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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Preview: Israel's Goldstone rebuttal

The New York Times has a preview of some of the things that are likely to be in Israel's rebuttal of the Goldstone Report, which is to be completed in the next two weeks or so. Since the Times obviously knows something I've been keeping under wraps for the last month, I'm going to disclose it in this post.
The rebuttal will be given to United Nations officials in the coming weeks and its contents will remain under wraps until then. But officers involved in writing the report gave some details.

One concerned the destruction of Gaza’s sole flour mill. The Goldstone report asserts that the Bader flour mill “was hit by an airstrike, possibly by an F-16.” The Israeli investigators say they have photographic proof that this is false, that the mill was accidentally hit by artillery in the course of a firefight with Hamas militiamen.

The dispute is significant since the United Nations report asserts that “the destruction of the mill was carried out for the purpose of denying sustenance to the civilian population,” an explicit war crime.
My understanding is that the 'photographic evidence' is that the flour mill is still operating. In other words, although it may have been hit by artillery fire, it was never destroyed. Goldstone, who presumably did not know where the flour mill was located, was shown a bombed out building and took the 'Palestinians' word for it that it was a flour mill. What does that say about the credibility of his report?
A second finding concerned the destruction of a wastewater plant, leading to an enormous outflow of raw sewage. The Goldstone report contended that it was hit by a powerful Israeli missile in a strike that was “deliberate and premeditated.” The Israelis say they had nothing to do with that plant’s collapse and suggest that it may have been the result of Hamas explosives.

The two cases, along with the destruction of chicken coops, water wells, a cement plant and some 4,000 homes, are crucial building blocks in the Goldstone case that Israel set out to eliminate infrastructure so as to cause intense civilian suffering.

The report stated that “the destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces.” It added that Israel waged “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”

Maj. Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, the Israeli military advocate general, said in an interview that those assertions went beyond anything of which others had accused Israel.

“I have read every report, from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Arab League,” he said at his desk in the military’s Tel Aviv headquarters. “We ourselves set up investigations into 140 complaints. It is when you read these other reports and complaints that you realize how truly vicious the Goldstone report is. He made it look like we set out to go after the economic infrastructure and civilians, that it was intentional. It’s a vicious lie.”
Of course, that vicious lie was what the 'Human Rights Council' intended all along. Whether Goldstone was either (a) a naive fool, (b) so caught up in promoting his own career that he sold his soul, or (c) as much of an Israel hater as the rest of them (which is what I'm most inclined to believe, but which does not quite fit his background) is an interesting subject for debate. Maybe he'll resolve it when he writes his memoirs.

Of course, Goldstone will claim that the investigation is tainted because it was carried out by the IDF itself. Judge for yourselves:
So in November, Brig. Gen. Yuval Halamish, a former intelligence commander, led an investigation that involved scores of interviews of Israeli soldiers and Palestinian witnesses as well as reviewing military videotape and photographs. He submitted his findings to General Mandelblit, who is independent of the command structure but who wears a uniform, offered legal advice on targets before the operation and is widely seen as an insider.

The military investigation is expected to argue that while errors were made, Israel is not guilty of any serious crimes. It will argue that the rules of war need to be adapted to the kind of asymmetric warfare Israel increasingly faces: fighting a popular militia that intentionally mixes with the civilian population.

Mr. Netanyahu and his government have not decided whether to submit the findings to independent scrutiny, as the Goldstone report specifies. They may do so in a partial way — by asking a group of nonmilitary Israeli jurists to examine the rebuttal but without power to recall witnesses, an approach favored by the military and those close to it.

Others say there must be an independent, nonmilitary investigation.
As I have mentioned before, I am more than a little uncomfortable with the notion that the rules of war need to be adapted. First, because it doesn't excuse any violations before that adaptation takes place. Second, because there is little chance that the rules of war will be adapted to accommodate little Israel. And third, and most importantly, because Israel did not violate the existing rules of war, and therefore by claiming they need to be adapted, we are unnecessarily implying that we did not abide by them.

Here are a couple more things to consider:
General Halamish said in an interview that the army chose not to attack many leaders of Hamas because they lived among children and the elderly. He added that during the operation, Israel withheld fire for three hours a day so food and other aid supplies could be brought into Gaza. During those hours, he said, a quarter of the shooting from Hamas took place. Hamas also ambushed the civilian supply trucks.


“I do not accept the Goldstone conclusion of a systematic attack on civilian infrastructure,” said Yael Stein, research director of [the Israeli human rights group] B’Tselem. “It is not convincing. But every incident and every policy has to be checked by an independent body because the military cannot check itself. They need to explain why so many people were killed.”
The army needs to show that nearly all the people killed were Hamas terrorists, and compare the terrorist to civilian casualty rate to the rate accrued by other countries in similar operations. If they do that (and much of the research has been done for that already), there will be no need to answer why 'so many' people were killed. No one counts the number of deaths of combatants.


JPost reports that Israel's response will be presented to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on Thursday.
The Palestinians were also set to hand in a report, and Ban was expected to present his own response to the UN Security Council by February 5.
I can't wait.


At 7:19 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

I have a feeling the UN isn't going to clear Israel. The fix is in.


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