Ha'aretz, Monday 26 October 2009
As occupier, Israel must face up to Goldstone report
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz Correspondent
Goldstone was born in June 1967. I am not referring to the judge from South Africa, but to his report, or more precisely, the notion that Israel needs a synonym for the soul-searching it must carry out after 42 years of occupation. In the 575 pages of the report that is loaded with details, names, numbers, a list of weapons, interrogation methods and articles of international law, three paragraphs hide among the conclusions on pages 521 and 522, numbered 1674 to 1676. Here lies the explanation for the tragic results of Operation Cast Lead.
In those paragraphs Goldstone uses the term "continuum" to establish that the operation cannot be understood on its own without assessing it as part of a chain of events, which also includes the complete closure of the Gaza Strip for three years, the policy of razing homes, the arrests, the interrogations and torture, not only in the Gaza Strip but also in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In short, Operation Cast Lead is not an "incident." It is a link in a chain as old as the occupation itself.
The equation Israel is demanding - between those wounded in the Gaza operation and those wounded in Sderot, between the Qassams and the F-16s, between the mortars and the tank that killed three of Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish's daughters, between Hamas and Israel - betrays a poor understanding of the report's essence. Goldstone puts the symptom under the microscope and derives the illness. The result is a textbook whose title should have been "A manual for the occupier in the fifth decade."
Unfortunately for us, the publication of this tome, not its content, has given rise to competition between Israel and other countries: The issue that concerns Israel is no longer the shocking description of the events, but if and where the report will be deliberated, and who will vote for or against. Israel has a score to settle with everyone except itself. Israel is fighting against the microscope.
And the medicine? That, too, is typical. After blaming the messenger, there is a need to look for a real culprit, who has already been found. The occupied and their violent messengers are to blame. They are the ones who attack from schools and mosques, who carry bombs in ambulances and who dare to oppose the occupation using unacceptable means, leaving no option but to kill them without discrimination. If this is so, then it is not the nature of warfare that needs to be changed but the laws that limit it. To legalize the illegitimate war. And a strategy to this end is taking shape called "asymmetric warfare" - an army against groups, an army against civilians; all that is left is for an army of legal experts to develop new legislation and provide new legitimacy to kill indiscriminately, sending Goldstone to the trash bin.
It is interesting that only after the Goldstone report has the question of the laws of warfare been raised. Why was there no initiative after tragic strikes like the one in the southern Lebanese village of Qana? Why not after the Israeli bombing that produced the story about the "slight shudder on the wing" that brought down an apartment building housing civilians in the Gaza Strip? Why not after the no-limits bombing of Lebanon? In part because at that time there was still a sense of clarity that there must be an uncompromising standard to establish what is and is not allowed, and that this distinction cannot be blurred. But this distinction is increasingly becoming blurred. Were it not, a commission of inquiry would have already been set up in Israel, not to impress the world's nations after the publishing of a condemning report, but to bolster the standards of humanity.
One more matter is puzzling. Why has the issue been directed against Israel and not, for example, the United States or Britain? Many Iraqi, Afghani and Pakistani civilians - their numbers are uncertain - have been killed in indiscriminate bombings by foreign armies. No official international investigation committee has been set up to examine the conduct of the U.S. or British armies. The reason is that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan enjoy international legitimacy, to some extent in the eyes of the local people. More importantly, the occupation in Iraq has a defined termination date. The Israeli occupation, on the other hand, gives off signs of being eternal. Disgust at this is powerful enough to affect even our friends.