Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Notes from my talk tonight at B'nai Torah: The Goldstone Report & the Gaza Flotilla

Thank you Rabbi.
Well, the timing certainly couldn't be better for this talk. Glad I picked April, since April Fools Day was the date Judge Goldstone picked for his mea culpa in the Washington Post.
So, a little background before we plunge into the Report itself and its pernicious ramifications.
As many of you probably remember, Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in August of 2005. More on that later. Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January of 2006. On June 25th of 2006, Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas and has languished in captivity to this day. In June of 2007, Hamas staged a bloody coup in Gaza, driving out all remnants of Fatah leadership. Kassam rockets were being launched from Gaza into Israel at an ever increasing pace, culminating with the breaking of a temporary calm or tahidye, on Dec 19th, 2008. Upwards of 70-80 rockets a day were falling into civilian areas in southern Israel in an ever widening radius. On December 28th, the IDF launches Operation Cast Lead.
I want to read a few passages from two articles I wrote for the Seattle PI, now of course defunct, which make for bookends to the Gaza withdrawal and the subsequent consequences of that withdrawal.
July, 2005 Seattle Post Intelligencer
In less than one month, Israel will take a bold and historic action. Disengaging from all of Gaza and part of Samaria, commonly referred to as the West Bank, will forever alter Israel's posture toward the territory it acquired in the Six Day War in 1967.
It is important to understand the lengths that Sharon and the Israeli people are willingly to go to in order to move in the direction of a two-state solution and lasting peace. Israeli society is deeply divided over the wisdom of disengagement, as can be readily observed from last week's mass protests against the government's planned withdrawal. Even those who support the dramatic gesture recognize that in many ways it could prove counter-productive and send a very dangerous message to the Palestinians (and the world at large) that terror works, and that, if one is patient enough, ultimately terrorism is rewarded.
As the disengagement draws closer, public support has dwindled from a high of more than 70 percent to where it now hovers at just over 50 percent, according to the most reliable recent Israeli polls. Israelis are increasingly skeptical because they have not seen their willingness to make excruciatingly painful sacrifices reciprocated on the other side.
So what exactly are ordinary Israelis sacrificing? For starters, all claims to land in Gaza and the four settlements in the northern West Bank, totaling 440 square miles. The 25 settlements that will be uprooted are comprised of 1,700 families. Those families will witness the closing of 42 daycare centers, 36 kindergartens, 7 elementary schools and the dismantling of 38 synagogues. The approximate cost to the Israeli government (and by extension to the Israeli taxpayer) for the withdrawal initiative is 7.5 billion shekels, or more than $1.5 billion. Thriving agricultural communities with state-of-the-art technologies will be uprooted. These communities produce 60 percent of Israel's cherry tomato exports, 70 percent of all of Israel's organic produce, 60 percent of the herbs exported from Israel. All totaled, 15 percent of Israel's agricultural exports originate in Gaza, exports that will be lost following Israel's withdrawal.
Perhaps most painful will be the 48 graves that must be disinterred. The families of many of those buried in the cemetery of Gaza have already suffered tragedy from terrorist violence; six graves contain area residents murdered by terrorists. The land in which one's ancestors are buried is considered sacred under Jewish law, and rarely, if ever, are bodies exhumed. It is considered disturbing the dead. The fact that Israel is moving the graves of terrorists' victims is a powerful symbol of how much Israel's disengagement initiative is a permanent sacrifice in the quest for peace.
It is in this light that the world should carefully consider Israel's earnestness to create a new Middle East where all peoples can live together in peace. Israel was severely tested over the past five years when the terror war launched by Arafat turned the schoolyards, buses, cinemas, malls, restaurants, discotheques and ordinary city streets into a battlefield. Under the circumstances of this unprecedented existential attack against their nation, the Israeli people handled themselves with exceptional restraint and great dignity. No modern democracy has sustained that kind of unmitigated barrage of terrorist attacks, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. It is only in that context that Israel's defensive measures to protect her citizenry should be scrutinized. And it is in that context that the disengagement should also be viewed.
Israel is again proving her resolve to do whatever it takes to move towards peace, even at the cost of the rending of much of Israeli society over this issue. Disengagement, anticipated for two years now, is rapidly approaching and promises to permanently change the landscape of Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab relations.
Whether this opportunity can be translated into the beginning of a new era, or is only seen as a retreat and capitulation by Israel, remains to be seen. Whatever the results, it should be noted that ordinary Israelis are willing to sacrifice a great deal and put everything on the line.
My nephew Amir, the son of my wife's brother who is in his second year of conscription in the Israel Defense Forces, will be putting his life on the line, along with thousands of other Israeli soldiers and police, and this for the glimmer of hope that their children can grow up in a more peaceful, secure state

December 30th, 2008
Israel's Moral War Against Hamas: Op-ed in Seattle Post Intelligencer

Once again, tens of thousands of Israelis are forced to spend days and nights in bomb shelters, victims of ongoing missile assaults in towns and cities within a 35 km radius from Gaza. While much of the news focuses on Israeli air attacks against Hamas' military outposts and installations, Iranian backed Hamas killed three Israelis in separate rocket attacks on Israeli cities on Monday, December 29th. An Israeli-Arab construction worker was killed in Ashkelon, a woman was killed in Ashdod, and scores of Israelis were wounded.
Tragically, Palestinian civilians have also been killed in the fighting, victims too of Hamas' refusal to renew an already tenuous six-month 'calm,' or tahidya, which ended on December 19th.
Palestinian Authority President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas said that Hamas could have prevented the "massacre" in the Gaza Strip. In Cairo on Sunday, he said, "We spoke to them and told them, 'Please, we ask you not to end the ceasefire."
The Egyptian Foreign Minister, condemned Hamas, saying they prevented those wounded in the Israeli offensive from passing into Egypt to receive medical attention. When asked who was to blame for the dire situation in Gaza, he replied, "ask the party that controls Gaza."

During the past year alone, Iranian backed terror groups in Gaza have launched over 3,000 rockets, missiles and mortars, deliberately targeting Israeli civilians in southern Israel (over 6,300 since Israel relinquished all of Gaza to the Palestinians in 2005). The only Israeli left in Gaza is Gilad Shalit, the soldier abducted by Hamas in June of 2006 in a cross-border raid. To this day, his whereabouts are unknown, and not even the International Red Cross is permitted to see him or report on his condition.
This is the backdrop to Israel's recent air attacks on Hamas military installations, command centers, training facilities, tunnels for weapons smuggling, and bomb factories. Hamas deliberately insinuates itself in civilian areas, holding fellow Palestinians hostage as human shields.

During the current hostilities, criticisms abound concerning Israel's obligation to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law. Ironically, the most basic of human rights, the right to life itself, is often ignored when it comes to Israelis who have endured an unceasing barrage of missile attacks from Gaza over the past three years. Instead, Israel is condemned for using 'disproportionate force,' a term referring to very specific wartime rules of engagement, grossly misunderstood and misapplied. In short, proportionality is defined by reference to the threat proposed by an enemy and not by the harm it has actually produced. Surely, the loss of any civilian life in war is regrettable and tragic. However, as political philosopher Michael Walzer noted in 2006: "When Palestinian militants launch rocket attacks from civilian areas, they are themselves responsible - and no one else is - for the civilian deaths caused by Israeli counterfire."

Currently, the objective of the Israeli military operation is to cripple the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, and prevent Hamas from launching further attacks against Israeli citizens. Since it is the primary responsibility of any sovereign state to protect its citizenry, the Israeli government should be expected to do nothing less. In fact, many irate Israelis, especially those in missile distance from Gaza, believe that the enactment of this fundamental governmental responsibility has been long overdue.

President-elect Obama, during a visit to Sderot last summer, unequivocally defended Israel's right to protect its citizens from such attacks: "If somebody was sending rockets into my home where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything to stop that, and would expect Israel to do the same thing."
Rather than assail Israel for overreacting, the world should instead be in awe of its restraint. Israel's uniquely high standard of morality and respect for human life accounts for its remarkable restraint in the face of Hamas' unbridled provocations.

The actions of the Israeli Defense Forces would have been unnecessary had Hamas forsook terror and agreed to renew the tahidye. Israel is engaged in self-defense and it must be reiterated that Israel takes great pains to direct its military actions exclusively against terrorist targets, while Hamas deliberately positions its forces inside the most vulnerable of civilian areas; schools, religious institutions, residential areas and the like. Furthermore, Hamas launches its attacks from crowded civilian areas. Israel is dealing with a foe that sees Israeli deaths as very good, but deems Palestinian deaths as even more valuable.
Hard as it is to fathom from our perspective, Hamas callously calculates that if enough Palestinian civilians are inadvertently killed, the international court of opinion will view Israel as the guilty party, regardless of Hamas' cynical manipulation of the media with gruesome pictures of self-inflicted carnage against their own people. And despite protestations to the contrary, Israel has done everything possible to avert any humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Again, it is Hamas that has subverted and sabotaged the entry of supplies and international aid into areas under its jurisdiction.

Those of us who still work and hope for a two-state solution for the two peoples, understand that Hamas stands in the way of progress towards that goal. Hamas is an anti-nationalist party, more interested in destroying Israel than in creating true Palestinian independence. It remains the fervent hope of the vast majority of Israelis that Hamas will be defeated, breathing renewed hope that the Palestinians can reclaim their right to responsible leadership. Only then can an authentic peace process be renewed and the hope rekindled that Palestinians can achieve independence and live in harmony with their Israeli neighbors.
Okay. Now let's cut to the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead
Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, from 1997 to 2002 (not exactly an uber-Zionist herself) turned down the offer by the UN Human Rights Council to head the mission to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes
So too did former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari
Here’s what Robinson said on March 9, 2009, about the resolution that created the mission ultimately headed by Judge Goldstone:
[U]nfortunately, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution seeking a fact-finding mission to only look at what Israel had done, and I don’t think that’s a human rights approach.
One has to ask: since the January resolution opens with a Paragraph 1 that “strongly condemns” Israel as guilty of “massive violations,” what is it exactly that the Goldstone mission is investigating?
And what countries were represented on the UN's Human Rights Council at the time?
Such bastions of human rights like Pakistan, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and of course Libya
But Judge Goldstone accepted the mantle, from a UN organ renowned for its virulent anti-Israel bias. In the last five years, the council has issued 51 human rights condemnations against countries, of which 35 were against Israel.

Now, of course, two years later, Judge Goldstone offers his mea culpa, with this astonishing admission:

“In the end, asking Hamas to investigate [its own crimes] may have been a mistaken enterprise.”

It took Judge Goldstone two years to come to the conclusion that asking a terrorist organization to impartially report its own atrocities was maybe not the smartest idea.

Goldstone wrote that the UN Humans Rights Council, which commissioned his report, has a “history of bias against Israel [that] cannot be doubted.”

(So he admits that Israel was being asked to cooperate with an investigation commissioned by an authority inherently prejudiced against it, which, of course, explains why it rightly refused to participate).

So what's the significance of all this?
It's precisely because of Judge Goldstone's stature, as a world renowned Jurist, and a Jew, and a self-professed Zionist, that he has contributed probably more than any other single individual to the Demonization and Delegitimization of Israel
And its precisely because he's a South African Jew, well versed in the crimes of Apartheid, that his judgement stung so deeply
Increasing worldwide mov't of BDS--Boycotts, Divestment, & Sanctions against Israel
Goldstone Report gave fantastic momentum to this insidious mov't
By casting Israel as a country guilty of war crimes, deliberate targeting of civilians (the most devastating accusation--of course, turns reality on its head--Hamas guilty of this while Israel makes extraordinary efforts to safeguard and protect enemy civilians), gave enormous ammunition to anti-Semites and well-meaning Westerners who were easily swayed into believing that Israel committed war crimes against defenseless Palestinians
In Israel, the Goldstone Report became known as the Goldstone Effect, rendering Israelis all the more isolated and distrustful of the world's support in their efforts to forge an authentic peace
Michael Oren, Israel's Ambassador to America had this to say:
Ironically, the greatest victim of the UN report is not Israel's ability to wage a moral war but its willingness to make an historic peace. If asked to take immense risks for peace, Israelis must be convinced of their internationally recognized right to self-defense should that peace be broken. Deprived of that right, even after being subjected to years of murderous rocket attacks, an Israeli electorate will understandably recoil from such risks.

Delivered by Colonel Richard Kemp
UN Human Rights Council
12th Special Session, 16 October 2009
Debate on Goldstone Report

Thank you, Mr. President.

I am the former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan. I served with NATO and the United Nations; commanded troops in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Macedonia; and participated in the Gulf War. I spent considerable time in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and worked on international terrorism for the UK Government’s Joint Intelligence Committee.

Mr. President, based on my knowledge and experience, I can say this: During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.

Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population.
Hamas, like Hizballah, are expert at driving the media agenda. Both will always have people ready to give interviews condemning Israeli forces for war crimes. They are adept at staging and distorting incidents.

The IDF faces a challenge that we British do not have to face to the same extent. It is the automatic, Pavlovian presumption by many in the international media, and international human rights groups, that the IDF are in the wrong, that they are abusing human rights.

The truth is that the IDF took extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, dropping over 2 million leaflets, and making over 100,000 phone calls. Many missions that could have taken out Hamas military capability were aborted to prevent civilian casualties. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza. To deliver aid virtually into your enemy's hands is, to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable. But the IDF took on those risks.

Despite all of this, of course innocent civilians were killed. War is chaos and full of mistakes. There have been mistakes by the British, American and other forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq, many of which can be put down to human error. But mistakes are not war crimes.

More than anything, the civilian casualties were a consequence of Hamas’ way of fighting. Hamas deliberately tried to sacrifice their own civilians.

Mr. President, Israel had no choice apart from defending its people, to stop Hamas from attacking them with rockets.

And I say this again: the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.

Thank you, Mr. President.

I'm going to move on now to the Gaza Flotilla, but spend less time on that incident, to allow for more Q & A
A few major points:
• The Naval Blockade of Gaza was legal according to int'l law
• The Turkel Commission, an independent investigative panel, cleared Israel of wrongdoing
• The panel was comprised of a former Israeli Supreme Court Justice, Brigadier General Ken Watkin of Canada, Judge Advocate General for the Canadian Forces, and Nobel Laureate, Lord David Trimble of Northern Ireland, among other international notables
• There was not a crate of humanitarian goods aboard the Mavi Marmara
• The ship was initially portrayed as a boat of "peace activists"
• Little by little, the truth came out; about 40 of the crew were members of the IHH, (Insani Yardim Vakfi) a Turkish aid foundation with radical Islamist ties
• The flotilla was a fleet of six ships with ties to extremist and Islamist Jihad groups
• Weapons and ammunition were found aboard the Mavi Marmara
• Israel made repeated requests for the ship to stop at the port of Ashdod to ensure no weapons were being transported to Hamas
• The Israeli soldiers came on board with paint guns to mark "rioters" because that's what they thought they were dealing with
• The Israeli soldiers were attacked with iron bars, axes, clubs, slingshots, and knives
• It was only after their lives were at risk did they resort to fully justified self-defense, resulting in the deaths of nine crew members
• More than one million tons of humanitarian supplies have entered Gaza from Israel, equaling over a ton of aid for every individual there, including food, first aid, fuel, and construction material.

IHH (The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief

In July 2009, the Israeli foreign ministry published and posted online an analysis of the Gaza operation that was designed to rebut in advance the Goldstone Report’s main charges, which would not be released until mid-September of that year. Prepared while Israel was still conducting preliminary field investigations into allegations of unlawful conduct by the idf, “The Operation in Gaza: Factual and Legal Aspects” covered numerous issues. The 159-page document emphasized Israel’s right and obligation under international law to use military force to stop Hamas’s bombardment of civilian targets in southern Israel with rockets and mortar shells — approximately 12,000 since 2000 and 3,000 in 2008 alone. It reported that by late 2008 Hamas had put one million Israeli civilians in range of its weapons and had assembled armed forces of more than 20,000. It described the considerable efforts Israel undertook, in accordance with the UN Charter, to bring international pressure to bear on Hamas, “including urgent appeals to the UN Secretary General and successive Presidents of the Security Council to take determined action, and diplomatic overtures, directly and through intermediaries, to stop the violence.” It reaffirmed Israel’s adherence to the law of armed conflict and human rights law and explained that, under a proper understanding of both as well as of Hamas’s systematic use of human shields and relentless blurring of the distinction between civilians and combatants, Israel’s military operation in Gaza was a proportionate response. It provided clear evidence, including photographs and video, that, in flagrant violation of international law, Hamas deliberately engaged in “the launching of rocket attacks from within densely populated areas near schools and protected un facilities, the commandeering of hospitals as bases of operations and ambulances for transport, the storage of weapons in mosques, and the booby-trapping of entire civilian neighbourhoods so that an attack on one structure would devastate many others.” It reviewed the extensive and unprecedented precautions the idf took to minimize noncombatant casualties — including making hundreds of thousands of phone calls to Gaza residents to warn of impending air strikes — against an adversary that placed civilians in the line of fire as part of a coldly calculated military strategy. It summarized the steps the idf took during the three-week conflict to ensure the daily delivery of humanitarian supplies to the civilian population. It acknowledged that “the Gaza Operation resulted in many civilian deaths and injuries and significant damage to public and private property in Gaza.” And it reported that the idf was conducting field investigations into accusations of unlawful conduct; detailed Israel’s extensive and well-established system of military justice of which those investigations were the first stage; and reaffirmed Israel’s right and responsibility under international law to investigate accusations that its military had acted unlawfully and, where appropriate, prosecute and punish.

The principle of distinction requires parties to a conflict to distinguish between civilian populations and combatants. The principle of proportionality restricts the use of force in armed conflict to the achievement of legitimate military objectives and requires that the force used be reasonably expected not to cause injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects that would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage. What constitutes a legitimate military objective, what constitutes reasonable expectations, and what constitutes clearly excessive injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects in relation to anticipated military advantage — indeed, what constitutes a civilian or civilian object in an age of asymmetric warfare — are intensely context-sensitive questions

1 comment:

George Jochnowitz said...

Has anyone ever in human history suggested that Hamas be pressured about anything at all? A good place to start might be to ask Hamas to remove the sections from its charter that oppose Israel’s right to exist.