The Gaza Report’s Wasted Opportunity
By DAVID LANDAU
Published: September 19, 2009
ISRAEL intentionally went after civilians in Gaza — and wrapped its intention in lies.
That chilling — and misguided — accusation is the key conclusion of the United Nations investigation, led by Richard Goldstone, into the three-week war last winter. “While the Israeli government has sought to portray its operations as essentially a response to rocket attacks in the exercises of its right to self-defense,” the report said, “the mission considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole.”
The report has produced a storm of outraged rejection in Israel. Politicians fulminate about double standards and anti-Semitism. Judge Goldstone, an eminent South African jurist and a Jew, is widely excoriated as an enemy of his people.
The report stunned even seasoned Israeli diplomats who expected no quarter from an inquiry set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which they believe to be deeply biased against Israel. They expected the military operation to be condemned as grossly disproportionate. They expected Israel to be lambasted for not taking sufficient care to avoid civilian casualties. But they never imagined that the report would accuse the Jewish state of intentionally aiming at civilians.
Israelis believe that their army did not deliberately kill the hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including children, who died during “Operation Cast Lead.” They believe, therefore, that Israel is not culpable, morally or criminally, for these civilian deaths, which were collateral to the true aim of the operation — killing Hamas gunmen.
It is, some would argue, a form of self-deception.
When does negligence become recklessness, and when does recklessness slip into wanton callousness, and then into deliberate disregard for innocent human life?
Note that we have yet to even reach the Palestinian starting point — target civilians deliberately… or, in short, terrorism. This simple observation, not on Landau’s radar screen because he doesn’t really think about Palestinians as human beings (i.e., moral agents), but only as victims (i.e., as innocent creatures), will become especially important in noting how the Goldstone Commission used the “T” wordonly to refer to Israel and never to refer to Hamas.
But that is the point — and it should have been the focus of the investigation. Judge Goldstone’s real mandate was, or should have been, to bring Israel to confront this fundamental question, a question inherent in the waging of war by all civilized societies against irregular armed groups.
“…that attack the civilized society’s civilians from within their own civilian population, making non-retaliation a recipe for further aggression and retaliation an excruciating moral dilemma.”
Are widespread civilian casualties inevitable when a modern army pounds terrorist targets in a heavily populated area with purportedly smart ordnance?
That, of course, depends on your definition of “widespread.” For the Sri Lankans, and their allies in the UNHRC, which commissioned Goldstone’s investigation, 20,000 civilians were a fair price to pay in order to wipe out the Tamil Tigers. Even by Palestinian figures — which are undoubtedly exaggerated — the Sri Lankan operation has “widespread” civilian casulties of an order of over 20 times the magnitude of Palestinian civilians.
Are they acceptable? Does the enemy’s deployment in the heart of the civilian area shift the line between right and wrong, in morality and in law?
Duh, yes. That’s the whole point; and according to the Geneva Convention, the civilian deaths are the fault of the military that hides among the civilians. The case for responsibility to the latter is further sharpened when the civilians among which the enemy army has hidden has voted in “democratic elections” for that army. But again, Landau poses the question as if it were answerable in the negative — “No, the enemy’s deployment does not shift the line [and allow attacks with civilian casualties].” For him, Hamas’ culpability does not even enter into the equation.
These were precisely the questions that Israeli politicians and generals wrestled with in Gaza, as others do today in Afghanistan.
Because the generals and politicians in Israel and the US live by principles that value human life even the lives of the enemy, and have free MSNM to keep them honest. They are, to a significant extent, self-policing, even when it harms them tactically (e.g., Abu Graibh).
It is possible, and certainly arguable, that the Israeli policymakers, or individual Israeli field commanders in isolated instances, pushed the line out too far.
But Judge Goldstone has thwarted any such honest debate — within Israel or concerning Israel. His fundamental premise, that the Israelis went after civilians, shut down the argument before it began.
This is regrettable, for the report could have stirred the conscience of the nation. Many Israelis were dismayed at the war’s casualty figures, at the disparity between the dozen deaths on the Israeli side and the thousand-plus deaths, many of them of noncombatants, in Gaza.
Many Israelis were profoundly troubled by this arithmetic even though they supported Israel’s resort to arms in the face of incessant violation of their sovereign border by Hamas’s rain of rockets.
Note three things:
- 1) the “many” Israelis represent, by and large, the amazing shrinking Israeli left where Landau hangs out; many more Israelis felt it was an unfortunate but necessary move.
- 2) they were profoundly troubled by the numbers, which are themselves, figments of PCHR operatives’ imaginationschanneled by NGOs and MSNM. Would they have been as troubled had the figures come — as they plausibly may — with a 3:1 combatant/civilian casualty rate, the best by far in the history of urban warfare?
- because Israelis have such high standards, they are troubled by figures which still have them in the front ranks of armies fighting against terrorist armies hiding among civilians.
Landau can only gaze, obsessively, at his own navel, agonizing over every Palestinian casualty. He welcomes the UN commission’s harsh gaze, because it can “stir the conscience of the nation.” But he would be incapable of saying,
- Had the Commission investigated more carefully the behavior of Hamas, and they ways it deliberately sought to endanger its people, they might have stirred the conscience of the Gazans, who voted for them despite (or because of) their open claims to want war with Israel, and of Hamas, who would stand before the court of world opinion, shamed for their victimization of their own people and their hypocritical accusations against Israelis.
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