Chinkin’s Gaza Letter Reveals Bias, But Also Skewed Facts

Critics of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, also known as the Goldstone Commission, have convincingly argued that commission member Christine Chinkin had preconceived notions of Israeli guilt, and thus should not have been a part of an ostensibly impartial investigation.

In a letter co-signed by Chinkin and published in the Sunday Times during the Gaza war — long before the London School of Economics professor was selected as a commission member and thus long before she had a chance to closely investigate the facts — she asserted that Israel was not entitled to defend itself against Hamas rocket fire and insisted that Israel’s actions during the war were “contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law.” In other words, she already knew her “answer” before even going through the motions of looking into the question.

The organization UN Watch cited the letter when it formally called for Chinkin to recuse herself or otherwise be disqualified:

UN Watch requests that Prof. Christine Chinkin recuse herself from the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict on the grounds that she has already pronounced herself on the merits of the particular question to be decided by the Mission, thereby giving rise to actual bias or the appearance thereof, or that she be disqualified by the other Mission members or by the UN Human Rights Council president.

Under international law, the minimal rules of due process require that fact-finders in the human rights field be impartial. …

The facts are straightforward and undisputed. On 11 January 2009, during the recent Israel-Gaza conflict, the Letters section of the Sunday Times published a joint statement signed by Prof. Chinkin (Exhibit A) that declared Israel to be the aggressor, and a perpetrator of war crimes. …

Never in the history of international tribunals and fact-finding panels has there been a more overt case of actual bias in the form of an arbiter’s prior determination of the merits of a particular case in controversy.

But the Chinkin letter reveals more than just the professor’s apparent bias. Its content also raises serious concerns about her dedication to accuracy and fairness when describing issues related to the Hamas-Israel war.

The letter asserts: “Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence, not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary. Israel could have agreed to renew the truce with Hamas.”

This assertion, for those who remember the period before Israel retaliated to the incessant Palestinian rocket attacks in late 2008, is disingenuous, at best. In fact, Israel had hoped to continue its informal truce with Hamas, but Hamas leaders expressed their refusal to renew the truce, and underscored its intransigence with continuous mortars and rockets attacks against Israeli towns.

Israel’s Operation Cast Lead began on Dec. 27, 2008. Two weeks earlier, on Dec. 14, a Sunday, the Associated Press reported:

The exiled leader [Khaled Mashaal] of the militant Palestinian group Hamas says a truce with Israel in the Gaza Strip will not be renewed once it expires.

A six-month Egyptian-mediated truce between Israel and Hamas is scheduled to end Friday. The truce has begun to unravel recently after Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli towns and Israeli strikes against militants.

A story posted on the New York Times Web site that day quoted Mashaal saying that, “For Hamas, and I think for the majority of forces, the truce ends after Dec. 19 and will not be renewed.”

The following day, AP noted:

In Hamas-ruled Gaza, meanwhile, smaller Palestinian factions said they were unlikely to extend a cease-fire with Israel set to expire on Friday. Hamas is to meet with the factions later Monday to discuss the next step. Hamas officials have given conflicting statements on whether they are willing to extend the truce.

This mention of “conflicting statements” apparently refers to an assertion by Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, that, as the Dec. 14 online New York Times story paraphrased it, “the group had not yet finalized its position.”

While Hamas’s chief and Gaza-based terror organizations insisted that they will not renew the truce, and Hamas leaders in Gaza would not say one way or another, Israel called for a continuation of the truce and an end to Hamas rocket and mortar attacks.

The New York Times story reported,

“Israel wants to see calm prevail in the south,” Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said Sunday. “Israel has been willing, and continues to be willing, to abide by the understandings reached with the Egyptians,” he said. But he added that calm was conditional on Hamas stopping the daily rocket fire from Gaza against Israeli civilian centers.

A spokesman for the Israeli Defense Ministry, Shlomo Dror, also said that Israel was ready to continue with the calm, “but not like it is today.”

Separately, an Israeli defense official argued on television that Israel’s view is that the tahdia — the lull in fighting often referred to in the media as a truce — was meant to continue. “It was agreed explicitly that there is no expiration date,” he told Israel’s Channel 2 on Dec. 15.

On Dec. 16, about 8 rockets were launched toward Israel from Gaza, marking the end of a brief week of relative calm. The next day, roughly 18 rockets were fired.

And on Dec. 18, the day before Hamas announced the tahdia would expire, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that “there is no chance of extending the calm” (AP, “Hamas says won’t extend truce with Israel”).

Indeed, the following day, Hamas announced that the lull was officially over, and that it would “act” against Israel. A statement on Hamas’s Web site asserted, “Since the enemy did not abide with the conditions … we hold the enemy fully responsible for ending the truce, and we confirm that the Palestinian resistance factions headed by Hamas will act”

Even as the Palestinian attacks on Israel crescendoed on Dec. 24 to a pre-war high of 30 rockets, including powerful Grad-type rockets, and 30 mortars, the country continued to put off a significant military response. That day, Israeli president Shimon Peres told the Palestinians that “the moment that you stop firing rockets at us, there will be quiet in Gaza and the crossings will be open.” On Dec. 25, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appealed to Gazans in an interview broadcast on Al Arabiya, urging them to pressure Hamas to stop its attacks:

I say to you in a last-minute call, stop it. Stop it. You the citizens of Gaza, you can stop it. I know how much you want to get up in the morning to quiet, to take your children to kindergarten or school, the way we do, the way they want to in Sderot and Netivot.

The Palestinian attacks continued, and Israel launched its Operation Cast Lead.

It was about two weeks later that Chinkin’s letter was published, arguing what no fair-minded observer could conclude — that Israel’s military operation was unnecessary aggression, and not self-defense, because the country “could have agreed to renew the truce with Hamas.”

This distortion of history by Chinkin, it turned out, foreshadowed the Goldstone commission and its questionable report.

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