My Word: And justice after all?

It’s a tragedy for Israel, which will never be able to undo the damage caused by the report drawn up by the panel Goldstone headed.

Judge Richard Goldstone 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Judge Richard Goldstone 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
Too little, too late. That was my first reaction when I read Justice Richard Goldstone’s April 1 Washington Post opinion piece, almost apologizing for his role in the UN commission investigating Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.
I later added “tragic” to my description: It’s a tragedy for Israel, which will never be able to undo the damage caused by the report drawn up by the panel Goldstone headed; it’s a tragedy, too, for Goldstone – no matter what he’s done in the past or does in the future, he will always be remembered for this chapter in his life; and it’s even tragic for the Palestinians in Gaza, whose leaders will continue to hide behind the report. Emboldened by the success of its own lies and aggression, Hamas will undoubtedly continue to invest its energy in trying to destroy the Jewish state instead of building something similarly successful for its own people.
It took courage for Goldstone to finally publish his reservations so publicly. Several people have claimed a part in Goldstone’s about-face, but only he knows what the turning point was: the latest barrage of missile attacks on Israel; the murder of five members of the Fogel family, butchered in their beds on a Friday night; the likelihood that Israeli soldiers would be forced to stand trial in the International Criminal Court in The Hague; or even just the approach of the Pessah holiday.
Whatever it was, it won’t help Israel much. Just look at how the Mohammed al-Dura story lives on despite the evidence that he was not killed by Israeli soldiers.
And Goldstone’s retraction was not wholehearted. He continued to blame Israel for not having cooperated with the commission of inquiry. This, indeed, might have been a mistake, but one hopes that as a judge in South Africa Goldstone didn’t condemn the accused simply because they refused to cooperate with the police.
Several lessons can be learned from the Gaza investigation – not least, that the UN has failed in nearly every respect: It should have acted to prevent the 80-missiles-a-day attacks on Israel, rather than jumping in to condemn the way Israel tried to defend itself.
It also demonstrates, yet again, that the UN has helped perpetuate the refugee issue in Gaza. Have you ever heard a UN official refer to the 8,000 Jews forced to leave the area during the 2005 unilateral withdrawal as refugees? The UN even has a Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, whose level of impartiality can be judged by its name. I attended a couple of seminars where it was represented before feeling too, well, alienated.
And the affair emphasizes the failure of international law to keep abreast of global changes in a world in which terrorist organizations are major players and (gasp) play dirty.
In his Washington Post op-ed, Goldstone wrote: “Simply put, the laws of armed conflict apply no less to non-state actors such as Hamas than they do to national armies. Ensuring that non-state actors respect these principles, and are investigated when they fail to do so, is one of the most significant challenges facing the law of armed conflict. Only if all parties to armed conflicts are held to these standards will we be able to protect civilians who, through no choice of their own, are caught up in war.”
And what if they lie when they “are investigated when they fail to do so”?
GOLDSTONE’S PARTIAL retraction made many of those who had supported his findings uncomfortable, but they quickly got over it.
I spluttered my coffee when reading the op-ed titled “Not so fast” by Kenneth Roth in the Jerusalem Post on April 4. In the piece, the executive director of Human Rights Watch said: “In fact, Israel’s investigations look good only by comparison with Hamas, which has done nothing to investigate its war crimes. As the recent UN experts’ report notes, the IDF has investigated the conduct of individual soldiers in some 400 alleged cases of operational misconduct in Gaza. But the UN report raised serious doubts about the thoroughness of these investigations. To date, Israeli military prosecutors have indicted only four soldiers and convicted three. Only one soldier has served jail time (7.5 months) for stealing a credit card.”
That the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slowly in Israel, I have noted before. But that just this particular soldier has ended up in a military prison (so far) does not seem to me an indictment of the system. If someone steals a credit card – in war or peace – it’s a crime. It’s a clear-cut case. They either did it or didn’t: They’re either guilty or innocent. It doesn’t need a panel investigating possible crimes against humanity to figure it out.
It’s a lot harder to investigate cases in which soldiers shoot civilians in an area where terrorists are purposely using them as human shields (and if you don’t believe me, ask NATO soldiers serving in Afghanistan, or Americans in Iraq. Ask Goldstone, for that matter.)
Combat soldiers have to take split-second, life-anddeath decisions, often in the most confusing of circumstances. The wrong choice could cost them their lives. War is hell, even without worrying about the devil’s advocates.
LAST WEEK I received a press release from a US group organizing a boat to participate in a flotilla to Gaza at the end of May. The ship is called The Audacity of Hope. “Flaming chutzpa” would be more appropriate.
The statement complained that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to stop the ships from sailing.
It declared: “The US boat organizers said that The Audacity of Hope and the entire flotilla ‘will sail in peace and with a single non-violent message, i.e., that the people of Gaza are entitled to the same life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that are the rights of every human being.’”
I agree. Too bad they elected Hamas.
Participants looking for “liberty and the pursuit of happiness” would be better off heading for Tel Aviv – particularly the women, Christians, gays and Jews (or any combination thereof). Hamas, after all, does not just try to ruin the lives of Israelis by supporting terror and rocket attacks: It also bans most of life’s pleasures for its own people under its increasingly Islamist regime.
No one would be surprised if it turned out that a Hamas member was behind the murder in Jenin last week of actor/filmmaker Juliano Mer-Khamis, the son of a Jewish mother and Arab communist father, who devoted himself to teaching theater and the arts to Palestinians.
And just to remind those whose sense of outrage is stronger than their sense of direction: Gaza doesn’t only have a border with Israel. It also borders Egypt, which did not struggle to get it back as part of the peace agreement with Israel, and still keeps this crossing into the de facto Palestinian state closed most of the time.
“Egypt has enough problems,” an Egyptian journalist once told me at a UN-sponsored meeting. “We don’t need the Palestinians on top of everything else.”
With Egypt and much of the Arab world in turmoil and desperately seeking liberty, the upcoming Pessah holiday is another reminder of how much we have to be grateful for.
I just hope that when Jews everywhere finish the Seder with the traditional “Next year in Jerusalem, rebuilt,” the UN and human rights groups don’t decide to launch an investigation.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post