Why Leah Goldin left the room and why you should care

They arrived with great anticipation of news, considering they would be meeting the individual who represents them and their missing family members.

July 22, 2019 21:50
Leah Goldin, mother of Hadar, speaks at a press conference, August 5, 2018

Leah Goldin, mother of Hadar, speaks at a press conference, August 5, 2018. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

A few days ago, the families of Hadar Goldin, Oron Shaul, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed were called in for an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

They arrived with great anticipation of news, considering they would be meeting the individual who represents them and their missing family members, internally and in the global arena, and who has the ability to mitigate their unimaginable pain and suffering.

In their joint, heartbreaking plight of their loved ones’ captivity, the families themselves are hostage to a genocidal terrorist organization, Hamas, and its official representation, the Palestinian Authority, which are in continued standing violation of international law generally and UN Security Council Resolution 2474 specifically; of moral imperative; and of basic human decency.

The families are victims of intentional and cynical use and abuse of the very same principles of international law, with the cooperation of the international community ultimately undermining those very foundational principles.

The prime minister offered to the families to appear in a UN Arria-formula meeting, to be convened by the United States, marking five years to Operation Protective Edge, which for them, and I argue for us all, is in fact not yet over.

After 30 minutes of listening and seething on the inside, Leah Goldin erupted, and left the meeting. What follows is an informed account of why she left, and why, in view of the upcoming elections and in general, you should care.

YOU SEE, Leah Goldin, accompanied by Prof. Irwin Cotler, international council to the Goldin family, already appeared at such an Arria-formula meeting, on December 22, 2017. In fact, UN Security Council Resolution 2474 (passed on June 11, 2019) reaffirms the basic principles of international humanitarian law (IHL) raised by the Goldin case and cause over the last two years. One can therefore understand the frustration at the proposal to do what has already painstakingly been done, and the outrage and pain of it being overlooked or ignored.

It is important to highlight that while the UN Security Council resolution deals primarily with civilians missing in armed conflict, and state responsibility therein, it includes repeated reference to the obligation to inform the families of the missing persons, obligation to respect the dignity of the remains of the deceased, and to the related and foundational humanitarian obligation to return the remains for proper burial to the family of the deceased.

Accordingly, Resolution 2474 can and should be invoked by the State of Israel, to support and strengthen the IHL arguments raised in the case of Hadar Goldin, which is itself distinguishable in that he was murdered in the course of a UN-mandated ceasefire, brokered by the US and supported by the European Union, which only underpins the responsibility of the UN and the international community in this regard.

Hadar Goldin, along with Shaul as well as civilians Mengistu and Sayed, are effectively the subject of this UN Security Council Resolution, which reaffirms the strong condemnation of the violation of IHL obligations in armed conflict, including the deliberate targeting of civilians or other protected persons in situations of armed conflict, which included Goldin at the time of the UN- and US-brokered humanitarian ceasefire.

These are the tools made available to Israel by international and internal legal activities, which it not only did not initiate, but which have thus far been disregarded and for which not only Leah Goldin but each and every citizen of the State of Israel must rise up and demand that our leadership take responsibility, lest we ourselves engage in the culture of impunity, with implications of grave magnitude, personally and collectively.

Further, UN Security Council Resolution 2474 explicitly calls upon parties to armed conflict to “take all appropriate measures, to actively search for persons reported missing, to enable the return of their remains, and to account for persons reported missing without adverse distinction and to put in place appropriate channels enabling response and communication with families on the search process, and to consider the provision of information on available services in relation to administrative, legal, economic and psychosocial difficulties and needs they may face as a result of having a missing relative, including through an interaction with competent national and international organizations and institutions.”

This call also engages the responsibility of all international and regional organizations, their representatives and other bodies involved with the situation in Gaza to respect, uphold, protect and implement these obligations, and infers the responsibility of the State of Israel itself in ongoing, direct or indirect negotiations and brokered “arrangements.”

IN VIEW OF current and future talks regarding the advancement of peace and prosperity in the Gaza Strip, and the considerable international involvement to this end, it is imperative to appreciate the UN Security Council resolution stipulation and its implications that “full and timely support for humanitarian components can be critical in ensuring and enhancing the sustainability of any peace agreement and post-conflict peace-building and emphasizes the importance of inclusion of humanitarian elements in peace negotiations and agreements, including the issue of prisoners of war, detainees and missing persons and others protected by international humanitarian law.”

Indeed, having regard to various multinational attempts to this effect in recent months, it is especially relevant to act upon the UN Security Council resolution’s underscoring that “accountability for missing persons as a result of armed conflict can be among the components of the design and implementation of peace negotiations and agreements and peace-building processes, including with reference to justice and rule of law mechanisms.”

In essence, the Goldin case and cause constitute – and this should be acknowledged both by the international community and Israel itself – precisely such a confidence-building measure, in any current and future processes to improve the situation in Gaza.

This is particularly true as Hamas, a genocidal terrorist organization, continues to target and hold civilians hostage on both sides of the Gaza border, alongside Hadar, Oron, Avera, Hisham and their families.

Moreover, and of particular relevance for Israeli diplomatic initiatives, the UN Security Council resolution explicitly encourages “the relevant United Nations secretary-general’s special representatives, envoys, coordinators and advisers to take into account, while implementing their respective mandates, the issue of missing persons as a result of armed conflict,” as well as requesting that the secretary-general “include as a sub-item in the reports on the protection of civilians the issue of missing persons as a result of armed conflict, including measures undertaken by parties to armed conflict in the implementation of the provisions of this resolution, and to brief the Security Council every 12 months on the implementation of the resolution, within the annual briefing on the protection of civilians.”

This expectation should be addressed in the context of the Goldin case and cause, especially by Israel, both in ongoing discussions with UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolai Mladenov and in any and all exchanges with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

We have engaged with many around the world, including the UN, member governments of the UN Security Council through the Arria formula, EU institutions and parliamentarians, US Congress, Canadian Parliament, and NGOs, whose responsibility Prof. Cotler addressed in New York earlier this week.

Given the submission of a detailed report to the prime minister and relevant ministers in January 2019, and the subsequent letter issued by former justice minister Ayelet Shaked on this matter, as we mark five years to Operation Protective Edge it is as timely as it is required for the prime minister, foreign minister, government of Israel and its representatives around the world to advance this case and cause with all deliberate speed, lest by indifference or inaction they, too, enable this standing violation of IHL and Resolution 2474.

The tools are readily available, and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. In order to uphold and protect Israeli domestic and international commitments, the government and relevant ministers must do their job and actively instruct and ensure that all its international representatives, in relevant organizations and institutions, utilize every available resource and opportunity, including this recently adopted UN Security Council Resolution 2474, to address and redress this foundational assault on international human rights and humanitarian law, the protection of human dignity, and basic human decency.

Not only Leah Goldin, but each and every one of us, has the right and the responsibility to demand nothing less of our leadership.

The writer is part of the legal team advising the Goldin family pro bono. A legal and social activist and publicist, she is researching the topic of free speech as part of the “Human Rights under Pressure – Ethics, Law and Politics” doctoral program and a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism. She was a Telem, Blue and White, candidate for the 21st Knesset.

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