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Defending the indefensible

Following Richard Goldstone’s rather odd op-ed piece in the Washington Post, there is now a frantic campaign to overturn the UN’s “Goldstone Report” into Israel’s 2008/9 war against the people of Gaza. Leading the charge is a legion of columnists, public relations handlers, apologists and spin doctors intent on proving Israeli innocence of all charges contained in the report. Despite his established record for balanced analyses, the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland surprisingly made an uncharacteristic threadbare contribution headed, “Where’s the Goldstone report into Sri Lanka, Congo, Darfur – Britain?”

The article attempts to make three points: that Israel did not “intentionally target” civilians during the conflict but Hamas did; that war crimes are committed elsewhere so why single out Israel; and negate the centrality of Palestine in the uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa.


The insinuation that there has been no international action to prosecute persons suspected for war crimes in the three trouble spots Freedland names is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. In November 2010, Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse was forced, like several Israeli war crime suspects before him, to cancel a visit to Britain amid fears that he might be arrested for war crimes under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

In the cases of the Congo and Sudan, it is well known that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued warrants for the arrests of Bosco Ntaganda, the former alleged Deputy Chief of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), and Sudan’s President Omar Bashir.

In an interesting apparently unrelated development, a lawsuit will begin this week in a British court with five elderly Kenyans taking on the UK government over torture allegations during the Mau Mau rebellion against British rule between 1952 and 1960. Will such a case ever take place in Israel? How many Palestinians have been able to launch such legal action in Israel? Every attempt to take Israel to task in a European court has been met with protection and subterfuge from Israel’s friends, Britain included.

On the central issue of the ‘Goldstone report’, Freedland wrote with dismissive abandon as if it was a personal undertaking of the retired South African, pro-Israel, judge. He gives scant recognition to the fact that this was a UN accredited investigation. When he does, he reviles the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) claiming that it has “only one rapporteur whose mandate never expires”. If this was meant as a below the belt swipe at Richard Falk, the incumbent rapporteur, it too was simply not true; Falk was preceded by another legal expert, John Dugard, who has said that Goldstone’s op-ed in the Washington Post “makes strange reading”.

Freedland plays the victim card, claiming that Israel has, for years, been hounded maliciously by the UNHRC. The reality is very different; Israel has never been challenged or censured for any of its notorious crimes. The recent farce in the Security Council concerning its West Bank settlements speaks volumes. Fourteen members of the body agreed that the settlements are illegal based on a resolution sponsored by 130 member states of the UN, then along comes America and vetoes the resolution. Protection and subterfuge.

This latest abuse of a Security Council veto makes a mockery of the principle of justice and the rule of law. Susan Rice said the veto was not indicative of any support for the settlements. Perhaps that is true, but the US veto sent a message to the world that America will sacrifice the principles of its founding fathers in order to protect Israel from legal accountability for its crimes. In 2004, the US was no less generous in its patronage of the Zionist state when it defied the unanimous will of 14 judges in the International Court of Justice by abstaining on a vote which also declared Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories to be illegal.

The overarching reality about the Gaza conflict, which the Goldstone report failed to highlight, is that Israel, the occupying state, launched a war on the Palestinians in Gaza, an occupied people. The two protagonists were not the same, morally or legally, let alone militarily. For more than 60 years years Israel has maintained its military dominance over the people in the land it occupies, dictating and disrupting almost every aspect of their daily lives. Lavished with the most advanced and destructive weapons by the US, Israel has attempted to quell Palestinian aspirations for freedom in many ways. None have succeeded. In fact, the Gaza conflict confirmed Israel’s inability to accomplish this task. In this asymmetrical military and political conflict they have even been denied the right to self-defence and freedom, so in the face of such vicious serial attacks, should the Palestinians lie down and die like sacrificial lambs to placate the occupier?

The same do-gooders who deny the right of self-defence to the Palestinians stand on their moral high horse and proclaim the need to arm the Libyan opposition to defend themselves against the brutality of their oppressor. Suggest to these do-gooders, aka Western leaders in Paris, London, Berlin and Washington, that they should arm the Palestinians, then watch them squirm in their equivocation. Try to convince them that if the Palestinians had the same precision weapons as the Israelis it would reduce the chances of civilian casualties (“collateral damage”), and watch their reaction. In 1949, Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, said that his country’s security problem is “utterly unique and [without] parallel among the nations”. Politicians in the West, ever mindful of the Israel lobby’s ability to deliver campaign funds and votes, have swallowed that lie ever since.

The shameful bottom line in this latest debate about the ‘Goldstone report’ is that the world couldn’t care less whether a generation of Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip suffer from multiple trauma and psychological disorders because of Israel’s relentless night bombings and terrifying low-flying aircraft breaking the sound barrier. Palestinians in Gaza have almost become non-people. Moreover, have Israel’s apologists in Western capitals ever considered a no-fly zone over the Gaza Strip? Of course not; even though this is the longest running conflict in the world, whose impact cannot be grasped by the numbers killed but by the millions of lives it affects well beyond the region.

Surprisingly for such a prominent journalist on a left-of-centre newspaper, Jonathan Freedland’s article echoes far-right Israeli politician Avigdor Liebermann and other Israel officials: namely, that Palestine is not the central issue for the people of the region. Just five years ago, Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General begged to differ:

“We might like to think of the Arab-Israeli conflict as just one regional conflict among many. But it is not. No other conflict carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge among people far removed from the battlefield.”

More recently, Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Nabil El Arabi, was even more specific after his meeting with a Hamas delegation in Cairo. The humanitarian situation in Gaza, he said, is a priority for revolutionary Egypt. Despite their empty treasury and incalculable domestic challenges the message could not be any clearer.

It is right that the emerging orders in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere should first clear the decks, rid themselves of the humiliating legacies of the Arab-Zionists and then address the issue of Palestine. For decades the western-backed dictatorships have stood against their people in favour of Israel, maintained its blockade of Gaza, sowed division among the Palestinians and isolated them. There is no doubt that once the last of these double-agents have been weeded out Palestine will return to the political front line.

More than any previous generation, the Arab youth who are changing the status quo know that Israel does not only seek to occupy Palestinian and neighbouring lands. It also seeks to crush the aspirations of the region’s people for genuine independence and development. They recall that it was Israel who, along with Britain and France, launched the Tri-Partite attack against revolutionary Egypt in 1956 when it sought to nationalise the Suez Canal. Today, regional despots like Gaddafi use Israel as cover to justify their vile tyranny. On March 7, he told France 24 TV network that his violent crackdown on opposition protesters is akin to Israel’s efforts to defend itself from extremism during its war on Gaza. It has since transpired that he has been receiving military aid from Israel. As a result, Fatah has launched an investigation into its controversial operative, Muhammad Dahlan, for transhipping Israeli weapons to Gaddafi.

Meanwhile, Israel and its backers in Washington will continue to claim that this “Arab spring” offers a great opportunity for peace in Palestine. No one is impressed, not even the PLO which recognizes and accepts Israel on 78% of historic Palestine. For two decades the PLO has negotiated with Israel; all it got in return was the loss of ever more land. The PLO knows that the sentiment on the “Arab street” across the region is that negotiations have become an end it themselves and not the path to freedom.

In the end, that strange op-ed by the chairman of the UN fact finding mission, Judge Richard Goldstone, will not change the collective findings of the eminent team of investigators; Goldstone was, after all, but one of four on the commission. Apart from anything else, if there was no credible case for prosecuting Israeli war criminals, US envoy George Mitchell would not have browbeaten the Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in order to avoid the Goldstone report going to the International Criminal Court. Mitchell told Erekat on 21 October 2009, “You can go for a public statement. The ICC is a different thing.” Likewise, if there was no case to answer, the Zionist lobby in Britain would not have gone to such great lengths to ensure that the UK changes its laws on universal jurisdiction.

The simple fact of the matter is that Israel has plenty to answer for in the court of world opinion; it has displayed contempt for international laws and conventions for decades and it can only be a matter of time before it is brought before the International Criminal Court to answer for its crimes. The Palestinian quest for justice will continue because Israel’s friends cannot defend the indefensible forever.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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