have food on the table, can be educated, can have freedom of movement and freedom of expression and all the other freedoms we have, and which we would like them to have. While that is all very broad and wide, that is my contribution.
I draw the attention of members to the fact that in addition to the briefing which has been circulated, documentation was also received from the Israeli Embassy and Amnesty International. We thank the ambassador and his embassy, and Amnesty International, for supplying us with that information, which we can discuss at greater length later. I call Deputy Shatter.
Like everyone else, I am sorry if we delayed Colonel Travers's start but I thought it was important that we treat this issue in a considered way and it was not his fault that materials were received at short notice. I thank Colonel Travers for attending and thank him for his involvement in this committee. I do not agree with personal attacks against any member of the committee. It is not helpful to the discussion that issues have become personalised in a manner that gives rise to more heat than light.
Rather than making lengthy speeches, I have several question for Colonel Travers. I strongly agree with the point made by Deputy Ardagh in regard to the changes to the original motion proposed by the Human Rights Council. The chairman of the fact-finding mission, Mr. Justice Goldstone, certainly sought to extend his remit. Whether one agrees or disagrees with aspects of the report, there can be no question that it goes substantially beyond the remit handed down by the council.
Another issue is that the motion as passed by the council essentially prejudges almost every issue it instructed the fact-finding mission to investigate. Moreover, while it issued a series of condemnations of Israel, the council had nothing of a critical nature to say about any of the other protagonists. The terms of reference as set out in the Goldstone report are not the terms of reference as given by the Human Rights Council. Colonel Travers refers to the amended version without referring to the council itself. Could it be that the lack of co-operation from the Israeli side derived from the nature of the condemnatory motion passed by the Human Rights Council? Could it be that the Israelis' perception of the fact-finding mission was that no matter what it did, its remit was ultimately to report to a body, namely, the Human Rights Council, which had already prejudged all the issues? Would Colonel Travers agree that the nature of the motion passed to establish the fact-finding mission was unhelpful to the work that was undertaken? Were the amended terms of reference approved by the members of the council who adopted the original motion? Is there a motion passed by them amending that motion? It is reasonable to query the basis of the remit of the fact-finding mission.
One of the great tragedies of the conflict we are discussing is that it occurred in what is a tightly populated urban area. To what extent did the fact-finding mission give consideration to the difficulties confronted by conventional forces when fighting against what they perceive to be terrorist groups which located themselves within civilian areas and fired rockets into their territory as they sought to defend citizens? I understand Mr. Justice Goldstone made some comments subsequent to the publication of the report to the effect that this issue was not part of the fact-finding mission's remit. The reality, however, is that some aspects of this are addressed in the report but there is no attempt to confront the nature of the dilemma. There is a distinction in the report between what is referred to as the "Gazan authorities" and particular named armed groups. When members of the fact-finding mission asked the Gazan authorities about rockets being fire by armed groups, the authorities professed to have no knowledge of those involved. The reality is that the Gazan authorities and Hamas are one and the same. How did the fact-finding mission come to make a distinction between the armed groups and the Gazan authorities? How did it come to conclude that the latter did not know what these armed groups were doing? How was that issue dealt with?
One of the criticisms that has been made of the report — I do not know whether it is valid — is that members of the fact-finding mission were accompanied as a group in Gaza either all or most of the time by representatives of Hamas. I would be surprised if that was the case and I am pleased that Colonel Travers is being afforded an opportunity to comment on that. The report indicates that when members of the mission asked individuals whether there was rocket fire within civilian areas, whether armed men were located in those areas or whether munitions were stored there, there was a reluctance on the part of people to talk to them. I assume the persons referred to are members of the civilian population in Gaza. Was any analysis undertaken as to why this was so? Did those discussions take place in circumstances in which people feared consequences for themselves from telling mission investigators the truth?
We have established that the fact-finding mission's investigation became a good deal broader than originally intended. There was an examination of events going back some time prior to the commencement of the December-January conflict, all the way back to May or June 2008. There is an observation in the report that during the course of the conflict, various members of Fatah and representatives of the Palestinian Authority were assassinated or imprisoned. At a meeting last March, the Palestinian President, Mr. Abbas, told my colleagues and me that since Hamas took over Gaza, it has murdered more than 700 members of Fatah. Was this investigated by the mission?
I apologise for throwing so many questions at Colonel Travers. He referred to the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, and the fact he has not had access to Red Cross staff since his capture. Since the report was published, a 60-second video message from Mr. Shalit has been released. We probably do not need to elaborate upon these matters. Colonel Travers made reference to the blockade of Gaza. Did the members of the fact-finding mission have any sense that the Israelis have taken that on as a policy, perhaps in a desperate attempt to secure Mr. Shalit's release? Did investigators have any discussions with the Gazan authorities as to how the situation in Gaza can be eased? I am personally of the view that everything possible should be done to facilitate supplies going into Gaza to allow ordinary commerce to take place and to facilitate the reconstruction of businesses, factories and schools. Has Colonel Travers reached any conclusions based on his visit as to how the current impasse can be addressed? It is urgent that there be some prospect of a restoration of normal life in Gaza, homes being rebuilt and so on. I am very interested in Colonel Travers's observations in this regard.
There were reports that either the Gazan authorities or Hamas had established headquarters in a particular hospital, and I understand the mission's report has been criticised for not addressing that issue. I do not know whether Colonel Travers can address that. There were also reports of either munitions being stored in mosques or rockets being fired from adjacent locations. The mission's report investigated where bombs fell or damage was done to a particular mosque and concluded there was no reason this should have occurred. However, Colonel Travers stated the mission did not investigate the situation with regard to any other mosques. Why was that? Was the mission's investigation hindered in any way? Does this issue require further investigation?
My final comment or question may be a question too far for Colonel Travers and may go way beyond his remit. In common with many members, he has been to Gaza. While there, the mission did not have official contact with the Israeli Government but put in place modalities to hear evidence from people from Sderot and elsewhere. Based on my colleague's comments a short time ago, does Colonel Travers have a view as to how this report could be best used to learn lessons and to make progress in bringing peace, as opposed to how it might be used simply as ammunition by one side or the other to criticise the other side and claim the moral high ground?
Colonel Travers said something very interesting about munitions. He referred to the munitions that have been criticised in this conflict as being conventional munitions that are retained by many armies globally. He might identify the armies, or provide examples if he can. He also suggested that their potential impact was not known until this conflict. From everything the colonel has told members and from what I have read, I believe that munitions of the type that have been discussed today, particularly white phosphorus and the flechettes mentioned by the colonel, should be banned from use in conflict.
They were used in Falluja.
Would it be true to state that this conflict has thrown up effects of these munitions that were not understood prior to this conflict and that to this extent, this report is unique and valuable? Is the colonel aware of other reports that have been published by a government or government body that signposted such concerns or the risks posed by these munitions? I apologise for asking so many questions.
In conclusion, I call Colonel Travers.
Colonel Desmond Travers
If Deputy Shatter does not mind, I must take the questions in sequence. I omitted to respond to an earlier comment by the Chairman on the need to have materials to winterise houses in Gaza. Our recommendation is to lift the blockade in its entirety because the number of items that are considered to be necessary or essential for survival is so minimal that it is almost derisory. For example, agricultural lands in which wells were bulldozed are now beginning to die and will do so unless the irrigation systems are reintroduced. However, the farmers are not allowed to import pumps.
There is an entire range of occupational and habitational items, in addition to windows and window frames, that must be urgently considered for sending into Gaza to allow these people to survive. As an estimated 70,000 people are likely to be living in squalid open conditions, I am answering the Chairman's question and I agree entirely with him. The number of commodities that were allowed in during the blockade was reduced from 2,000 to 43. Some of the items that are not allowed in and which are necessary for human decency, such as sanitation items, have been denied, which is neither appropriate nor correct.
In my response to Deputy Ardagh's questions, I emphasised post-impact matters because to an extent, I consider the report itself to be in something of a hiatus. Therefore, I may have overstressed the need for an environmental impact study without emphasising what the ultimate reach of this report was about. As far as I am concerned, its ultimate reach was developed and conveyed to me by Mr. Justice Goldstone, who has a magnificent grasp of human rights issues and a clear mind. His argument was that one must do whatever is necessary to put an end to impunities, because by those means one can make a significant effort to control military and insurgent violence and perhaps usher in meaningful reconciliation between the parties. His argument, with which I am in agreement, is that one cannot have a peace process until one addresses the war crimes and humanitarian law issues. That is what was before him at all times in our deliberations. Consequently, an end to impunities is the real priority.
I observed the war in southern Lebanon in 2006 against Hizbollah and now have observed it again in Gaza and what I have perceived is extremely curious. I perceive a multiplier effect between the insurgents' competency to fight — Hizbollah is now a highly competent insurgent force — and the Israeli professional army's capacity to deliver violence that is highly precise and highly lethal. The end result was the destruction of the infrastructure in Lebanon and an increase in the strength of Hizbollah.
If one turns to Gaza, one finds that Gaza has been virtually destroyed and its infrastructure has been destroyed. However, the stock of both the Israeli army and Hamas has risen in Israel and Gaza, respectively. This constitutes a perverse downward spiral which achieves absolutely nothing. This is the reason I am completely educated and informed by what Mr. Justice Goldstone put before us in our early meetings and that is the stamp orimprimatur regarding what our report was about. I wanted to adjust the impression that I might have created through my emphasis on post-conflict examination.
To be fair to Deputy Shatter, I respect his questions intensely and perceive them as pertaining to critical issues. However, I am unsure whether I can address them honestly in the sequence in which he has given them or with the value one should attach to them at a session of this nature. However, I will respond to the Deputy. Nevertheless, in the event that I overlook some questions or inform the Deputy insufficiently, I again emphasise that were he or the other members to seek another session with me, I would be willing to appear before the joint committee to elaborate.
The issue of the resolution is well known to us all. It was a resolution that was undoubtedly biased against the state of Israel and its agents. However, when I was invited to come forward as a member in the capacity of a military adviser, I was aware of the mandate, which is before members. While I am not an expert, I consider the mandate to be an amplification of the resolution which is fairer and broader. Because the fact-finding mission was not a tribunal, such an amplification was considered by the High Commissioner and her advisers not to have altered the resolution but simply to have made the resolution and its findings more broad-based, more reasonable and more effective. I am not an expert. I took the mandate and the fact-finding mission and I considered myself primarily to be a military adviser or consultant to my three colleagues, who were jurists of international reputation. While that answer may not be as perfect as one would wish, by and large it has generally been accepted by the court of world opinion. While that may be an informal court, it nevertheless is a significant one.
I was greatly exercised by the Gilad Shalit incident.
Does the colonel think that the terms of that motion coloured the Israeli perspective of the work he undertook?
Colonel Desmond Travers
Yes. I do not deny it. We are aware that people who were invited to join the fact-finding mission refused to do so. The only person in the world who might have been able to take it on, amplify it and make it fair and reasonable was Mr. Justice Richard Goldstone and he did so.
I was taken by the Gilad Shalit incident. I met his father and have spoken to him many times. Gilad Shalit is a soldier and I was a soldier and was captured twice. I have a definiterapprochement with this type of issue and its psychological issue. I urged my colleagues to insist that he be treated as a prisoner of war. While that treatment is a matter of dispute, if he was classified as a prisoner of war, he could be assured of better protections than if he were classified as a kidnapped entity. Subsequently, his father wrote to us and stated that he was not a prisoner of war and that we should not have described him as such. I believed that I had been doing his father a favour.
The subtext of the 3 January military operation into Gaza was to seek Gilad Shalit's release. While it forms a part of the blockade, it is not the sole cause. Certain Palestinians who were subjected to detention and interrogation were repeatedly told that the blockade was intended to teach them the lesson never to re-elect Hamas, but they were also asked whether they knew of the whereabouts of Gilad Shalit. The tworaisons d’être seemed to go hand in hand in the interrogation process, if not in the political declarations for the reasons for the operation.
The questions that we put to the authorities in Gaza about Hamas's military operations were similar to those that we put to the Israeli Government. We did not get an answer from the latter or a satisfactory one from the Palestinian Authority. One answer——
Does Colonel Travers mean the Gaza authority?
Colonel Desmond Travers
Yes. I am referring to the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, but I agree that a distinction should be made. We would have been naive had we believed that we would have received any other answer. This is the way it is. While it must be borne in mind that some of the rocket firings into southern Israel were not conducted by Hamas in Gaza, it must be said that Hamas might have been indifferent to the firing of rockets by other entities in Gaza. As far as Hamas was concerned, it was an attack on the enemy.
Regarding the Hamas headquarters, we heard stories of Hamas using, for example, hospitals as shelters for their entities. We also heard stories that, because ambulances were used as staff cars by Hamas operatives, 29 ambulances were taken out by tank and missile fire. We heard complaints that UN facilities were used to launch rockets. We also heard stories that UN facilities were targeted because rockets were being launched close to them. We rigorously investigated each of these accusations and found them to be untrue.
I will give an example of how illogical some of the accusations could be. Between 3 and 18 January, the riskiest place in the world to be was Gaza and the riskiest place to be in Gaza was in an ambulance. Were I a Hamas operative, I would not for one minute countenance travelling in an ambulance. This is the bottom line. I am a soldier and believe I know what I am saying. One accusation after another fell.
Regarding the attendance of Hamas functionaries at our meetings, there is no doubt we could not have entered Gaza had Hamas not given us the nod. We accepted this. Entering Gaza without its approval would have been highly risky. There was a serious and sinister attempt to kill President Carter before we visited Gaza. If one did not have Hamas's approval, there would have been no point in going. More than 40 Hamas personnel protected our accommodation facility. We can understand why.
All of our meetings were held in UN facilities and UN security screened those entering to give evidence. I never saw an instance of witness intimidation during our interviews. I urge committee members to watch the website's televised programmes to determine whether they think any of the Palestinians were economical with their stories. Like me, members will find no sign of intimidation. Hamas did not need to intimidate witnesses. The events that occurred in Gaza were self-evidently serious and needed to be examined. It was in Hamas' interest to give us clear opportunities to interview whomsoever we wanted. All that I was struck by when interviewing witnesses was their calm, resignation and courtesy despite that their lives had been ruined, so much so that my colleagues and I grew distressed by some of the disclosures. I asked a psychiatrist who appeared before us about the calm and the lack of rage. I was getting angry. He stated that it was a question of learned helplessness — they have been conditioned over the years to taking almost any kind of abuse — and a phenomenon called numbness. They had still not come to terms with the trauma of the experience.
On the question of other mosques——
I have a related question. The report states that it was difficult to get information on people firing rockets or storing munitions in civilian areas.
Colonel Desmond Travers
I do not know how to address this to the Deputy. We did not encounter issues regarding the storage of munitions in our inquiries, but this is not to say that we did not believe munitions were stored in buildings around Gaza. Rather, the matter did not impact on the specific areas we believed we needed to examine.
I wish to discuss the matter of the mosques, which are open halls and are usually not multi-levelled. The madrasas that were struck were multi-levelled and may have housed munitions. However, we found no evidence of the storage of munitions. Some of the photographs produced by certain Israeli entities showing the presence of weapons in mosques are suspect. There is nowhere to hide military material in an open mosque. If one wanted to hide such materials in Gaza, the labyrinthine alleyways off the old refugee camps would be far better. I dispute the suggestion of the hiding of military munitions in mosques when better places are available. We found no munitions and did not feel the need to visit mosques that had not been struck, as we had enough work examining the places that had been struck.
Regarding the report's lessons, it has had an impact outside of the ordinary in comparison with previous reports on conflicts in the Middle East. This suggests that the world at large is ready to lurch on into the question of impunity. The world is concerned about the disproportionate use of modern technology at a time when militaries have undreamt of surveillance and target acquisition technologies. Israel's army is one of the world's most sophisticated and can drop a bomb on a person's head if it wants to. It can observe that person during the preceding days and nights using thermal imaging devices in unarmed aviation vehicles and decide when to bomb him or her.
The question of indiscriminate attack is perverse. Outside of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, there is a growing clamour among military types and military lawyers in the West to relax the conventions to fight terrorism. To make that suggestion is to fly in the face of what we know about conventional counter-insurgency warfare. Killing civilians feeds the agenda of the insurgents. If the insurgents kill one's own civilians a victory is declared but when their civilians are killed they declare them martyrs. That military lawyers, particularly in the West, are arguing for a relaxation of the Geneva Convention to take out insurgents in urban areas is self-defeating. This is particularly true given the precision weapons available today. I reject the idea in its entirety.
I agree with the reference to weapons being unique. Some of the findings in the report are unique. We have not seen weapons used in such an indiscriminate way up to now. We have been done a service in a peculiar way in that the use of these weapons in Gaza and southern Israel has alerted the world to the questionable use of these munitions, not alone in insurgency but in war generally. We should revisit all weapons developed during the Cold War to determine their appropriateness, now that human rights law has become so conscientious.
I do not know if I have answered all of the issues raised. I do not want to evade any of them because they are important.
I appreciate the indulgence of other members. Taking his perspective that there are certain types of weapons that are inappropriate, perhaps Colonel Travers can comment on how a state defends its citizens against insurgent attacks and terrorist attacks coming from an urban area in an adjacent territory without there being some civilian casualties. That is the issue that Mr. Justice Goldstone said was not addressed in a general sense. This is the awfulness of the dilemma in these circumstances and there is no simplistic solution to it. In an ideal world one would not have conflict in the first place. I appreciate the length of time Colonel Travers has spent in response.
There had been international discussion, preceding December 2008 and January, on the use of white phosphorus in Fallujah. This dealt with the attempt to remove all civilians and the imperfections associated with it. I recall a widespread debate. It is not the case that one was discovering the effects of white phosphorus in December 2008 and January. I suggest that there had been a military and public discussion on white phosphorus, particularly arising from the Fallujah incident. I could be wrong and I would appreciate the colonel's opinion.
That is right.
Colonel Travers has given us a very comprehensive review and has made himself available to return. As Deputy Shatter and others have suggested, we will have a further meeting on the subject in the near future.
It was very impressive and that is a commendable objective.
I thank Colonel Travers.
I thank Colonel Travers for appearing. He was traced by a friend of mine when I first asked him to talk to the committee. It is both an interesting and disturbing report, which is coming in for great praise and great criticism. This means that it is balanced. I refer to the attacks on Israel and the prisoner release of Gilad Shalit, which all the members of the committee endorse. The violations of human rights and the war crimes on both sides are clearly identified in the report. If the committee finds it a good idea, we could suggest that Colonel Travers returns. It is a long report to try to explain in an hour and a half. It does not do justice to all the work done. It has concentrated the minds of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and previous Oireachtas committees with responsibility in this area for decades. This is a report on which action can be taken with our EU colleagues. I thank Colonel Travers for his contribution.
The Goldstone report is of great interest to the members of the committee, to the public and the international community. I congratulate Colonel Travers and Mr. Justice Goldstone on the work done in the fact-finding mission and this comprehensive report. It is particularly important given the restrictions on the international media during the conflict. The report provides a great deal of information. Members of the committee have been in the area and we have talked to many of the people involved. We agree with much of what Colonel Travers said. We would like to discuss this further with him. I welcome Colonel Travers agreeing to return before the committee for a fuller discussion.
I propose to note the correspondence. Is that agreed? Agreed. I thank members for an interesting and insightful discussion.