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The Goldstone Report’s Conundrum

First, succinctly, the facts: Following the Gaza operation “Cast Lead” by the Israeli Defense Forces in December of last year, and due to persistent reports of possible human rights violations, the “United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict” was created by the “United Nations Human Rights Council.” It was established to investigate and report on possible war crimes by the Israeli army against the civilian population. Later, before the commission—headed by Richard Goldstone, a renowned judge from South Africa—had begun its work, the council had added the requirement to investigate also possible war crimes by Hamas (due to the refusal of Goldstone to accept the nomination otherwise) against the Israeli civilian population.                                                                                                               

On September 15 of this year the Goldstone report was submitted to the UN Human Rights Council, and was made public. In it, both sides are accused of human rights violations, Israel especially so, including war crimes such as indiscriminately killing civilians, using civilians as human shields, and using white phosphorus as a weapon. Hamas is accused of firing kasam missiles consistently against the Jewish population in southern Israel. The Goldstone report lambasted both sides in the war, which killed up to 1,387 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, and gave both sides six months to mount credible investigations or face possible prosecution at The Hague.                                    

On October 16, The UN Human Rights Council endorsed the report by 25 votes for, 6 against and 16 abstentions/failures to vote. Both Hamas and the Israeli government rejected the report’s findings as being biased. The UN General Assambly will debate the report starting November 4th.

Second, the reactions and implications: In Israel, the Goldstone Report created an uproar, and almost uniformly strong objections, including accusations leveled at Goldstone—who is Jewish, whom his daughter said is a great Zionist, and whom Roger Cohen from the New York Times called “a measured man… I’ve known him a long time”—of being one-sided, and anti-Semite (what else is new?). In other words: blame the messenger; avoid the message. Both the report and the reaction to it pose a number of problems for Israel. There is substance to some of the accusations, and even during the operation—justified, at least on the outset—there began a stream of reports on such violations, even though the press and media were forbidden from entering Gaza or join the forces to report on the operation (I wonder, in a democracy, why; and what Israel was afraid of?). Soon after the end of the operation, Israeli soldiers and officers who participated in the war came up with similar accusations to those stated in the report.                                      

It is documented that prior to the operation the Chief Army Rabbi had issued—against all precedence—pamphlets giving Israeli soldiers permission to kill civilians, including women and children, at will. There was a sense in Israel, to which even Ehud Barak, the Defense Minister and the architect of that operation alluded, as if Israeli soldiers operated first and foremost under the wish not to get killed at all price. While this wish is understandable, it is not acceptable when an army is going to war to defend its country. General McChrystal, the commander of all forces in Afghanistan, had issued lately an order not to shoot at civilians under no circumstances, even when there is clear evidence that the enemy is hiding among them, or using them as shields, even if soldiers would be harmed as result.

Third, some conclusions: Hamas was first to say it would, as the report mandated, investigate its human rights violations. Israel, after much twisting and shouting, announced this past Sunday (October 25) that it has agreed in principle to “devised a plan to resolve pressure…” by deciding “to appoint a small task force, not an inquiry committee, to review the issue.” When earlier Netanyahu—who was not in power during “Cast Lead”—had hinted in an interview to the Washington Post that he might agree to establish an investigation commission, Ehud Barak reacted strongly against it. So Netanyahu recanted. Of course, he needs Barak for his coalition to survive. Which is but one element of this conundrum.                                          

By claming and insisting that the report is one-sided, and that it doesn’t measure Hamas too by the same yardsticks, Israel is committing a grave mistake. It equates itself with an organization—terrorist, gorilla, or liberation; call it what you may—that is not even recognized by the majority of its own people as legitimate. Israel, on the other hand, is a nation among the nations, a member of the international community, and a major economic player, with one of the strongest armies in the world. It shouldn’t compare itself and its standards of human rights behavior with such an organization as Hamas.                                                                                                     

Last but not least: It was clear to a few after the Six-Day-War of 1967, and to more years later, that the continuum occupation and rule over other peoples, and the forever war mentality will lead eventually to what took place in operation “Cast Lead,” and prior to it in some instances during the Lebanon wars. (Or, as Zvi Bar’el wrote in Haaretz lately: “Goldstone was born in June 1967.”) In that sense, this report is actually good for Israel and the Jews. It serves as a warning that we are going in the wrong direction, and presents an opportunity for the country and its people to find again the right course.

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