Goldstone Report Weekender: Weiss profile; Ratner on Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish; and Siegman discusses ‘delegitimizing Israel’

Israel/Palestine
on 29 Comments

As you probably know by now, our book The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict has hit stores. Media attention has started to pick up, so even if you can’t make it to Busboys & Poets in DC this weekend to see Phil, Laila El-Haddad and Phyllis Bennis, there is still plenty you can catch up on over the weekend.

Yesterday, Tablet ran a profile by Michelle Goldberg of “idiosyncratic and influential anti-Zionist blogger” Philip Weiss. Here’s a tidbit:

Weiss first became interested in Israel in the run-up to the Iraq war. “I felt there was some element of Jewish organizational life that was behind this war because it was good for Israel,” he says. The notion that the neoconservatives spoke for American Jews horrified him, and it imbued him with a sense of responsibility to speak out as a Jew. As he dove into books about Jewish and Middle Eastern history, he came up against what he saw as the essential conflict between Zionism and American liberalism—which, after all, defines itself precisely by its refusal to privilege any race or religion. Liberal Zionists are used to holding these ideas in uneasy tension. Weiss could see nothing but stark dissonance. “I don’t believe in the necessity of a Jewish state,” he says. “Most Jews disagree with me, and that is sort of the heart of my crisis.”

Also yesterday, The Nation published a wonderful piece by our co-editor on The Goldstone Report, Lizzy Ratner. In the article she recounts her relationship with Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, and takes a look at Gaza two years after Cast Lead.

From “Two Years After Gaza“:

Now, two years have passed, and Dr. Abuelaish is suing the state of Israel. He is asking for the apology he never got and for damages, which, he said, would go to the foundation he started in memory of his daughters. He did not want to sue. He still believes in peace and rapprochement. But he wrote in an e-mail, “I was forced to go to the court as I did not find any open minds, ears, or hearts from the Israeli government. I did my best for about two years to settle it peacefully. Unfortunately [I] did not succeed.”

That Dr. Abuelaish did not succeed should distress anyone with the slightest bit of empathy. And it should disturb anyone who cares seriously about human rights, peace and basic justice. Because if Dr. Abuelaish can’t find open minds, ears or hearts in the Israeli government—Dr. Abuelaish, who has continued to look for the best in Israel even after his daughters’ deaths, who has both prominent connections and international stature, who was nominated for a Nobel Peace prize—then who can? What about all the other victims whose stories are not as famous but are no less harrowing?

Certainly there are plenty of them: parents like Khaled and Kawthar Abed Rabbo, who watched a soldier gun down their daughters, Souad and Amal, ages 7 and 2, as they left their house, white flags waving; or women like Abir Mohammed Hajji, who lost her husband, young daughter and unborn baby during a days’ long odyssey to find refuge during the invasion. More than 300 Palestinian children died during those twenty-two days, and hundreds of adult civilians lost their lives. Another 5,300 Palestinians were seriously wounded.

In the wake of Cast Lead, there have been efforts to bring some kind of justice to bear for these victims. The Goldstone Report, the convulsive United Nations document that found that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes during the Gaza conflict, provided mechanisms for aiding and acknowledging the many civilians who lost lives, relatives, limbs and livelihoods in the war. These mechanisms included prosecution of perpetrators and compensation for victims—and helped earn the report the unmitigated condemnation of the Israeli government. And yet, while the Goldstone Report has been vehemently denounced by the likes of Alan Dershowitz and Benjamin Netanyahu as an attack on Israel’s legitimacy, its mission is far more simple and nowhere as sinister: it is to induce Israel, as well as Hamas, to take accountability, claim responsibility, for the many, many people who lost their lives in a torrent of disproportionate force—all in the hopes of preventing that disproportionate force in the future. Call it a roadmap to end impunity.

Be sure to read the entire thing here.

Finally, Alternet has excerpted Henry Siegman‘s chapter from the book. It is titled “Discrediting Goldstone, Delegitimizing Israel“:

The report does omit one salient set of facts from its discussion of the history and circumstances of Operation Cast Lead. But it is an omission that works to Israel’s benefit by failing to explore evidence that might have called the legitimacy of even a less lethal Gaza offensive into question.

The historical background to Israel’s Operation Cast Lead is not limited to the rocket assaults on Sderot; that is only part of the story. It must also include the role Israel played from the very outset of the Palestinian elections in 2006, which resulted in Hamas’s defeat of Fatah.

For all the talk of Israel as “the only democracy in the Middle East,” its government set out to undermine and subvert by violent means the outcome of that democratic election. In collaboration with the Bush administration, it mobilized, armed, and funded the Gaza militia commanded by Muhammad Dahlan, at the time Abu Mazen’s security adviser, in order to overthrow the newly elected Hamas government. When this plot failed, as detailed in Vanity Fair, and Hamas preempted the Israeli- and U.S.-sponsored putsch, Israel sealed off Gaza with the aim of destroying its economy and impoverishing its population. The expectation was that the suffering it is inflicting on Gaza’s civilians would turn them against Hamas.

Israel’s claim that Operation Cast Lead was its only way of ending Hamas’s assault on Israeli civilians was given the lie by Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, former commander of the Israeli Defense Forces’ Gaza division.

As reported in Haaretz on December 22, 2008, just five days before Operation Cast Lead, Zakai charged Israel’s government with having made a “central error” during the tahdiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce between Israel and Hamas. He argued that Israel had failed “to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip. . . . When you create a tahdiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues . . . it is obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahdiyeh, and that their way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire. . . . You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they’re in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing.”

The truce, which began in June 2008 and was due for renewal in December, required both parties to refrain from violent action against the other. Hamas had to cease its rocket assaults and prevent the firing of rockets by other groups such as Islamic Jihad (Israel’s intelligence agencies acknowledged that this had been implemented with surprising effectiveness), and Israel had to put a stop to its targeted assassinations and military incursions. This understanding was seriously violated on November 4, when the IDF entered Gaza and killed six members of Hamas. Hamas responded by launching Qassam rockets and Grad missiles. Even so, it offered to extend the truce, but on condition that Israel end its blockade. Israel refused. It could have met its obligation to protect its citizens by agreeing to ease the blockade, but it didn’t even try. It cannot be said, therefore, that Israel launched its assault to protect its citizens from rockets. It did so to protect the continuation of its strangulation of Gaza’s population.

This, too, is part of the history of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead. Its omission from the Goldstone Report no more compromises its findings that both Israel and Hamas are guilty of war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity than the omissions that so distressed Israel’s government.

If these pieces have piqued your interest, you can find out where you can buy The Goldstone Report here. If you already have the book and want to help spread the work you can follow it on Twitter, Facebook and even better leave a review on the website of your choice – we’re told it really helps!

    Leave a Reply