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Blaming Israel First

Blaming Israel First

Business as usual at the U.N.


With the possible exception of the U.S. armed forces, no military in the history of warfare has made greater efforts in the face of grave national security threats to avoid the use of force or has tried harder, when obliged to fight, to protect noncombatants than the Israel Defense Forces. With the possible exception of the U.S. armed forces, no military has investigated itself as rigorously as the IDF. With the possible exception of the U.S. judiciary, no courts have done more to hold their military accountable than Israel’s. And with the possible exception of America, no democracy has gone further in wartime to legitimize dissent than Israel.

No military in the history of warfare has tried harder, when obliged to fight, to protect noncombatants than the Israel Defense Forces.

It is therefore a bitter irony, fraught with consequences for the legitimacy of international law, that -- with the same possible exception -- no country’s military, judiciary, and democracy have been the target of greater vilification for alleged human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity than Israel’s.

The continuing controversy over the Goldstone Report is a case in point.

In April 2009, the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council appointed Richard Goldstone, judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and former prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, to head a mission to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.

On September 15, the mission released its 575-page report. The bulk was devoted to alleged Israeli misconduct in Operation Cast Lead, which aimed to stop the more than 12,000 rockets and mortars fired over eight years by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups at civilian targets in southern Israel. The report firmly and in vivid detail accused the Jewish state of human rights violations, war crimes, and “actions” that “might justify a competent court finding that crimes against humanity have been committed.” Tentatively and briefly, the report also found that “it may be that the Palestinian combatants did not at all times adequately distinguish themselves from the civilian population” and that Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli civilians “would constitute war crimes, and may amount to crimes against humanity.”

The document recommended that the Security Council require Israel and Palestinian authorities to report, within six months, on the investigations and prosecutions international law obliged them to carry out. Should Israel fail to make good progress, the report recommended that the Security Council refer the mission’s allegations to the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court. The report’s recommendations concerning the Palestinian authorities were decidedly more tepid.

On November 3, the U.S. House of Representatives, by a vote of 344-36, passed a nonbinding resolution rejecting the report as “irredeemably biased.” Two days later, the U.N. General Assembly, by a vote of 114-18, adopted the report and sent it to the Security Council.

The Goldstone Report hands Islamic extremists another propaganda victory.

The Security Council has declined to take action. But damage has been done. By pervasively insinuating that Israel is no better than, and in some respects worse than, the terrorists it battles, the Goldstone Report hands Islamic extremists another propaganda victory. Credulous European and American intellectual and political elites have already casually imbibed the opinion that Israel deliberately attacked civilian targets to terrorize Palestinians and destroy the foundations of civilian life in Gaza.

Goldstone’s mission was suspect in Israel’s eyes from the outset. The Human Rights Council that commissioned it is disreputable. It includes among its 48 members China, Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia; notwithstanding the gross violations of human rights of which many of its members are guilty, it has made a priority of condemning Israel. In addition, statements about Operation Cast Lead and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict made before their appointments by two of Goldstone’s three mission colleagues -- Christine Chinkin, professor of international law at the London School of Economics, and Hina Jilani, advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan -- could reasonably be seen as prejudging Israel’s guilt. And from the General Assembly’s 1975 resolution declaring Zionism a form of racism to the International Court of Justice’s 2004 ruling that Israel’s security barrier violated international law and must be dismantled, Israel has learned to expect from international bodies hypocrisy, slander, and scorn for its security.

Consequently, the Israeli government’s decision not to cooperate with Goldstone, while still controversial in Israel, was understandable. The mission’s mammoth report, written in unseemly haste, confirmed Israel’s doubts.

A careful reading thoroughly discredits the Goldstone Report. So demonstrated Hebrew University philosophy professor and New York University law professor Moshe Halbertal, a distinguished man of the Israeli left who helped draft the IDF’s ethics code, in a devastating New Republic critique. Here, three examples of the report’s biased and unscrupulous analysis must suffice.

- First, it presents as settled that, despite completely withdrawing from Gaza in 2005, Israel remains under international law an occupying power with attendant obligations because it controls Gaza’s borders. In reality, the legal question is very much in dispute. Israel’s famously progressive and activist Supreme Court has ruled that the country no longer occupies Gaza. And as Col. (Ret.) Daniel Reisner, former head of the IDF’s International Law Department, pointed out to me, even the International Committee of the Red Cross considers the question to be difficult and unresolved.

- Second, the report blames Israel for causing humanitarian suffering by imposing a blockade on Gaza. In the process it dismisses the heroic efforts the IDF made in the midst of last winter’s military operation that increased food, medicine, and fuel entering Gaza. Nor does it examine Hamas’s theft of these humanitarian supplies or exploitation of Israel’s daily humanitarian pauses to launch rockets at civilians in Israel and attack the IDF in Gaza. And the report fails to note that Egypt controls Gaza’s western border, imposing restrictions more severe than Israel’s -- this although the mission itself entered Gaza through the Egyptian-administered Rafah crossing.

- Third, the report accuses Israel of violating the laws of war by killing more than 200 civilian Palestinian police officers. In so accusing, the report relied heavily on Palestinian testimony and ignored or dismissed openly available information showing that Hamas also assigned the police a military role and ordered them, in the event of a ground operation, to fight the IDF.

More generally, the Goldstone Report suffers from fatal methodological flaws. While subjecting Israeli accounts of wartime operations to hyper-exacting scrutiny and relentless skepticism, it routinely accepts Palestinian testimony of alleged Israel crimes at face value, rarely if ever wondering whether Gazans regarded representations to the mission as acts of resistance. This is of a piece with the report’s systematic failure to give due attention, as the laws of armed conflict direct, to military necessity, which in this case means the precautions feasible for reasonable IDF commanders to make in the harsh conditions of urban warfare against an enemy relentlessly striving to blur the distinction between civilians and combatants.

The Goldstone Report barely mentions Hamas and glosses over the terrorism to which it is devoted.

Finally, while the Goldstone Report goes to extravagant and irrelevant lengths to put Israel’s Gaza operation in context by discussing the larger sweep of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it barely mentions Hamas and glosses over the terrorism to which it is devoted. To understand Israel’s operation, however, it is crucial to grasp Hamas’s frequently reiterated determination to wage jihad to destroy Israel. It is also vital to appreciate that Hamas blatantly violates the laws of armed conflict by deliberately transforming Gaza City and other densely populated areas into military bases. From these locations, using its own people as human shields, Hamas launches its rockets and mortars at Israel’s civilian population -- ensuring that Israeli operations aimed at ending those attacks will make Israel a killer of Palestinian civilians.

No doubt, like all armies, the IDF made errors in Operation Cast Lead. And in the infernal smoke and fire of asymmetric urban warfare its soldiers and officers may have committed crimes. In the short term, Israel’s Military Advocate General’s Corps continues to investigate allegations and to pursue substantial ones. A military task force established to examine the Goldstone Report’s allegations headed by Brigadier General Yuval Halamish expects to publish its findings at the end of January.

The long-term stakes, according to General Halamish, are high: “The fundamental problem applies not just to Israel but to all democratic nations --if they accept the Goldstone Report’s approach and conclusions, they will not be able to fight terror.”

This article originally appeared in The Weekly Standard.

January 16, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) Anonymous, January 21, 2010 9:20 PM media-front-fighter

Please watch read and share the link ahead, use its info and insights, the films - mainly on top right, and the links in the profile page, to join the media fight agaunst the incitement of Israel. Israel myst win the battle against Pallywood propaganda productions, and we all need to help to bypass the biased media. --You can also put a post in talkbacks and actualya political forums, facebook, Youtube channels twitter, etc. forward the link to your contacts in e-mail and asking them to continue forwarding, or send a letter to known figures in media, politicians, religious or students organizations, TV studios, magazines , editors in your region and so on. Even if you give 10 minutes just to forward the link- you helped alot. Thank you and be blessed. The link is:

(7) Beverly Kurtin, January 20, 2010 3:33 AM

Lies. Big Lies. REALLY BIG LIES!

History tells us that the Arabs are lying about who owned what in the Middle East. The Jewish Nation has always owned the land on which Israel stands, period. Giving back even so much as a centimeter of land for "peace" is a lie. Israel has given Gaza to the Arabs to the Arab's great benefit and to the great loss of the Israelis. Israel will either continue to grow, giving the world its riches or it will die, helping to bring about the demise of civilization. The world has choices to make: Life or death, the choice is real.

(6) J. D. Haviv-Adam, January 18, 2010 7:33 PM

Terrorists are being appeased from fear by countries who need to learn from Israel.

When the US was attacked in 2001, America, unlike during the hostage situation in Tehran, somehow started to identify with their 'captors" and our world was turned upside down, or began suffering from the so called "Stockholm Syndrome". Islam is the fastest growing religion in the US and that tells us something important. When I lived in Israel, there were a number of attacks on a regular basis, from the children in school buses to bombs in the open market of Jerusalem where I lived, and molotov cocktails thrown at my passing car in Bait Jalla. The Israeli soldiers were professional, well trained and remarkably compassionate for such daily terrorist attacks. The US had our young people, adults in most cases in their 20s and 30s walking around airports happily telling reporters they would be happy to give up some of their freedoms for security! What the West doesn't know is that no government can keep us safe from such terrorist attacks, no matter the lies and rhetoric of their propaganda to convince us they can, and no matter how horribly they trash the Constitution, as the last administration had done.....I learned of personal and communal responsibility for terrorism watch in Israel, and I believe that the powers in the West are blinded by the lies and resources of the countries and leaders who support the jihad against Israel and the rest of the non-Muslim world all the while saying "if allah wills", thinking this means something other than what it does. Oil, unexpected terrorist attacks on civilian populations and huge profits for unconscionable Corporations care little about truth, and the Goldstone report is obvious proof that fear and greed run the UN as well as Wall Street.

(5) federalbi, January 18, 2010 3:19 AM

why trash the US

Anonymous and Stanley T, you speak of the trashing of Isreal for colateral damages while in the same breath you do the same to the United States . By taking the knee jerk route of denigrating the US, you are downing the best friend Isreal has. Yes, most of the UN nations are turning toward the Palestinian cause, and yes the left in America are doing the same. Don't support the leftist cause, thereby helping them destroy this country. When the US constitution is gone, how long will Isreal stand? By standing by the United States you are supporting Isreal. By supporting it's enemies, you are supporting Isreal's enemies.

(4) Kathleen, January 17, 2010 7:30 PM

It's so easy to blame the Jews.

I would be happy if the Jews would stop causing droughts, avalanches, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados and floods. I could be happy with that... I think the Jews are picked on so much because of jealousy. Is there anything these brilliant talented people can't do? Or will do in the future? Hold steady, Israel!

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