Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Goldstone Report: Baseless or Basis of Discussion?

As the International Committee of the Red Cross warns that Palestinians are losing access to potable water completely, debate over the UN's Goldstone Report rages. The 575 page report on the three-week attack on Gaza earlier this year has been condemned by Israel and its supporters as "biased, extremely radical and [with] no basis in reality," (General Brig. Gen Avichai Medelblit), and the mandate given for it, "unbalanced, one-sided, and basically unacceptable," (UN Ambassador Susan Rice).
Richard Goldstone, who led the investigation and for whom the report was named, is criticized as a "self loathing Jew" who has moral inversion.
But while critics are quick to fill columns with condemnation, few discuss the report's content or history.
Richard Goldstone, a highly respected Justice from South Africa, sits on Hebrew University of Jerusalem's board of directors and is Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. He has long been a supporter of Israel. Goldstone refused to participate in the UN inquiry until the investigation's scope was opened to include scrutiny of Hamas.
The report is the product of a six month fact-finding inquiry. It finds that Israel "punished and terrorized" Gazans, committed "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions, and "wantonly" destroyed Palestinian infrastructure such as food production, water facilities, sewage facilities, and employed a "seemingly reckless" use of white phosphorus.
Indeed, the report is harder on Israel. According to an interview with Norman Finkelstein on Democracy Now!, about 10% of the report recounts Palestinian war crimes. Clearly, the investigation has found fault with Israel.
This may be surprising if Operation Cast Lead (so named by the Israeli military) is thought of in the terms set by mainstream media outlets. Nearly every source describes the event as "the Gaza War." This terminology is misleading. "War" is different from "occupation," "ethnic cleansing," or "massacre." A "war" implies two sides with with comperable resources and strengths, whereas the latter three imply one group totally dominating another. Operation Cast Lead was a massacre that is only part of the ethnic cleansing of occupied Palestinians. Are Palestinian refugees who have extremely limitedaccess to electricity, medicine, food, and water really a formidable force for the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) whose aresenal is funded by the United States?
I doubt it. That possibility is further limited when you consider the facts (stubborn things that they are.)
There were no battles in Gaza. According to members of Breaking the Silence, an organization of veteran Israeli soldiers, the fire power used by Israel was "insane." This word is repeated time and again by these veterans. They report the IDF used human shields, ordered Palestinians inside homes only to demolish them with the people inside, destroyed entire neighborhoods in one sweep, ordered soldiers to use "free fire" (shoot at anything and everything.) One veteran described the experience: "You feel like an infantile little kid with a magnifying glass looking at ants, burning them."
Approximately 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the January attacks, over 2/3 of them civilians. Exactly thirteen Israelis were killed. That is approximitely one hundred to one.
Hamas sent Kassem and Katyusha rockets into Israel. When I visited Sderot, a city a little less than a mile from Gaza, this summer, they showed me exploded Kassems and talked about their fear when air raid sirens blast. They have thirteen seconds to get to a shelter. If they are driving or out someplace open, all they can do is pray. Still, the citizens of Sderot expressed frustration that they weren't allowed to have face-to-face conversations with their neighbors in nearby Gaza. More conversations are needed; between residents of Sderot and Gaza, between Israelis and Palestinians, and among us in the rest of the world. But our discussions must be based in the reality of an increasingly brutal and belligerent Israeli occupation. We must strive to implement justice as a fundamental principle which both Palestinians and Israelis deserve. The Goldstone Report is an important step in the right direction. The report and its recommendations should form the basis of our conversation. We must not allow Israel and its supporters to relegate the Report to the dustbin of history and avoid its clear call for justice and accountability.

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