Goldstone commission sees evidence of ‘persecution’

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When I visited Gaza last May-June, the destruction was so overwhelming and the sense of arbitrary punishment so high that I found myself using the word "persecution." It was clear to me that these people had been targeted as a people; the assault was an effort to diminish their life spirit in every way possible, including destruction of the family unit. What I saw reminded me of what I had heard about the Jews in Warsaw and in Germany and Austria in the runup to the Second World War. Those Jews were persecuted; and these Palestinians were too.

One of the surprises of the Goldstone report for the UN Human Rights Council is that it too talks of "persecution" as a recognized crime against humanity and says that Israel is likely guilty of this charge.

"Finally, the Mission considered whether the series of acts that deprive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip of their means of sustenance, employment, housing, and water, that deny their freedom of movement and right to enter and leave their country, that limit their access [to] a court of law and an effective remedy, could be considered persecution, a crime against humanity."

If you read the report– and I’m halfway thru–you see why they reached for this word. I will avoid mention of the killing of human beings. Other events plainly shocked the investigators. There is the case of the chicken farms that were "systematically flattened" by armored bulldozers, killing 31,000 chickens, 10 percent of the egg production for Gaza. Then there is the destruction of the Hamada Brothers flour mill, the only flour mill in the Strip–after the other two were forced to close for lack of supplies. The mill was warned on two occasions that it would be struck, and on each occasion the Hamadas called associates in Israel, where they are licensed to do business, and determined that no attack would be forthcoming. Though they evacuated their 50 employees. Then on the night of January 9 the mill was struck by several missiles and then by helicopters. The most important machinery was destroyed. The mill is still not able to operate, 9 months later.

The Goldstone mission found the Hamada brothers entirely credible. It asked Israel what was the purpose of the destroying the one mill that could produce the most basic staple of the Palestinian diet. The Israelis refused to respond. The commission concluded that the "wanton" destruction of the mill had only one purpose, to "put an end to production of flour in the Gaza Strip."

These are simple facts. They constitute a "grave" breach of international human rights law. These scenes were so shocking to the Goldstone mission that it extended its consideration of the Israeli persecution of Palestinians to the Israelis-only roads in the West Bank, and to the law that allows Jews from around the world to go there and take land from the Palestinians, with impunity.

How long can that impunity last? Our own country now seems to be standing with Israel in its disgraceful dismissal of this compelling report. Yet I am sure this cold account will be read for decades to come, as Jewish history.

When I was in Gaza, the persecution struck me as biblical, something that you read about in one of the horrifying stories of the Old Testament. The Goldstone mission saw the same Gaza I did.

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