During his investigations into possible war crimes committed by Israel and Hamas during Operation Cast Lead, Judge Richard Goldstone asked a group of prominent South African expatriates living in Israel to persuade government officials here to cooperate with his commission.
Goldstone told them the commission's findings and recommendations would be more balanced if Israel made its case.
The expats traveled to Jerusalem with the message, but after a relatively short briefing with Israeli experts, the delegation did a complete about-face and supported Israel's position of having nothing to do with the UN fact-finding mission.
The trick: Israeli officials briefed the visitors on what Goldstone's commission was already doing in Gaza, on the makeup of the UN Human Rights Council and on the rancid history of the HRC's deliberate targeting of Israel.
Officials in Jerusalem say the decision not to cooperate with Goldstone has been vindicated, because the commission largely ignored, or twisted, the information already made available to it to suit its needs.
Much information about Operation Cast Lead from Israeli, Palestinian and international NGO reports has been widely circulated. The IDF and the Foreign Ministry published volumes of information about Israeli actions in Gaza. So, the theory goes, imagine what Goldstone's group would have done with even more information provided by Israel.
Israel is caught in a no-win situation: There is a limit to the amount of intelligence it can share with commissions of inquiry without compromising operational capabilities and intelligence sources; moreover, if it does cooperate, there is still no stopping a biased investigative body from coming to its own conclusions.
On the other hand, the non-cooperation policy didn't really work either, as evidenced by Goldstone's harsh report. By not cooperating, Israel surrendered the initiative to NGO groups who fed Goldstone information, and also opened itself up to charges that it had something to hide. And talking about intelligence, minister of intelligence services and former justice minister Dan Meridor thinks that despite the Solomonic dilemma, Israel should have cooperated with Goldstone.
Incidentally, Hamas didn't cooperate with the commission, either. Goldstone wanted to interview Hamas combatants to question them about their fighting methods and rules of engagement; about whether they had booby-trapped schools, used mosques as weapons storage facilities, shot rockets from civilian homes, or hidden behind civilians while shooting.
But Hamas refused to provide anyone to interview.
Anger at Goldstone
In rugby, which is the national sport of white South Africans, players are penalized for an infringement called "playing the man without the ball" - which generally manifests itself in a late or unnecessary tackle on an opposing player. These illegal, usually bone-crunching tackles are used to instill fear and loathing in your opponent, to undermine his confidence. While they would like to, officials in Israel are finding it hard to tackle the man (Goldstone), so they are concentrating on the ball (his report and the organization that created it). Nevertheless, there is a lot of anger at Goldstone the man seething beneath the surface in Jerusalem's government quarter.
Goldstone, a practicing Jew and a Zionist, is described by people who know him in South Africa as a respected and brilliant jurist, something of an icon in the Rainbow Nation, where he headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He is revered worldwide as a champion against injustice. But the word that also comes up a lot when describing Goldstone is ambition. A lot of ambition.
It was not hard to find theories among Israeli officials as to why Goldstone would take on the mantle of leading this commission.
One theory is that Goldstone is aiming for a top job at the UN, possibly the secretary-general's office. His work on the Gaza report and the high profile it is receiving worldwide will boost his visibility and popularity, especially among the Arab and non-aligned states.
It could be that the voicing of this theory now is born out of the anger and frustration in the halls of Israeli power; frustration at being surprised by such a harsh report (officials who have read it say it's worse than the Arab League report on Gaza, which accused Israel of genocide). Israel didn't see what was coming because it turned its back on Goldstone. The Foreign Ministry, astoundingly, didn't even know Goldstone was going to present his report in New York; they thought he would do it in Geneva.
Goldstone's daughter Nicole, in an interview in Hebrew on Army Radio, offered a different theory about why her father had taken on the job.
"I know better than anyone else that he thought however hard it was to accept it, he was doing the best thing for everyone, including Israel," she said.
Goldstone, who is a trustee of Hebrew University, said at the time of his appointment that he was "shocked, as a Jew," to be invited to head the mission.
Today, as the impact of his commission reverberates around the world, the sense here is that he shouldn't have been shocked; that he was chosen specifically because he was a Jew, to give a semblance of impartiality.
In any case, the problem is not Goldstone, but the organization that appointed him, the UN Human Rights Council, which shows an obsessive tendency to attack the Jewish state. Top Israeli officials from various government bodies believe to their core that the HRC is an anti-Semitic organization to its core.
The UN is a cash-strapped agency always fighting to get its members to pay their membership fees. Increasingly the UN is relying on NGOs to do various forms of work. It outsources important projects to organizations whose funding and agendas are not always in step with the UN's supposed impartiality.
At the same time, the momentum of cultural, political and financial boycotts against Israel has been accelerating since Cast Lead. They range from film boycotts in Toronto to dock workers refusing to offload Israeli products in a South African port. The Goldstone Report has given a huge boost to this worldwide delegitimization campaign against Israel.
Israeli and foreign NGOs have already jumped onto its bandwagon. The two issues are linked: a cash-starved UN increasingly turning to independent NGOs to carry out its own work, and the growing power and influence of these groups, many of which are at the forefront of the anti-Israel campaign.
The mix is not promising from Israel's perspective.
Operation Keep It in Geneva #1
The day after Yom Kippur, the Goldstone Report will come up for discussion at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The best-case scenario as far as Israel is concerned is that the issue stays in Geneva, with stern condemnations of the IDF and perhaps other slaps on the wrist, and does not move to New York (the UN Security Council) or The Hague.
Israel and its friends will be lobbying the members of the council to keep the issue there, but the odds of that happening are not so good.
Operation Keep It in Geneva #2
Israel is not signed on to the first and second Geneva Protocols, drawn up in 1977. Israeli military officials perceive the Geneva Protocols as meant to protect so-called "freedom fighters," including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah and al-Qaida.
If Israel were signed on to these protocols, it would be much more limited in its ability to fight asymmetric wars. The reality is that Israel's close-circle enemies don't fight with tanks and planes - they fight guerrilla warfare using Palestinian and Lebanese civilians as cover.
Looking ahead, there is ample evidence of Hizbullah building a massive network of underground bunkers and weapons silos under a very large number of south Lebanese villages. Syria is doing the same on its side of the Golan Heights.
If and when the expected next round of violence comes, the IDF will have to fight in these villages, and there will be civilian casualties. Israeli legal officials say they would prefer to stick with the Geneva Conventions, but also want to make changes to the accepted laws of war.
Israel is currently fighting under, and being judged by, the laws of World War II, which are suitable for conventional wars between two or more armies in open fields, where it is easier to define proportionality.
But what do you do when terrorists hide under homes, or when they don't wear uniforms? What do you do when the enemy high command runs its operations from under a hospital located in a crowded neighborhood, as Hamas did during Cast Lead, using the basement of Shifa Hospital as a command and control center? It is clear that the existing laws of war are incompatible with the current and evolving nature of war.
For more of Amir's articles and posts, visit his personal blog Forecast Highs
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