Thursday, November 22, 2012

And the Winner Is...Justice Richard Goldstone

There is now a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, thank God. The senseless military operation initiated by a blundering Israeli overreaction, and resulting in death, destruction, and fear in civilian populations, was only the latest in a series of such operations. And an examination of the cease-fire "understandings," virtually identical with those after Cast Lead, shows that Israel's over-arching strategy in assassinating Chief of Staff  Jabari.was of the "We've-got-to-DO-something" variety. It is unlikely that the cease-fire will hold, but it is sufficient to worry later about future troubles, as the saying goes.

Who won? Ask the Israelis, most of whom opposed the cease-fire, and they will tell you that the other side won. Ask the Gazans, and they will tell you that their side won.  My view is that the real winner was Justice Richard Goldstone, whose report changed the way Israel waged war against the Gazans.

How did Pillar of Cloud differ from Cast Lead? Less indiscriminate shelling; no press blackout; the leaflets to the Gazans telling them to leave their homes about to be destroyed gave routes to the nearest shelter. Of course, this was cold comfort, seeing as the nearest shelter was already overcrowded. In fact, CNN allowed us to see one family moving from school shelter to school shelter until they get could find a classroom for their clan. No white phosphorous, either.Without the Goldstone Report, the civilian casualties and the destruction of property "for the sake of deterrence" would have been higher.

This is not to say that war crimes were not committed by both sides, and I hope that the human rights agencies will investigate these  and issue their reports.

Judge Richard Goldstone was vilified, first by the Israelis and their supporters, and then by the supporters of the Palestinians, who misread his so-called "retraction". No person is above criticism, of course, and reasonable people often disagree. But Judge Goldstone, and those who worked with him, and above all, the Israeli human rights organizations that provided him with data, both directly or indirectly, and who were also vilified by the Israeli government, should take satisfaction in the numbers of lives they saved.


pabelmont said...

Excellent point. The good judge seems to have recanted a bit (Gallileo anybody?) but the report he helped write stands. And this somewhat bolsters the international system which requested the report and selected Goldstone and the others to do the work.

Richard Witty said...

The very vast majority of civilian deaths and accusations of war crimes occurred in the phase of Cast Lead that was preparation for a ground assault.

The specific targets in that effort were not direct military targets, as in the first phase, but secondary targets necessary to pursue a ground invasion with minimal Israeli casualties. They included electrical infrastructure, transportation infrastructure, communications infrastructure; and also clearing obstacles and potential guerilla sites for arteries for troup an tank transport.

All of those targets were characterized as civilian in human rights organizations' reports and in the Goldstone report.

The substantive contreversy around the Goldstone report was whether in fact, if the ground assault was even potentially deemed admissable, that those infrastructure and line of transit and sight targets were then civilian.

In a world war, they would be. In a conventional all out war between states, they would be. In a conflict between a state and decentral militias it's a question.

As Hamas now is a government, more than a set of decentral militias, and with the precedent of the opening of the Rafah crossing before the escalations, its aggressions are rationally weighed against a higher bar of responsibility.

The dissenting community was right in objecting to unnecessary death, suffering, destruction.

However, they/you failed to inquire whether a ground operation was an admissable military scope given the reality.

The Slater thesis was that as Israel had botched the relations with Gazans/Hamas prior to the conflict, in such a way that no military response was admissable. That strikes me as a ludicrous response and conflicts with your statement in another post about 2012, that it was the IDF responsibility to protect Israeli civilians (my exact language for years).

At Mondoweiss, rather than engage the question of admissability of ground operation at all, they doubled down on the partisan accusation of war crimes (frankly blindly, in not considering that question of admissability).

They called me racist for siting contributing statements by Hamas officials that represented (if not an exact quote, my mistake in using double quotes) the position of Hamas that they would severely punish any that pursued a ground assault (a sentiment reiterated by Haniyeh and Meshal last week).

(I still get harrasing e-mails from some Mondoweiss commentators about that.)

And, at Mondoweiss, many commentators habitually carelessly confused description for advocacy.

I don't know if a ground assault was necessary or feasible (two critical characteristics of admissability) to protect Israeli civilians from a thousand rockets fired at them or not.

It would have been wonderful if thinking informed kind-hearted people actually brought that question to discussion, rather than propagandistic gangs of contempt and dismissal.

It caused me to regard dissent in this area as cruelly "religious", in their willingness to harm viciously those that even questioned the official credo.

Israel did learn from the Goldstone report, an extremely useful piece of information, to the extent that only those that intentionally exagerate can accurately convey that in the current action, anything beyond incidents were war crimes.

And, most importantly in the Goldstone report, relative to this action, the Goldstone report declared that ALL firing of rockets at civilian targets in Israel is a war crime.

As such, even before the Jabiri assassination, Hamas participated in intentional war crimes against Israeli civilians.

It is material, and should never be dismissed as inconsequential or even understandable. Frustrations, angers are understandable. Incidents of violence are understandable. Banal, intentional targeting of civilians is something entirely different.

NKamin said...

.. I reached a similar conclusion, after comparing the numbers of civilian casualties in the initial 2 days of "cast Lead" and the current operation, as well as the War on Lebanon in 2006 and other incursions to Gaza (see, but I think that you made the point so much clearer and better. Thanks again for drawing attention to the fact that the work of Human Rights organizations is indeed critically important - we should all be grateful and supportive.

Donald said...

Goldstone's retraction had the predictable effect of making his own report seem false or exaggerated--anyone with even the tiniest grain of common sense would have known that, and I think he had to have known how it would be read when he wrote it. So no, I don't think his retraction was misread by either side. His name was on the report, and while the other authors didn't agree with his retraction, their views were of no consequence. I think it was a mistake to have lionized him the way the pro-Palestinian side did. It was irresistible--the fact that a self-proclaimed Zionist co-authored a report that accused Israel of war crimes had a man bites dog quality to it. But it was a mistake. It's always a mistake to put personalities above the evidence. There were human rights groups and reporters who wrote damning reports on the war crimes of Israel and its opponents both before Gaza and after. Goldstone, unfortunately, became a rock star, which is exactly the wrong way to approach these things. It gave him too much power and when he wrote his little "retraction", he pulled the rug out from under those who used his report.

As for Israel not using white phosphorus, it garnered attention with or without Goldstone and they can blow people up without doing it in a way so brutal and indiscriminate that nobody could possibly defend it. That's the modern Western way of war--you have to win the PR battle, portray yourself as responsible. You don't actually have to be responsible--you've got people who desperately want to believe in your good intentions and it doesn't take much to win them over. White phosphorus was a PR loser, so they didn't use it this time. Good.


Donald said...

Incidentally, for those who wish to "protect Israeli civilians", one really effective way would be to treat Palestinians as though they were human, to not wreck their economy with a blockade, to not shoot at their fisherman, and avoid setting up buffer zones inside Gaza (as opposed to inside Israel) where innocent Palestinians can and do get shot. And don't conduct targeted assassinations. I know, crazy talk, but it's so crazy it just might work.


Donald said...

Oh, to be clear, my suggestions for how to decrease the danger to Israeli civilians wasn't aimed at you, Jerry--I think you'd agree with them. They were aimed at people who think that saying the words "self-defense" absolves a person from having to notice how Palestinians might think they have a far greater need for "self defense" from the Israelis. I honestly don't understand people who can't seem to grasp this. You don't have to shed your sympathy for Israelis under rocket fire to notice that what Israel does to Gazans is vastly worse by any measure. It's maybe understandable that people actually on the ground suffer from the narcissism that afflicts people in wartime (who may only notice the suffering of their side), but there's not much excuse for people further away.



I'm a regular reader of this blog. I have recently written an essay on my understanding of the historical roots of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute:

I would love to hear what you think of this essay. I wanted to send you an email but couldn't find your email address anywhere, hence this blog comment (which is obviously unrelated to the blog post).

John Welch said...

Good points, Jerry.

Incidentally, during the Lebanon invasion in 2006 and "Cast Lead", I thought of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As bad as those wars have been, the American military seems to have made some effort to avoid civilian deaths.

It strikes me that the Israeli military treats all Palestinians as soldiers, as targets, and as sub-human. As bad as the US has been, the American military has made some effort to hold to the US code of military justice, to official doctrine. The Israelis have looked more like they want to exterminate pesty Palestinians.

My impression of Israeli methods of war are similar to my impression of the Israeli government's building of permanent towns and militarized roads throughout the occupied territories. The goal: drive all Palestinians out of the territories, re-settle. Perpetual war.

John Welch

Suz said...

If we look back at history over the last 60 odd years, is there any basis for believing that Palestinians would stop the hostilities if only Israel were to "treat Palestinians as though they were human, to not wreck their economy with a blockade, to not shoot at their fisherman, and avoid setting up buffer zones inside Gaza (as opposed to inside Israel) where innocent Palestinians can and do get shot."

I think Israel should take the moral high ground and test this hypothesis, but I'm not holding my breath on getting desired results out of it.

I keep hearing talk here and there of Egypt incorporating Gaza. I've felt for some time that this would be a great thing. What do others think?

Donald said...

Suz, has it crossed your mind that Palestinians have just as much right to be skeptical of Israelis? I think that if we look back at history we'll see plenty of ruthless people on both sides who were willing to use violence against civilians to achieve their goals. I'm reading Patrick Tyler's book right now, which covers the history starting after the 48 war and you can see that quite clearly (again, on both sides).

Give people on both sides some reason for hope and maybe the moderates will prevail. There's no reason to doubt this and it's worth a shot.

As for your Gaza idea, ask the Gazans. If they want to join Egypt, great. If they don't, then that's the end of that idea.

Jerry Haber said...


Why go back only to 1948? Palestinians have resisted violently Zionist settlement at least since the late 1920s. For an explanation of their actions without justifying them, see the remarks of the Zionist leader, Hans Kohn

I don't agree with you that Israel should take the moral high road. I don't think that Pharoah was taking the moral road when he let the Jews go. I don't expect states to take the moral high road. I do expect them to act with minimum standards of decency.

Let us assume that Israel cannot end the occupation without endangering its own security. If that's the case, then surely Israel has no right to exist as a sovereign state. For no people has a right to self-determination at the expense of another people. Why privilege Israelis over Palestinians? Why not say that Palestines have a right to security in 80% of Palestine even if that means that Israelis can't have self-determination -- especially since Israeli represents a settler nationalism.

The time is long past where one side can have a legitimate claim to so much more than the other. Israel has to shrink and Palestine has to expand. Maximum amount of rights for the maximum amount of people.

What guarantees that Israel won't suffer? Nothing. They have no right to such a guarantee that trumps the Palestinian's inalienable rights.