May 10, 2011
As I continue to read through the Goldstone Report I find myself wondering why those who were responsible for investigating events during the war and drawing up this report were willing to release it without having had input from Israeli military and security officials. Yes, they make the claim in the report that at the time Israel refused to cooperate with their investigation, but this does not absolve them of the responsibility of seeking the truth, even if that were to mean waiting longer for Israel to finally address the concerns they raised. Israel’s reason for not cooperating, that the report would be biased, seems to have been borne out by the flagrantly one-sided nature not only of the recounting of events, but in the analysis and conclusions which the document draws. While there are places in which the report’s author concedes that some violent acts directed at Palestinian individuals and property may have come as a result of the level of chaos and confusion inherent to any armed conflict, they also almost always reverse themselves just as quickly, stating that although such a cause is possible, they find it unlikely, and succinctly shift any and all blame back onto Israel.
And given the episodes which the report focuses on – those of alleged abuse and physical violence directed at Palestinian civilians by the IDF – it is hard not to see how someone would not be upset by such accounts. If true, those responsible, including their commanding officers and any Israeli civilian officials involved, should be prosecuted and punished. Let me be clear: I believe violence against any unarmed person, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or political views should not be tolerated. Those shooting rockets at innocent Israelis, including children, and those who beat up and abuse innocent Palestinians deserve to be held accountable for their actions. At the same time, the Goldstone report offers little in the way of evidence from the Israeli side as to exactly whom was responsible for these acts, and so the result is that the entire IDF ends up being painted as a monstrous force bent on destruction of innocent lives and property.
Although there is one place in which Justice Goldstone does admit that if war crimes were committed by Israeli soldiers that they would have been out of line with actual IDF standards when it comes to protecting and preserving the rights and well-being of non-combatants, this is a notable exception. This comes in the form of two paragraphs buried half-way through the report, preceded by 250 previous pages of written assaults on the moral bearing of the IDF. In this small section, Justice Goldstone reports on a conversation with IDF Colonel (Ret.) Daniel Reisner, who previously served as the head of the International Legal Department of the Military Advocate General’s Office of the IDF from 1995-2004. Colonel Reisner explained to the committee that IDF officers do in fact receive extensive training when it comes to international humanitarian law.
This middle section of the report (Pg. 200-300) also places a heavy emphasis on Israel’s advanced technological capabilities when it comes to intelligence gathering and the employment of “precision weapons,” which, they seem to imply, should have led to far fewer civilian casualties had they been used more carefully and correctly. This is an interesting argument, but I believe it is flawed – for me, there are echoes here of the argument that Israel should be willing to give up the Golan because its military enjoys technological superiority over any potential regional aggressors, such as Syria, and critics contend that the likelihood of the Golan playing a vital strategic role in any future conflict, as say, the area of operations for tank battles, to be remote. The truth, however is much more complicated, and one need only look at the events of the summer of 2006 to see that even with advanced aircraft and other weaponry at its disposal, Israel is still highly vulnerable to an attack from the mountainous border it shares with two openly hostile neighbors, Lebanon, which is effectively a Hezbollah-run entity and Syria, which technically remains at war with Israel.
I say the same thing to those who say Israel should have done better at avoiding civilian casualties in Gaza because of the “advanced” state of their military hardware: Yes, Un-Manned Arial Vehicles (UAV’s), satellites and “smart” bombs should be able to help an army avoid civilian casualties, but when the enemy is willing to hide in hospitals, launch attacks from within their own civilian areas and destabilize the border of a supposedly friendly neighbor (Egypt) by encouraging not only smuggling tunnels but the killing of Egyptian border police, advanced technology can only get a state so far in countering such threats. If a group of men place an improvised explosive device along the border with Israel or launch rockets into Sderot, the technology the IDF uses may in fact limit the civilian casualties in an ensuing response, but to suggest that by virtue of their possession of this technology that the Israeli military should always therefore be able to avoid civilian deaths is naïve at best, and grossly misleading and malicious at worst. The report essentially states this openly when Justice Goldstone examines Israeli technological superiority as well as the detailed knowledge of the area they would have had from the previous military occupation of Gaza, concerning the deaths of Palestinian civilians. Justice Goldstone comes to the conclusion that: “…the Mission finds that the incident and patterns of events that are considered in this report have resulted from deliberate planning and policy decisions throughout the chain of command, down to the standard operating procedures and instructions given to the troops on the ground.” (Goldstone, 253).
Justice Goldstone’s assessment of Hamas, including its doctrinal underpinnings and actions on the ground also seem muddled, which is not only misleading but I think detracts from the overall credibility of the report – it is one thing for people who follow events in the region and have a generally good grasp of facts to have different opinions, but it is another thing entirely to imply that Israel is in the minority when it comes to labeling Hamas a terrorist organization, which Justice Goldstone does on Pg. 257 of the report. In fact, it is not only Israel which recognizes Hamas for what it is, but a host of other democratic nations, including the United States, Canada and the European Union. Even the Council on Foreign Relations website, which states that Hamas does do some important charitable work in Gaza notes that, “Hamas is believed to have killed more than five hundred people in more than 350 separate terrorist attacks since 1993. Not all Hamas's attacks have been carried out by suicide bombers. The group has also accepted responsibility for assaults using mortars, short-range rockets, and small arms fire.”
And then there is the question of the commission’s assessment of the damage to Palestinian infrastructure in Gaza, which I will admit does not make for light or easy reading. Clearly, when there is a war, infrastructure will be damaged, and frankly, there should be no shortage of states or individuals who have profited from the suffering of the Palestinians who could and should step up in order to not only repair this broken infrastructure, but to improve it. This is a key point which Justice Goldstone ignores in his otherwise far-ranging and often offensive report – that at least part of the blame for the intractability of this conflict (and the deplorable conditions in Gaza) lies with the neighboring Arab states who, instead of seeking constructive ways to help the Palestinians, have instead rather cynically made use of the decrepit conditions there to heap more blame and vitriol on Israel.
This section of the report also deals with something which got very little attention in the media, but is certainly germane to any discussion of events in Gaza, namely the level of violence perpetrated by Hamas against individuals associated with Fatah. This is a major issue, but one which would no doubt not make for great news coverage by media outlets seeking to perpetually portray all Palestinians as under dogs, and so we often hear little about it. But it is a fact that is often left out of such discussions. In this report, Justice Goldstone notes that there were in fact multiple instances of what appear to have been violent acts of reprisal carried out by Hamas-affiliated individuals against others who were perceived to be connected in some way to the rival Palestinian political party, Fatah. Amidst so many cries of Israeli brutality, it seems that the Palestinian victims of Hamas during the war, those who were dragged out of their homes and viciously beaten with metal pipes and rifle butts, were not worthy of significant mention in media.
Another thought I had as I read through this section of the report is that it really is time for Gaza to become its own entity, responsible for the actions of its own government, and to leave behind a role characterized by a perpetual and pervasive sense of victimization. As I have written before, I believe that recent efforts by President Abbas to rally for the unilateral declaration of an independent Palestinian state are likely to only further alienate Israel and seem unlikely to lead to peace. I still believe this, but I would add, however, that for the sake of Israel as a moral and democratic nation, the problem of Gaza needs to be handed over to either Egypt or the United Nations, and frankly if as a result of such an action, Hamas decides to wage another war, then at least hopefully Israel won’t be the first one blamed. Perhaps there is a way for the Palestinians to establish a state of their own in parts of the West Bank through negotiations with Israel, but at this point, Gaza seems increasingly a lost cause. If this new Egyptian regime is really as different as it claims to be from President Mubarak, let them welcome Gaza back into their nation, and allow the Palestinians there to integrate into Egyptian society. In such a scenario, should Hamas rise up again, then Israel and Egypt can work together to crush it, but at least it would be a move toward normalcy for millions of Jews and Arabs who are otherwise forced to live in fear by the actions of this terrorist organization.
Copyright Daniel E. Levenson / The New Vilna Review 2011.
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