By George Hishmeh
This was clearly illustrated at the recent meeting in Geneva of the UN Human Rights Council which endorsed a report that details evidence of war crimes committed by the Israeli army (and Hamas) during its assault on Gaza last December. Of the 47 members of the Human Rights Council, only 6 countries opposed the report, namely the United States, Italy, The Netherlands, Hungary, Slovakia and the Ukraine, while 25 others supported it, 11 abstained and 5 cast no vote.
The Council particularly chastised Israel – not Hamas – for failing to cooperate with the UN mission, led by the highly respected South African jurist, Richard Goldstone. Taher Al Nono, spokesman of the Hamas government in Gaza, said Hamas would investigate the recommendations of the report. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised a lengthy diplomatic battle to "delegitimise" the UN charges.
Writing in Real Clear World, a blog, Goldstone elaborated last Saturday his stance on the Council’s action, explaining that he was motivated to undertake the Gaza mission because he was "a Jew who supported Israel and its people all my life." He recalled that he had investigated "serious violations of international law in his own country, South Africa, and in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda as well as cases of "fraud and theft by governments and political leaders … in connection with the UN Iraq Oil for Food programme." He had also pointed out that he had spoken on behalf of the International Bar Association against human rights violations in many countries, including Sri Lanka, China, Russia, Iran, Zimbabwe and Pakistan.
"I would have been acting against those principles and my own convictions and conscience if I had refused a request from the United Nations to investigate serious allegations of war crimes against both Israel and Hamas" during the 23-day Israeli invasion of Gaza, Goldstone said. His expectation was that Israel would cooperate in the investigation because of his record and "the terms of his mission’s mandate," but he now thinks that Israel’s refusal to do so was "a grave error," adding that those who feel that his report "failed to give adequate attention to specific incidents or issues should be asking the Israel government why it failed to argue its cause." Israel missed "a golden opportunity," he emphasised, to actually have a fair hearing from a UN-sponsored inquiry.
But Goldstone’s most alarming observation about the Israeli action was what he saw in Gaza. "I was surprised and shocked by the destruction and misery there. I had not expected it. I did not anticipate that the IDF [Israel’s military] would have targeted civilians and civilian objects. I did not anticipate seeing the vast destruction of the economic infrastructure of Gaza including its agricultural lands, industrial factories, water supply and sanitation works. These are not military targets. I have not heard or read any (Israeli) government justification for this destruction." No wonder Netanyahu has opted not to comply with the Council’s suggestion that Israel conduct its own credible investigation into the war-crimes that the Israeli military has undertaken there. The focus here is on Netanyahu because he did not allow, while Hamas did, the Goldstone team to visit the battle scenes where rockets from Hamas’s militia hit the Israeli border areas.
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, herself a South African, added more muscle to Goldstone when she endorsed his war-crimes report despite Israeli warnings that it would undermine Middle East peace. One columnist in Haaretz went further by depicting Goldstone as "Israel’s Frankenstein’s monster."
The consequences of the critical UN report on the American Jewish community was evident in Washington, D.C. The new Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, turned down an invitation to participate next week in the first annual conference of the so-called J Street group, a left-leaning Jewish organization that supports the Obama administration’s call for a freeze on Israeli colonies. The Israel embassy said in a statement that it "has been privately communicating its concerns over certain policies of the organization that may impair the interests of Israel."
Netanyahu owes it to his people, if not the world, to explain his much-awaited intentions and not rhetoric. Otherwise he should not be shocked to see more countries follow in the footsteps of Turkey, which has recently downgraded its close ties with Israel when it cancelled a joint military exercise which was to include the US forces. Turkey is the only Muslim state that has significant ties with Israel.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.