Report on UN Fact-Finding Mission on Gaza Conflict: Discussion.

I welcome Colonel Desmond Travers, retired member of Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish Defence Forces, and more recently a member of the UN fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict, undertaken under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Richard Goldstone. As members will be aware, we met Colonel Travers on 8 October to discuss the Goldstone report. At that meeting it was agreed to convene a second meeting to discuss the issue. This was to afford members further time to study in detail the contents of the report. I am pleased that we will have that opportunity today.

Since our last meeting Ireland has taken a formal position on the Goldstone report as follows:

Ireland has supported the Resolution, because of our support for the Fact Finding Mission, led by Judge Goldstone, and for their Report. This Report is a serious and very important contribution to our understanding of what took place in Gaza and southern Israel. It forms part of the pursuit of appropriate accountability for actions which occurred, and is supportive of the efforts to ensure that these tragedies are not repeated.

In voting for the Resolution, Ireland wishes to make clear that this does not mean that we necessarily support each and every recommendation contained in the Goldstone Report. Ireland shares the concern of a number of delegations that it was not helpful or appropriate for the General Assembly to be requested at this time to endorse the Report and its recommendations in their entirety. The Report is a complex and detailed document, and its recommendations cover extremely wide-ranging actions in many national and international fora, with wide and far-reaching political and legal implications. Like many delegations, we will need time to consider carefully these implications, before agreeing on the best way forward on these crucial issues.

We do fully support the recommendations which call, in the first instance, on the parties to the conflict in Gaza to respond seriously and comprehensively to the findings of the Report, by launching appropriate investigations into all the allegations of possible breaches of international law that are independent and in conformity with international standards. For this reason, we have decided to vote in favour of the Resolution just adopted.

I advise that while Members of the Houses enjoy absolute privilege in respect of utterances made in committee, witnesses do not enjoy absolute privilege. Accordingly, caution should be exercised, particularly with regard to references of a personal nature.

Colonel Desmond Travers

A Chathaoirligh, a dhaoine uaisle, baill de Tithe an Oireachtais agus baill an Comhchoiste um Ghnóthaí Eachtracha, tá an-áthas orm freastal i bhur measc arís chun na gníomhartha a tharla i nGaza a phlé.

It is my pleasure and privilege to speak to members again to discuss what is known as the Goldstone report into events that took place in Gaza and southern Israel in the closing days of last year and the first three weeks of January this year. My first pleasant duty is to express my appreciation to the Irish delegation for voting on the report at the UN General Assembly. At a time when news in Ireland seems to be invariably gloomy, this action should have received wider acknowledgement——

Colonel Desmond Travers

——for the courageousness and correctness of the stance our delegation took on this issue. I would be grateful if an acknowledgement of my colleagues on the fact-finding mission could be passed to the appropriate authority in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

I am also pleased to acknowledge the recommendations of the Oireachtas joint committee with respect to Gaza, which I understand have been published. I have not seen a copy of the report yet but I would be grateful if I could. I would also be grateful for the opportunity to convey copies to my fact-finding mission colleagues in due course. I appreciate the contents of the report as reported by the media, particularly the urgent need to review the issue of the continuation of the blockade in Gaza, about which I intend to speak later.

The blockade, as far as I and my colleagues are concerned, is a troubling issue because it is, in some respects, a continuation of the war by other means. Every day the blockade is in place there are deteriorating environmental circumstances, some of which are critical. By this I mean they may be irreversible. If we were to do a tally of all the infrastructural and environmental damage that has been inflicted in Gaza and make a scientific prediction of the final outcome if it is not stayed, we would conclude that Gaza might become uninhabitable, by the standards of the World Health Organisation, in time to come. This is a critical issue. I alert the joint committee to a United Nations Environment Programme report dealing only with the soil of Gaza, which states that the damage to the soil and groundwater is such that it is having an effect on the coastal territories of Israel and Egypt. In other words, there is a collective need for the governments in question and the international community to become alert to the fact that Gaza is in serious trouble.

In addition to the need for a more extensive appraisal of the environment above and beyond that contained in the UNEP report, which I admit is very thorough, there is a need for detailed analysis by the international community of all environmental issues with respect to the aforementioned events in Gaza. We are already aware that a number of munitions which were found to have been used are creating post-impact difficulties and that people who have survived injuries from certain munitions, particularly heavy metal munitions, are likely to suffer life-shortening consequences as a result of the toxicity and carcinogenic nature of these materials. Thousands of such pellets are lying in the soil and on the ground and could affect the food chain and the environment in various ways as yet unknown.

It has been suggested tentatively to me — I must be very careful here — that munitions that might, realistically, have been used to effect destruction of tunnels and underground facilities in Gaza are of a type that are likely to have post-impact consequences for the environment. Those consequences, real or imagined, should be a subject of analysis.

There is another reason I feel I am entitled to speculate on this. Many of the witnesses we saw in Gaza were so traumatised by their experience that they felt everything around them — the ground they stood on, the water they consumed, the air they breathed — was no longer safe. In fact, there was a constant mantra, "We have no place to go". The need for an environmental impact study by the international community, covering the full gamut of possibilities, would achieve a certain purpose even if it found nothing. It would reassure the citizens of Gaza that their area is habitable and they can return to some normality.

I ask members to bear in mind the original purpose of this report as enunciated by our distinguished and heroic chairperson, Mr. Justice Richard Goldstone, who said we were here to put an end to impunity. Until we challenge impunity in the Middle East we will have a continual cycle of conflict and violence. As a soldier, I find it interesting that the resistance movements on two of Israel's borders — in Lebanon and Gaza — are now stronger than ever rather than having been diminished. Nevertheless, the areas in which they work have been ruined. I find that instructive. An end to impunity may usher in possibilities for meaningful reconciliation and negotiation.

I know some members wanted to discuss the environmental situation, particularly in the aftermath of the conflict. However, we will first take questions.

I thank Colonel Travers for his contribution. I have a few broad questions. How does Colonel Travers feel, having been a member of the commission, about the various accusations that it was biased, did not consider things in a fair manner and had a predetermined outcome? Does he feel the resulting UN resolution undermined the commission's work? Could he give a personal view of how that affected him and, as a member of the commission, how it affected the report?

In view of the passing of the resolution, what hope does Colonel Travers have that the report will achieve something in the future? Does he have confidence that it will achieve anything? What advice would he give to the Government or the Irish authorities on how to approach the situation in the Middle East? Some people have called for a boycott but the Minister argues this would be unsatisfactory.

Another issue on which Colonel Travers may care to comment — which has not come up at today's meeting, although it may — is to do with correspondence from Senator Norris about the Irish Army's purchase of equipment that was manufactured by an Israeli company. He may not be aware of this or he may not wish to comment. He may also wish to comment on Ireland's approach to purchasing military equipment and using the European Defence Agency.

Does he have any view on the American reaction to the report? Was he surprised? Does he think it has been helpful or otherwise? Where does it leave President Obama and his efforts to assist the parties in ending this conflict? It can be very disheartening for people to try to seek advancement and reconciliation in this issue. Views are very embedded. There is great divergence between the Palestinian and Israeli sides in their concept of what seems to be seen as the correct approach to a final outcome, the two-state solution.

Cuirim fíor chaoin fáilte roimh Colonel Travers ar an tarna uair a thug sé eolas don choiste. I join in my colleagues in welcoming Colonel Travers. We are grateful for his efforts in enabling us to deal with this issue. I refer to two points that may enable us to be of practical assistance. Irrespective of the discussion on the terms of reference of the group and irrespective of the discussion on the report as published, there is general concern that the environment in Gaza be made safe. Health and safety issues must be regarded not just as urgent and acquiring immediate treatment; we also need a timescale to address them.

Assurances should also be granted for international investigation and retrieval of the environment, as would make the area safe. Colonel Travers is valuable in this regard and he may wish to mention the position of the aquifer, the position of the water and the impact of the sewage. It is in nobody's interest but that these issues be addressed immediately. I will allow Colonel Travers to reach his own conclusions.

If these environmental issues addressed in the UN EPA report are put into context, a set of contingencies arise, such as in respect of our visit. Children are playing in dangerous areas because they have nowhere else to go. What I mean by contingent conditions is that the failure to complete the housing project started over two years ago creates a circumstance rather like that Colonel Travers mentioned in his introduction when he said there is no place left to go. Without reaching a conclusion, and based on observation, it appears that it will be a long time before certain parts of Gaza will be safely habitable. For example, where there is unexploded ordinance or the sheer danger of places with twisted steel, where it will take a considerable amount of time, there are also clear places like the housing projects where people could move to with safety. The general consequences of the blockade are an additional set of factors making the more immediate EPA issues more acute.

I do not want to go back over material covered before. It would be extremely depressing if the reports of the UN fact-finding mission team became a bone over which people fought. I remember Professor Goldstone's visit to Ireland before he started this project. He is a man for whom I have great respect. The threats made to him and his team are appalling.

Irrespective of where one stands on what has taken place at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, the future of strategies of intervention and strategies of resolution must be rules-based. If they are to be rules-based, they must be transparent in the international community sense. The investigation, the response and the invention of strategies to deal with consequences must be transparent and independent. I am grateful for the attendance once again of Colonel Travers.

Colonel Desmond Travers

I hope I understood Deputy Higgins's questions. I should have pointed out that I have a slight hearing impairment and I apologise if I misinterpreted what he said.

I will begin by responding to the questions of Deputy Timmins, the first of which concerned a bias against the report. We experienced bias against the report long before it was published. That bias has continued in volubility and intensity to this day. The interesting point about the intensity of criticism of the report is that criticisms are levelled against individuals and have become extremely dangerous and, in some cases, sinister. One of my colleagues received afatwa yesterday from some notional extreme group claiming to be a Zionist group. Mr. Justice Goldstone is a man of enormous courage and he appears not to be affected by the bias and criticism. Nevertheless, I know that it is having an impact on his family.

Why am I telling committee members this? Not a glove has been landed on the report. I wish to emphasise this point. Mr. Justice Goldstone laid down the gauntlet to the United States Administration and asked it to tell him what was wrong with the report and offered to correct it. So far, no one has come up with tangible evidence or a statement in the report that is considered to be false, erroneous, exaggerated or biased.

Whether the report will achieve something is a good question. It has gone a great deal further than a person with experience in the presentation of reports before the United Nations. My understanding from the UN high commissioner's office in Geneva is that the reaction to the report was unprecedented worldwide. It will now come before the Security Council. Admittedly, the recommendations that got it through the UN General Assembly have been moderated more than was absolutely desirable as far as we are concerned, from the point of chasing impunity. Nevertheless, it thrives, it is alive and it is still there. What is interesting about this report is that the community of leaders of nations should be mindful of the fact that the world community has taken a stand on this report. This stand it has taken is that it cannot and will not be buried. It will not go away. That is an important factor. It is as much in the news today as it was when it was released on 15 September. It will not go away.

Deputy Timmins asked if I would give the Government advice. The Government has done extremely well as far as this report is concerned. Far be it from me, a citizen of this country, to suggest to my Government how to conduct itself in this instance. It has done exactly what was hoped for by voting for the report's existence and acceptance and producing an Oireachtas joint committee report on Gaza. I am entirely in agreement with the sentiments reported in the media.

Regarding the question of military equipment, I used to purchase military equipment when I was in the Army. We used to pride ourselves on the fact that we had no defence industry. We often bought the best at very competitive prices because we were seen as a country that was independent in the military procurement area and that if we bought a certain item of equipment, certain other countries would follow suit.

I would be reluctant to comment on the purchase of military equipment. The Army is being run by younger men today. I had my day, as the members did. They have to have their day and their say. My private opinion would be that I always thought it would be desirable to purchase within the European Union but that is just because I see it that way. It is not an opinion which is hostile to the idea of purchasing from the state of Israel.

On the question of the United States approach, I was in Boston and Harvard recently and that came up time out of number. I did not get a definitive answer from my American colleagues who are still in a watch and see position with respect to the new US Administration. I have great sympathy for the new US Administration because it is beset with major internal issues within the United States — financial, health and other issues.

In terms of its approach to the Middle East, we know the rule of law. We know what the international community has repeatedly voted for — a final, enduring settlement of the conflict giving both communities a place and a space but beyond that I would not wish to speculate. I believe the challenges for the Presidency in the United States are enormous and it would be too simplistic for the likes of me to offer recommendations or solutions for the United States to have to wrestle with. Her principal ally in the world and in the Middle East is the state of Israel. She must maintain that state and uphold it as best she can but the state of Israel has obligations to her neighbours.

Making Gaza safe is an interesting issue. We could spend an entire day debating the environment. There are some issues of concern to me, in addition to the housing issue raised by the joint committee's report, which is a major issue as winter comes in. The elimination of Gaza as a place for the exporting of foodstuffs to Israel and therefore of its effect on its economy means that Gazan citizens would have to rely more heavily on their own agriculture for foodstuffs. A total of 30% of the agricultural land in Gaza has been taken out of action, so to speak. A large percentage of that 30% is going through a process of irreversible damage. The soils in orchards that were bulldozed by military bulldozers are so degraded they cannot be replanted. A total of 318 wells which were used to maintain and irrigate agricultural land have been bulldozed. Nevertheless, the pumps necessary to restore those wells will not be permitted into Gaza. It is a series of interconnected downward spirals of decay and destruction and added to that is the soil damage, with various munitions and, as the Deputy mentioned, unexploded ordinance. It is a potentially catastrophic environmental circumstance to which the world community ought to pay attention.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins mentioned the safety of children. Something we saw which looked fairly benign was hundreds of children swimming in the water every day because there is no place else for them to go. The water on coastal Gaza is worse than sewer water. They have no option. Children are now beginning to suffer from what the United Nations Environment Program, UNEP, report calls blue baby syndrome, which is toxicities that occur when the nitrates in the soil reach certain saturation levels. That is just one of a cocktail of hazards to which children are now being exposed. There are others such as asbestos in toppled buildings, which people have to live in because they have nowhere else to go.

Transparency is the key to the justice mechanisms. We know that investigations in the past, particularly military tribunal type investigations, did not produce any results or found nobody guilty. That is likely to be the case again unless a transparent mechanism is put in place to ensure the rule of law — justice — is applied absolutely. In fairness, I am informally aware that approximately 32 cases are being examined by the Israeli military police authorities. That is encouraging but the problem is whether hearings will be held to which there will be public access. I do not know if that will happen. The likelihood is there will not be because that would have been the practice in the past but I cannot be certain. Those are the answers to the questions I was asked and I hope I have interpreted them correctly.

I welcome Colonel Travers to the committee. I, too, welcome Ireland's support for the resolution passed at the United Nations General Assembly. Ireland stood very much alone, along with Cyprus, Malta, Portugal and Slovenia, in the European Union in voting in favour of it. Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Romania, Sweden, Spain and the United Kingdom abstained. The countries that voted against were the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and Slovakia. I hoped our EU colleagues would have seen their way to be more supportive of the United Nations in this instance.

What Colonel Travers said about not a glove being landed on the report is important in terms of the wording of the mandate and those issues but as far as I am aware none of the issues regarding the individual cases outlined in the report has been rebutted in any substantial way. As Colonel Travers is aware, the Israeli Government was given an opportunity by this committee to send in an Israeli representative for that meeting to discuss the issues around this report and the controversy. We have all received items in the post but nothing compares to teasing it out in public.

The report listed 22 human rights violations under the covenant for the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, the covenant on civil and public rights, the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, the convention against torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatments and punishments, the covenant on the rights of children, and the covenant on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, all of which have been ratified by Israel and Ireland.

I asked Colonel Travers a question on the number of breaches, although I am aware he did not do an exhaustive report and that every incident that happened during the conflict was not investigated, nor could it be, but he said that the violations in the Goldstone report included the right to life, the right not to be subject to torture, the violation of the principle of non-discrimination, the right to freedom of movement and access, the right not to be arbitrarily detained, the rights under detention and arrest, the right to be brought before a judge at the earliest opportunity, the right to equal protection under the law, duty to investigate, the right to redeem, the right to take part in public affairs, the right to freedom and opinion expression, the right to peaceful assembly and related rights to children. In total there are 22 separate violations of the covenants and treaties Israel has undertaken.

An issue that arose, and I realise Colonel Travers has addressed it, concerns Israel's attitude to proportionality, as outlined in protocol 1. I would like him to discuss that.

On the issue of human shields or "Johnnying", as it is called, there was one disturbing case where a Mr. Rabbo was continually sent in and out of a house to determine if three members of Hamas were dead. He was sent into the house with cameras. When he was brought back out an Israeli army dog was sent into the house where it was shot. Mr. Rabbo, who was subsequently sent in again under duress, gave testimony to the fact-finding mission.

Another notorious incident related to a United Nations school. What I found curious was the subsequent rebuttal issued by the Israelis in which they stated they were targeting two senior Hamas terrorists whom they named as Amr and Khaled. The Israelis stated they were targeting a house and street because the two individuals in question were senior Hamas terrorists. They stated they telephoned the house in question, which was near the UN compound, to warn those inside that it was about to be attacked. In their rebuttal, the Israeli authorities indicated that a mortar was used because it was the most accurate weapon to hand. I am sure Colonel Travers will find this statement unusual. Having served in the FCA, I know one would not use a mortar in such circumstances because the first two rounds would not land anywhere near the target. I ask Colonel Travers for his view of the incident, how many people were killed and what inaccuracies were contained in the Israeli statement that emerged later. When it later transpired that the two purported senior Hamas terrorists named by the Israelis were 13 and 19 years of age, respectively, the terrorist allegation was dropped.

The Israelis admitted to only one of the operational errors described in the report. If an American colonel was involved in an extensive military operation of the magnitude of the Israeli army's operation in Gaza and only one mistake occurred, he would probably be elected President of the United States as his conduct and ability to execute military operations would be beyond reproach. With regard to the incident which the Israelis admitted was an error, their statement indicated that they accidentally bombed the wrong house and had intended to bomb the house next door which had a weapons cache. It later transpired, however, that when the Israelis found out they had bombed the wrong house and killed some 20 people, they did not proceed to bomb the adjoining house where an arms cache was purportedly located.

Colonel Desmond Travers

Twenty-two people were killed in that incident.

The report details a large number of cases, including the bombing of hospitals and mosques. The case that disturbed me most was the shooting of three girls, Souad, Samar and Amal, aged nine, five and three years, respectively, and their grandmother. I ask Colonel Travers to comment on the case, on which I request the joint committee pass a resolution at the end of the meeting.

We will consider the Senator's proposal at that stage.

I express my respect and honour for Colonel Travers and Mr. Justice Goldstone, who is a man of extraordinary courage and moral integrity. Mr. Justice Goldstone has been accused of anti-Semitism which is strange because I understand he is a member of the Jewish faith. This must be particularly difficult for him which is a measure of his integrity. None of us finds it easy to cross the boundaries of our cultural background. It takes a special kind of moral courage to do so and nothing Mr. Justice Goldstone has done has been impugned except by people who are contemptible.

The report must not be buried. I agree with Noam Chomsky, who is also Jewish, who said in Dublin recently that the real enemies of Israel were those who attempted to justify the kind of atrocious violations of human rights carried out in Gaza. That is an honourable point of view.

We should put to one side the issue of military equipment as it may be a source of discussion later. I note, however, that the Norwegian Foreign Minister placed on record that the Norwegian Government has blacklisted the company in question because of its engagement in providing military equipment for the wall and the operation in Gaza. Ireland should follow suit.

I understand the Israeli Government refused to co-operate with the mission and may have subsequently harassed Palestinian witnesses. In one case, that appears to be the position. The approach adopted by Israel must have made the team's work difficult. Notwithstanding this, the fact-finding mission somehow managed to get testimony from Israeli soldiers, perhaps by means of a documentary, although I am not sure.

I will refer to a number of cases, of which the report contains many. I was particularly interested in the findings of the report, which appear to be impartial and are, I believe, an attempt to achieve balance. When I argued the other day that we must be careful about going too far in trying to be fair and balanced I did not mean we should not be fair or balanced. I was warning, as a distinguished Israeli Jewish professor warned this committee, that it would be a mistake to say that one side is the equal of the other.

Every death is the end of a human being. The Jewish people have a wonderful saying that if one saves one human being, one saves an entire universe. The converse of this saying is that if one kills one human being, one kills an entire universe. While I do not support any of the actions on either side, the legal concept of proportionality appears to have been seriously violated. I refer, for example, to shootings. On the specific, deliberate and targeted attack on the parliamentary aspect of life in Gaza for the Palestinians, namely, the Palestinian Legislative Council, the report notes that the Israeli authorities described the council as part of the Hamas terrorist infrastructure. We should bear this in mind because it is in violation of humanitarian law and a crime internationally. There is no substantive justification for the attack.

The fact-finding mission also examined whether the Palestinians had used civilians as human shields but was unable to find specific evidence of this practice. However, in light of balance, the report indicates that there were occasions when rockets were fired from areas where there may have been civilians. This practice and the use of civilians as human shields are not the same in law. The report clearly found that the Israelis who, in their propaganda, stated the Palestinians were being used as human shields by their own people, had clearly, specifically and deliberately engaged in this practice. Senator Daly has highlighted several such incidents. There is no ambiguity whatever in the report; the Israelis used Palestinian civilians as human shields. This is now an established fact which no one can contradict. The Israeli High Court examined the matter and issued clear and specific orders to the Israeli army not to persist in engaging in this odious practice. It is shocking that this order was ignored by the Israeli army.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency facility was attacked using high explosive shells and white phosphorous. The latter substance may not be banned — it should be — but its use is circumscribed. The report found that this circumscription was violated by the Israeli army.

The deliberate, intentional targeting of a civilian hospital was a breathtaking act. There was no evidence that fire was directed from the hospital at the Israeli military. This allegation was investigated and found not to be true. Naturally, the attack caused panic among the sick and wounded as no warning was given. In my opinion it would not have mattered much if a warning had been given. That is a specious notion and the Israeli authorities indicated they knocked on the roof or dropped leaflets. This is what the IRA used to do when it stated it gave a warning. Often such warnings were confusing and were issued not with the intention to assist but to confuse. This begs the question as to who in this situation is the actual terrorist. It seems we have very clear evidence of state terrorism.

On at least three occasions there is a finding, at least on aprima facie basis, of war crimes. I understand that one of the recommendations is that the Goldstone report should be referred to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Will that be done and what is required to be done to support that? It is important that we do that. Persons interviewed for the report indicated that if the report suffers the fate of other reports and disappears, it will strengthen the hands of those within Israel who will pursue those matters ever more vigorously and ever more viciously. I hope that the report will be referred to the International Criminal Court.

The attack on the raw sewage lagoons of the Gaza wastewater treatment plant caused an outflow of more than 200,000 m3 of raw sewage onto neighbouring farmland. Is there any context whatever in which that could be regarded as a legitimate military operation? I concur with the finding in the report that this is a war crime. Apart from the specific matters that are held to be war crimes, there is an even more significant matter of policy, that is the idea that one of the military objectives was to attack Hamas's supporting infrastructure. The impact of that is to transform civilians into legitimate targets — another favourite phrase of the IRA. The report states that the military operations in Gaza indicate that the Israeli military concept of what was necessary in a war with Hamas viewed "disproportionate destruction in creating maximum disruption in the lives of as many people as a legitimate means to achieve not only military but also political goals". The fact that the attack was launched at a time when it was known that there would be large numbers of civilians, especially children returning from school in the streets of the areas that were attacked, reminds me of blitzkrieg and the American "shock and awe" approach, which was the same thing.

The pretext for this war was rocket and mortar attacks on Israel. In June 2008 a truce was negotiated between Israel and Hamas with the assistance of the Egyptians, as a result of which there was a 98% decline in the attacks, which virtually ceased altogether. For some weeks they did cease altogether. In November there was a military incursion, as a result of which seven Hamas people were killed. I do not say what they were because I do not know. There may have been a reason, but it seems to me that completely removes any credible basis to use rocket fire from Gaza as a pretext. I have a transcript of Mr. Mark Regev, the senior Israeli spokesman, on a television news programme when asked the question of whether the rockets had virtually ceased and he said that was correct. That was the Israeli Government position and that completely undermines what was said here and issued to the newspapers by an Israeli Government spokesman after the last meeting.

There was an attack on a flour mill, which was not a legitimate target, that was also described as a war crime and the flattening of a chicken farm by bulldozers in which 31,000 chickens were killed. The consequent effect on egg production resulted in basic foodstuffs for the population being destroyed. At the previous meeting I suggested that there should be a clear objective, scientific analysis of the impact on the civilian population. That was something about which I was also concerned many years ago when I visited Iraq. I understand that there are significant levels of stunting, thinness and anaemia in children and pregnant women even before the blockade and war.

I condemn the killing of Gaza residents by the Palestinians and the intra-Palestinian violence. I support the establishment of the fact that, as a prisoner of war, Sergeant Gilad Shalit is entitled to the full protection of the Third Geneva Convention. We should make it clear that we require that. He should be allowed visits by the Red Cross.

I condemn also the use of rockets. Reference was made to police violence against protestors. I am well aware of that. I mention again the case of Mr. Ezra Nawi who was seen on Israeli television at a peaceful demonstration removing stones from the hands of Palestinian protestors and saying it was a totally non-violent demonstration. He entered a house that was being illegally demolished by bulldozers. He was followed in by two military policemen and emerged looking dazed asking them not to hit him any more. This is the third attempt by the Israeli Government to convict him. At last a judge has been found to convict him. He was sentenced to a month in prison and has to pay compensation to the soldiers who beat him up. He is now prevented from attending demonstrations. If he attends one in the next three years he will go to prison for six months. That is a reproach to democracy in Israel.

Is there any way to let the Israeli civilian populationen masse know of these issues because the Israeli Government does everything it possibly can to prevent its own people knowing what is being done in their name and attempts to provide them with the alibi that it did not know? It is the responsibility of the international community to ensure that the civilian population of Israel does know what is being done in its name, so that they can at last make a moral judgment, as to their eternal credit many dissident Israeli people in Israel have made their feelings know.

I thank Colonel Travers for attending today's meeting. I appreciate the comments he made about the Irish delegation at the UN General Assembly. I am pleased to hear that the report will not be buried. We are very concerned about the blockade and the environmental and infrastructural damage, in particular the devastating effect on the people who live in Gaza, especially innocent civilians.

I wonder where we go from here. Is the Goldstone mission still meeting? We appreciate the fact that Colonel Travers attends the committee to keep us informed. The issue has been before the UN General Assembly and it will go before the Security Council. What else are the members of the Goldstone mission doing to highlight the need to address the serious consequences of what appears in the report? The Goldstone mission called for transparent investigations into the allegations. Does Colonel Travers expect that to happen or can anything be done to ensure it happens?

Colonel Travers also made the point that the insurgents are stronger than ever. That is familiar to us in this country. The more repression that was used in Northern Ireland, the stronger the IRA became. We saw many instances of that such as Bloody Sunday in Derry, the introduction of internment and the hunger strikes. The report highlights the need for people of vision to get away from the politics of the last atrocity and to have a more balanced approach, but it does call for vision by everyone concerned. I deplore violence from whatever side it comes. From this report and what the committee saw in Gaza, there is no doubt that the force and repression used were beyond what was necessary, even if rockets were being fired into Israel.

I raise the case of Berlanty Azzam, the student taken from Bethlehem University three weeks ago in handcuffs, blindfolded and returned to Gaza. While it is not related to the Goldstone report, it is a symptom of the sorry state of affairs in the Middle East. While I understand it will come before the courts presently, I propose the committee send a resolution that she be returned immediately to Bethlehem University, pending the outcome of whatever investigations are ongoing.

I will be happy to second Deputy O'Hanlon's suggestion. I raised this important matter in the Seanad.

I appreciate that but we raised the matter at the launch of the report on Friday last which was carried in some of the media.

Colonel Desmond Travers

Senator Daly raised the issue of violations. The statements and evidence are available and stand. From my point of view, it was interesting that three distinct military formations had entered Gaza. The treatment of Palestinians in Gaza against any range of violations was identical. There is no possibility that these were the actions of overly robust soldiers. The practices were very well rehearsed. There is evidence from within Israel that the training for the incursion into or attack in Gaza was practised for at least six months before. Hostage-taking and the good neighbour principle were practised. This is disturbing for a variety of reasons and from my point of view as a former soldier. It is becoming politically fashionable across the world to produce risk-averse military operations because the body bag phenomenon impacts at home. In a way, it is good news that a price is being put on a soldier's life. However, if it goes too far down to a certain selection of risk, that transference of risk is to civilians and innocent persons. What we saw in Gaza was risk aversion taken to extremes, whereby women and children approaching with white flags could have been shot out of hand. There was the incident involving the man in his late 50s taken from his home and beaten to ensure he was telling the truth. For his pains, his house was then bulldozed without him being sure whether his family was still in it. That is an extraordinary state of affairs with regard to one of the finest and most professional armies the world has seen since the Second World War. This avoidance of risk, a troubling development, has to be revisited. Risk avoidance is not just peculiar to the Israeli army; it is common to many.

The question of proportionality fell away very early in our inquiries. I had to produce a picture of the military operations that had taken place in order that the events we would investigate could be put in the context of those military operations. In other words, if a building was toppled by a guided missile, did it have relevance in military terms? We found that in the great preponderance of cases we examined, there was no relevance in military or tactical terms. I am not a lawyer, but, as far as I am concerned, the argument about proportionality fell away, particularly in cases where houses had been bulldozed street by street. This occurred in the closing days of the operations when the Israeli army was withdrawing. There was no tactical rationale behind the action. I would have originally conceptualised this as creating free-fire zones which may have been acceptable in a war. Whether what was happening in Gaza was a war is another matter. As far as I am concerned, it was not and should not have been subjected to a war environment.

The human shield incident and the avoidance of risk are very troubling. Subjecting the UN school incident to a close military analysis, what emerges is the mortar is the ideal weapon of destruction, whereas artillery is the weapon of choice for most targets. A mortar arrives at its target vertically. This means that the buildings on either side of this famous street on which 34 people were eviscerated would have not deflected the mortars. Artillery shells would have come in from an angle and been trapped en route by the buildings. They used this mortar and I suspect it was a new type of automatic one, the Keshet, which suggests a certain amount of experimentation. That is purely my opinion and can be discounted.

In the case of the family and the 22 people killed, we found the admission of an error unsatisfactory. The statement that the neighbouring house was to be targeted but subsequently never was means it was presumed to be just an excuse. We found against the Israeli authorities.

The shooting of the three Rabbo children is deeply troubling. The father has an Israeli pass and speaks Hebrew. He felt under no threat and had nothing in his background that would have led him to fear the Israelis would see him as an enemy. However, an Israeli soldier opened the turret of a tank and shot the three Rabbo children. One was shot through the spine and will be a paraplegic for the rest of her life. She is in hospital in Belgium. The absence of a feeling that one had done something wrong is extraordinary. The Israelis subsequently reversed the tank and bulldozed an ambulance that had come to rescue the family. There is something in the military training process of the Israeli army that has allowed its soldiers to see the Palestinians as less than human or as total and grave enemies of the state of Israel. I cannot explain it.

I received an explanation for such callousness from a psychiatrist in Gaza. However, I will not quote it fully to the committee, as it might necessarily be biased. He has suggested it is the falling halo phenomenon where a magnificent army – one of the finest professional armies in the world – sees that it is losing its lustre because it cannot engage successfully with insurgents. It cannot engage successfully with insurgencies because these are invariably dirty wars, very difficult to win and very difficult to achieve any measure of success in. This was his explanation.

I want to deal with the human shield incident involving Hamas. I have no doubt that in reality what happened to Hamas was the fact that it too was overcome by the violence of the onslaught. The idea of using fellow Palestinians in Gaza as human shields did not happen because it could not do it. It did not have the time or the wherewithal to do it. However, this was a constant accusation that we had to explore and investigate, namely, whether Hamas would have used Gazan citizens as human shields. To be honest, I expected that we would find instances of this, but we did not. Attacks on the civilian hospitals were extremely troubling and very difficult to explain, particularly at al-Kuch where a tank was firing at the hospital from 80 m. away. I found that very difficult.

Senator Norris had a question about the International Criminal Court. Our idea was that ideally, in the first instance the belligerents should investigate themselves in accordance with the norms of good justice mechanisms. Those mechanisms should be visible and verifiable. Therefore all subsequent justice mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court would not necessarily arise. It will be interesting to see whether that issue comes forward because it does not look likely that justice mechanisms can be applied fairly, in my view, within the three-month timeframe that is being suggested by the General Assembly. Three months is nothing and I for one imagine that Hamas would not have the infrastructure to carry out its own justice mechanisms. After all, the Hamas justice mechanisms were eliminated in Gaza. The offices of the judiciary were levelled and 264 Hamas police were killed — and they were effective police. In my view, therefore, how Hamas could carry out an investigation is problematic.

As regards Hamas rocket attacks, Senator Norris argues about whether the Israeli attacks were justified, given that there were no rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel. That is a debate that is still ongoing. My understanding is that rocket attacks had virtually ceased. I believe two rockets were fired in October or November preceding the Israeli onslaught. Those rockets may well have been fired by other dissident groups that Hamas did not feel like controlling. Neither did it feel like stopping or discouraging them. To be fair to the Israeli security apparatus, one can look at it this way — we know this from this country — where there is a hiatus or ceasefire, this usually gives insurgents the opportunity to build up their power base, collect money, recruit new members, acquire new weapons and develop new weapons technology. If then the Israelis decided they were going to dispense with the ceasefire, they may have had good reason for doing so. The Goldstone commission ignored the issue of rockets being fired or not being fired as a pretext for the Israeli invasion. Our starting point was the actual invasion. However, there could be circumstances in which the breach of the ceasefire or the end of the continuation of it, in my opinion, might have been tactically legitimate.

I examined the chicken farm incident, as I was there. That and the incident involving the only flour mill operating in Gaza were naked "in your face" destructions of the food infrastructural mechanisms in the city, without an apology, and that was it. They even phoned beforehand and told the owner of the flour mill they were going to attack it, and they did. They struck the engine compartment of the mill with a guided JDAM bomb from an F16 and completely eliminated it. The chicken farm incident was particularly disturbing because it was callous. The birds were in their coops or cages and the building was just bulldozed down on top of them. When we got there the stench of decomposing fowl was still in evidence. That was particularly outrageous and had nothing whatsoever to do with the war against Hamas. Neither had other food infrastructural damage, in my view, anything to do with the war against Hamas.

I agree, as regards inter-Palestinian violence. Let us be honest, Hamas is a violent organisation. It threw its opponents off roofs of houses. I have to say this because we have a certain affection for the Palestinian dilemma and we have to be very guarded and careful about how far we take our affections with one belligerent or another in the Middle East, in my opinion.

I agree, too, about Gilad Shalit. We particularly wanted to give him the status of prisoner of war, because then he would have rights and freedoms. However, his father wrote to us and said he should not be a prisoner of war. We wrote back and told him, in effect, that he was arguing against his son's welfare, in a way. Also, in the particular context of this campaign, we said, we saw him as a prisoner of war. I believe our view on it stands.

How does one explain the father's reasoning, or did he give reasons?

Colonel Desmond Travers

He did. In fact he gave very good legal reasons and I am sure he was acting on the advice of his legal advisor. His argument was that since this was not a warper se, ergo he was not captured by combatants. He could perhaps have argued that illegal combatants had captured his son in a foray, but our argument was that Gaza is occupied territory and when an army enters into and attacks an occupied territory, this is war under our understanding of international law. Part of the mission objective of the military incursion was, hopefully, to secure his rescue even though it is not written. However, people being interrogated were always being asked: “Do you know the whereabouts of Gilad Shalit?” We therefore are presuming that his kidnapping was part of the conflict.

As regards informing the people of Israel, this is very difficult. The mission into Gaza had a political rationale and it raised the electoral possibilities of the Minister for Foreign Affairs significantly and,ergo, we were forced to conclude that the voting public in Israel were favourably disposed towards a hardline against Palestinians, particularly those who fire rockets into their country. That is a very strong and understandable belief in Israel. We hear, however, as revealed by the report, “Breaking the Silence”, there are very troubled young people particularly among reservists who came back to put on the uniform and involve themselves in that war. They are extremely disturbed by what they saw, and that is very encouraging. We interviewed three groups, I believe, who questioned Israel’s officials actions. These were very impressive young people who were scrupulously honest, courageous and moral in their thinking in a way that made me stand back in awe and admiration of them — in the Goldstone manner. They were wonderful young people and I was very impressed by them.

There is an argument to the effect that this new questioning of Israel is also in evidence among the diaspora community in the United States in particular, but also in Britain and elsewhere, because people are beginning to believe that Israel's interests are best served by the rule of law and by a different way of behaving towards their notional enemies. This may be encouraging, but they will never form a majority in the immediate future.

Where to go from here is a great question. Frankly, I am just a soldier who has had to take a crash course in politics and diplomacy. I am not comfortable in that milieu, to be honest. All I know is that from our informal conversations among my fact-finding mission colleagues and the panel of lawyers and investigators who assisted us, there is the belief that we must keep the issue alive. My being here today is achieving that purpose and I very much appreciate the committee's interaction with me. When I e-mail my colleagues in the coming days, I can assure committee members that they will also be appreciative of it.

I also travelled to the US and to Doha to say my piece on Al Jazeera, so I am doing what I can to keep the thing alive. I am afraid I do not know whether an Irish voice is that effective or influential in the world, but I am grateful to get a fair and honest hearing for that. Justice Goldstone carries the flag for us generally, and he has been inspirational. I admire him greatly and I am guided by him. I emailed him to say I was coming before this committee and I had certain thoughts as to what I would say, and he told me that is more or less what he would recommend. I was very pleased by that.

I thank Colonel Travers for coming in for the second time. We all appreciate that he has come here to share his knowledge and experience. He has done this with an honesty and candour that make it clear we are hearing the reality of what is happening on the ground. I welcome the Government's support of the report at UN level.

Many of my questions have already been addressed, but I would like to expand on two issues. The first is the deliberate attacks on the civilian population to which the report refers. One of those attacks resonated in particular, which is the shooting of civilians when they were trying to leave their homes while carrying white flags, often following the encouragement of the Israeli army to do so. The second issue that will resonate with many around the world was the bombing of the Mosque during evening prayer time, when 15 people were killed. These shocking actions cannot be forgotten. This report cannot be buried and we must make sure that it stays on the agenda. This committee will play its part in making sure that this happens.

Colonel Travers mentioned that 30% of agricultural land is now unusable. That will clearly have implications on the food supply, and the blockades will impact on food production and food availability. The economic crisis caused by these actions will result in job losses and loss of income. These problems will have big implications on the health of people living in Gaza, especially on the life expectancy of old people, but also on things like infant mortality, as well as the health of the general population. What can our Irish Aid programme do to alleviate the suffering of the community over the coming winter and the following months?

I again thank Colonel Travers for being here. I do not think this is a question for the colonel to answer, but I sometimes wonder what this committee thinks it is doing. The Goldstone report has received much discussion and coverage, and there is certainly content in it which is disturbing. Unfortunately, I do not think it adds anything to progress. Deputy O'Hanlon raised the most important issue, which is where to go from here.

How did Colonel Travers reach the conclusion that there was only one or two rockets fired at the Israelis before the incursion into Gaza? It is my recollection that in the eight days prior to the Israeli incursion, there were hundreds of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. It was widely reported at the time. Requests were made that the rocket fire stop. My recollection is that it continued, and that this happened in the eight day lead-in to the conflict. I am a little bit puzzled that Colonel Travers has told us that there were only one or two rockets fired into Gaza in the immediate period prior to the conflict.

In response to an earlier question, Colonel Travers stated that his committee's approach was to ignore rockets that were being fired as a pretext for the invasion. I find that odd, because——

On a point of information——

I did not interrupt the Senator——

The Israeli sources said that 71 rockets were fired into Israel between 1 December and 18 December, which is not hundreds of rockets.

Maybe it was just ten per day for seven days, but not hundreds. I think hundreds were fired before that.

That would not work out at ten per day.

Deputy Shatter, without interruption.

It was 71 rockets. I appreciate the Senator correcting me. Colonel Travers said earlier that a couple of rockets were fired, but while my recollection is incorrect, there were more than 70 rockets in the six days leading into this, which works out——

It was 18 days.

My recollection is that in the eight days leading into this conflict, rocket fire substantially increased.

That is from the Israeli reports on rockets——

Senator, please.

This is for the record.

Do not interrupt the Deputy any further.

If he is going to put something on the record, he might as well be accurate.

That is fine. Nobody else was interrupted.

Does Colonel Travers regard the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel as appropriate? In the report, he points out that it is not appropriate. Does he think the firing of those rockets had absolutely no relevance to this conflict?

In his previous presentation to the committee, he said he did not encounter issues regarding the storing of munitions in his inquiries. I think this was in response to a question I asked about munitions being stored in civilian areas. Colonel Travers stated:

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.

In the context of a tragic conflict taking place within areas in which large numbers of civilians lived, I would have thought that investigating allegations that munitions were stored within civilian areas would be an issue to examine. It may have explained some of the destruction that occurred and the reason some innocent lives were lost in this conflict. I am curious that this was something that was excluded from consideration. I would appreciate if the colonel clarified it for me.

In the context of rockets being fired into a civilian population, I would be interested in the colonel's thinking on what would constitute a proportionate response when rockets are fired from one part of Gaza into the town of Sderot. What is a proportionate response to that?

I was interested in Colonel Travers's comments that there is an affection in Ireland for the Palestinian side. My personal affection is that we bring this conflict to an end, and there be a two state solution. We should focus on how we can bring about a resolution, as opposed to how either side can demonise the other. Unfortunately, that seems to occupy too great a portion of both international debate and debate on this committee. My personal interest is how we can bring about resolution.

Colonel Travers stated there were incidents in which Hamas killed members of Fatah during the course of the conflict. Will Colonel Travers expand on that? Will he also indicate to what extent there is any realism in the context of Hamas investigating itself? Hamas is recognised as a terrorist organisation not just as a consequence of Israeli allegation, but by the European Union, the United States and all Western democracies. Is Colonel Travers aware of any terrorist organisation that has ever freely investigated itself and then published a report and prosecuted members of its own organisation who have misbehaved in these or similar circumstances?

The report states:

The Mission is concerned with the consistent disregard for international humanitarian law with which armed groups in the Gaza Strip conduct their armed activities, through rocket and mortar fire, directed against Israel. Despite some media reports, the Mission remains unconvinced that any genuine and effective initiatives have been taken by the authorities to address the serious issues of violation of international humanitarian law in the conduct of armed activities by militant groups in the Gaza Strip.

Can Colonel Travers confirm that the authorities to which the report refers are Hamas, which is the group that rules the Gaza Strip at present — there are no other authorities in charge of the Gaza Strip of which I am aware. The report also states: "the Mission also considers that allegations of killings, torture and mistreatment within the Gaza Strip have gone largely without investigation." These are killings, torture and mistreatment by Hamas, which are referred to on page 35 of the report under the subheading dealing with allegations of violations by Palestinians.

I only raise these issues because I have listened with interest to the contribution of every single member of this committee so far. Frankly, while I am not personally interested in scoring points because I am more interested in solving problems, I find it extraordinary — I must say this to the Chairman also — that the lack of balance in this committee goes beyond anything that could possibly contribute to resolving anything. The only questions that have been put to Colonel Travers until I have raised these issues relate to content in the report for which Israel is criticised.

I referred to the environmental impact. It was the totality of my contribution. It is important to be accurate.

There must be a response from the Israeli side to the allegations made and I hope they formulate that response. I doubt if there will be any reasoned response from the Hamas side.

In the context of resolution and where we now go, while I appreciate Colonel Travers telling us he is a retired member of the Irish Army and is uncomfortable dealing with political matters, I am afraid this report has a major impact on political matters. Was any exploration conducted about the extent to which Hamas is rendering it impossible to bring about a political resolution and to resolve issues such as creating a set of circumstances in which the Israeli blockade of Gaza, in so far as there is a blockade and there certainly is in some areas, is removed? The issue of Gilad Shalit is a very major issue for the Israeli Government. Has Colonel Travers any comment as to whether this man should simply be released or be retained?

I do not know whether Colonel Travers has had an opportunity to read the report that was published on Friday last from the members of this committee who visited Gaza, Israel and the Palestinian territories in the West Bank between 20 and 24 July. There is a very interesting comment which I believe is of relevance to where this should be going. There was a meeting with Palestinian Foreign Minister Al-Malki, whom I have met on a number of occasions. He complained that:

... Hamas should allow President Abbas to fulfil his mandate of negotiating with Israel on behalf of all the Palestinian people. He said that the Arab League needed to put more pressure on Hamas in this regard.

It would perhaps be much more helpful within this committee if, instead of using the forum of this committee on a regular basis to simply be critical of Israel, we started talking some truths. We should point out to the Israelis the mistakes they are making and, indeed, where events have occurred that should never have occurred, we should ask that they be properly investigated. However, it might be useful if at the same time, in the context of the affection felt by many for the Palestinian side — I am one who believes there should be a two-state solution and a Palestinian state established — we stopped air-brushing the problems created by Hamas in this process out of the picture.

I object to that, Chairman. I have to say——

I have contained myself——

The Deputy can contain himself all he likes but he cannot put absolute untruths on the record. We did not claim untruths. We quoted Dr. Al-Malki in our report. None of us air-brushed Hamas's actions. I appreciate what the Deputy is saying and he is right to say it, but he should please try to be truthful. It is he who is being untruthful, and not for the first time on this committee.

I do not know why the Deputy cannot contain himself.

It is not a matter of containing myself. That is more snide stuff. Just stick to the facts like other people did but do not impute a flair for untruth or that we in some way or another are seeking to justify actions that we have condemned——

Is there a possibility the Chairman can bring the meeting to order?

Yes, there is. It is a matter of order. I want to tell Deputy Shatter that if he insists on putting untruths on the record, I will reply to them.

I would like the opportunity to complete my comments. I am about to do so, if the Deputy——

Please allow Deputy Shatter to continue. I understand the Deputy's concern.

May I come back on that? While I have contained myself, I feel I have been impugned by what has been said by Deputy Shatter. I will wait until the end but I would welcome it if the Chairman gave me the opportunity to state what the record will very clearly show.

I hope we are not going to reopen the meeting in its entirety. The point——

That is what the Deputy sought to do.

The point I am making, if my two colleagues on this committee could contain themselves——

It is not a matter of containing oneself. The Deputy should try to use his language differently.

It is an element of democracy that I am entitled to make my contribution.

Yes, it is. I assure the Deputy he is in no position to give us a lecture on it in this committee. His previous contributions are ones that do not respect other people's views.

The Deputy is being most unpleasant. I must object to his conduct and think the Chairman should intervene.

We must allow Deputy Shatter to conclude.

The point I was trying to make before the Deputy jumped in is that in seeking a resolution of this conflict, there is a tendency to refer to the need to restart negotiations and to make progress to bring about a two-state solution, which is the most desirable objective that could possibility be achieved. In having that conversation, both in this committee and on international platforms, on occasion Hamas is air-brushed out of the conversation. The obstacle that Hamas presents to a unified approach both by the Palestinian people in seeking to bring about a resolution, and by its commitment to destroy the Israeli state and refusing to recognise it, which affects the Israeli state having confidence that any negotiations can bring about a resolution, means that it is time for this committee to focus on how in the work we do we can bring about a change in that dynamic, as opposed to using the forum of this committee to exchange views on the activities of one or other side for the purpose of political point-scoring. This is a very real problem.

In the context of all this, Chairman, perhaps it is time we invited the Iranian Ambassador to the committee to ask him whether the Iranians will, in the context of their sponsorship of Hamas in opposition to an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, explain the reasons for that opposition, the reason they have actively obstructed the success of every peace process that has been attempted since the Oslo accords, opposed the Oslo accords and used the Hamas organisation effectively to create what is absolutely, I agree, a disastrous situation in Gaza which needs to be addressed.

To clarify, the Iranian ambassador appeared before a meeting of the committee, and he would be welcome to attend again. The same applies in respect of the Israeli ambassador. We invited the latter to appear once again and we will see what happens in due course. We want to maintain a balanced approach and we have done that in every way we can thus far.

I support Deputy Shatter's proposal to invite the Iranian representatives to return. I intend to subject the Iranian ambassador to just as stringent an inquiry. The Chairman may recall that I managed to force an apology out of him at the last meeting on a human rights issue that has arisen in recent years. Unfortunately, that apology was not given at a public meeting.

I take this opportunity to set the record straight on an important matter. Deputy Shatter smeared every other member of this committee by claiming that we air-brushed Hamas out of our report and that nobody made any reference whatever to its activities. The record will clearly show that I referred to intra-Palestinian violence, the murder by Hamas of civilians and so on. The record will show that Deputy Shatter, whether inadvertently or maliciously, is simply not telling the truth in this regard. I also referred clearly and specifically to the case of Corporal Gilad Shalit. The record will support me in this and show that Deputy Shatter's remarks are inaccurate and offensive. The Chairman should note that I contained myself until the end despite the provocation offered by Deputy Shatter.

I thank the Senator. I will not prolong this discussion. The record will show that we have dealt with both sides.

I invite Colonel Travers to respond if he so wishes.

Colonel Desmond Travers

I will respond to some of the penetrating questions Deputy Shatter has put. They are relevant, fair, and, by and large, necessary questions. Regarding Hamas rocketry, the number of rockets fired in the month prior to Operation Cast Lead was the lowest on record. I do not have an exact number — I understand it was only a few — but certainly the clear month prior to Operation Cast Lead, whether it was October or November, saw the lowest ever number of rockets.

I am asking about the week leading into the launch of military operations, the specific eight-day period.

Colonel Desmond Travers

I was very careful about what I said——

I agree that very little happened in October.

Apart from the violation by the Israelis.

I am asking about the week leading in to the conflict.

Colonel Desmond Travers

I was very careful in my reply in saying that the full clear month prior to the launch of the military operation saw the lowest ever number of rockets. I understood that a few rockets were launched in that period.

I will volunteer the information. Two mortars were launched in that period and no rockets.

Colonel Desmond Travers

Correct. I think I may have said two; if I did not, I understood the figure to be two. I must put this in context——

I was asking about the week leading into the conflict.

Colonel Desmond Travers

When my family and I lived in Nahariya in northern Israel, a katyusha rocket landed within 50 m or 60 m of our residence. I assure members that I am not in the business of minimising the significance of one or two rockets. It only takes one to have an absolutely devastating and horrific impact on people's lives and to terrorise and traumatise children. The very efficient Israeli civil defence system in southern Israel contributes to some of the distresses because it is so efficient. I assure members that I am not minimising or downplaying the Hamas rocketry business. Members know I would not do so because my family and I have lived under it. When I served in the Middle East, I signed a contract consenting to the dangers to which I might be subjected, but my wife and four children did not sign any such agreement. It was something I was very concerned about and I feel very passionately about it.

There are two issues regarding the question of proportion. First, Israeli officials, politicians, generals and academicians have all declared what their policy towards insurgency in neighbouring territories was going to be, and they developed a doctrine called the Dahiya doctrine. Dahiya is a suburb of Beirut which was levelled by precision bombs; I was there and saw it levelled. Public statements by these people were to the effect that to win an insurgency — to defeat Hizbollah, Hamas and others like them — one must destroy or punish the population. From the outset, therefore, the effect of publicly declared sentiments by the Israeli authorities was to set aside the question of proportionality in its entirety. Their public statements and sentiments could be considered to be in breach of the conventions.

Deputy Shatter asked what I would consider proportionate. I will offer an example. I spoke about the significance of unmanned aviation vehicles moving through Gaza all day and all night, picking up information and also firing missiles at targets with absolute precision. I asked a person who had operated these systems in Afghanistan whether they could have been used to anticipate Hamas rocketry and, if so, what level of efficiency could be achieved. He replied that given the level of surveillance employed by the Israelis and their international technological pre-eminence, particularly in respect of unmanned aviation vehicles, if one or two Hamas operatives were in a house ready to bring a rocket out into an open space to launch it at Israel, no sooner would they stick their heads out the door than missiles could be fired at them. That would have been a proportionate response. It might have been in breach of the conventions in terms of the use of a warlike weapon but at least it would have succeeded in taking out the individuals who intended to harm Israeli citizens, without any harm to others. It is for the Israeli military authorities to explain why this was not done. If they do not know how to use this tactic, I will tell them how to do it. The priority must be not to propagate more violence. It is a question that should be put to the Israeli authorities. Why did they not use the easy, low-cost option, the option that would absolutely minimise or eliminate collateral damage?

Regarding storage in civilian areas, Gaza is the most densely populated urban environment in the world. There were references in the Breaking the Silence report to houses where, when they were attacked with incendiary devices, explosions could be heard. This was offered as proof of the validity of those attacks. The reality, however, is that the explosions could have been caused by a gas cylinder or pressurised container. We cannot say for sure. Everybody in Gaza carries side arms and weapons. There are entire families — large clans — with their own fiefdoms where the carrying of a Kalashnikov and a couple of grenades isde rigueur for the young men. Are the houses in which those young men reside ammunition storage facilities? Perhaps they would be described as such by our standards but not by those pertaining in the Middle East. It is an argument that can go either way.

In regard to Hamas killing Fatah activists, we found evidence of three types of activity, namely, the killing of Fatah members as a means of settling old scores; the kneecapping of certain Fatah members, which I found very interesting for all types of reasons from an Irish perspective; and the disappearances that have taken place. We have investigated all these types of actions and referred to them in our report. However, being very honest, I am not sure we would have found a terribly long queue of enthusiastic witnesses in Gaza. It would be naive of me to suggest that we had hundreds of people waiting to come in and tell us sob stories about Hamas; it is obvious they would not——

The difference is that one does not find in Gaza groups critical of Hamas in the same way that one finds groups critical of the Israeli Government in Israel.

Colonel Desmond Travers

That is a good point. I heard a lot of severe criticism in Gaza of the old Fatah regime and severe criticism of the Palestinian Authority in Ramal.

However, that is allowed by Hamas.

Colonel Desmond Travers

Yes, I accept that.

My point is that there are Israeli groups who monitor what the Israeli army is doing, are very critical of it, and achieve regular publicity in the Israeli press. No similar group in Gaza is critical of what Hamas is doing and gets regular publicity in the Gaza press.

Colonel Desmond Travers

It is not as clear as that, but I can go a long way with the Deputy's point. Some of the human rights organisations that briefed us in Gaza were magnificent and courageous. They were not afraid to tell it like it was. Some of their members were native Gazans and some were of the international community. That said, an office belonging to one of the best human rights organisations in Gaza, Bethsalem, was raided a few days ago. We do not know by whom or why. The problem in Gaza is that it is rife and replete with all sorts of gangster behaviour and conspiracy theory, so one does not know who is after who. For example, our fellow countryman, John Ging, has received death threats, but there is a queue of people not necessarily from the same sides of the argument waiting to get him.

His were in a newspaper published by Hamas, which targeted him because of his work. He is an extremely brave man.

Colonel Desmond Travers

He is magnificent. Have I answered Deputy Shatter's questions? Let me revert to the issue that I would like to nail, as I would like an answer. The Hamas rockets could have been taken out easily. I challenge any Israeli military man to tell me, "No".

While I will defer to my colleague, since I do not count all of these attacks on a regular basis, 10,000 to 12,000 rockets were fired between 2000 and 2008 into, I would suspect, places like Sderot, Ashkelon and elsewhere. If Israel could have taken out the Hamas rockets easily, it would have stopped the attacks a long time ago. Otherwise, the Israelis allowed the rockets to arrive for entertainment reasons.

Colonel Desmond Travers

I am laying down the gauntlet, in that I guarantee the Deputy that Israel could have taken them out if it had wanted to. This is my challenge.

Concerning the Kassam rocket attacks against Sderot in particular, someone could be killed or maimed if one of those rockets landed on or beside him or her. Apart from that, however, it maintains terror. We found this to be the case when we visited the area. One has only 17 seconds to reach safety. The larger rockets fired into Ashkelon are a different matter, as they travelled much farther.

I accept the horror of these rockets, but it should be placed on the record that, at the beginning of October, the town of Sderot held an official celebration of the fact that it had received no rocket fire thanks to the Egyptian-brokered truce. To quote: "Young boys horsed around on their bicycles, families hurried to make last-minute purchases at the downtown supermarket, and food stands did a steady business in shawarma and beer. Meanwhile, the October sun sparkled down from a blue and rocket-free sky. If this seems like an unremarkable description of any Israeli town about to mark the holy day of Yom Kippur, it almost could be – except for that part about rockets." They celebrated the end, but the Israelis provoked it all over again.

Except, tragically, the rockets had restarted that December.

I stated that I would ask the committee to pass a resolution.

I said we would come back to that and we will.

I thank the Chairman.

I thank Colonel Travers for appearing and for the time he has given us, which we appreciate. He has shared his knowledge of the situation in Gaza. Finding a just and lasting political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question will remain a key priority for the committee. In particular, we remain deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The accounts given today of the environmental damage caused by the conflict to the water, soil and air in Gaza and southern Israel are a reminder that it is the civilian populations of Israel and Palestine that will continue to suffer in the absence of a just settlement. We will continue our efforts for a just settlement and a lasting peace. I thank Colonel Travers for attending the committee.

Before entering private session, we will pass a resolution. I have made a draft that we can discuss. If anyone is interested, we can discuss it shortly after the meeting concludes.

I would like to put a resolution that I have drafted before the committee enters private session. It concerns the killing of the two girls and the maiming of another in the Israeli incursion into Gaza. It aims to ask other foreign affairs committees within the EU to investigate the issue, as it is worthy of investigation in light of the ages of the girls involved and the fact that they were carrying white flags at the time of their shootings. I ask the committee to consider this resolution.

The joint committee went into private session at 5.55 p.m. and adjourned at 6.15 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 25 November 2009.