Goldstone and the tribe

Israel/Palestine
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The call issued by angry human rights diehards, incensed by judge Richard Goldstone’s rebuttal of his own former ruling, solidified in its original undiluted form by his well-paid UN position, confirming Israel’s criminality in its attack on Gaza civilians, to dismiss him as a victim of senility makes my blood boil for reasons beyond my age-related infirmity of intentionality, the said judge being my junior by over five hundred days and much more capable of grammatical contortions in hiding what he wants to say so that you are at a loss as to where the subject of his sentence ends or senility sets in. Got that? And I am not a lawyer, mind you. If you didn’t get my drift, let me delve a bit deeper. Here is what the man says in a nutshell:

Although the Israeli evidence that has emerged since publication of our report doesn’t negate the tragic loss of civilian life, I regret that our fact-finding mission did not have such evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes.

Let us not forget that the man had proven himself beyond a doubt as a veritable artist at adapting to constricting circumstances, a first-rate compromiser and double-dealer if viewed from the vintage point of his former employers. Imagine serving for fourteen years at the top of the Apartheid court system and coming out smelling like a rose. I wonder if anyone has tallied up the list of all the blacks in South Africa whom judge Goldstone sent to jail while he deliberately “undermined apartheid from within the system by tempering the worst effects of the country’s racial laws,” as Wikipedia would have us believe. I actually appreciate the man’s slaving away at making a dent in the system while not abandoning his basic commitment to his own self-interest including, I presume, promotions and a better salary. In my delusional younger years I, for example, tried to work to improve the health of the Palestinian minority in Israel from within the Zionist state system while collecting a good salary and heading a good-size office. And I achieved some miniscule positive results. I appreciate the logical and moral acrobatics that such professional compromising exercises require. It is confusing and I can see why the good judge can’t quite come out and say what is on his cluttered mind at this late stage.

If I have lost you there for a moment, let me backtrack. The man never said he was anything other than Zionist. That does not allow condemnation of Israel under any circumstances. He seeks a moral compromise out of the conundrum: He makes his acceptance of the UN assignment to head the international committee to look into Israel’s possible war crimes in its 2008-9 war against Gaza conditional on investigating Hamas as well and the UN grants him his request. Had he relied on his common horse sense he would have saved himself and us all much time and effort: Hamas never denied targeting what Israel calls its civilian population. So what is there to investigate? Still, we all were impressed by the man’s conclusions putting the blame on both sides and implying equivalency between Israel and Hamas. Richard Goldstone must have thought this was enough of an achievement to blunt the expected outrage of fellow Zionists. Seen from Bibi Netanyahu’s angle this looks very bad for Israel and for Zionism. Richard was identified as another self-hating Jew and targeted for excommunication by the tribe.

I still live in a rural Palestinian community where the clan dominates social relations. For an individual to be shunned by his or her clan spells the ablation of that person’s social and psychological comfort zone. Imagine how much more painful it must be for one to be excommunicated by the entire tribe; your own family threatens to throw you out of your grandson’s bar-mitzvah, not to mention random threats of physical harm. Had Richard been physically eliminated, it would probably have fallen under the rubric of honor killing, not an unknown entity in tribal societies including my own. After all, it has happened in Israel before, and Bibi seemed to have given it an a’priori nod at the time. Would Bibi have named a major square in the center of Tel Aviv after the good judge had it happened to Goldstone before he found a way to appease his critics?

Let us not speculate. The fact of the matter is that Richard has wised up in due time and tried to recant. But he has his international name to worry about too. After all, the Palestinian National Authority saw fit to play with the man’s report as if it were a set of political playing cards, threatening to use it to trump Israel, then magically hiding it for a while and threatening to pull it out of a hat at the right moment. So Richard sets out to bamboozle all concerned with empty doublespeak. “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.” Wow! How profound. You could change a comma and, technically, it would be “a different document.” Yet the trick has worked wonders: It gave Richard another chance to come down on Hamas as if we all had thought he had fallen in love with them before. And Bibi is ready to accept the prodigal son back in the fold of the family, provided Richard issues a proper and full formal apology. The problem is that there were some other minor characters who had penned their signature to that document and some of them may not have strong tribal connections here.

It behooves the UN, and I hesitate to extend the generalization to the US, for that would render the recommendation impossible to implement, to refrain from putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop: You cannot appoint an avowed Zionist to investigate Israel unless you want to get a quick clearance. Mind you, I am not accusing my junior friend, Richard, with ill intent or anything unsavory, other than being a Zionist. What I am talking about is the standard precaution that we, physicians, are repeatedly admonished during our training to observe: Never treat a member of your immediate family, except in an emergency of course. The rationale is that you don’t want to let your emotions cloud your medical judgment. This is doubly so when we are dealing with self-diagnosis and treatment. And yet many physicians disregard such advice and treat their next of kin or even themselves. I recall the story in my medical training days in Boston of a third-year surgical resident at a Harvard-associated top-rate hospital who was fired for going overboard in disregarding the above accepted principle of professional conduct: He was caught operating on himself, lying supine on the operating table and using a series of large mirrors to enable himself to perform his own hemorrhoidectomy.

You shouldn’t have, Richard!

This post originally appeared on Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh’s blog A Doctor in Galilee.

About Hatim Kanaaneh

Dr. Hatim Kanaaneh is a Palestinian doctor who has worked for over 35 years to bring medical care to Palestinians in Galilee, against a culture of anti-Arab discrimination. He is the author of the book A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel. His collection of short stories entitled Chief Complaint was released by Just World Books in the spring of 2015.

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