The UN Reports on Gaza: How Will We Respond?


The long awaited UN Human Rights Council Fact Finding Report on Israel’s war in Gaza has finally been released and its conclusions are breathtaking. The mission led by Justice Richard Goldstone (above) has concluded that serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.

Some background: Justice Richard Goldstone, who is Jewish, is a highly respected international jurist. He is a former member of the South African Constitutional Court and former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. His mission compiled a 574 page report, which contains detailed analysis of 36 specific incidents in Gaza, as well as a number of others in the West Bank and Israel.  According to the UN press release announcing the report:

The Mission conducted 188 individual interviews, reviewed more 10,000 pages of documentation, and viewed some 1,200 photographs, including satellite imagery, as well as 30 videos. The mission heard 38 testimonies during two separate public hearings held in Gaza and Geneva, which were webcast in their entirety. The decision to hear participants from Israel and the West Bank in Geneva rather than in situ was taken after Israel denied the Mission access to both locations. Israel also failed to respond to a comprehensive list of questions posed to it by the Mission. Palestinian authorities in both Gaza and the West Bank cooperated with the Mission.

Here is what the Mission concluded:

In the lead up to the Israeli military assault on Gaza, Israel imposed a blockade amounting to collective punishment and carried out a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip. During the Israeli military operation, code-named “Operation Cast Lead,” houses, factories, wells, schools, hospitals, police stations and other public buildings were destroyed. Families are still living amid the rubble of their former homes long after the attacks ended, as reconstruction has been impossible due to the continuing blockade. More than 1,400 people were killed during the military operation.

Significant trauma, both immediate and long-term, has been suffered by the population of Gaza. The Report notes signs of profound depression, insomnia and effects such as bed-wetting among children. The effects on children who witnessed killings and violence, who had thought they were facing death, and who lost family members would be long lasting, the Mission found, noting in its Report that some 30 per cent of children screened at UNRWA schools suffered mental health problems.

The report concludes that the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population. The destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy which has made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population.

The Report states that Israeli acts that deprive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip of their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water, that deny their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country, that limit their rights to access a court of law and an effective remedy, could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, has been committed.

According to the JTA, the Israeli government and the American Jewish establishment has wasted no time in pouncing on the report. But from what I’ve read so far, none of the respondents have addressed its substance. Not surprisingly, they’re only interested in attacking the UN – in particular, the UN Human Rights Council. 

Israeli Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said, “The same U.N. that allows (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) to announce on a podium its aspiration to destroy the State of Israel has no right to teach us about morality.” According to ADL Director Abe Foxman: “This is a report born of bias. What do you do with an initiative born of bigotry?”

AJC Director David Harris:

Let us not forget that this commission was a creation of the Human Rights Council, arguably the U.N.’s most flawed body. The Council has consistently demonized Israel, while giving a free pass to some of the world’s worst tyrants, from Sudan to Iran.

My two cents:

It is worth noting that this “flawed, biased” commission had this to say about Palestinian human rights abuse during the Gaza war:

The Fact-Finding Mission also found that the repeated acts of firing rockets and mortars into Southern Israel by Palestinian armed groups “constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity,” by failing to distinguish between military targets and the civilian population. “The launching of rockets and mortars which cannot be aimed with sufficient precisions at military targets breaches the fundamental principle of distinction,” the report says. “Where there is no intended military target and the rockets and mortars are launched into civilian areas, they constitute a deliberate attack against the civilian population.”

The Mission concludes that the rocket and mortars attacks “have caused terror in the affected communities of southern Israel,” as well as “loss of life and physical and mental injury to civilians and damage to private houses, religious buildings and property, thereby eroding the economic and cultural life of the affected communities and severely affecting the economic and social rights of the population.”

The Mission urges the Palestinian armed groups holding the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to release him on humanitarian grounds, and, pending his release, give him the full rights accorded to a prisoner of war under the Geneva Conventions including visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Report also notes serious human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial executions of Palestinians, by the authorities in Gaza and by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

So much for the accusations of bias.

If Foxman, Harris, et al have any problems with the procedural process of the Mission (with which Israel refused to cooperate) I’m interested in hearing it. And if they have any evidence that counters the findings of the report, then let them bring it. Until this happens, I’m not sure their general opinion of the UN is germane to the matter at hand.

 Based upon comments and e-mails I get on a daily basis, I know I will be considered by some to be a self-righteous simpleton at best and a traitor to my people at worst. But here goes: as a Jew, I am devastated by these findings.  The moral implications of this report should challenge us to the core. And I am deeply, deeply troubled that the primary response of our Jewish communal leadership is to attack the source of the report while saying absolutely nothing about its actual content.

Yes, there are other human rights abusers in the world. And yes, some of them are even worse than Israel. Yes, the structure and governance policy of the UN is far from perfect. And yes, nations tend to use the UN for their own self-serving ends. But do these facts give us a pass on holding Israel up to the most basic standards of human rights and international law?

17 thoughts on “The UN Reports on Gaza: How Will We Respond?

  1. Avram Eisen

    I agree with you completely. I want to add as Americans we must hold our own country up to these same standards. We must fix our country before we can judge others’ reprehensible. I realize the same considerations may be made: a simpleton or a traitor, but we are not in Israel, we are in America. We choose to live in this country, not Israel, where borders are barbed wire. Until America’s conscience is clear, we can’t really take on the conscience of another country, even if it is “our people’s homeland”.

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

      Thanks, Avram. I certainly concur that the US can and should be taken to task as well. Not sure I agree tho, that we must fix our country before we before we can speak out against abuses in other nations. If we had to wait until our conscience was clear, I’m afraid we’d never get out of the starting gate.

      The very premise of human rights is that all nations should be held to universal standards. I understand this to mean that citizens of the world have the responsibility to uphold the rights of individuals no matter where they happen to live. Having said this, think it is natural and fitting for people of conscience to give special attention to abuse that is committed their name (or that happens to be funded by their tax dollars.)

      BTW: I’ve addressed US human rights abuse in this blog on numerous occasions. Some examples:

  2. Elliot

    The UN report’s findings appear consistent with what B’Tselem and other Israeli human rights organizations found with respect to the Gaza conflict. Of course these Israeli organizations are criticized by the same establishments for airing Israel’s dirty laundry in public rather than for bias, and these critiques will inevitably also fail to address the substance of the findings. I agree that nothing exempts Israel from the same obligation any country has to follow the Geneva conventions and other delineations of both basic human rights and permissible conduct of war established in international law. The US hasn’t been stellar on the international law front in recent years either. Both Israel and the US then find themselves in a tough position insisting that other countries follow these standards. The US has been improving slowly since the advent of the Obama administration; after January’s reprehensible Gaza campaign, Israel has had nowhere to go but up. Hopefully both will pick up the pace.

  3. Elaine Waxman

    Thank you for posting this. I admit to being somewhat baffled that supporters of Israel don’t realize how extremely damaging the continued blockade is to Israelis as well as Palestinians. It is neither legally or morallly defensible from the perspective of those who endure it, but it also undermines Israel’s prospects for a stable future and its credibility as a democratic nation. And it makes me sad that, because Israel is a “Jewish state,” it appears to the outside world that my faith would condone this kind of inhumane treatment of others. There is often talk about how thoughtful Muslims must reclaim their faith from those extremists who have hijacked it for purposes that fly in the face of Muslim values. I think many Jews of faith also believe that our tradition cannot be associated with a blanket defense of political agendas that lead to indefensible actions in the name of security.

  4. Shirley Gould

    I am appalled, and so sad that I cannot respond. In my head I only see visions of greenhouses destroyed, and similar destruction by Arabs when Israel’s “protection” was gone. It is so difficult to think through the events. But I want to thank you very much for bringing the facts to my attention.

  5. Michael Levin

    Human Rights groups in Israel provide initial response to Goldstone Report:
    Israel Must Investigate ‘Operation Cast Lead’

    With the publication of the Goldstone Committee report today, human rights organizations in Israel are studying the report and its conclusions, and they call upon the Israeli Government to take the report seriously and to refrain from automatically rejecting its findings or denying its legitimacy.

    Already it is clear that the findings of the report – written after gathering extensive information and testimonies from Israeli and Palestinian victims – will join a long series of reports indicating that Israel’s actions during the fighting in Gaza, as well as the actions of Hamas, violated the laws of combat and human rights law.

    Human rights organizations in Israel believe that the State of Israel must conduct an independent and impartial investigation into these suspicions and to cooperate with an international monitoring mechanism that would guarantee both the independence of that investigation and the implementation of its conclusions. The organizations have written to Israel’s Attorney General to demand that he establish such an independent body to investigate the military’s activities during “Cast Lead”, but he rejected their request.

    The groups expect the Government of Israel to respond to the substance of the report’s findings and to desist from its current policy of casting doubt upon the credibility of anyone who does not adhere to the establishment’s narrative.

    Organizations on this statement: Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Adalah, Bimkom, B’Tselem, Gisha, HaMoked, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and Yesh Din


    במקום * בצלם * גישה * האגודה לזכויות האזרח בישראל * הועד הציבורי נגד עינויים בישראל * המוקד להגנת הפרט * יש דין * עדאלה * רופאים לזכויות אדם

    דרושה חקירה ישראלית של “עופרת יצוקה”

    עם פרסום דו”ח ועדת גולדסטון מודיעים ארגוני זכויות האדם בישראל כי הם לומדים את ממצאי הדו”ח ומסקנותיו, וקוראים לממשלת ישראל להתייחס לתוכן הדו”ח בכובד ראש ולא לשלול את ממצאיו והלגיטימיות שלו מלכתחילה.

    כבר עתה ברור כי ממצאי הדו”ח, שנכתב לאחר איסוף מידע וגביית עדויות מנפגעים פלסטיניים וישראליים, מצטרפים לשורה ארוכה של דיווחים המצביעים על כך שפעולות ישראל במהלך הלחימה ברצועת עזה, כמו גם של חמאס, הפרו את דיני הלחימה ודיני זכויות האדם. ארגוני זכויות האדם בישראל סבורים כי על מדינת ישראל לקיים חקירה עצמאית ובלתי תלויה לבירור חשדות אלו ולשתף פעולה עם מנגנון ניטור בינלאומי שיבטיח את עצמאותה של החקירה ואת יישום מסקנותיה. הארגונים פנו ליועץ המשפטי לממשלה בדרישה להקים גוף עצמאי שיחקור את פעולות הצבא במהלך “עופרת יצוקה”, אולם דרישה זו נדחתה על ידו. הארגונים מצפים מישראל כי תגיב בצורה עניינית לממצאי הדו”ח ושתשנה את מדיניותה להטיל דופי בכל מי שלא מיישר קו עם הגרסה הממסדית.

  6. Thomas Bauer

    Dear Rabbi Brant,

    Many facts of this report were known before, mostly due to Israelis speaking out, those courageous persons who did “break the silence”, or the “refusniks”. This report has accomplished that all the little stones have been fitted into one mosaic, – and i agree with you – the emerging picture is disillusioning. You say that you are devastated; i add, that every friend of Israel shares and carries the same loss of an ideal.

    There are two thoughts which i would like to write down here.

    The first is: Palestinians in Gaza and in the occupied territories, especially small kids, have experienced Israelis mainly as soldiers, not as persons. David Grossman noticed this already many years ago: Asking a kid, what an Israeli is, the answer was: “Israelis are soldiers who come in the night and take my uncle away.” The same loss of human scale has also invaded the Israeli society: slowly, but steadily, this society has slipped from high humanitarian standards towards force: in a conflict, people resolve sooner to force than before; the “ideal” world of a “just form of life” has made place to a society plagued by bribery and murder on the highest levels. — The separation wall is just another expression of this drift into an inhuman society: the “other” is no longer visible, he is considered a nuisance, and let one believe that the own life can be made sure by imprisoning the other. —

    The other thought is a remark to one of your posts about half a year ago, when you were skeptic as to what the new American President could do to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now, Obama seems (at least here in Europe) to be in the defensive since he has opened too many battle points in too short a time. However, this report gives him the means of exerting huge pressure on Israel to move towards a process of talking and reconciliation.

    Imagine, Obama asks Israel to comply with the recommendations of the report: to conduct a serious investigation, to punish those who committed crimes, and to do justice to those who suffered, — or to face the thread of being transferred to the International Court of Justice. I am convinced things might suddenly move.

    Imagine, on the other hand, America would protect again Israel. Would anybody still believe that America is a honest broker for peace ?? I know, even the US has a hard time to read this report, since it reminds us too much of the mistakes of the past years in Iraq and elsewhere. But at least, in the US the process of opening, of learning that in the past many grave mistakes have been done, this process has been started.

    Thus, my hope is that this report helps to start a process of rethinking in Israel. So that Israel is becoming once more that what it pretends to be: a democratic example in a world of hatred.

  7. YBD

    Rocket fire from Gaza has dropped dramatically since Operation “Cast Lead”. Not only that, but HIZBULLAH in Lebanon did NOT fire any rockets at Israel during that period. Sort of makes you think, doesn’t it?

    1. David D.

      YBD–It makes me think that both Hamas and/or its independent allied fighting factions, as well as Hezbollah, are illegally trading goods, raising money, amassing weapons, fomenting hatred among the populace, and preparing for the next round. Because their will be a next round.

      Surely you’re not thinking that the war in Gaza has changed the minds of Palestinians and Arabs? That they are now committed to a path of compliance and submission? That if they start their attacks again, another good bombing and some more dead women and children will solve the problem once more?

      If it does make you think along those lines, then it’s making you think about the wrong things.

  8. Trayf

    Unfortunately our border IS barbed wire here in the United States as well. Agreed that we have to fix that, but not that we can wait. And indeed a just resolution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict would make our country a better place too.

  9. Eric Selinger

    “Rocket fire from Gaza has dropped dramatically since Operation “Cast Lead”. Not only that, but HIZBULLAH in Lebanon did NOT fire any rockets at Israel during that period. Sort of makes you think, doesn’t it?”

    What it makes me think, of course, is that ultimately, in politics, the end justifies the means.

    I’m not entirely comfortable thinking that.

    But, to be fair, that may just be my safe American squeamishness talking.

    On the other hand, does this mean that the campaign was unobjectionable now (because it reduced rocket fire), but if rocket fire picks up again, or worse, it suddenly becomes problematic (because it didn’t work, in the long run)?

    I’m not entirely comfortable with that shifting standard, either.

  10. Lori Lippitz

    YBD, what it makes me think is that, yes, you can abate rocket fire temporarily by crushing with an iron boot. But history has shown that the long-term results can be a devastating backlash. Many bloody revolutions, from the French to the Bolsheviks to Germany and so on, have flown out of vengence for rivers of innocent blood. Your comment “Sort of makes you think, doesn’t it?” makes me think, yes–that Israel’s violent emotional reactions are NOT, in fact, evidence of long-term thinking. Long-term thinking results in stability like peace treaties with Egypt. Seeking revenge by taking out anger on trapped people unfortunate enough to have been born in Gaza may produce quiet, but not calm.

    I heard NPR’s On Point debate with J-Street last night. It made me think: Given a choice between being a Jewish Progressive or The Eternal Jewish Victim, I choose the one more likely to yield results. “Therefore choose life, that both you and your offspring may live….” Happy New Year and pray for a Season of Change.

  11. Eric Selinger

    Brief analogy for consideration:

    “Attacks by al-Qaeda have dropped dramatically since the US began torturing suspected terrorists. Sort of makes you think, doesn’t it? However some might want to object, the torture was the right thing to do.”

    The Cheney defense, in short.

  12. Ross

    In honor of Buddhist seders, here is a quote related to the above topic from the Dalai Lama, taken from a discussion he had with rabbis, printed in The Jew in the Lotus:

    “Violence is like a very strong pill or drug. For a certain illness it’s very useful, but there are a lot of side effects. So then the worst thing, at the moment when you are about to decide, is that it’s very difficult to know what the result will be. Only when things happen, then afterward, time goes, then you see whether war or violence really produces satisfactory results. Like the Second World War or the Korean War, I think there were some positive results. But the Vietnam War, now the Gulf War, nobody knows what the result will be. So therefore always it’s better to avoid, this I feel.”

  13. Pingback: Goldstone’s Gaza - The Opinionator Blog -

  14. Eric Selinger


    Thanks for reminding me of Emperor Caligula! He always wanted the Jews to worship him as a god. I’m sure he’s gratified to find a follower at last.



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