An editorial in the current issue of America worries that the Obama administration is laying the groundwork to dismiss the Goldstone Report. This is the UN-sponsored "analysis" of the War in Gaza that suggests war crimes and crimes against humanity were perpetrated by the Israeli military forces. The editors’ worries are misplaced and the report should, indeed, be consigned to a historical footnote.
Mr. Goldstone does indeed have a stellar reputation (and his daughter, who lives in the safety of Canada, told a reporter that he is "a fan of Israel"), even if the organization for which he labored on this report is a geo-political hussy when it comes to Israel. The UN, having given birth to Israel, became a bad mother in the 1970s when the General Assembly voted to equate Zionism with racism, which is a little like equating Zorba the Greek with Heinrich Himmler because both took pride in their national origins. Nor does anyone at the UN object when countries like Libya assume the chairmanship of the Human Rights Commission.
The most basic problem with the Goldstone Report has nothing to do with the intentions of Mr. Goldstone nor of the UN. The problem is that it is difficult to solicit truthful testimony from people who live in a radically unfree state. How do you conduct interviews in Gaza with any expectation that you will be told the truth? Hamas has its spies everywhere and it denies the existence of the category "non-combatant." The poor people in Gaza know that they cannot criticize their political leaders to anyone, let alone to a nattily dressed Westerner. (Goldstone is South African, to be precise, but everything about the man and the career is Western.)
The America editorial states that, "It is hard to believe that the Israeli strategy, as the report notes, did not reflect a deliberate if unspoken intention among Israeli hardliners to inflict collective punishment on the entrapped Gazan community in retribution for its support of Hamas." Entrapped, yes, but by whom? By their own government, yes? And, could not this exact same sentence be written circa January 1945 with the words "American" replacing "Israeli" and "German" replacing "Gazan"? I do not mean to excuse atrocities like the bombing of Dresden, but it is difficult to know what Israel should do when she, like the Allies in World War II, faces an opponent that exercises total control over the civilian population.
Nor do the editors take cognizance of the fact that the Israeli government would send text messages and fliers into areas before they were attacked, to warn civilians and give them time to leave the area. Such warnings are especially necessary in Gaza because Hamas has long made it a practice of putting their munitions’ depots and the barracks for their terrorists in the midst of schools, hospitals, and other places where an Israeli strike aimed at a military target is likely to include significant civilian casualties.
Perhaps the most telling line in the editorial was this: "Nine Israeli human rights organizations are calling for a thorough investigation of the Goldstone Report’s charges." Of course, you couldn’t write a sentence that begins, "Nine Palestinian human rights organizations…" or "Nine Egyptian human rights organizations…" could you? I agree that the Israeli government should investigate the charges in the Goldstone Report. But, it tells you all you need to know about the frame of this story that in Israel human rights activists organize and in many of the surrounding countries, human rights activists are imprisoned or murdered by their governments.
I am ever reluctant to bite the hand that feeds me, but on the issue of Israel’s wrenching moral choices, I think the editors of this magazine tend to display a lack of perspective. I just wish Mr. Goldstone had been a bit more willing to bite the hand that feeds him.