By Yaniv Reich, Hybrid States – 22 July 2010
Defense Minister Ehud Barak described it as “false, distorted, and irresponsible“. Information Minister Yuli Edelstein called it “anti-Semitic“. Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren said it “insidiously… portrayed the Jews as the deliberate murderers of innocents“. Foreign Minister Lieberman argued that its true purpose “was to destroy Israel’s image, in service of countries where the terms ‘human rights’ and ‘combat ethics’ do not even appear in their dictionaries“. And the US House of Representatives banded together in bipartisan harmony to pass a resolution (344–36) that called “on the President and the Secretary of State to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration” of it.
For nearly a year now, vicious attacks on the Goldstone report and on Judge Goldstone himself have been the thing for Israel’s numerous apologists to do.
There is just one not-so-minor problem with this knee-jerk criticism of the report and infinite stream of ad hominem libel against its main author. A majority of the most damning—and damaging—war crimes that are alleged to have taken place have now been confirmed by the IDF’s own investigations into the matter, themselves only conducted in an effort to derail the Goldstone report’s referral to the International Criminal Court.
IDF confirms over 20 gravest findings of the Goldstone Report
Several of the most dramatic instances of war crimes, which previously stirred Israel’s defenders into fits, are now publicly admitted by the IDF in the recent update to its official response (which can be found here).
Some examples of war crimes include:
- White phosphorous in urban areas: This one is probably the most famous admission that emerged after a series of easily disproved lies. Israel’s initial response was one of absolute denial, indeed indignation, that people would suggest it had used banned chemical weapons in densely populated areas. But the steady stream of photos and videos depicting phosphorous burns on children and buildings eventually forced Israel to admit it had used these prohibited weapons.
- The murder of two unarmed Palestinians carrying white flags of surrender.
- The Al-Fakhura Street incident: Israeli mortar fire at a site adjacent to a UN Relief Works Agency compound resulted in multiple civilian deaths.
- The use of innocent Palestinians as human shields: The Goldstone report explains that in order “to carry out house searches as human shields the Israeli soldiers took off AD/03’s blindfold but he remained handcuffed. He was forced to walk in front of the soldiers and told that, if he saw someone in the house but failed to tell them, he would be killed. He was instructed to search each room in each house cupboard by cupboard. After one house was completed he was taken to another house with a gun pressed against his head and told to carry out the same procedure there. He was punched, slapped and insulted throughout the process.” The new Israeli report identifies this anonymous human shield AD/03 and confirms this episode. Other cases of human shield use, e.g. Abbas Ahmad Ibrahim Halawa and Mahmoud Abd Rabbo al-Ajrami, were also confirmed.
- Al-Samouni family massacre: The Israelis attacked two houses of the Samouni family, killing 23 people in total. Subsequently, they prevented the Red Cross and PRCS from providing care to the wounded and dying for three days. Confirmed by Israel and the subject of a military investigation.
- Firing on Al Maqadmah and other mosques during prayer time.
In total, a quick scan through the IDF’s new report provides direct confirmation of more than 20 of Goldstone’s findings. A number of these are the subject of internal IDF investigations, which are infuriating large swaths of the military. Of course, decent people everywhere should hope that those investigations are conducted in the most unbiased and professional manner possible, and that justice is served appropriately to all those who have committed war crimes. I am not holding my breath, but it’s good to throw this wish out there.
Israel admits it did not minimize civilian casualties
The IDF report states: “IDF orders include the obligation to take all feasible precautions in order to minimize the incidental loss of civilian life or property” [emphasis added]. Israelis accept this statement as an article of faith and become unglued at the suggestion that “everything possible” wasn’t done to ensure the safety of innocent people. This expression of faith is often followed by the questions: “What? Do you think Israel wants to kill civilians?” These questions are of course answered far more accurately with data on casualties than with ideological blindness.
They are also answered, however, through inadvertent slips in the public relations machine that shapes international media coverage of Israel/Palestine. Today, we are treated to a spate of articles across the English and Hebrew-language press (e.g. here and here) about how Israel “promises” to do a better job of not killing innocent human beings next time around.
“The IDF has … implemented operational changes in its orders and combat doctrine designed to further minimise civilian casualties and damage to civilian property in the future,” it said.
“In particular, the IDF has adopted important new procedures designed to enhance the protection of civilians in urban warfare, for instance by further emphasising that the protection of civilians is an integral part of an IDF commander’s mission.”
Perhaps in a future “update” the IDF can enlighten the world as to how it was previously taking “all feasible precautions” and yet finds only now new tactics to protect civilians. Perhaps the IDF spokesperson can further explain how emphasizing to its soldiers that “protection of civilians is an integral part” of the mission is considered an “operational change” from earlier practice. One must presume that protection of civilians has not been given sufficient attention until now, and only Goldstone’s courageous and now confirmed report has forced Israel to reconsider the meaning of “all feasible precautions” and “minimize civilian casualties”. As Magnes Zionist has pointed out, Israel seems to think it can get away with a “I didn’t do it but will try harder next time” approach.
Or perhaps the IDF’s commanders and soldiers got a bit confused by all this talk of “protecting civilians” and that talk of the “Dahiya Doctrine.”
But all of this gives the IDF a bit too much credit, too much benefit of the doubt. This new report is nothing more than a desperate tactic to try and avoid criminal prosecution for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity in the ICC. Most of the IDF’s “investigations” have already been dismissed as part of this whitewash, notwithstanding all the irate IDF officers unaccustomed to the pretense of accountability.
All it teaches us is four concrete things: (1) the Goldstone report did a stunningly good job in identifying possible war crimes despite Israel’s concerted non-cooperation with the commission, (2) Israel has by its own admission failed to adequately protect civilians in war, (3) many people owe Judge Goldstone a sincere, begging apology for the disgraceful manner in which he has been treated, and (4) justice for the Palestinian victims of Israeli terrorism is still far away.