Barak Ravid
July 27, 2009 - 12:00am

A group of legal experts from the Foreign Ministry is writing a defense brief for the government in advance of two harsh reports on Operation Cast Lead expected to be released soon.

The ministry's defense brief is expected to be finished in a week or two, ahead of two United Nations reports that are expected to be highly critical of the extent of civilian injuries in the Gaza Strip during the operation.

A draft of the two reports is expected to be given to Israel around the end of August, before they are officially presented to the Human Rights Council in mid-September.

Sources in Israel believe that the release of the UN reports could lead to legal action against Israel in one of the two international courts in The Hague.

The first of the two reports, considered the harshest critique since the war, is being compiled by an investigative committee chaired by Judge Richard Goldstone, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The second report is under preparation by the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Legal experts in the Foreign Ministry told the special ministerial committee following suits against Israeli public figures abroad and various reports on Operation Cast Lead that they believe the release of the two UN reports could lead to legal proceedings against Israel or individual Israeli public figures in the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

A government source in Jerusalem said the Foreign Ministry's legal department has been at work on the document, which will contain the "Israeli narrative" of the operation, together with the international department of the Justice Ministry and members of the international law department of the Military Advocate General. The work is proceeding discretely due to the sensitivity of the subject.

The source said the document would be extensive and include the "whole story" from the Israeli perspective: the reasons for the operation, the security situation in the south after disengagement, the phases of the operation, the government's decisions and the orders given to the army. The document will also include legal aspects and legal opinions on the actions taken by the forces and details of the various actions taken.

"The road to international courts is very short from the point we are at right now," the government source said.

The Goldstone report, with which Israel is not cooperating, is expected to be the harsher of the two.

Israel argues that the mandate of the UN probe is one-sided against Israel, and therefore any cooperation by Israel would legitimize its conclusions and recommendations.

The hearings the committee held last month in Geneva became a platform for accusations against Israel of "war crimes" in the Gaza Strip. Most of the witnesses were Palestinians; however, Noam Shalit, the father of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, was among the few Israelis who testified and who were reportedly treated disparagingly.

Israel has cooperated with the second report, that of the Commission on Human Rights. Last week the Foreign Ministry deputy director for international organizations, Eviatar Manor, met with the Human Rights Commissioner in Geneva and told her the report "had no basis in reality" and that it was written by Arab UN personnel based on Palestinian newspaper reports.


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