Why should we trust the Goldstone report if it was produced by the UN Human Rights Commission – a body which has a notorious history of focusing overwhelmingly on Israel to the near exclusion of other potential human rights abusers around the world?
I posed this very question to Fred Abrahams, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch’s emergencies division who, together with B’tselem Executive Director Jessica Montell, participated in a remarkable conference call organized by Ta’anit Tzedek yesterday.
Fred, who is currently in Geneva attending the UN discusion of the report, answered that there is ample reason to be concerned about the HRC’s undue attention on Israel, but that this particular mission presented a very real “opportunity” for the council to prove otherwise.
In fact, Justice Richard Goldstone initially refused to chair the mission until it was agreed that Palestinian wartime behavior would be investigated in addition to Israel’s. Indeed, in the end, both sides were taken to task in the report’s final recommendations. It was a shame, Fred said, that Israel’s abject dismissal of Goldstone might actually be thwarting the HRC in its first genuine attempt to realize its true mandate.
For her part, Jessica pointed out that B’tselem did have some concerns about possible bias in the report – a point she also made in a recent Jerusalem Post article. She did add, however, that Goldstone largely confirms the findings of B’tselem’s own investigations, including the huge number of civilian casualties and the targeting of civilian neighborhoods and Gazan infrastructure that had no clear military objective.
I’ve started reading the Goldstone report myself – all 575 pages of it – and encourage you to do the same (but recommend that like me you save some trees by reading it off your computer screen.) My initial impression: this report is an honorable and good faith attempt to elucidate the facts of what occurred. Quite frankly, it makes for compelling and often devastating reading. I am certainly aware that it is not a perfect document, but in the end I cannot accept that it deserves to be dismissed without due consideration (let alone be painted as “blood libel.”)
And I will only add that after reading the report, I consider Richard Goldstone to be a heroic individual who should be lauded for taking on this enormously difficult task with such moral courage.
I was particularly moved by his willingness to address the critical context of this tragic crisis. Witness this excerpt from his opening statement to the UN upon presenting the report:
The Mission decided that in order to understand the effect of the Israeli military operations on the infrastructure and economy of Gaza, and especially its food supplies, it was necessary to have regard to the effects of the blockade that Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip for some years and has been tightened since Hamas became the controlling authority of Gaza.
The Mission found that the attack on the only remaining flour producing factory, the destruction of a large part of the Gaza egg production, the bulldozing of huge tracts of agricultural land, and the bombing of some two hundred industrial facilities, could not on any basis be justified on military grounds. Those attacks had nothing whatever to do with the firing of rockets and mortars at Israel.
The Mission looked closely and sets out in the Report statements made by Israeli political and military leaders in which they stated in clear terms that they would hit at the “Hamas infrastructure.”
If “infrastructure” were to be understood in that way and become a justifiable military objective, it would completely subvert the whole purpose of International Human rights Law built up over the last 100 years and more. It would make civilians and civilian buildings justifiable targets.
These attacks amounted to reprisals and collective punishment and constitute war crimes.
The Government of Israel has a duty to protect its citizens. That in no way justifies a policy of collective punishment of a people under effective occupation, destroying their means to live a dignified life and the trauma caused by the kind of military intervention the Israeli Government called Operation Cast Lead. This contributes to a situation where young people grow up in a culture of hatred and violence, with little hope for change in the future.
Finally, the teaching of hate and dehumanization by each side against the other contributes to the destabilization of the whole region.
A transcript of our conference call will be posted on the Ta’anit Tzedek website soon. I’m excited to report that Ta’anit Tzedek is sponsoring a conference call between Justice Goldstone and Jewish clergy on October 18. We have a great deal to learn from him and I look forward to reporting on our conversation.