Richard Goldstone has withdrawn the ‘deliberately targeted civilians’ part of his report on the fact-finding mission he led into Operation Cast Lead. He writes that Israel and the Palestinian Authority are conducting investigations, while Hamas has investigated nothing at all. He writes:
“That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying — its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.
The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion. While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.”
“Simply put, the laws of armed conflict apply no less to non-state actors such as Hamas than they do to national armies. Ensuring that non-state actors respect these principles, and are investigated when they fail to do so, is one of the most significant challenges facing the law of armed conflict. Only if all parties to armed conflicts are held to these standards will we be able to protect civilians who, through no choice of their own, are caught up in war.”
An unsurprising outcry ensued, either with ideological objections to this revision, or to amplify the news that Israel had been vindicated of another unfounded charge, or to urge the world not to be diverted from the plight of 1.4 million Gazans, the violent deaths of over 700 people and the wider destruction of the conflict.
It’s worth mentioning that when the Israeli government of the time refused to cooperate with Goldstone’s investigation, several prominent Israelis (including for example Ami Ayalon) criticised this decision, arguing that Israel would be even more exposed to bias if it kept itself outside the process than if it went along with it. It’s also worth understanding the grounds on which the Israeli government refused to cooperate – that, as a UN Human Rights Council initiative, the investigation was biased from the start and would inevitably function to rubber-stamp a foregone conclusion against Israel (Goldstone denies this unequivocally).
Bias should never be a plausible excuse for cooperating with a United Nations body, but sadly it is all too plausible. Reflecting on the UNHCR, Jonathan Freedland writes in The Guardian:
“Many respectable folks have spent decades insisting that the “core issue” in the Middle East, if not the world, is the Israel-Palestine conflict – that it is the “running sore” whose eventual healing will heal the wider region and beyond.
That was always gold-plated nonsense, but now the Arab spring has come along to prove it. Now the world can see that the peoples of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain have troubles aplenty that have nothing to do with Israel. There could be peace between Israelis and Palestinians tomorrow, but it wouldn’t relieve those in Damascus or Manama or Sana’a from the yoke of tyranny. For them, Israel is not “the heart of the matter”, as the cliche always insisted it was. The heart of the matter are the regimes who have oppressed them day in, day out, for 40 years or more.
Yet it is not the suffering of these hundreds of millions of Arabs which has attracted the sympathy of the UN Human Rights Council. Nor has it stirred the compassion of left-leaning liberal types who pride themselves on their care for the oppressed. Few places get them excited the way Israel does.
So in 2009 Sri Lanka could kill between 7,000 and 20,000 civilians, displacing 300,000 more in its bombardment of the Tamils at about the same time as the Gaza conflict – but you will search in vain for the Goldstone report into Sri Lankan war crimes. Nor will you find Caryl Churchill writing a play called Seven Sri Lankan Children – asking what exactly is it in the Sri Lankan mentality that allows them to be so brutal.
There is no Goldstone or Churchill to probe the 4 million deaths in the Congo, the slaughtered in Darfur or the murdered in the Ivory Coast, let alone the civilian deaths inflicted by the US and Britain in Iraq and Afghanistan. No one is proposing an academic boycott of those nations or any of the other serial violators of human rights. Tellingly, two members of the four-person board of the LSE’s Middle East Centre are firm advocates of cutting all scholarly ties to Israel – but were only too happy for the college to receive £1.5m from the Gaddafi family.”
Jonathan Freedland’s point is that in order to demand justice for the oppressed, it’s necessary to address this double standard against Israel which diverts attention and resources from swathes of the world which require it.
A comparative search of different countries on the Green Party web site reveals the extent of the problem. Putting some energy into Green Party international policy for places other than Israel and the OPTs would be a good place to start.