Sunday 20 September 2009

The Goldstone Farce

The establishment of the UN Fact Finding Commission on the Gaza Conflict by the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations was accompanied by a great deal of scepticism. I also felt these sceptical pangs as I considered this strange decision on the part of the UN. I decided, however, that I would give it the benefit of the doubt in the hope that this would allow the world to really see Operation Cast Lead for what it was - an attempt to return peace and security to the citizens of southern Israel. After all, they were forced to endure years of insecurity with the incessant firing of rockets and other missiles randomly into civilian areas.

Judge Richard Goldstone was appointed as head of the Commission. I have in common with him the fact that he is Jewish and South African by birth, but it seems that we have little else in common. On the face of it, his extensive experience makes him an ideal person to head the Commission. He is a former judge of South Africa's Constitutional Court and he was a prosecutor in the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. It did not take long, however, for it to become clear that the intentions of the UN were not to undertake an objective enquiry. Goldstone's anti-Israel bias made him a perfect person for the UN to appoint to ensure that their objective was achieved.

The Israeli government saw from a very early stage that the main purpose of the commission was to criticise the actions of the Israeli government and army, and hang them out to dry. As a result, they decided not to cooperate with the commission. This decision has been criticised by various parties, but I feel that it was the right decision. There is no reason to cooperate and to provide confidential information to an investigation when the purpose of this cooperation is to simply use it against you at every opportunity.

When the Goldstone Commission findings were published, many inches of newspaper columns were devoted to the one-sided nature of its findings. The Israeli government immediately went into attack mode to defend itself against the ridiculousness of the report. I decided that I wish to read the report myself, and not to rely on the filtered impressions of journalists and political commentators. I did manage to read the executive summary of the report, but only just. The truth is that I found it to be so openly biased and lacking in objectivity that I could not read any more.

A shocking aspect of the report for me was the fact that the UNHRC set a brief for the commission to cover only the events between 27 December 2008 (the date of Israel's invasion of Gaza) and 18 January 2009 (the date of the cessation of Operation Cast Lead). This simply ignores the reason for the invasion and the events that caused the Israeli government to decide to attack Gaza. In fairness to the commission, it did examine these contributing events (although in a very cursory manner) and even concludes that the firing of the rockets onto the Israeli civilian population is a violation of international law. The Commission even devoted a few lines of its report to the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. Here, the language is much less forthright and the Commission says that he should be treated humanely and that the ICRC should be allowed to visit him. The report is, however, a catalogue of criticisms of Israel and the way in which it conducted its war. It even criticises Israel's specific attempts to avoid civilian casualties despite the use of civilian locations by the Hamas militants to fire their rockets and fight their battles.

For me, however, the biggest omission of the report is a recognition of the simple right that Israel has to exist in peace. The fact that Hamas continues to deny Israel this right in a public and unashamed way is surely the main contributing factor to the ongoing conflict. If it was not for the fact that Hamas wishes to destroy Israel or to see it destroyed, it would not spend more of its time attacking Israel and Israeli civilians than it does on looking after its own people. This is what justifies its bombing of Israeli civilians to cause terror and insecurity. This, in turn, is what forced Israel to attack Gaza. Surely Goldstone can understand this?

The Goldstone Commission report is indeed unfortunate. This is not only because it fails to address the key underlying cause of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza (and the Middle East conflict), or to treat Israel's actions in an objective manner. Having read parts of the report, it is not clear to me why the Commission was established at all. What was the purpose of the Commission? It is surely not too difficult to find evidence of acts of war during a war. Wars are inevitably situations which bring out the worst in people. We don't require commissions of enquiry to prove this. So why appoint a commission to prove that acts of war were committed during a war? And once this is proved, what happens next? Should governments and armies be prosecuted for acting to protect their citizens? Which conflicts justify the appointment of such a commission, and which conflicts need not have commissions of enquiry? Why was the Russian invasion of Georgia not subject to a similar commission? Will the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have commissions appointed? I suspect not.

Unfortunately the UN continues to show its bias against Israel. This bias not only manifests itself in the report by the Goldstone Commission, it shows itself in the number of anti-Israel resolutions that have been passed. This does not even consider the huge number of resolutions that have been defeated due to vetoes being exercised. As a body that is theoretically unbiased and a protector of the rights of nations and peoples, the UN could do well to make clear the fact that Israel has a right to exist in peace. Is this too much to ask?

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