Sunday, October 18, 2009

Burston In Haaretz: Israel Should Have Cooperated With UN Goldstone Commission

The United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed a commission report, headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, stating that Israel and Hamas committed war crimes during the conflict in Gaza last winter. The council is trying to motivate both sides to conduct internal investigations, under the threat that the UN Security Council and International Court would take action should they not do so. The United States, which, along with Israel, has criticized the report as unfair to Israel, would probably veto the Security Council step.

Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Bradley Burston (above), addressed its shortcomings and strengths:

It's a tough slog, the hundreds of pages of the UN-sponsored report on allegations of war crimes in Gaza. The material is infuriating at times, the content inconsistent, the methodology slapdash. But for anyone who cares about the future of this place, and for anyone who has paid close attention to the hyperbole and factual errors of Israeli leaders in condemning it, the read is more than worthwhile - if only for the key element of its surprise ending: A marked degree of fairness.

It does not question the right of Israel - or, for that matter, the Palestinians - to self-defense, but it accuses both sides of having resorted to war crimes in the course of, or in the name of, defending themselves. The inquiry breaks new ground for the UN, and breaks sharply from its original mandate, in addressing Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians.

The UN resolution criticized Israel for not cooperating with the commission, a point to which Burston agrees:

Israel's decision not to cooperate with the Goldstone Mission, and, in many respects, to actively hamper its work, was calamitous. In revealing correspondence pointedly reproduced in the report, Justice Goldstone all but gets down on hands and knees to beg Israel to allow it to balance the report with on-site visits to rocket-torn Sderot, extensive direct testimony from victims of Qassam attacks, and first-person accounts and explanations of soldiers accused of violations of international law. Israel says no. Benjamin Netanyahu won't even go so far as to answer Goldstone's letter.

Now the report is out, alive and ticking, and Israel - in its desperation to deflect the monster, no matter the consequences - has already managed to hand it as a stick to Hamas, to beat and perhaps eventually defeat Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Palestinian Authority.

Produced under unrealistic constraints of time and evidence, the report is easy to critique but impossible to ignore. Befitting its subject matter, it is zealous, suspicious, and bleak, asking tough questions which both sides should long ago have asked themselves.

It is difficult indeed to imagine how Israel helped itself by not allowing the commission to visit Sderot, for example, and present its case regarding citizens who had been terrorized for years by Hamas rocket fire. Burston recommends that Israel conduct its own probe:

The bottom line, for Israelis, is simply this: Israel desperately needs a respected commission of inquiry of its own, to probe precisely the charges leveled by the Goldstone Mission. Israel owes its own citizens no less. It needs this, first and foremost, for the sake of its own future, and for the moral standards that it has explicitly set for itself. In fact, this is what Justice Goldstone is recommending that Israel do, specifically to avoid a summons to the Hague.


Canada Guy said...

Current trends seem to suggest that the future of Israel will be that of a binational state. While this is not something most Israelis want, even many conservative Israelis have concluded it may be inevitable.

Anonymous said...

Burston may have a point. But I don't know. How will an Israeli response be used by those who want to discredit Israel? Goldstone himself naively believed that his report would be used in a legitimate way. But what do we see? The United Nations Council drafting a resolution naming only Israel.

Why should Israel have cooperated with a commission one of whose members already last January, before the commission met, called Israel's offensive in Gaza a war crime?

As Yossi Alpher, an Israeli on the left, has pointed out, the rules of war according to which Goldstone
investigated Israel were written to govern the behavior of armies facing each other, not an army facing terrorists firing from and hiding out in civilian institutions, like schools and mosques.

Given that fact, Goldstone, said Alpher, could have only come up with an indictment of Israel. He is living in another era, not the one of Israelis and Americans and Britishers and other who want to combat and survive the reality of terror.

Israel dropped hundreds of thousands of leaflets -- and possibly more -- asking civilians to leave danger zones. It made hundreds of thousands of calls to civilians asking them to leave these zones. It shipped in aid to the people during the war. It posted medical teams on the border of Gaza to help those in need. How much, if any, of this made it into the Goldstone report?

As Richard Kemp, the former British commander in Afghanistan, stated, the conduct of the Israeli military in Gaza was, in fact, the most moral of any army in the history of warfare.

As for investigating charges of improper conduct by members of its military, Israel is already doing this.

As Goldstone has himself said, he presented only allegations, not established facts.

As for Goldstone's interest in the suffering of the Israelis, Noam Bedein of Sederot stated that when he, last July in Geneva, showed a film to the Goldstone commission of children from his city fleeing rocket fire, the celebrated jurist yawned and then feel asleep.

What should Israel do now? I'm not sure. But I am sure that the Goldstone commission and the court of world opinion are both without
moral credibility.

Davin Wolok

Jeff Tone said...

Canada Guy: Though some Palestinians talk of a one-state solution, the majority want their own state. Given the nationalism of both peoples and their century of enmity, one state does not seem to be a viable solution.

Davin: I'm letting you slide on the "Anonymous" singing this time, since you also signed your name. Anyway, think about your question: "How much, if any, of this made it into the Goldstone report?" Perhaps very little–but whose fault is that? Had Israel cooperated with the commission, perhaps more of its account would have been included. That is Burston's point.

Canada Guy said...

Jeff, I think you're right. Support for one-state among Palestinians has risen, but most poll stills show a majority support two states (although this is getting slim.)

I wasn't making an argument about which solution was best, just about which solution I thought was more likely. As I mention in the article, the changing demographics, and the expansion of the settlements suggest that two-state just might not be possible anymore.

As I quoted, you have the previous Israeli PM and the current Ambassador to the US both conceding that the current Israeli policy can only lead to a binational (one-state) solution.

As a Canadian, I find it hard to see the controversy here. I live in Toronto, one of the most multicultural cities in the world, and except for the odd nut, everyone gets along great. In our country white people have lost (or soon will lose) a majority. No one cares. We're one society, not a society of races or religions.

I realize Israel is not there yet, but it shouldn't be something to be scared of. And if I'm right, it's going to happen anyway. Better it happens peacefully than violently.