New attack on the Goldstone report – it’s thwarting Israeli debate and reflection over Gaza

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I wish Phil had been right yesterday when he said the New York Times just wants the Goldstone report to go away. At least then we could have avoided David Landau’s misguided piece of liberal hasbara that appears in today’s Opinion section. Titled "The Gaza Report’s Wasted Opportunity," the article opens a new, bewildering front of the Israeli attack on Goldstone – he is cutting off Israeli debate over Gaza. Landau:

Judge Goldstone’s real mandate was, or should have been, to bring Israel to confront this fundamental question, a question inherent in the waging of war by all civilized societies against irregular armed groups. Are widespread civilian casualties inevitable when a modern army pounds terrorist targets in a heavily populated area with purportedly smart ordnance? Are they acceptable? Does the enemy’s deployment in the heart of the civilian area shift the line between right and wrong, in morality and in law?

These were precisely the questions that Israeli politicians and generals wrestled with in Gaza, as others do today in Afghanistan.

It is possible, and certainly arguable, that the Israeli policymakers, or individual Israeli field commanders in isolated instances, pushed the line out too far.

But Judge Goldstone has thwarted any such honest debate — within Israel or concerning Israel. His fundamental premise, that the Israelis went after civilians, shut down the argument before it began.

Here Landau repackages the common Israeli line that their military is the most moral in the world (while convieniently hedging that if Israel is at fault so is the US!). But is it true that Israeli politicians and generals "wrestled" with these questions in Gaza? Go to the IDF’s website and read the conclusion to their internal investigation of the fighting:

The investigations showed that throughout the fighting in Gaza, the IDF operated in accordance with international law. The IDF maintained a high professional and moral level while facing an enemy that aimed to terrorize Israeli civilians whilst taking cover amidst uninvolved civilians in the Gaza strip and using them as human shields. Notwithstanding, the investigations revealed a very small number of incidents in which intelligence or operational errors took place during the fighting. These unfortunate incidents were unavoidable and occur in all combat situations, in particular of the type which Hamas forced on the IDF, by choosing to fight from within the civilian population.

Doesn’t seem like too much wrestling took place. Actually, it seems much more along the lines of Golda Meir’s quip – "it will be [hard] for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons." Ilene Cohen comments:

The war ended eight months ago. The argument "never began" months before Goldstone came on the scene. Report after report from Israeli and international human rights groups, and reports from IDF soldiers themselves simply recounting the ugly way they did business with ordinary Gazans–all of this generated no argument or discussion–only rapid dismissal of the reporting bodies and condemnations of them as "biased," anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist. You name it. There has been no argument, other than about trivial side issues.

But Landau doesn’t claim that it was only Israeli politicians and generals who struggled over these issues, but the Israeli populace at large:

This is regrettable, for the report could have stirred the conscience of the nation. Many Israelis were dismayed at the war’s casualty figures, at the disparity between the dozen deaths on the Israeli side and the thousand-plus deaths, many of them of noncombatants, in Gaza.

Many Israelis were profoundly troubled by this arithmetic even though they supported Israel’s resort to arms in the face of incessant violation of their sovereign border by Hamas’s rain of rockets.

I can’t say this is exactly how I remember it. I asked Rebecca Vilkomerson, who was living in Tel Aviv this past winter, if this fits with how she remembered Israeli society during the Gaza attack:

That one quote is on the one hand somewhat true but on the other hand, completely wrong. Something like 94% (or 97? can’t remember now) of the Jewish Israeli population supported the war. It is true that some of them were disturbed by the number of casualties–for example, Peace Now at first refused to protest the war but once the ground invasion started they joined the protests. and what is also true is that there were some major protests (10,000 in tel aviv the afternoon before the ground invasion, on that same day about 75,000 in a northern Palestinian Arab town that was mostly non-jewish protesters). Those are pretty big protests for a country that size, and every day there were many small protests all over the country. At the time I remember being very frustrated at how underplayed those protests were. The drive for consensus was so strong, and it felt like the undercoverage of the protests made it harder for those who were uncomfortable about the war to come out against it (the thrown eggs and spit probably didn’t help either). So there was a notable donut hole of an anti-war movement (especially if you "count" the Arab citizens, which most people don’t), but it was engulfed by a vociferous donut of almost violent war supporters (sorry for the weird metaphor). It is the height of cynicism now for Israel defenders to use these protesters as an argument for general Israeli consciousness during the war.

Vilkomerson also added a point similar to Cohen’s – "Plus, the Goldstone report is hardly the first. The Breaking the Silence report, which consisted entirely of soldiers’ testimonies, was equally attacked, and there is no one revered more than soldiers. So I don’t think the problem is the form of the report, the problem is that no one wants to acknowledge the truth."

Ah, to acknowledge the truth. So far, none of Goldstone’s critics have actually challenged the facts of his report, but instead attacked the messenger. Landau criticizes Goldstone for not accepting Israel’s own myths about itself. At what point can we actually discuss what Goldstone had to say?

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