Monday, December 14, 2009

Goldstone vs. HR867.EH

I'm saddened by the circumstances behind the condemnation of the Goldstone Report, because these condemnations amount to the suppression of information. The report is a very well developed and conducted investigation that gives us a snapshot of current events in Palestine. Rather than recognizing the value of this report as a source of information, the House of Representatives (and the Obama Administration) have condemned it merely because it is associated with political forces that clash with some of our country's more hawkish foreign policy goals. If we had endorsed the report, it would have given credibility to the UN's efforts to establish an accurate record of the human rights violations committed by the various groups operating in and around the Occupied Territories.

The reasoning behind the strategy of suppression of facts is not explicitly stated anywhere, so one can only guess ath the justification. I understand that Israel is our ally, but that does not justify our shielding them from scrutiny. Nor does the House of Representatives offer any rationale for the suppression of the wealth of information the Goldstone Report offers about the complexities of Palestinian Politics and the relative involvement of various terrorist groups in particular events.

Whereas the resolution pre-judged the outcome of its investigation, by one-sidedly mandating the `fact-finding mission' to `investigate all violations of international human rights law and International Humanitarian Law by * * * Israel, against the Palestinian people * * * particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, due to the current aggression'
Goldstone (p. 11):
11. To implement its mandate, the Mission determined that it was required to consider any actions by all parties that might have constituted violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law. The mandate also required it to review related actions in the entire Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.
Whereas the mandate of the `fact-finding mission' makes no mention of the relentless rocket and mortar attacks, which numbered in the thousands and spanned a period of eight years, by Hamas and other violent militant groups in Gaza against civilian targets in Israel, that necessitated Israel's defensive measures
Goldstone (p. 31, 79-80):
103. Palestinian armed groups have launched about 8000 rockets and mortars into southern Israel since 2001 (Chapter XIII).
257. Palestinian armed groups fired rockets and mortars into Israel throughout November 2008. According to Israeli sources, 125 rockets were fired into Israel during November 2008 (compared to one in October) and 68 mortars shells were fired (also compared to one in October).(133)
259. Rocket and mortar fire by Palestinian armed groups continued unabated throughout December 2008.(136) According to Israeli sources, 71 rockets and 59 mortars were fired into Israel between 1 and 18 December.(137)
Whereas the report repeatedly made sweeping and unsubstantiated determinations that the Israeli military had deliberately attacked civilians during Operation Cast Lead
Goldstone (p. 15):
43. The Mission investigated eleven incidents in which Israeli forces launched direct attacks against civilians with lethal outcome (Chapter XI). The cases examined in this part of the report are, with one exception, all cases in which the facts indicate no justifiable military objective pursued by the attack. The first two incidents are attacks against houses in the Samouni neighbourhood south of Gaza City, including the shelling of a house in which Palestinian civilians had been forced to assemble by the Israeli forces. The following group of seven incidents concern the shooting of civilians while they were trying to leave their homes to walk to a safer place, waving white flags and, in some of the cases, following an injunction from the Israeli forces to do so. The facts gathered by the Mission indicate that all the attacks occurred under circumstances in which the Israeli forces were in control of the area and had previously entered into contact with or at least observed the persons they subsequently attacked, so that they must have been aware of their civilian status. In the majority of these incidents, the consequences of the Israeli attacks against civilians were aggravated by their subsequent refusal to allow the evacuation of the wounded or to permit access to ambulances.
These cases are each investigated in detail in section XI of the report (p. 198)

But, even beyond this, the House Resolution makes no mention of the vast majority of the report's contents. Israel and to a lesser degree various factions within Palestine have destroyed the economy and quality of life of Palestine, creating a humanitarian crisis.

Goldstone (p. 17-19):
50. The Mission investigated several incidents involving the destruction of industrial
infrastructure, food production, water installations, sewage treatment and housing (Chapter XIII). Already at the beginning of the military operations, the Al Bader flour mill was the only flour mill in the Gaza Strip still operating. The flour mill was hit by a series of air strikes on 9 January 2009 after several false warnings had been issued on previous days. The Mission finds that its destruction had no military justification. The nature of the strikes, in particular the precise targeting of crucial machinery, suggests that the intention was to disable the factory in terms of its productive capacity. From the facts it ascertained, the Mission finds that there has been a violation of the grave breaches provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Unlawful and wanton destruction which is not justified by military necessity amounts to a war crime. The Mission also finds that the destruction of the mill was carried out for the purposes of denying sustenance to the civilian population, which is a violation of customary international law and may constitute a war crime. The strike on the flour mill further constitutes a violation of human rights provisions regarding the right to adequate food and means of subsistence.

51. The chicken farms of Mr. Sameh Sawafeary in the Zeitoun neighbourhood south of Gaza City reportedly supplied over 10 per cent of the Gaza egg market. Armoured bulldozers of the Israeli forces systematically flattened the chicken coops, killing all 31,000 chickens inside, and destroyed the plant and material necessary for the business. The Mission concludes that this was a deliberate act of wanton destruction not justified by any military necessity and draws the same legal conclusions as in the case of the destruction of the flour mill.

52. Israeli forces also carried out a strike against a wall of one of the raw sewage lagoons of the Gaza Waste Water Treatment Plant, which caused the outflow of more than 200,000 cubic metres of raw sewage into neighbouring farmland. The circumstances of the strike on the lagoon suggest that it was deliberate and premeditated. The Namar Wells complex in Jabalya consisted of two water wells, pumping machines, a generator, fuel storage, a reservoir chlorination unit, buildings and related equipment. All were destroyed by multiple air strikes on the first day of the Israeli aerial attack. The Mission considers it unlikely that a target the size of the Namar Wells could have been hit by multiple strikes in error. It found no grounds to suggest that there was any military advantage to be had by hitting the wells and noted that there was no suggestion that Palestinian armed groups had used the wells for any purpose. Considering that the right to drinking water is part of the right to adequate food, the Mission makes the same legal findings as in the case of the Al Bader flour mill.

53. During its visits to the Gaza Strip, the Mission witnessed the extent of the destruction of residential housing caused by air strikes, mortar and artillery shelling, missile strikes, the operation of bulldozers and demolition charges. In some cases, residential neighbourhoods were subjected to air-launched bombing and to intensive shelling apparently in the context of the advance of Israeli ground forces. In other cases, the facts gathered by the Mission strongly suggest that the destruction of housing was carried out in the absence of any link to combat engagements with Palestinian armed groups or any other effective contribution to military action. Combining the results of its own fact finding on the ground with UNOSAT imagery and the published testimonies of Israeli soldiers, the Mission concludes that, in addition to the extensive destruction of housing for so-called “operational necessity” during their advance, the Israeli forces engaged in another wave of systematic destruction of civilian buildings during the last three days of their presence in Gaza, aware of the imminence of withdrawal. The conduct of the Israeli forces in this respect violated the principle of distinction between civilian and military objects and amounted to the grave breach of “extensive destruction … of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly”. Israeli forces further violated the right to adequate housing of the families concerned.

54. The attacks on industrial facilities, food production and water infrastructure investigated by the Mission are part of a broader pattern of destruction, which includes the destruction of the only cement packaging plant in Gaza (the Atta Abu Jubbah plant), the Abu Eida factories for ready-mix concrete, further chicken farms and the Al Wadia Group’s foods and drinks factories. The facts ascertained by the Mission indicate that there was a deliberate and systematic policy on the part of the Israeli armed forces to target industrial sites and water installations.
Beyond that, the rhetoric of the House Resolution is stilted, to say the least. Check out this gem:


Whereas, notwithstanding a great body of evidence that Hamas and other violent Islamist groups committed war crimes by using civilians and civilian institutions, such as mosques, schools, and hospitals, as shields, the report repeatedly downplayed or cast doubt upon that claim;

Whereas in one notable instance, the report stated that it did not consider the admission of a Hamas official that Hamas often `created a human shield of women, children, the elderly and the mujahideen, against [the Israeli military]' specifically to `constitute evidence that Hamas forced Palestinian civilians to shield military objectives against attack.'
If these civilians are being used unwillingly as shields, then we could say they were forced. Unfortunately for the most part they aren't being forced. They just happen to be where the militants choose to attack from. There is a broad base of support for the militants. If Israel cared at all about the lives of these civilians, they wouldn't use such indiscriminate forms of retaliation. Protecting the lives of Israeli soldiers at the cost of lives of Palestinian civilians is only justifiable as part of a regime that treats Palestinians as less than human. Soldiers and Police are not a noble caste more deserving of life than others. Therefore, they are not justified to indiscriminately kill merely to maximize the chance of preserving their own lives. But this observation and its competitors in the arena of justification for deadly force are really beside the point.

An Israeli counter-strikes arriving minutes or hours after the rockets have been fired by the militants can't hope to strike the actual perpetrators. Any impartial analysis should see this as nothing more than a reprisal. When all the evidence is considered, it is clear that Israel thinks of Palestinians as nothing more than animals. Without the international community's watchful gaze, these animals would be exterminated.

If anything, Goldstone's report is biased against the Palestinian people. Goldstone had to work with what was available. He addresses these concerns in his discussion of Obligation to take Feasible Precautions.

Moving on...


Whereas even though Israel is a vibrant democracy with a vigorous and free press, the report of the `fact-finding mission' erroneously asserts that `actions of the Israeli government * * * have contributed significantly to a political climate in which dissent with the government and its actions * * * is not tolerated';
Goldstone (p. 6, 35, 65, 482, 489):
8. The Mission repeatedly sought to obtain the cooperation of the Government of Israel. After numerous attempts had failed, the Mission sought and obtained the assistance of the Government of Egypt to enable it to enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing.

116. The Government of Israel imposed a ban on media access to Gaza following 5 November 2008. Further, access was denied to human rights organizations and the ban continues for some international and Israeli organizations. The Mission can find no justifiable reason for this denial of access. The presence of journalists and international human rights monitors aides the investigation and wide public reporting of the conduct of the parties to the conflict and their presence can inhibit misconduct. The Mission observes that Israel, in its actions against political activists, NGOs and the media, has attempted to reduce public scrutiny of its conduct both during its military operations in Gaza and the consequences that these operations had for the residents of Gaza, possibly seeking to prevent investigation and public reporting thereon.

207. The two-tiered civil status under Israeli law, favouring “Jewish nationals” (le’om yehudi) over persons holding Israeli citizenship (ezrahut), has been a subject of concern under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, particularly those forms of discrimination carried out through Israel’s parastatal agencies (World Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency, Jewish National Fund and their affiliates), which dominate land use, housing and development.(59) The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also has recognized that Israel’s application of a “Jewish nationality” distinct from Israeli citizenship institutionalizes discrimination that disadvantages all Palestinians, in particular, refugees.(60)

1755. The Mission received reports of 20 prominent activists and political figures within the Palestinian community being called in for interrogation by the Shabak and being questioned about their political activities.(1106) It has also received reports of younger political activists having been taken for interview and asked to collaborate with the Israeli authorities. In the case of student activists, the offer of collaboration was accompanied by the threat of arrest or of future difficulties in continuing their studies.(1107)

1784. To date, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem have been denied access to Gaza to collect data for their independent investigations into allegation of war crimes committed by both the Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups.

Hamas is the closest thing to a legitimate government of Palestine. Civilians, terrorists, and militant palestinians alike are opposed to Israeli occupation. Since they have no democratic rights to vote as equal citizens of Israel, the only alternative is for them to form their own government. That government's attitude toward foreign powers is not a factor in its legitimacy.

In order to understand the context of various claims and to see what crimes are really being alleged, one must assume some stance of impartiality. There are basically two options: either recognize the Palestinans as deserving equal rights in the nation of Israel or recognize them as having the same claim to legitimate government that Israel does, having a national will that stands on equal footing with the goals of the Israeli state. Israel has no more right to destroy that Government in response to terrorist incidents than Hamas - or any other militant group - has the right to destroy the Government of Israel in response to Israel's terroristic activity.

Overall, this report has been a good read, although somewhat too exhaustive at times to be much of a casual romp.

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