It is right of Richard Goldstone to have published a clarification of his views
and enlightened the world that Israel is not an apartheid state, something I
never assumed he believed.
Being a South African who had the task of
leading his country through post-apartheid conciliation, Justice Goldstone knows
better than most what apartheid was, and as someone who is intimately familiar
with Israel and Jewish values, both in which he has a stake, he knows Israel is
not an apartheid state. It has racists, ultra-nationalists, prejudice and
discrimination, but not more than most countries in today’s Western Europe. At
least you can build a mosque here.
It is not in the apartheid context
that we remember Goldstone, but rather as the head of a hangman’s committee put
together by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in the form of the UN
Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, and its subsequent report issued in
September 2009. The report was highly critical of Israel, including charges of
deliberately targeting civilians and other “war crimes.”
surprisingly, it was less so of Hamas.
Despite a retraction of most of
its findings by Goldstone himself in in an op-ed piece for The Washington Post
in April this year, the damage was done way back in September 2009, when its
publication gave massive impetus to the campaign to de-legitimize Israel, and is
still a point of reference for many who remain critical of Israel, no matter
what the truth actually is.
It took the findings of a later UN panel,
this time an independent one headed by former New York Judge Mary Gowan Davis,
and with which Israel cooperated, to get Goldstone to write his
Goldstone claims in his article that had he and his committee
enjoyed the same level of cooperation in the first place, the entire report
would have been decidedly different.
Think what you may of Goldstone and
his motives, and those of the Human Rights Council that sent him, he has a
point. In retrospect, and this is the lesson to be learned from the entire
unhappy affair, Israel should have cooperated with the Goldstone Committee. It
had nothing to hide. It had evidence as to the true nature of every target
bombed, other than those destroyed in the heat of battle, and even here every
action and decision down to the lowest operational levels is carefully
Israel’s explanation for not cooperating with the Goldstone
Committee, was that it did not want to give it legitimacy. Unfortunately the
decision, if anything, accelerated the campaign to de-legitimize
Damage, once done, is hard to repair. We should have cooperated
Israel had every right to be outraged by the equivalency
the committee seemed to give Israel, a sovereign state and member of the UN, and
Hamas, a terrorist organization, and to be suspicious of the committee’s
motives, but it should have swallowed all that and realized the implications of
ignoring its presence.
The intelligence community, always quick to say
“no” when asked to part with materials, should have been prodded into releasing
the pictures and evidence it had as to why specific targets had been attacked. A
battery of lawyers from within the army should have been sorting and sifting
materials that could have been helpful to Israel of which there were many.
Mistakes were made during the war, but no attempt was made to cover them
On the contrary, Goldstone now commends the IDF for conducting over
400 investigations into cases of alleged operational misconduct during the Gaza
war, something that is very much part of the IDF’s internal ethos and considered
standard operating procedure.
Judging from the odd missile here and
helicopter attack there, another full-scale military operation in Gaza is not an
impossibility. Again, it will be against an enemy deeply entrenched in civilian
infrastructure one of the most densely populated parts of the planet. Another
Goldstone report would be almost inevitable and that time round Israel would do
well to prepare for it, no matter how infuriated by the terms of reference and
intentions behind such an investigation.
Now that Goldstone has told the
world we are not an apartheid state, and has disclaimed many of his own key
findings against Israel in the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict, one could expect some
respite from those who continue to question Israel’s legitimacy. This will not
happen. Those determined to blacken Israel’s name are impervious to logic, facts
or fairness. Israel, however, does not have to supply them with
Silence, when accused, is often assumed to be a sign of
guilt. Not accepting an international committee’s terms of reference, seems like
an evasion, an excuse.
Israel needs to be neither silent nor evasive; it
does need excuses. It needs answers to legitimate questions that arise from the
reality of asymmetric warfare against a ruthless enemy who has turned Gaza’s
towns and cities into battlefields, its hospitals into military headquarters,
and the homes of innocent civilians into secret caches for highly explosive
Israel has the intelligence and information on all this, and
next time it goes to war it would do well to pre-sanitize whatever intelligence
it can to help explain to the world the reasons for its actions in real time,
and not wait for months and months for Richard Goldstone to find his conscience.
Given the evidence the world will understand. It is time for Israel to stop
being its own worst enemy in this regard.
There are those who have
received Goldstone’s observation that this is not an apartheid state with glee,
as if Israel was being vindicated of some real and meaningful charge against it.
That Goldstone even had to write such an article is
Ostensibly he was responding to some obscure gathering in
Cape Town that met to perpetuate this calumny, but in fact gave the minor event
more publicity than the organizers could possibly have dreamed
Calling Israel an apartheid state is ludicrous, as any half-educated
Being charged with war crimes by an official commission of
the UN, however, is something else. Israel can do nothing to convince those with
closed minds that this is not apartheid South Africa, regardless of what
Goldstone writes. Israel is master of its own destiny, however, when it comes to
explaining its actions on the battlefield, and would do well to prepare for the
eventuality well in advance. In this regard, at least, Goldstone’s advice is
invaluable.The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute
for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. His most recent book,
Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, was published in September 2011.