The bombshell Goldstone reconsideration of nearly two weeks back is generating some great extended pieces of writing. I have now seen two of them. Norman Finkelstein has a paper on the retraction that he will soon publish; and I will be posting a thrilling interview with Finkelstein later today or tomorrow. Second, here is Jerome Slater. With patience and scholarship, he demolishes the retraction and emphasizes that war crimes were committed and builds to a majestic unassailable understanding that Cast Lead targeted the people of Gaza. I have excerpted the piece. The entirety is at the link. –Weiss.
In the over a year and half since its publication, none of the Goldstone Report’s major factual findings or the conclusions it drew from them have been refuted–and certainly not by the Davis Committee, which made no such claim. On the contrary, even during the attack major newspapers–including the New York Times, Haaretz, Israel’s most important newspaper, and a number of leading European newspapers–made it evident that Israel’s massive attack on Gaza was indiscriminate and aimed at a wide range of non-military targets. Since then, the Goldstone Report’s major findings have been confirmed by a number of investigations and reports of international and even Israeli human rights groups–among them several UN agencies, the Red Cross, CARE, Oxfam, Israeli Physicians for Human Rights, and Breaking the Silence )an Israeli military veterans organization formed after the attack on Gaza)–all of which not only confirmed but often added new details to the Goldstone Report’s factual findings.
In addition, the two most important and prestigious international human rights ngos, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, conducted extensive investigations of Cast Lead and issued long and highly detailed reports that were at least as damning as those of the Goldstone Commission: / Amnesty International: “Israeli forces committed war crimes and other serious breaches of international law in Operation Cast Lead….Among other things, they carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians….Much of Gaza was razed to the ground, leaving vital infrastructure destroyed, the economy in ruins and thousands of Palestinians homeless.”
Human Rights Watch: In a 110 page report on Cast Lead, HRW concluded that Israel’s “wanton destruction” of civilian infrastructure was unlawful and “can be prosecuted as a war crime.” …
The problem with the Goldstone Report was not that it was too hard on Israel, but rather that it was considerably too soft, and ducked some contentious but highly important issues.
First, while the report condemned the Israeli methods of warfare, it accepted that the purpose of Cast Lead was legitimate: Israel, it said, had a right to “defend itself” against Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks aimed at Israeli towns and villages. In his oped, Goldstone reiterated this argument: “I have always been clear that Israel, like any other sovereign nation, has the right and obligation to defend itself and its citizens against attacks from abroad and within.”
For several reasons, the argument is wholly unpersuasive. To begin with, it is based on the false premise that the withdrawal of Israeli settlements from Gaza in 2005 ended the Israeli occupation there, and that therefore the subsequent attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad could not be considered as resistance to occupation. However, there is a wealth of evidence–much of it from candid statements of high Israel officials–that the real purpose of the withdrawal of the Jewish settlements was to consolidate Israel’s continued occupation and ever-expanding settlements in the much more important West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In any event, even in Gaza there was no true Israeli withdrawal, for Israel retained control over Gaza’s borders, coastline, and airspace; refused to allow Gaza a functioning airport or seaport; continued to control Gaza’s electricity, water, and telecommunications networks; and launched a number of highly destructive military attacks. As the Goldstone Commission put it–notwithstanding the obvious contradiction with its assertion that Hamas attacks on Israel gave that country the right of “self-defense”–Gaza continued to be “effectively occupied” by Israel and was so regarded by the international community.
Consequently, the highly limited Israeli “withdrawal” from Gaza did not end the right of Palestinian resistance, for it hardly met the right of the Palestinian people as a whole for a viable and independent state of their own. The Palestinians living in Gaza are not a separate nation from those living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; to believe otherwise is the equivalent of believing that if in the 1770s the British had withdrawn from New Jersey but continued to occupy the remaining colonies, the residents of New Jersey would no longer have the right to take up arms in support of American independence.
Cast Lead–and all Israel’s other economic and military methods of warfare against Gaza–was not designed to defend “itself,” but rather to crush resistance to its ongoing and in some ways escalating occupation and repression of the Palestinian people as a whole. In that light, the Israeli attack was a war crime in and of itself–the crime of aggression–even if its methods of warfare had not also been war crimes…
That aside, Goldstone strongly distorts the essential findings of the Davis Committee. Adam Horowitz and Yaniv Reich have done a fine job of pointing to the differences between what the Davis Commission said and how Goldstone chose to interpret it, but I do want to add to their comments.
If anything the Davis Committee report should be read as reaching the opposite conclusions of the Goldstone retraction, both on the process of the Israeli military investigations and on their outcomes. The Committee begins by observing that while the Israeli Military Advocate General (MAG) had opened 52 criminal investigations, thus far only three had been submitted to prosecution, resulting in two convictions, one of them of a soldier who stole a credit card….
The Goldstone Retraction and Civilian Destruction.
It is important to bear in mind that the Goldstone retraction referred only to the question of whether Israeli policy in Cast Lead was to deliberately attack civilians, rather than to the issue of whether it deliberately attacked civilian infrastructure, let alone to the question of whether there was any meaningful distinction between attacking civilians and attacking infrastructures.
It is hard to believe that Goldstone was unaware that by limiting the issue to that of deliberate attacks, his retraction would divert attention from the more important point, namely that indiscriminate attacks, in and of themselves, are war crimes. Even so, was he right that the Davis Committee report demonstrated that Israel had not engaged in deliberate attacks on civilians, thereby requiring him to withdraw that part of the Goldstone Commission’s findings that strongly suggested that it had?
There is a wealth of evidence that there were a number of “incidents” in which Israeli soldiers deliberately killed civilians, face-to-face. This evidence is not limited to that gathered by the Goldstone Commission, but is included in the voluminous Breaking the Silence testimony of Israeli soldiers who personally witnessed such killings.
Nothing in the Davis Commission report challenges that evidence. In the only specific case that Goldstone points to in his retraction, the Samouni bombing, he claims that the Davis report shows that Israel is seriously investigating the attack, which leads him to be “confident that if the officer [who ordered the attack] is found to be negligent, Israel will respond accordingly.” However, as I have already discussed, the Davis Commission not only reached no such conclusion, its language clearly expresses skepticism of the validity of the Israeli “investigation” and the unlikelihood that any one will be punished.
To be sure, the Samouni affair does not demonstrate that it was Israeli government or military policy to directly target civilians, for the war crime was probably only the responsibility of the individual military commander who ordered the attack, even after having been warned by fellow officers that civilians were likely present. The Goldstone Commission cited other cases in which some Israeli soldiers deliberately killed unarmed civilians. Nonetheless, individual atrocities of these kind happen in all wars, just and unjust ones, and by themselves do not prove policy intent.
That said, for at least three reasons the Israeli government is by no means off the hook. First, the long Israeli occupation and repression had created an atmosphere in which the Palestinian people could be dehumanized and dismissed as nothing more than “terrorists,” subjecting them to summary execution by some trigger-happy soldiers. Second, individual atrocities and war crimes are supposed to be prosecuted by the armed forces or judicial systems of the states whose soldiers committed them: as the Davis Committee pointed out, in the two and a half years since Cast Lead there have been only two Israeli military convictions of soldiers charged with deliberate killings of innocent civilians, and no one has spent a day in prison for having done so.
Third, and by far most importantly, whether or not there was a policy to attack civilians directly, there cannot be the slightest doubt that there was a policy to systematically destroy much of the Gazan economy and civilian infrastructure, and to do so as a means of making it impossible for Hamas rule to succeed as well as to intimidate (“deter”) the Gazan civilian population….
Operation Cast Lead was only the culmination of a three-year period in which Israel engaged in economic warfare as well as massive, systematic, and deliberately indiscriminate attacks on Gaza, thus making the distinction between attacks on civilian infrastructure and attacks on people essentially meaningless. Consequently, Israel’s policies in Gaza constituted an intentional violation of the most important and widely accepted moral and legal principle that seeks to constrain the inevitable destructiveness of warfare: that innocent civilians may never be the intended object–direct or indirect–of military attack. When they are, we call it terrorism–or even worse, state terrorism.
Indeed, by accepting what might be called the liberal criticism of Cast Lead–that while its methods were dreadful, Israel did have the right to go to war against Gaza in order to defend itself–the Goldstone Commission failed to point out the true depths of the Israeli war crimes: the underlying purpose of Cast Lead was not “self-defense” but the destruction of all resistance to Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and its external control over Gaza by means of economic and military warfare, warfare that repeatedly provoked Palestinian resistance and retaliation.
For that reason, then, even if its methods had been pristine, Israel had committed the crime of international aggression. Indeed, in those circumstances it is not even necessary, in a sense, to examine Israel’s methods: if you don’t have a just cause, you are not morally or legally permitted to attack even the other side’s soldiers, let alone its people.