Head of UN probe into Gaza clashes vows to keep an ‘open mind’

David Crane, leading commission to investigate Israeli ‘assaults on the large-scale civilian protests,’ says he has ‘no preconceived positions or perspectives’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Palestinians take part in clashes with Israeli troops along the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City on July 27, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Palestinians take part in clashes with Israeli troops along the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City on July 27, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

The head of the UN Human Rights Council’s probe into the clashes at the Gaza border this summer vowed Sunday to approach the topic fairly and without bias.

“As Chair of the Commission of Inquiry for Gaza and East Jerusalem I can assure all parties and constituents that the Commission will conduct its investigation fairly and with an open mind with no preconceived positions or perspectives,” David Crane told The Times of Israel in an email.

Currently a professor at Syracuse University College of Law, Crane was appointed last week to preside over the three-member “Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

The other members are Sara Hossain, a Bangladeshi lawyer educated in the UK, and Kaari Betty Murungi, a lawyer and human rights activist from Kenya.

Officials in Jerusalem are unlikely to cooperate with the probe, which they have rejected from its very inception.

David M. Crane Interviewed by BBC World, January 22, 2014. (Screen capture: YouTube)

In the 1980s, Crane was a legal adviser to the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai. From 2002 to 2005, he was the founding chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, an international war crimes tribunal, according to his website at Syracuse University.

Crane served over 30 years in the US federal government. Appointed to the Senior Executive Service of the United States in 1997, Crane has held numerous key managerial positions during his three decades of public service and was a professor of international law at the US Army Judge Advocate General’s School.

On May 18, the UN Human Rights Council voted in favor of creating an “independent, international commission of inquiry” that will be asked to produce a final report on the events at the Gaza border by March 2019.

According to its mandate, the panel will “investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests that began on 30 March 2018.”

In voting overwhelmingly in favor of Resolution S-28/1, the 47-member body mandated the panel “to establish the facts and circumstances, with assistance from relevant experts and special procedure mandate holders, of the alleged violations and abuses, including those that may amount to war crimes” and “to identify those responsible.”

At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the vote — 29 countries voted in favor, two against, with 14 abstaining — as “irrelevant.”

“The organization that calls itself the Human Rights Council again proved it is a hypocritical and biased body whose purpose is to harm Israel and back terror, but mostly it proved it is irrelevant,” he said. “The State of Israel will continue to defend its citizens and soldiers.”

A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot as smoke billows from burning tires during a violent demonstration along the border between Israel and the Gaza strip, east of Gaza city on July 27, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Mahmud Hams)

According to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, 157 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the mass “March of Return” protests on March 30. Israel has accused Hamas of using the clashes to attempt to breach the border fence and carry out attacks, and the terror group has acknowledged dozens of those killed were its members.

Hamas, which is committed to Israel’s destruction, has fought three wars with the Jewish state since it violently took over Gaza in 2007.

In June, the US quit the The Hague-based body, citing among other things its preoccupation with Israel.

Israel welcomed the US’s move. “For years, the UNHRC has proven to be a biased, hostile, anti-Israel organization that has betrayed its mission of protecting human rights,” the Prime Minister’s Office said at the time.

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