Saturday, September 19, 2009

israel, the UN, and the gaza war

Richard Goldstone, the chief UN investigator, has predictably found that Israel (as well as Hamas) was guilty of significant atrocities in the last Gaza War. Predictably, not because Goldstone is biased or incompetent, as some have claimed, but rather because of institutional realities. Special prosecutors (investigators) nearly always find wrongdoing, if only to justify their existence: that Goldstone was working for the UN, and spoke primarily to Palestinian sources, pretty much guaranteed the rest. Israel is equally predictably attacking the report, with some Israelis and American supporters making the dubious claim that Goldstone is anti-Israel or a "self-hating Jew," whatever that might mean.

Having watched Israeli news coverage of the war, I have long believed that there was a disproportionate use of force by at least some Israeli commanders, and said so at the time. Still, it is hard to avoid a certain sympathy for the Israeli forces. Hamas having placed its launchers almost uniformly in populated areas--and having repeatedly attempted to lure the Israelis into booby-trapped civilian buildings--it would have taken a superhuman discipline for the Israelis not to have leveled the relevant targets, with whatever resulting casualties, instead. The report, which is written with the wisdom of hindsight, suggests that the commanders should have made a different tradeoff, presumably accepting (say) 10 of their own dead and wounded in order to avoid 50 or 100 dead Palestinians, depending on how the term "proportionate" is interpreted in this context. But any commander who did this would have been quickly relieved; American and British commanders in Iraq or Afghanistan have been considerably more trigger happy.

Still, these are factual points, which the Israelis would be able and willing to make if they conduct their own investigation, or (failing that) if they prepare a serious, point-by-point refutation of the Goldstone report. Instead, having failed to conduct a full-blown investigation, they are now compounding the propaganda defeat by making rather silly claims that Goldstone, who appears to be a Zionist and whose daughter speaks Hebrew, is somehow out to get them. A better strategy would be to present the situation that the Israeli commanders were up against and ask: would any other country, given the available options, have done differently?

Addendum: Israeli responses to the Goldstone report have been posted at the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs


At 10:51 PM, Blogger Marc Edelman said...

The more I read about the UN, the more I begin to wonder if the U.S. Congress was right to reject the Fourteen Points on the premise that world governance cannot work. I don't disagree that Israel is hypersensitive about UN findings. However, who can blame Israel given the UN's past history? The "zionism is racism" vote in essence was a vote of no confidence toward the country's very existence.

I'm also curious if you think the UN's one country-one vote mentality is a problem, considering the different sizes of different countries. I'm not sure it makes sense for a country with China's population to have the same voting power as one with that of Qatar (or for that matter for the U.S. to be treated as one whereas the EU is treated as many).

At 9:05 PM, Anonymous Ari Afilalo said...

I don't think the problem is that a special investigator has to find something to justify his existence. I think the problem is more deeply rooted in the increasingly fashionable comparison of Israel with racist, oppressive and clearly immoral regimes like South Africa. I don't think there is any way to condone the fact that Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and in return got Qassams and suicide bombers out of the Strip. To be sure, many Palestinians regret having voted in the Hamas, and did so out of frustration with Hamas rather than intransigence towards Israel. However, the concept of "disproportionate use of force" is inapposite in the Middle East. Hafez Al Assad flattened out his opponents and got quiet. If anything, Israel is mistaken in playing by Western rules in the Middle East. The only language understood there is force, power, followed by emotional reconciliation. Israel's "sin" lies in its insistence that it is a European force; let it be an Arab Jewish state, behave as such, and impose respect through force. Ari Afilalo, Rutgers Law School (Camden)


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