Government courageous on Gaza, says retired colonel


The Irish Government made a "courageous" decision in supporting a UN resolution calling for investigations into allegations that war crimes were committed during the conflict in Gaza earlier this year, the retired Irish colonel who participated in a fact-finding mission whose report prompted the resolution said yesterday.

Ireland was one of five EU member states to back the resolution, which calls on both Palestinian and Israeli authorities to investigate allegations of war crimes detailed in the report which was commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council. Portugal, Cyprus, Slovenia and Malta also supported the resolution.

Col Desmond Travers was a member of the fact-finding team led by South African judge Richard Goldstone. The resulting report accused Israel of using disproportionate force and deliberately harming civilians during its three-week offensive on Gaza in January. It also alleged Hamas had committed war crimes by launching rockets into Israel.

Col Travers said he was "very proud and pleased" that Ireland had chosen to support the UN General Assembly resolution which was backed by 118 states earlier this month. "It was very significant," he told The Irish Timesyesterday. It was courageous. It was risky but it was the correct decision.

Speaking at DCU this week, Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said that while Ireland did not agree with every recommendation produced by the Goldstone-led team, the Government supported the resolution in order to ensure that "there should be some accountability for the very serious violations of international law" outlined in its report.

Col Travers, who yesterday discussed the report at a meeting of the Oireachtas committee on foreign affairs, raised concerns of a "gradual diminution" of its original purpose - to end impunity.

"There has been a moderation in the hope of eliciting a majority vote in the General Assembly … The problem is there are trade-offs and compromises," he said.

"The one thing that remains heartening is that the court of world opinion still holds this report, in its entirety, to be valid. We have to keep it in the public eye for as long as possible until some question of impunity eventually insinuates itself into the Middle East dilemma."

His colleagues had been subjected to personal attacks and even death threats, Col Travers said. "But not a glove has been landed on the report itself … It cannot and will not be buried. It will not go away."

He told the Oireachtas committee that the ongoing blockade of Gaza was a "continuation of the war by other means".

The Israeli ambassador, Zion Evrony, was invited to address yesterday's meeting but he declined and suggested that retired British colonel Richard Kemp appear instead.

Col Kemp previously testified before the Human Rights Council in Geneva during its discussion of the Goldstone report in October, arguing that during the Gaza offensive the Israeli military "did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare". The Oireachtas committee declined the offer, given that Col Kemp had no direct experience of Gaza.