On Friday, Richard Goldstone penned an opinion piece in the Washington Post, in which he applauded Israel for investigating many of the incidents that were described as possible war crimes during the 2008/2009 war between Israel and Hamas in the Goldstone Report. Consequently, the government of Israel is claiming that it did no wrong during the war that killed 1,400 Palestinians and is demanding that the UN retract the initial report. While it is true that Israel investigated certain incidents – and should receive credit for doing so – Goldstone’s piece in the Post offers very little that would make Israel’s conduct during the war any less atrocious. To be fair, Hamas, during the war, indiscriminately targeted Israeli citizens by launching nearly 8,000 rockets into southern Israel since 2001. Moreover, since the end of the war – unlike Israel – Hamas did little to investigate possible cases of war crimes. But should the UN retract the initial report? Absolutely not, as it still documents the complete lack of concern for the safety of Palestinian civilians. Israel’s investigations do little to counter this.
As Yaniv Reich says, the opinion piece by Goldstone “is so patently obvious as to be meaningless.” Goldstone focuses on three major areas of his initial report in his latest piece: investigations into the allegations of war crimes, the intentional targeting of Palestinian civilians by Israel, and the unwillingness of Hamas to cooperate or follow up on with investigations. Goldstone, however, only covers one of the possible seven war crimes in his opinion piece – the intentional targeting of civilians. He does not mention: (1) the siege on Gaza which is a form of collective punishment for all Palestinians in Gaza; (2) the targeting of political and civilian infrastructure that cannot be considered part of Hamas’ military apparatus; (3) insufficient effort by Israel to protect civilians; (4) indiscriminate attacks that killed many civilians – even if killing civilians was not the aim of the attacks; (5) the Israeli use of certain weapons – such as white phosphorus in ways that violate international law; and (6) Israel’s deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure. All of these allegations were included in the original Goldstone report, though only the claim of intentionally targeting civilians was covered in the opinion piece. For more on each of these allegations, I direct you to Reich, who details each allegation.
Israel has shown that it was not an official policy of the IDF to kill civilians, though as the McGowen Davis report (McGowen Davis chairs the committee that monitors Goldstone’s original recommendation) show, the Israeli investigations were far from independent or thorough (see Reich and Horowitz). Put another way, inadequate Israeli investigations have shown that the IDF did not deliberately target civilians, but do nothing to vindicate Israel of the other allegations. Israel killed 1,400 Palestinians, including over 300 children, hundreds of unarmed civilians, 115 women and around 85 men over the age of 50. The sheer number of dead Palestinian civilians demonstrates the “low threshold” Israel held for attacking civilians (Goldstone Report, p. 16). The IDF “rewrote the rules of war” to minimize Israeli casualties (a goal of any government in war) by disregarding the long-standing rules of engagement concerning civilians in a war zone.
Put another way, Israel did not deliberately target civilians, but did nothing to avoid civilian casualties. From Reich: “there are nearly always instances in war in which certain operational orders and much stress, often combined with racism or other forms of dehumanization, result in civilians being deliberately murdered.” For example, the indiscriminate use of white phosphorus was not deliberately targeting civilians, though Israel knew than using the weapon in such a way would result in numerous civilian deaths. Is Israel vindicated because there was no official IDF policy to kill as many Palestinian civilians as possible? Is the absence of an official policy mean that Israel is not responsible for the death of hundreds of Palestinian civilians?
Israel – unlike Hamas – should be commended for investigating some of the accusations of war crimes – as flawed as these investigations were. Yet proving that Israel did not deliberately target civilians is certainly not the same as intentionally killing civilians. Despite its investigations, Israel intentionally killed – or at least did not try to prevent the deaths of – over 1,000 Palestinian civilians. Moreover, the investigations did not look into other types of war crimes that may have been committed.
Alex Kane notes that Israel has been killing civilians on a regular basis since the end of the war was well. In the unilaterally declared buffer zone along the wall in Gaza – a zone that prohibits use of 35% of the arable land in Gaza – Israel has implemented a free-fire policy on Palestinian land. Defense of Children International reports that between March 26 and October 14 of 2010, Israel shot 14 children collecting rubble in this buffer zone, on Palestinian land. A separate UN report on the buffer zone reveals that Israel has killed 22 civilians and injured another 146 since the end of the war.
Likewise, as both Kane and Reich detail, Israel’s behavior in the Gaza War is very similar to its attack on Lebanon in 2006, in which Israel used the Dahiye Doctrine to target civilian infrastructure as a means to deter military attack:
According to the doctrine, massive destruction is a necessary element for creating deterrence. The damage must be done not only to military installations, or explained by concrete military necessity, but must include civilian infrastructure so that reconstruction will be expensive and time consuming
In Lebanon Israel killed 1,109 – mostly civilians, injured 4,399 and created over one million displaced persons. The indiscriminate use of force against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Lebanon was never investigated and, without the Goldstone Report, it is likely that no investigation would have taken place for Gaza as well.
Adam Horowitz writes that Goldstone’s latest opinion piece is” confusing and potentially damaging.” It gives the sense that Israel did no wrong in Gaza and was following international protocol for behavior during war. This conclusion is incredibly misleading. The Israeli investigation did not detail the behavior of the IDF during the war. It did little more than prove that killing civilians was not an official policy. The opinion piece by Goldstone may give the impression that Israel is vindicated, but the country should still be held responsible for the lack of regard for the safety of civilians (as well as the six other charges mentioned above).
Of course, this does nothing to push Hamas out of the spotlight. Like Israel, Hamas committed many atrocities during the war for which they should be held accountable. The indiscriminate targeting of civilians by Hamas rockets is a war crime for which the leaders of Hamas should be referred to the International Criminal Court.
Yet how can one only attribute war crimes to Hamas (justifiably) while, according to according to Amnesty USA, Israel: killed Palestinian civilians using “high-precision weapons which are capable of pinpoint strikes and can hit within a meter of their targets and which have exceptionally good optics allowing those carrying out or directing the strikes to see the targets in detail”; killed Palestinian civilians using imprecise weapons in “indiscriminate and reckless attacks” (like those of Hamas) in densely populated areas; destroyed civilian infrastructure – leaving thousands homeless – in acts that “could not be justified on grounds of ‘military necessity'”; targeted ambulances and medical crews while they were trying to attempting to “rescue the wounded and recover the dead”; allowed injured civilians to die needlessly by denying “access to ambulances and others to trying rescue the wounded, recover the dead and bring aid to those in need”; and forced Palestinian civilians to be human shields.
The Goldstone Report documented these – as did numerous international organizations. An inadequate investigation that looked into but a handful of allegations does nothing to relieve Israel of responsibility of the atrocities that were committed against Palestinians civilians. Goldstone, in his opinion piece, wrote that the initial report would have “been a different document” if he had the cooperation of Israel in his investigation. This does not mean that he would not have found evidence of war crimes in Gaza. Israel and Hamas deserve to be condemned for their actions in the Gaza War. Israeli investigations and Goldstone’s new article do nothing to bring back to life the hundred of Palestinian civilians that were killed through indiscriminate force or that were left to die by Israeli forces.
Photo from Dittologica