Critics who demonised Israel should say sorry


OPINION:Is it too much to expect a mea culpa from those who vilified Israel now that the UN Gaza report has been refuted?

IN SEPTEMBER 2009, the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, otherwise known as the Goldstone mission, submitted its report to the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. The report dealt with the conduct of the Israeli Defence Forces during its military operation, Cast Lead, which was mounted in the Gaza Strip in December 2008-January 2009. That operation aimed to end the eight-year campaign by Gaza’s Hamas rulers during which it had fired over 10,000 rockets and mortar shells from Gaza into civilian communities in southern Israel.

These attacks had escalated to such intolerable levels that Israel was forced to launch Operation Cast Lead, with the clear avowal that its target was Hamas infrastructure and rocket facilities. Then prime minister Ehud Olmert had already appeared on Al-Arabiyya TV to plead with Gazans to pressure Hamas to stop the attacks, while also making it clear there was no intention to punish civilians in Gaza for the actions of Hamas.

Nevertheless, the Goldstone report, a rush to judgment based on inadequate and one-sided investigation, alleged that Israel’s operation was “deliberately . . . designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population”, and accused its army of intentional targeting of civilians.

The report became the basis of massive negative publicity – around the world, including in Ireland – and of an international political and legal onslaught against the state of Israel. Unfortunately, at the UN General Assembly, Ireland was one of only five EU countries that voted for its adoption (eight voted against, while 14 abstained).

Now, in an article headlined “Reconsidering the Goldstone report on Israel and war crimes”, published in the Washington Postnewspaper and in The Irish Timeslast Saturday, comes a refutation of the findings of the Goldstone report by none other than Justice Goldstone himself! In an astonishing about-turn, the chairman of the mission has written that “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone report would have been a different document”. Among the key conclusions of Justice Goldstone’s revision are that:

* There was no Israeli policy to target civilians in Gaza intentionally, as originally alleged; and

* Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigating allegations of operational misconduct by its soldiers in Gaza.

One of the chief findings of the Goldstone report, which has fed much vilification of Israel, concerns the number of civilians killed during Operation Cast Lead. Relying on hostile Palestinian and NGO sources, the report had claimed that most of those killed were civilians.

Now, Justice Goldstone has conceded what Israel claimed all along: that Hamas’s own figures broadly confirm the Israeli military’s estimates that the majority of casualties were indeed combatants. (In asymmetric urban warfare against an enemy that embeds its military resources in the civilian population, accidental civilian losses are, tragically, all too possible, as events in Afghanistan and Libya continue to demonstrate).

In other points relating to Hamas, Goldstone now states:

* That Hamas committed, and continues to commit, “serious war crimes” with rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli civilians.

* That Hamas has conducted no inquiries into the launching of these attacks.

It is important to note the new information that has come to light is due to Israel’s taking the necessary time and care to investigate (something that the Goldstone mission did not do) and, where necessary, to prosecute. It would have done this anyway as a matter of normal procedure, and needed no UN report to coerce it into doing so. Contrary to the statement in The Irish Timeseditorial of April 9th, nowhere in his Washington Postretraction did Justice Goldstone refer to Israel’s more than 400 investigations as either “belated” or “slow” (though he did express frustration with their length).

Justice Goldstone weakly blames Israel’s lack of co-operation with his mission for the shortage of reliable evidence available to it. Yet, given the notorious anti-Israel bias of UNHRC, the body that set up and mandated the Goldstone mission, such co-operation would have been futile. In the first three years of its existence, 2006-2009, 20 of its 25 resolutions singled out Israel for condemnation, even as it ignored completely the genocide in Darfur and other massive human rights abuses around the world.

As recently as last May, Col Gadafy’s Libya was voted into UNHRC membership!

Justice Goldstone himself now concedes that UNHRC’s “history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted”. To make it worse, one member of the mission was already on record as having made up her mind as to Israel’s guilt. The approach of the Goldstone mission can be summarised as “verdict first, evidence later”.

Although Justice Goldstone says his report was “in no way a judicial or even quasi-judicial proceeding”, in fact it was eagerly adopted and exploited as a legal weapon by those only too ready to demonise and delegitimise Israel in the international arena. Huge damage was done, and the good name of a democratic state exercising its duty to protect its citizens was dragged in the mud.

In Ireland, a member of the Goldstone mission, Col Desmond Travers, testifying at the Joint Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee, drew a moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas, dismissed important Israeli evidence of Hamas behaviour as “stories” and accused Israel of an institutionalised and well-rehearsed policy of punishment of the Gaza population.

Is it too much to expect a mea culpa or two from those in Ireland who used the Goldstone report to spread calumny and hatred of Israel? Their readiness to rush to judgment and accept distortions, or outright lies, from sources hostile to Israel, and their lack of inclination to correct the record when the real facts later emerged, were on show again last year when the “Free Gaza” flotilla was intercepted by Israel’s navy.

Is it too much to hope that a more measured and critical approach will be adopted when the next floating provocation – a new flotilla disguised as a “humanitarian” venture – is staged next month?

Boaz Modai is Israel’s ambassador to Ireland

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