Rattling the Cage: Forget the inquiries - lift the blockade

Rattling the Cage Forge

The idea that's been kicking around here since the Goldstone Report came out - of preempting international war crimes trials with an in-house committee to investigate Operation Cast Lead - reminds me of the Nixon administration's attempts at damage control during Watergate. Like Nixon, we realize we can't "stonewall" this thing, but on the other hand we're not crazy enough to go the "full hangout route," so it looks like we're going to settle on a "limited hangout." In our case, a limited hangout would mean a committee headed by an internationally respected Israeli judge that would look at the IDF's conduct during the war in Gaza, that would call witnesses, but that wouldn't subpoena classified information or recommend indictments. Above all, it would be a committee whose purpose was to get Israel off the hook. This, according to Yediot Aharonot's lead story on Monday - headlined "The committee to defend against the Goldstone Report" - is the direction the IDF, Justice Ministry, Attorney General's Office and Foreign Ministry are going in. GOOD LUCK. They really think this is going to work? They really think this is going to get the world off our back for what we did in Gaza (and for what, with the blockade, we're still doing)? This is the sort of delusion that rises out of a bunker mentality. Nixon had his, we've got ours. Along with everyone else in this country, I don't want to see Israeli military or political figures being dragged to The Hague or any other foreign court, and I don't think they deserve to be. When the leaders of the US, Britain, Russia, China and all the other countries that fight immoral wars go on trial outside their borders, then I'll agree that Ehud Olmert and Gabi Ashkenazi should join them, not before. But a committee to defend against the Goldstone Report is really not the solution. The world would laugh at us, and rightly so, because such a committee would be a joke, a whitewash, a transparent farce. What sort of "investigative committee" is set up by the accused for the purpose of beating the rap? What sort of judge would sit on such a panel? If he was internationally respected before, he wouldn't be afterward. And from what various Israeli military and international legal experts have been suggesting, I'm afraid that such a committee might end up loosening the IDF's "rules of engagement" against urban guerrillas, relaxing the IDF's "code of ethics" to give it a freer hand against the likes of Hamas in places like Gaza. I'm sure that would go over beautifully with the UN or Amnesty International. But what worries me most about such a committee, about the investigations of individual misconduct during the war that the IDF is holding now - about this whole "limited hangout" approach, this determination to prove that Israel can investigate itself - is that it's all going to fall on the heads of the shin gimmelim, the gate sentries, the little guys. Operation Cast Lead was the culmination of a policy of harsh collective punishment in Gaza that's been going on for four years - since the blockade began on Day One after disengagement in 2005. Who's going to get the blame for that - the politicians? The generals? The 94% of the public that supported the war? No, if anybody's going to get blamed by these in-house investigations, it's going to be Sgt. Haim and Cpl. Itzik, who got a little trigger-happy and who will be punished with all the self-righteousness this country can muster. Everyone else will remain pure as driven snow and free to announce to the world: Case closed. And it won't do any good at all. What may, just may, get the world to ease up on Israel is if, instead of trying to whitewash the wrongs of the war, we try to correct them by ending the policy of collective punishment against Gaza - by lifting the blockade. By disengaging for real this time. By finally setting those people free. I think this would take a lot of the urgency out of the current demands for war-crimes tribunals. But even if it didn't, it would achieve something that neither a war-crimes tribunal nor a committee to defend against the Goldstone Report would achieve: justice. We may sneer, but then, we don't live in a giant prison.