AlterPolitics New Post

Harper’s Magazine Interviews Desmond Travers On Goldstone Report

by on Friday, October 30, 2009 at 10:52 am EDT in Middle East, World

Here’s an interesting read: Ken Silverstein interviews Den Travers, one of the four members of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.  “Travers is a retired Colonel of the Army of the Irish Defence Forces. His last appointment was as Commandant of its Military College. He also served in command of troops with various UN and EU peace support missions.”

Silverstein asks Travers six questions about the Goldstone Report — which found that Israel and Hamas committed war crimes:

1. Were you surprised by the criticism of the report?

There was a lot of criticism even before the report came out, primarily against individuals, especially Justice Richard Goldstone. So we were not unduly surprised by the whinging when the report was released, except for the intensity and viciousness of the personal attacks. Justice Goldstone has publicly invited the critics, especially within the U.S. government, to come forward with substantive evidence of incorrect or inaccurate statements. But there has been no credible criticism of the report itself or of the information elucidated in it.

2. Douglas Griffiths, the American delegate to the Human Rights Council, said, “While Justice Goldstone acknowledged Hamas’s crimes, in examining Israel’s response sufficient weight was not given to the difficulties faced in fighting this kind of enemy in this environment.” Is that a fair criticism?

I was a soldier for 42 years and I reject that criticism, which seems intended to excuse alleged Israeli breaches of the laws of warfare. I retired as a colonel in the Irish army in 2001 having served in war zones in Cyprus, Lebanon, Bosnia and Croatia, and I would not underestimate the challenge of combat in built-up areas. Nonetheless, armies have never had the technological luxury that they do today when it comes to taking out targets without inflicting collateral damage.


Read the last four Q&As here: Six Questions for Desmond Travers on the Goldstone Report

Bill Moyers Interviews Justice Richard Goldstone About Gaza Investigations

by on Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 7:52 pm EDT in Middle East, Politics, World

Here’s a must see for those interested in learning more about the UN Human Rights Council’s investigation into Israel’s military incursion into Gaza, and its controversial findings: namely that both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes.

Bill Moyers speaks at length with Justice Richard Goldstone — whom I wrote about last week.  Here’s a few excerpts of the interview:


BILL MOYERS: What did you see with your own eyes when you went there [to Gaza]?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, I saw the destruction of the only flour-producing factory in Gaza. I saw fields plowed up by Israeli tank bulldozers. I saw chicken farms, for egg production, completely destroyed. Tens of thousands of chickens killed. I met with families who lost their loved ones in homes in which they were seeking shelter from the Israeli ground forces. I had to have the very emotional and difficult interviews with fathers whose little daughters were killed, whose family were killed. One family, over 21 members, killed by Israeli mortars. So, it was a very difficult investigation, which will give me nightmares for the rest of my life.


BILL MOYERS: What makes those acts war crimes, as you say?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, humanitarian law, really fundamentally is what’s known as the “principle of distinction.” It requires all people involved, commanders, troops, all people involved in making war, it requires them to distinguish between civilians and combatants. And then there’s a question-

BILL MOYERS: Combatants, right?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: -and combatants. And then there’s a question of proportionality. One can, in war, target a military target. And there can be what’s euphemistically referred to as ‘collateral damage,’ but the ‘collateral damage’ must be proportionate to the military aim. If you can take out a munitions factory in an urban area with a loss of 100 lives, or you can use a bomb twice as large and take out the same factory and kill 2000 people, the latter would be a war crime, the former wouldn’t.


BILL MOYERS: You wrote, quote, the military operation, this military operation in Gaza, was a result of the disrespect for the fundamental principle of ‘distinction’ in international humanitarian law. So in layman’s language, the distinction between what and what?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Between combatants and innocent civilians.

BILL MOYERS: And you’re saying Israel did not do that, in many of these incidents.

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: That’s correct.

BILL MOYERS: Did you find evidence that that is deliberate on their part?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, we did. We found evidence in statements made by present and former political and military leaders, who said, quite openly, that there’s going to be a disproportionate attack. They said that if rockets are going to continue, we’re going to hit back disproportionately. We’re going to punish you for doing it. And that’s not countenanced by the law of war.

BILL MOYERS: So they were doing, on the ground, what they had said earlier they intended to do.

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: That’s correct.

BILL MOYERS: -so there was intention.

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, certainly. You know, one thing one can’t say about the Israel Defense Forces is that they make too many mistakes. They’re very, a sophisticated army. And if they attack a mosque or attack a factory, and over 200 factories were bombed, there’s just no basis to ascribe that to error. That must be intentional.


BILL MOYERS: Did you find war crimes by Hamas?


BILL MOYERS: What were they?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: We found that the firing of many thousands of rockets and mortars at a civilian population to constitute a very serious war crime. And we said possibly crimes against humanity.


BILL MOYERS: But when the terrorists, the militants, whatever one wants to call them, are known to be embedded in, as you say, those tight, complex, concentrated areas, what’s the other army to do?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: It’s for example, to launch commando actions, to get at the militants and not the innocent civilians. And there’s an element of punishment, if one looks at the attacks on the infrastructure, on the food infrastructure, one sees a pattern of attacking all of the people of Gaza, not simply the militants.

BILL MOYERS: Why do you think they bombed the infrastructure so thoroughly?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, we’ve found that the only logical reason is collective punishment against the people of Gaza for voting into power Hamas, and a form of reprisal for the rocket attacks and mortar attacks on southern Israel.

BILL MOYERS: So that would be the explanation for why, if they were interested only in stopping the bombing, they didn’t have to destroy the land.

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: No, this was a political decision, I think, and not a military one. I think they were telling the people of Gaza that if you support Hamas, this is what we’re going to do to you.


BILL MOYERS: The “Financial Times” says it is your reputation, Judge Richard Goldstone’s reputation, the Israeli government fears and not your methods. What do they have to be afraid of?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: The only thing they can be afraid of is the truth. And I think this is why they’re attacking the messenger and not the message.

BILL MOYERS: What do you hope happens now?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, I certainly hope that there’ll be sufficient drive within Israel, within the government and in the general public to force the Israeli government to set up an independent, open inquiry. And it can do it. It’s got a wonderful legal system, its got a great judicial system, its got retired judges who certainly, in my book, would earn the respect of the overwhelming number of people around the world, including the Arab world, who, if they held open, good faith inquiries, would put an end to this.


BILL MOYERS: The Israeli Cabinet this week set up a special cabinet lobbying group to urge the United States to use its veto power in the Security Council to prevent any legal action against the Israelis. What do you make of that?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, you know, that’s the sort of politics you and I were talking about, not too many minutes ago. That’s using the political route rather than the legal route.

BILL MOYERS: Our state department has come right out and said, your findings are unfair toward Israel.

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, you know, those are statements it’s impossible to respond to, because there’s no detail. They haven’t said why it’s unbalanced. They’ve said there are flaws in the report. And I really do hope and invite the administration to indicate where the report is flawed or unbalanced. And I certainly would welcome learning where we went wrong, and if and I’m easily- I would be easily convinced. And if we if we made mistakes in those are pointed out, I would be the first person to admit it.


I highly recommend that everyone go to Bill Moyers Journal and watch this enlightening interview — there’s a lot more to it (this was merely a teaser — so to speak).  See what Justice Golstone says, so that you can draw your own conclusions on this issue (and not just swallow the defamatory rhetoric being leveled at him by the pro-Israel right).

The interview can be found here:  Part 1, Part 2, and the transcript of the interview can be found here:  Bill Moyers Journal

U.S. Efforts To Undermine Goldstone Report Diminishes Its Own Standing In World

by on Friday, October 23, 2009 at 10:51 am EDT in Middle East, Politics, World

Richard Goldstone

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.”

Goldstone was asked about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent attempts to change international law (so as to exempt Israel’s alleged war crimes in Gaza), and Goldstone responded:

“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.

Israel Minister Cancels UK Trip Fearing Arrest for War Crimes

by on Monday, October 5, 2009 at 3:55 pm EDT in Middle East, World

The legal ramifications of Israel’s 22-day pummelling of Gaza – resulting in the deaths of 1,400 Palestinians – continue to be felt by its leaders: Israel’s vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon recently cancelled a planned trip to London over fears that he could be put on trial for alleged war crimes, his spokesman said on Monday. British activists seek his arrest […]