South African Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu says it is distressing that Israel blocked a planned mission by him and British professor Christine Chinkin to investigate the killing of 19 Palestinian civilians by Israeli shells - writes Peter Kenny for Ecumenical News International.
The former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town was due on 10 December 2006 to lead a team with law professor Chinkin on behalf of the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the incident at Beit Hanoun in Gaza on 8 November 2006.
Tutu and Chinkin said in a joint statement that the fact-finding mission, which some Israelis asserted had already made up its mind before leaving, had been cancelled because there would no longer be enough time to carry it out properly.
At a media conference in Geneva on 11 December 2006, Archbishop Tutu was asked by a journalist why he was attempting to do something that had seemed destined to fail, like other attempts before it.
"I am a man of faith," he replied. "I come from a country where for many years the situation had seemed intractable," he said in reference to his fight against apartheid during the 1970s and 1980s in South Africa.
He added: "Many had predicted our country would go up in flames ... and end up in a bloodbath. It did not. That one example has reinforced for me a belief based on my Christian belief that no situation should ever be regarded as hopeless and this is one of the reasons why we agreed [to take part in the mission]."
Archbishop Tutu noted in a statement he read to journalists: "Our mandate was to 'travel to Beit Hanoun' and 'to assess the situation of victims, address the needs of survivors and make recommendations on ways and means to protect Palestinian civilians against any further Israeli assaults'."
He added, "In our opinion the third objective of our mission gave us an opportunity of bringing some useful contribution by way of recommendations that could bring some relief in the present crisis."
The Archbishop, who won the Nobel Peace Prise in 1984, was asked if when he took on the mission of behalf of the United Nations, he knew that Israel had never accepted a UN-mandated mission.
Tutu replied: "No."
Another journalist pressed Tutu as to why he was smiling while he was talking and he replied: "Laughter and tears are close to each other. Sometimes we laugh because if we did not laugh, we would cry."
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]