GENEVA, (Reuters) – South African Nobel prize winner Desmond Tutu said on Monday he was distressed that Israel had blocked his planned mission to Gaza to investigate last month’s killing of 19 Palestinian civilians by Israeli shells.
The former archbishop of Cape Town and peace laureate was due to lead a team asked by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council to investigate the incident at Beit Hanoun in Gaza on Nov. 8. But after waiting in Geneva for the green light from Israel, Tutu and his fellow team member British law professor Christine Chinkin said they no longer had time to complete the visit by the end of the week as planned.
“We find the lack of cooperation by the Israeli government very distressing,” they said in a joint statement.
In Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s spokeswoman Miri Eisin said Israel had investigated the Beit Hanoun shelling and acknowledged its mistakes in the incident, seeing no role for the U.N. mission.
“The commission was sent on the premise that Israel targets civilians and it did not take into account the daily rocket fire targeting Israeli civilians.”
Tutu said the team had been expecting to leave for the Middle East on Sunday night, but authorisation had not arrived from the Israelis. “Sometimes not making a decision is making a decision,” he said.
The two had rejected suggestions they travel to Gaza via Egypt because they also wanted to talk to senior Israeli officials about the shelling.
Although the events leading up to the firing were well known, “the broader context … is complex, and this warranted that we also visit Israel,” their statement said.
The 47-state Human Rights Counci has already passed seven resolutions condemning Israeli actions in Gaza and in Lebanon and held three special sessions dedicated to Israel.
Although Israel, which is not a member of the Council, has accepted visits by special U.N. investigators on human rights, it has never agreed to any mission of inquiry from either the Commission or its Council successor.
Tutu was awarded the Nobel prize in 1984 for his fight against apartheid.