Last Words on The Goldstone Op-Ed Fiasco

Lots of words have now been spent on the op-ed by Richard Goldstone of last Friday, and I have been one of the worst consumers. I’m hoping this is the last of my spillage on a matter that does more to show how absurd the politics around Israel-Palestine are than anything else.

The Associated Press reported today of what some call Goldstone’s flip-flop of his flip-flop. But it was never so. As I pointed out, the Report overstated a case regarding Israeli intent to target civilians, Goldstone then stated that Israel’s investigations “indicate” that such was not the case, and now he’s saying that nothing in his current view

White phosphorous raining down in Gaza during Cast Lead. This is what need attention, not Richard Goldstone

means that the original report should be nullified, in part or whole.

In fact, all of that is internally consistent. But it doesn’t play that way in the heated realm of Israel-Palestine politics.

Human rights groups have already made their statements, including one by Human Rights Watch and another today in the same Washington Post as Goldstone by my former boss, Jessica Montell of B’Tselem.

I’m ending here with comments on two other pieces by two guys, both friends and colleagues.

The first is Jerry Haber at the Magnes Zionist. Jerry and I have had a bit of back and forth parsing words in the Goldstone report and the op-ed. I think we agree on the most essential point, though—that whatever the Report said or didn’t say or Goldstone said or didn’t say on the matter of intentionality, the level of destruction in Gaza, both of civilian lives and of homes and other civilian property, merits serious investigation. Even without intent to specifically target civilians (which Goldstone merely says is no longer “indicated” and that still means it should be investigated), the central question still is whether proper safeguards to prevent harming civilians were in place. I think Jerry agrees with me that such investigation is still lacking.

But Jerry also says this in his blog piece posted earlier today: Continue reading

Did Israel Provoke Increase in Rockets to Justify Operation Cast Lead?

Prior to Operation Cast Lead, the devastating Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008-09, there had been six months of a truce which both sides claimed the other did not maintain in good faith. Still, the truce endured.

When Israel escalated the tensions on November 4, 2008, killing six Hamas men in an operation Israel said was meant to thwart a tunnel Hamas was building to abduct more Israeli soldiers, some people felt that Israel was intentionally raising the stakes because the truce was holding and Hamas was fortifying its position in Gaza.

Destroyed buildings in the the Bau'lusha family's neighborhood. Picture: B'Tselem.

Therefore, the thinking went, Israel struck hard at Hamas with an excuse knowing that Hamas would feel it had no choice but to retaliate.

Well, that line of thinking got quite a boost when Wikileaks released a cable earlier this week containing an American report on a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak. Here is the relevant passage: Continue reading

Thoughts for the Day III: In Other News, A surprising US Statement and a Troubling Verdict in Israel

In Israel, Ameer Makhoul, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who was very active in working for equal rights for Arabs in the state, was sentenced to nine years in prison under a plea bargain reached with the prosecution, averting a trial on charges he spied for Hezbollah. Blogger Richard Silverstein writes “My readers who support the Israeli government’s draconian treatment of its Palestinian citizens will point to Makhoul’s “admission” of guilt as proof that Shabak proved its case.  Not at all.  As the victim’s attorney noted, he knew of not a single case in which a Palestinian security defendant went to trial and was acquited.  Never.  Not once.  Shabak gets its man, every time.  So Makhoul was faced with a choice of ten years or a possible life sentence if (or I should say “when”) found guilty. “ Well, we’ll never know, but Silverstein is certainly correct that the plea bargain does not necessarily mean Makhoul is guilty, only that he was convinced he would be convicted at trial. And the lack of a trial really is a shame because we will never know what kind of evidence was amassed, if any, against Makhoul and it will forever be a case where people are going to believe what they want to believe. And while I don’t share Silverstein’s apparent certainty of Makhoul’s innocence, I certainly do agree that this case has smelled fishy from day one. But under the circumstances, I certainly cannot blame Makhoul for his decision if he was indeed innocent…. Continue reading

Videos From Gaza, by Gazans: B’Tselem’s Camera Distribution Project

B’Tselem has been very successful with our camera distribution project in the West Bank. We’ve now expanded our work in Gaza, and this time, people are noticing.

In the New York Times today their “Gaza Journal” focuses on the set of videos we released last week in Israel. What  kind of message is coming out in those videos? People see Palestinian hip-hop artists protesting Israel’s treatment of Gaza. They see inside the smuggling tunnels, demonstrating that many (indeed, most) of them are used for the consumer goods that Israel won’t allow in.

This comes on the heels of YNet hosting these videos very prominently on their homepage. YNet is the web site of Yediot Akhronot, by far the most widely read newspaper in Israel.

But perhaps most important, we hear the voices of the people of Gaza. And what is their message? It is well expressed in the Times article: “For a long time, we thought that people outside Gaza hated us,” Ms. (Awatif) Aljadili said. “Then we realized that they just don’t know us. We needed to reach out. Peace between countries starts with good relations between individuals. We have to talk with each other. But many here are afraid of talking with Israelis. They will be accused of being spies.”

These videos show the human faces of those besieged in Gaza. People will see them, and one hopes they will understand why the siege is immoral and unjust (not to mention counterproductive for Israel) and why it must end.

Goldstone: The Right Choice, and One Israel Needs to Accept

It’s always nice to see when a group of diplomats does something right. In the case of the UN Human Rights Council, the announcement last week of a fact-finding mission headed by Richard Goldstone is not only smart and appropriate; it offers some correction for a past error.

During the Gaza fighting, the UNHRC set out a foolish mandate, where it called for an international, impartial investigation-but only into Israeli actions during the Gaza offensive. Not only is this inherently unjust and an unacceptable application of international law, it is also impractical. An independent investigation depends on the cooperation of the country in question.

Richard Goldstone

Richard Goldstone

As it stood, the mandate was going to be little more than hot air and another point against the UNHRC, which, like its predecessor (the UN Commission on Human Rights),  has merited the criticism of paying more attention to Israeli crimes than to those of other countries. But the appointment of Goldstone to head a four-person team to investigate Gaza changes this.

The UNHRC president, Martin Uhomoibhi of Nigeria, stated explicitly that the investigation would cover the actions of both sides. More to the point, Goldstone wouldn’t be doing it if the purpose of the mission was only to “nail” Israel.

Goldstone has a rock solid reputation as a fair prosecutor of justice and his experience covers many of the most high-profile issues in recent times: South Africa, Yugoslavia, Rwanda and the Iraq Oil-for-Food program. He has also been involved in monitoring Nazi activity in Argentina.

Goldstone has always presented himself as a Jew in more than just ancestry. He has also always had strong ties with and an abiding concern for Israel. He is a trustee of the Hebrew University and this should not be underestimated. A professor might hold all sorts of views, but a trustee, especially one who is a foreign citizen, is not getting that position at Hebrew U if he is anti-Israel. Continue reading

An excellent article on Gaza

I strongly recommend this article at the Jewcy web site on the question of war crimes in Operation Cast Lead and the recent testimony of Israeli soldiers there.

Also, you might be interested in the preliminary report B’Tselem put out in February. We haven’t been able to go further in depth because Israel refuses to allow us into Gaza. That link takes you to the summary and you can download the full report from that page or you can get it by clicking here (requires the Acrobat Reader).