U.S. Efforts To Undermine Goldstone Report Diminishes Its Own Standing In World
Richard Goldstone, a Jewish South African and a champion for human rights, gave a speech in 2000 at Jerusalem’s Yakar in Israel where he revealed that his motivations for bringing war criminals to justice stemmed from the lessons he’d learned of the Holocaust:
Goldstone said the Holocaust has shaped legal protocol on war, adding that it was “the worst war crime in the world.” He also said the perception of war crimes against humanity should resonate differently to Jewish ears, in light of how the Holocaust shaped conventions relevant to the subject.
Goldstone added that as a jurist, he viewed the Holocaust as a unique occurrence because of how it affected judicial protocol on war, as well as international and humanitarian judicial approaches. […]
These crimes were so great, he explained, they went beyond their direct victims or the countries in which they were perpetrated, to harm humanity as a whole. This definition, he said, meant that perpetrators were to be prosecuted anywhere, by any country … This rational, he went on to say, constituted the basis for the concept of universal jurisdiction. […]
Israel, he added, was one of the first countries to support the formation of permanent court of law for crimes against humanity — a proposal that came up following the successful performance of the special tribunals on Bosnia. However, that changed, he said, after Egypt insisted at the Rome conference that the mandate of this permanent court include occupied territories. This prompted Israel to join the six other countries that voted against the formation of the International Court of Justice, including the United States, China and Libya.
Goldstone has made his life mission fighting for human rights across the globe. He was instrumental in the fight against South African Apartheid by leading what later became known as the ‘Goldstone Commission’ — a body which exposed grave injustices committed by the Apartheid-era South African security forces. He went on to serve as chief prosecutor in both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and as chairperson of the Independent International Commission on Kosovo. He’s been directly involved in investigating some of the most horrific crimes against humanity over the last quarter century, and has been awarded some of the world’s most prestigious awards for his efforts.
His stellar reputation for honesty, fairness, and compassion, his impeccable credentials, and his love of Israel (a self-proclaimed Zionist) made him the perfect candidate to preside over a fact-finding mission commissioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate Israel’s military assault on Gaza, where all international human rights groups were reporting mass violations of human rights and possible war crimes.
The Israel government immediately refused to cooperate with the Goldstone’s Fact Finding Mission, thereby denying the group access to Israeli military sources and to Israeli victims of Hamas rocket fire inside Israel. They furthermore, denied the group entry into the Gaza Strip via Israel. The UN mission proceeded without Israel’s cooperation, and on September 15, 2009 — after a long investigation throughout the Gaza ruins — they issued a scathing indictment:
The United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict at the start of this year has found evidence that both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants committed serious war crimes and breaches of humanitarian law, which may amount to crimes against humanity.
“We came to the conclusion, on the basis of the facts we found, that there was strong evidence to establish that numerous serious violations of international law, both humanitarian law and human rights law, were committed by Israel during the military operations in Gaza,” the head of the mission, Justice Richard Goldstone, told a press briefing today.
“The mission concluded that actions amounting to war crimes and possibly, in some respects, crimes against humanity, were committed by the Israel Defense Force (IDF).”
“There’s no question that the firing of rockets and mortars [by armed groups from Gaza] was deliberate and calculated to cause loss of life and injury to civilians and damage to civilian structures. The mission found that these actions also amount to serious war crimes and also possibly crimes against humanity,” he said.
The 575-page report by the four-person mission was released today, ahead of its presentation to the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva on 29 September.
“The mission finds that the conduct of the Israeli armed forces constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of wilful killings and wilfully causing great suffering to protected persons and as such give rise to individual criminal responsibility,” the report’s executive summary said. “It also finds that the direct targeting and arbitrary killing of Palestinian civilians is a violation of the right to life.”
It went on to criticize the “deliberate and systematic policy on the part of the Israeli armed forces to target industrial sites and water installations,” and the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields.
On the objectives and strategy of Israel’s military operation, the mission concluded that military planners deliberately followed a doctrine which involved “the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations.”
On the firing of mortars from Gaza, the mission concluded that they were indiscriminate and deliberate attacks against a civilian population and “would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity.” It added that their apparent intention of spreading terror among the Israeli civilian population was a violation of international law.
The full 574 page report can be found here: “Human Rights in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories: Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict,” and the conclusions of the report will be forwarded to the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court at The Hague if the two sides fail to conduct credible investigations into the conflict within six months.
The reactions were fairly predictable from Israel and some of its hard-line pro-Israel ideologues in America: Distortions, outright lies, and defamation of the messenger:
The Goldstone report should be rejected on its demerits. The added fact that it was authored by a self-aggrandizing Jew — selected precisely because he is a Jew with aspirations to be honored by the international community–should diminish, rather than increase, its credibility.
I see, so if a non-Zionist gentile had lead the fact-finding mission — or, God forbid, a Muslim — then somehow that would have made the report more credible to you? Give me a break!
Roger Cohen, of the New York Times, responds to some of the Goldstone back-lash by cautioning Israel to refrain from always viewing its mistakes through the distorted lens of ‘Israeli exceptionalism‘.
Cut the posturing and deal with reality. This can be painful — as with Justice Richard Goldstone’s recent U.N. report finding that both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants committed possible crimes against humanity during Israel’s military operations in Gaza.
But it’s also instructive. Goldstone is a measured man — I’ve known him a long time. The Israeli response to his findings strikes me as an example of the blinding effect of exceptionalism unbound. Ordinary nations have failings.
The Obama Administration’s reaction to the report consisted of the usual “bias against poor Israel” song and dance performed by previous administrations:
Although the report addresses all sides of the conflict, its overwhelming focus is on the actions of Israel. While the report makes overly sweeping conclusions of fact and law with respect to Israel, its conclusions regarding Hamas’s deplorable conduct and its failure to comply with international humanitarian law during the conflict are more general and tentative.
The fallacy of the Administration’s assessment is obvious:
Israel refused to cooperate with the UN Fact Finding Mission, thereby denying them access to see or speak to any Israeli victims of Hamas rocket fire. Israel also denied the mission access to Israel military personnel to better understand their reasoning for targeting what they did. In other words, both Israel and the U.S. are using Israel’s refusal to cooperate, as a way to tarnish the legitimacy of the Goldstone Report.
And let’s be serious here, the IDF killed over 1,400 people (most of which were Palestinian women and children), destroyed nearly the entire infrastructure of Gaza, used white phosphorous, targeted U.N. facilities, and destroyed 4,000 buildings (20,000 severely damaged) leaving 10,000 Palestinians homeless.
Compare that with Israel’s losses: 13 Israelis killed (10 of which were soldiers — four of these were the result of ‘friendly fire’). It’s blatantly obvious why the Goldstone Report had much more to say about Israel’s atrocities — their crimes against humanity dwarfed those committed by Hamas by a factor of 100 to 1. Yet, even despite the disproportionate death and destruction inflicted by Israel, the Goldstone Report DID assert there was evidence that Hamas committed war crimes — something Hamas adamantly denies. The only thing blatantly biased regarding the report’s release has been the responses by Israeli apologists — which includes, to my dismay, the Obama Administration — who is selectively undermining international law. And they’re doing it with the same pathetic rhetoric they use to undermine justice at home.
Here’s U.S. envoy to the UN Rice’s response when questioned about the Goldstone findings:
“In this, as in many other respects, the US focus, and I think constructively the focus of many other countries, is to try to look not to the past but to the future. The best way to end suffering and abuses is for there to be a long term solution and peace based on two states living side by side in peace and security.
Sound familiar? The ‘ole “Don’t focus on holding criminals to account. Let’s look forward, not backwards …” spiel?
All the new-found goodwill that Obama’s Cairo speech had so effectively generated in that part of the world — winning the hearts, minds and hopes of the people — UP IN SMOKE! The neo-cons would be proud, Mr.President. By choosing to turn a blind eye to the findings of the Goldstone report, and therefore shunning the rule of law, all hopes of a new, fair-minded, justice-promoting United States evaporated in the Arab world in an instant.
On Wednesday, Rice “promised [President Shimon Peres] that the United States will continue to stand by Israel as a loyal friend in the fight against the Goldstone report.”
Yesterday, Richard Goldstone decided to address directly the U.S. Administration’s convoluted rhetoric on his report:
“I have yet to hear from the Obama administration what the flaws in the report that they have identified are. I would be happy to respond to them, if and when I know what they are,” Goldstone said. “The Obama administration joined our recommendation calling for full and good-faith investigations, both in Israel and in Gaza [by Hamas], but said that the report was flawed.”
He then proceeded to respond to those who’ve attempted to assassinate his character, in hopes it would help to undercut his report:
Goldstone said the attacks on him had become personal and that he believed most critics had not even read the report. “I’ve no doubt, many of the critics – the overwhelmingly majority of critics – have not read the report,” he said. “And, you know, what proves that, I think, is that the level of criticism does not go to the substance of the report. There still have not been responses to the really serious allegations that are made. People generally don’t like to be accused of criminal activity.”
“I think it’s sad… Israel is clutching at straws. International law can’t be changed just because one side doesn’t like the laws of war,” Goldstone said. “I think it’s wrong, very unfortunate and inappropriate.”
Any impartial observer, upon reviewing the evidence, will see that the U.S. is now attempting to impede justice, not promote it. In his Cairo speech, President Obama asked for a new beginning between the United States and the Arab world:
I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.
Mr. President, it’s now time to make good on your commitment, and demonstrate that the United States does respect the principles of justice, tolerance, and dignity of all human beings. Unless the rule of law applies to all of mankind equally, then there is no such thing as justice.