}

It’s about time somebody said something

Somebody should put Mr. Goldstone in a room, lock the door, and read this to him about twenty or thirty times.

From today’s NY Times

Rights Watchdog, Lost in the Mideast

By ROBERT L. BERNSTEIN
Published: October 19, 2009

AS the founder of Human Rights Watch, its active chairman for 20 years and now founding chairman emeritus, I must do something that I never anticipated: I must publicly join the group’s critics.

When I stepped aside in 1998, Human Rights Watch was active in 70 countries, most of them closed societies. Now the organization, with increasing frequency, casts aside its important distinction between open and closed societies.

Nowhere is this more evident than in its work in the Middle East. The region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.

Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields. These groups are supported by the government of Iran, which has openly declared its intention not just to destroy Israel but to murder Jews everywhere. This incitement to genocide is a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Leaders of Human Rights Watch know that Hamas and Hezbollah chose to wage war from densely populated areas, deliberately transforming neighborhoods into battlefields. They know that more and better arms are flowing into both Gaza and Lebanon and are poised to strike again. And they know that this militancy continues to deprive Palestinians of any chance for the peaceful and productive life they deserve. Yet Israel, the repeated victim of aggression, faces the brunt of Human Rights Watch’s criticism.

But how does Human Rights Watch know that these laws have been violated? In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes. Reporting often relies on witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage or because they fear retaliation from their own rulers. Significantly, Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and an expert on warfare, has said that the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

Robert L. Bernstein, the former president and chief executive of Random House, was the chairman of Human Rights Watch from 1978 to 1998.

UPDATE:

HRW released a letter, linked to in the comments below, poorly defending against Bernstein’s accusations. The Forward covered the story, where Bernstein’s old friends accuse him of having changed. Bernstein responds,

Bernstein, for his part, said he intends to keep writing about the issues he raised in his Times opinion article. And he rejects the accusation that his devotion of Israel has led him to compromise his principles.

“The easiest way to dispense with an argument is by saying that somebody is either pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian,” Bernstein said. “I’m just going to try and come off as pro-human rights. Simple as that.”

And by doing so, rightfully shames them yet again.

Speaking of Mr. Kemp, here is his full comment spoken in June and here is what he said last week at the UNHRC’s farce that proved just how wrong Goldstone was to claim that the “mandate” of his mission had been changed.


46 Comments

  1. Rabbi Yonah

    10/20/2009 at 10:59 am

    Thanks TM

    I was JUST ABOUT to put this up – and thought perhaps someone beat me to the punch.

    This is a brilliant piece and I will write a follow up I think.

    We have been pointing out the lunacy that now infects the HRW – with Nazi loving Marc Garlasco and company running roughshod over the truth.

  2. Tom Morrissey

    10/20/2009 at 11:21 am

    To his credit, Goldstone was strongly critical of the UNHRC for having ignored his commission’s findings on Hamas’s criminal behavior. But more important by far than Goldstone, Bernstein et al. is the Obama Administration’s decision to return to the HRC, which is of a piece with its award to Mary Robinson, etc. We’re ‘re-engaging’ the left-wing international human rights community even as its former leaders jump ship.

    Just for fun– when do y9u think Obama tries to put the Israeli nuclear program on the table? Next week? Next month? (Cf. yesterday’s indictment).

  3. themiddle

    10/20/2009 at 1:23 pm

    I don’t think the US is putting Israel’s nuclear program on the table. I don’t think any US administration is. I suspect there are many things about the partnership between the two countries that won’t see the light of day for a while and I have difficulty imagining that after 40 years the US hasn’t been involved in Israel’s program in some way.

    And I disagree with you about anything being to Goldstone’s credit. He is going around writing op-eds and giving press interviews with outright falsehoods (the mandate was changed and was fair). In fact, it is shameful that as he sat there and watched the UNHRC mock his findings by only placing Israel on the dock AND bringing in unrelated topics he continued to stand by his report. Dershowitz wrote an interesting and, in my opinion, accurate piece about how Goldstone is talking from both sides on his mouth. What he said in his Forward interview is not what he has said elsewhere and does not entirely reflect his actions.

    I said on the day the Report came out that Israel will have to investigate and answer with facts. There is no way out of this mess for them. However, the more you read his comments, the more you come away with the feeling that his report is an angry response to the fact they officially refused to participate or respond. Considering the nature of his “findings,” it makes him seem petty and hostile. After having read the report and many of the numerous attacks on it out there, I do feel that Israel needs to clear some things up, but he needs to re-evaluate his entire approach to this matter because it was simply unreasonable. The guy couldn’t find videos on Youtube from the war that anybody can find in seconds?

  4. Roaming Rabbi

    10/20/2009 at 6:25 pm

    Whenever the BBC (our dear unbiased friends!) mention the Goldstone report they refer to the findings as war crimes commited by the Israelis and also palestinians, but the emphasis is on Israel, and her refusal to comply with the findings, which have now been endorsed by our “allies”

  5. Jewish Obama

    10/20/2009 at 11:54 pm

    More pro Israeli anti-Goldstone report propaganda. How about the NY Times do a little investigation into the influences AIPAC has on reports coming out of New York and Washington.

  6. themiddle

    10/21/2009 at 12:38 am

    Um, I hate to break this to you, but the Goldstone report is the product of the ARAB and MUSLIM lobby. That’s the lobby that runs the UN, and wraps Russia, China and virtually all of Africa around its big fingers.

  7. mark in east berlin

    10/21/2009 at 8:32 am

    i recommend reading bradley burston in haaretz on the goldstone-report instead of misunderstanding criticism of HRW and using it as a starting point for conspiracy theories.

  8. themiddle

    10/21/2009 at 10:10 am

    What conspiracy theories?

    There are 57 countries in the Muslim bloc at the UN which, when joined together with the African bloc, as is often the case, gives them an almost automatic majority in the General Assembly of the UN. There are also about 18 automatic votes in the UNHRC and 17 are enough to carry a measure.

    Here’s a list of the current UNHRC members and their votes last week. Look to see whether you can find a pattern:

    Yes: Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Cuba, Djbouti, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia.

    No: Holland, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, Ukraine and the United States.

    Abstained: Belgium, Bosnia, Burkina-Faso, Cameron, Gabon, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Slovenia, South Korea and Uruguay.

    Madagascar and Kyrgyzstan were not present during the vote; Britain and France refused to vote.

    And there is no misunderstanding here of HRW and its extreme bias against Israel or of the UNHRC and its automatic bias. Here is what Irwin Cotler said about that august UN body:

    UN Human Rights Council – a UN body systematically and systemically biased against Israel. For this is a Council that has a special and permanent agenda item targeting Israeli violations of human rights, and another agenda item for the rest of the world – thereby singling out Israel for differential and discriminatory treatment. This is a Council that targets some 80% of its resolutions at one member state, Israel, while the major human rights violators enjoy exculpatory immunity. This is a Council that has had more emergency “Special Sessions” directed against Israel than against all the other countries of the world combined. This is a Council that excludes only one country – Israel – from membership in any regional grouping, thereby denying it international due process.

    I suggest you also read our two posts on the subject.

    Why Goldstone Commission is Tarnished

    Ken Roth of HRW and Irwin Cotler duke it out

    And here is what I wrote on the day the Report came out (the comments are more important than the post):

    Goldstone Report released

    and after,

    Goldstone on the Media Trail

  9. Pingback: The Bravery Of Robert Bernstein

  10. mark in east berlin

    10/21/2009 at 10:26 am

    to view the goldstone report as the product of the arab and muslim lobby is to deny the possibility that the goldstone report is the result of fact-finding.

    the article from the NY Times has little to do with goldstone and unless i am mistaken, there seems to be very little HRW had to do with the goldstone-report and its fact-finding (except that they seem to agree and find their allegations proven, which can be coincidence, conspiracy or, well, a result of them being true).

  11. Tom Morrissey

    10/21/2009 at 10:44 am

    It’s clear, at least in retrospect, that Israel should’ve cooperated with Goldstone. Even if his commission was biased from the beginning, had Israel cooperated and an anti-Israel report resulted, the state would be on far stronger ground in criticizing it. As it is, Goldstone’s final product strongly suggests that cooperation would’ve led to different findings.

    It really amounted to self-sabotage to withhold cooperation, even denying Goldstone access to Israeli territory, then devote an enormous amount of p.r. bandwith in claiming the report is biased. If ever there was a deomonstration that Israel needs to find its way outside the box and reconsider its approach to the rest of the world, this is it.

  12. themiddle

    10/21/2009 at 10:52 am

    Not true, Mark, HRW was a key resource for Goldstone. He relied extensively on information gleaned or directly provided by NGOs from Israel, Gaza and Judea and Samaria/West Bank and taking the lead among them was HRW.

    And forgive me but the entire point of Cotler’s two Jerusalem Post articles about why the Goldstone Commission was tarnished from the day it was launched address the question of fairness. If the UNHRC as a body commissioned the report, which it did, with an inherent bias in its mandate that accused Israel of war crimes, ignored the other party to the conflict and established parameters such as dates to be investigated that skewed the outcome of the report, then who is to blame for this report? This is a UNHRC mandated report. The same body which, as Cotler points out,

    targets some 80% of its resolutions at one member state, Israel, while the major human rights violators enjoy exculpatory immunity. This is a Council that has had more emergency “Special Sessions” directed against Israel than against all the other countries of the world combined. This is a Council that excludes only one country – Israel – from membership in any regional grouping, thereby denying it international due process.

    So yes, the Goldstone Report is tarnished from its inception. The UNHRC is dominated by anti-Israel countries, or those with strong ties or links to those countries. This report is the product of this organization. If we had any doubts about this whatsoever, they were alleviated last week when in its initial resolution about the report, the UNHRC entirely ignored Palestinian alleged war crimes and directed its resolution against Israel entirely.

    Also, in case you don’t know, the UNHRC has a special rapporteur for Israel, one of only two countries in the world (it used to be 4 countries) to have a special rapporteur. In what universe do we live in, Mark, that makes Israel and one other country require a special rapporteur (whose mandate is biased against Israel in its very language, by the way) while all the other countries of the world are considered to be better citizens?

    As for the question of outcome of the Goldstone Report, which is what you ask and whether the accusations he makes in his report are factual or not and whether they are a product of a Muslim UN lobby or not, I don’t suggest for a minute that Israel shouldn’t respond categorically to every charge he makes in his report. They should have answers and they need to provide those answers. However, the Report has many profound flaws in it and they appear to be the fruit of either bias or anger on the part of Goldstone. It is not difficult to surf the net and find serious claims against his report.

    Here, read this editorial by Alan Baker about his interaction with Goldstone and the conclusions to which he came as a result. And please do read it, because it’s an important article.

    Also, there is no way you’ve had enough time to read the links I provided and the articles to which they are linked. Why don’t you take a look? It won’t hurt, I promise.

  13. themiddle

    10/21/2009 at 10:57 am

    Tom, in hindsight you are right, although I still think Israel was right to avoid him. However, if you read the Alan Baker article, you will see that Goldstone’s claims of non-participation are inexact, at best.

  14. themiddle

    10/21/2009 at 11:03 am

    Mark, according to this source, Goldstone is a former board member of HRW and cited HRW 36 times in his Report.

  15. mark in east berlin

    10/21/2009 at 11:24 am

    Why don’t you take a look? It won’t hurt, I promise.

    to try and be condescending is never very constructive. and you miss my point – it’s no question that UNHRC is a very problematic body and that it’s always very easy to form a broad coalition against israel, but not necessarily because israel does so much wrong-doing, but simply because israel is such a clear “other” for so many countries. there’s no question that focus on israel is easy to have and easily used to shift focus from other, easily more grave violations of the law (case in point maybe: violence in sri lanka with thousands killed, shortly after operation cast lead was over – imagine the international outcry if the IDF would fight like the sri lankan army).

    it’s also no question that the law goldstone uses as the basis for the inquiry as to whether “crimes” were committed has developed on the basis of very different types of conflicts and it should thus be questioned whether the application of this type of law, not developed with such asymmetrical conflicts in mind should actually be applied.

    but that doesn’t change the fact that goldstone was appointed to apply this law to the conflict and that, partly due to the law’s relative irrelevance to the tactics of hamas, this law was always going to make israel look bad. one of the reasons for that is that any type of military action in gaza under the circumstances of gaza could only have lead to casualties like we have seen. “serious claims against the report” are irrelevant, the report itself and its “alleged” facts are reason enough for action.

  16. mark in east berlin

    10/21/2009 at 11:28 am

    it’s no secret that goldstone was a former board member of HRW and citing HRW 36 times in a 500+ page-report doesn’t make the goldstone-report an HRW-report. it’s no secret that HRW champions a human rights approach that is in line with international criminal law-thinking that somebody like goldstone would share.

    goldstone claims that israel refused official support (and denied entry), i don’t see why private israeli action would make that claim “inexact, at best”.

  17. themiddle

    10/21/2009 at 11:40 am

    Because it wasn’t just private action. The private action included many official materials…which he promptly ignored, as he ignored available video footage, publicly available information, and took at face value testimony from people who were dubious witnesses. Yet, while ignoring these materials, he did use materials extensively from HRW, Amnesty, B’Tselem, etc.

    Your first remark was that there was no connection between Goldstone and the article by Bernstein in the NY Times criticizing HRW, the organization he founded and led. Now you claim that citing HRW 36 times in the report compiled by a former board member of HRW does not make it an “HRW report.” I never said it was, but the connection is clear and I think making it in this post was correct.

  18. mark in east berlin

    10/21/2009 at 11:46 am

    that wasn’t my first remark, nor a remark i made at all.

  19. themiddle

    10/21/2009 at 12:03 pm

    It seems to me that the heart of what you are saying, Mark, is:

    any type of military action in gaza under the circumstances of gaza could only have lead to casualties like we have seen. “serious claims against the report” are irrelevant, the report itself and its “alleged” facts are reason enough for action.

    First of all, the casualties we have seen are a point of dispute. B’Tzelem, which I do not consider authoritative on this subject, had to dig deep to be able to make the claim that “more civilians were killed than militants.” Even if their stats are the right ones (highly doubtful), you have approximately a 1:1 fighter to civilian killed ratio. Statistically, that’s not indicative of criminal military activity. In fact, it’s not even indicative of unethical or unreasonable military activity.

    Second, serious claims against, say, the impartiality or bias of a judicial process would call into question that process. Serious claims against the process of investigation, absence of proper sources, reliance upon questionable witnesses, reliance upon witnesses who may have been intimidated, reliance upon witnesses who have been influenced by a key party under investigation are all relevant issues. Also relevant are the numerous pieces of information that WERE provided to the Goldstone Commission which were minimized or ignored in his report. Among these were official documents provided by the Israeli government to a former UN investigation about Gaza with which Israel did participate.

    We agree that the Report is a call to action and forces Israel to respond to its claims. However, if it being pushed forward in the international arena, it is only because, as I made clear earlier, it is being pushed through the UN system by existing blocs who drive the biases against Israel of that organization.

    If what you’re looking for is justice, this is not the way to get it. The bottom line is that for years Israel was attacked by another entity that targeted Israel’s civilians. Israel has the right to self-defense and before using its power, it did ask the UN to address the attacks against it. Instead, the very body that commissioned this report, would attack Israel without ever addressing its real and justified complaints about the Palestinian attacks. When Israel finally, after thousands of rockets and years of attacks, went in to Gaza to stop the rockets and mortars, it did so with full justification. It also went in with extreme caution in its attempts to prevent harm to civilians. Even Goldstone lists the ways in which they tried to prevent civilian casualties, except that he doesn’t consider them to be enough. Essentially, reading the claims of the report, there is no way a country can fight a war against an army like Hamas or Hizbullah. That is an absurd situation which actually contradicts one of the key elements of the UN charter but also violated basic notions of fairness. If Israel made mistakes or even had some soldiers commit crimes within the war, those matters should be addressed legally. However, that’s not what this report is about and it goes far beyond these claims.

  20. themiddle

    10/21/2009 at 12:04 pm

    Mark, what you said was:

    the article from the NY Times has little to do with goldstone and unless i am mistaken, there seems to be very little HRW had to do with the goldstone-report and its fact-finding

  21. mark in east berlin

    10/21/2009 at 12:11 pm

    which is not “there is no connection between Goldstone and the article by Bernstein in the NY Times criticizing HRW”.

  22. mark in east berlin

    10/21/2009 at 12:20 pm

    the whole distinction between civilian population and militants is impossible to hold up in this conflict, yet it is a cornerstone of the law that the goldstone-report has to rely on (partly because that is what it was asked to do, partly because there is no other). like i said, that law, while being relevant to the IDF, if only for the simple reason that its actions can be easily judged by these standards, is practically irrelevant to hamas tactics.

    themiddle, you say:
    Essentially, reading the claims of the report, there is no way a country can fight a war against an army like Hamas or Hizbullah. That is an absurd situation which actually contradicts one of the key elements of the UN charter but also violated basic notions of fairness.

    i agree with this, but i don’t see why that should make the findings of the report less serious. if we take the UN charter as a statement of how the world should be, groups like hamas or hizbullah would not exist. but that’s not going to make them go away.

  23. themiddle

    10/21/2009 at 1:01 pm

    The report is serious simply because it is created by the UN. It is not a serious report, however, because of its many flaws and the grave problems in its mandate – a mandate that Goldstone claimed was changed but which was not officially changed. It is not a serious report because information was readily available to the Commission which they decided they would not use. They actually make the claim that they cannot prove that Hamas fought from within a civilian population. A child can find a video of that taking place on Youtube and other video sites.

    However, to address your point, if these groups are not going to go away and if they continue to attack civilian populations of states, then the right to defend one’s citizenry and borders is not abated. The problem is that the laws don’t address these circumstances and these groups STRATEGICALLY use the advantage they have of not being bound by statehood or ethical systems by which UN members are supposed to abide. They force armies into situations where they are fighting in close proximity to civilians and what the Goldstone Report does is give them cover. They can now attack and attack, and then fight the response from within a civilian population. It’s farcical, except that as you said “it’s serious” because of all the countries in the world who have fought in these situations, all of them far more brutally than Israel, only Israel is expected to be judged.

  24. mark in east berlin

    10/21/2009 at 2:17 pm

    i would disagree with the allegation that the goldstone report gives hamas cover. i would also like to point out that this statement of yours “They actually make the claim that they cannot prove that Hamas fought from within a civilian population.” (they being the goldstone-led commission) is simply not true. i haven’t read the whole report, but on page 12 of the report (part of the executive summary), the report clearly says the opposite (armed groups were present in urban areas during military operations and launched rockets from urban areas). the report also notes that there was certain reluctance of people in gaza to discuss the activities of “armed groups”, so i would say the authors are quite well aware of the level of intimidation within gaza. they also take care in saying that while they have found no proof of, for example, the use of mosques for military purposes, this does not mean that it didn’t happen.

    that the long history of singling out israel doesn’t make it any more acceptable, is one thing. another is the fact that the situation israel finds herself in is, after all, indeed singular.

  25. themiddle

    10/21/2009 at 4:07 pm

    “Although the situations investigated by the Mission did not establish the use of mosques for military purposes or to shield military activities, the Mission cannot exclude that this might have occurred in other cases.”

    “The Mission found no evidence that members of Palestinian armed groups engaged in combat in civilian dress. It can, therefore, not find a violation of the obligation not to endanger the civilian population in this respect.”

    “The [UN] Mission is unable to form an opinion on the exact nature or the intensity of their [Hamas’s] combat activities in urban residential areas that would have placed the civilian population and civilian objects at risk of attack. While reports reviewed by the Mission credibly indicate that members of Palestinian armed groups were not always dressed in a way that distinguished them from civilians, the Mission found no evidence that Palestinian combatants mingled with the civilian population with the intention of shielding themselves from attack.”

    “The Mission … found no evidence that members of Palestinian armed groups engaged in combat in civilian dress.”

    “The Mission found no evidence to suggest that Palestinian armed groups either directed civilians to areas where attacks were being launched or that they forced civilians to remain within the vicinity of the attacks.”

    “On the basis of the investigations it has conducted, the Mission did not find any evidence to support the allegations that hospital facilities were used by the Gaza authorities or by Palestinian armed groups to shield military activities and that ambulances were used to transport combatants or for other military purposes.”

    That’s just from a cursory look at internet search results. By the way, there is evidence in the public space that contradicts these assertions.

    And yes, you are right to say that the report indicates that witnesses may have had ulterior motives driving their testimony – I quote that section of the report in my comments on the post about the release of the report. The fact that they then continue to investigate is in itself entirely unethical, not to mention how unethical it is to arrive definitive conclusions and conclusions about the IDF as a result of these testimonies while giving Hamas the benefit of the doubt as these paragraphs I quote from the report indicate.

    All in all, it is a shameful situation and if Israel is in the singular situation in which it finds itself, you can look right at organizations like HRW, Amnesty, and of course the UNHRC as the primary reasons for this. You can also see this at the continuation of a long history of such singular focus on Israel, much like we saw at Durban.

  26. mark in east berlin

    10/21/2009 at 4:21 pm

    your point being?

    this is the full entry to finding 35 of the exec summary: “The Mission examined whether and to what extent the Palestinian armed groups violated their obligation to exercise care and take feasible precautions to protect the civilian population in Gaza from the inherent dangers of the military operations (Chapter VIII). The Mission was faced with a certain reluctance by the persons it interviewed in Gaza to discuss the activities of the armed groups. On the basis of the information gathered, the Mission found that Palestinian armed groups were present in urban areas during the military operations and launched rockets from urban areas. It may be that the Palestinian combatants did not at all times adequately distinguish themselves from the civilian population. The Mission found no evidence, however, to suggest that Palestinian armed groups either directed civilians to areas where attacks were being launched or that they forced civilians to remain within the vicinity of the attacks.”

    which i would read to say that the mission found that hamas fought from within the civilian population.

    you say: “By the way, there is evidence in the public space that contradicts these assertions.” – your point being? there is “evidence” in the “public space” that contradicts “these assertions”, meaning people blogging on the internet that the mission didn’t actually come to these findings? or meaning people blogging on the internet that the mission’s findings are factually wrong?

  27. mark in east berlin

    10/21/2009 at 5:12 pm

    ah, the power to edit after the fact.

  28. themiddle

    10/21/2009 at 5:52 pm

    Wow, for somebody who complains about condescension, it appears you don’t mind indulging in some yourself. To respond, many blogs and bloggers offer superior information, sometimes better reasoned and articulated than many professional news outlets. However, what I meant by “public space” was a broad range of
    professional media outlets, videos shot by the IDF and amateurs on site and by open and public statements by Palestinians and their leaders. Heaven forbid that you should use bloggers as a resource for anything.

  29. mark in east berlin

    10/21/2009 at 6:12 pm

    you’re more powerful at playing this game, themiddle, than i, but not very good. my point was that all the claims in the goldstone report come with the built-in escape clause “on the basis of the evidence the mission took into consideration”. which, given the circumstances, i don’t find offensive. i would suggest that there is a difference between official documents in-officially submitted by private people and official cooperation, so the criticism of non-cooperation stands. additionally, the question isn’t what blogs offer or don’t, just as it isn’t whether all the findings of the goldstone-report are “true” (whatever that means). as much as i sympathize with israel and her right to defend herself, operation cast lead was a mistake in principle and the way it was carried out is proof of that (even if or maybe because it could hardly have been carried out substantially different).

    in political discussions about the israel/palestinian-conflict, i usually say that the palestinians’ uncompromising stance has proven itself to be wrong, because in 60 years it has gained them zilch, so maybe it’s high time to re-think that strategy. i would hope that the goldstone-report can also be an incentive to re-think the israeli strategy, because this one clearly isn’t working. i want peace and security for my friends and family in israel and i want to take our son there, but i also want a life worth living for all the people in the area. and whatever your political agenda is, the current situation is just wrong (no judgement on who is to blame). i have clients from “palestine”, either stuck in gaza without the means to get out or not able to get a passport to go there, which also means they don’t have a chance here – because the passport defines the identity (read hannah arendt on the use of human rights without a state to guarantee them).

    israel doesn’t need to come up with answers to refute the goldstone-report, she needs to address the issues touched upon in the report. same goes for the palestinian side, alas, that’s not going to happen, because, as a german international law-expert put it so nicely, this is a case where one side attempts to play by the rules and the other side doesn’t care. but this can’t be an excuse.

  30. themiddle

    10/21/2009 at 7:09 pm

    you’re more powerful at playing this game, themiddle, than i, but not very good.

    I didn’t realize we were playing a game or that I am powerful. I take exception to the claim that I’m not good at the game at which I’m powerful, however. I’m always good. Sometimes I’m not great, but good? Yes.

    my point was that all the claims in the goldstone report come with the built-in escape clause “on the basis of the evidence the mission took into consideration”. which, given the circumstances, i don’t find offensive.

    You should find it offensive that they did not take into account readily available information or that they twisted available information into direct and strong accusations against Israel and half-baked, half-serious, querulous charges against the Palestinians. If a reporter in the NY Times reports something and similar reports appear in other publications, how is that evidence any less solid than potentially coerced on-site witnesses?

    i would suggest that there is a difference between official documents in-officially submitted by private people and official cooperation, so the criticism of non-cooperation stands.

    That’s not the point. The point is that the information WAS available. It doesn’t need to be official to be real. It just needs to exist. A process as serious as this requires integrity. There was an absence of integrity in the mandate for this commission and Goldstone could only elevate it from its initial hole by being scrupulous and entirely fair. His report is neither scrupulous nor fair. He himself admitted to the Forward that it didn’t meet certain standards.

    additionally, the question isn’t what blogs offer or don’t, just as it isn’t whether all the findings of the goldstone-report are “true” (whatever that means). as much as i sympathize with israel and her right to defend herself, operation cast lead was a mistake in principle and the way it was carried out is proof of that (even if or maybe because it could hardly have been carried out substantially different).

    The operation was not a mistake in principle. There was no other way to stop the rockets and mortars. All the cease fire accomplished was to enable Hamas to upgrade their rocket arsenal so that it could reach Ashdod and Beer Sheva instead of just Sderot and the Western Negev.

    The way it was carried out is also a serious matter for debate. For example, Goldstone lists the warnings the IDF sent to civilians in Gaza as war crimes. Can you imagine? War crimes! For warning not only civilians but the target Hamas men among them that an attack is imminent. The fact that you can sit here and see a 1:1 militant to civilian dead ratio also indicates that considering the difficulties in urban warfare, especially when your enemy shoots from among civilians, that Israel executed this war very carefully.

    Don’t take it from me, take it from Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan.

    in political discussions about the israel/palestinian-conflict, i usually say that the palestinians’ uncompromising stance has proven itself to be wrong, because in 60 years it has gained them zilch, so maybe it’s high time to re-think that strategy. i would hope that the goldstone-report can also be an incentive to re-think the israeli strategy, because this one clearly isn’t working.

    You mean the strategy of leaving Gaza isn’t working? I’m afraid you are right. And now that we have the Goldstone report, we also know that Israel cannot defend its citizens after it leaves an area. Perhaps you have a proposal about how Israel can leave the West Bank/Judea and Samaria now? If they do and Hamas takes over, or even if Fatah feels like it, they will attack Israel with impunity because any response will be considered a war crime. The result of this report is to to tie the hands of those of us who supported the Gaza exit and seek a Judea and Samaria exit.

    i want peace and security for my friends and family in israel and i want to take our son there, but i also want a life worth living for all the people in the area. and whatever your political agenda is, the current situation is just wrong (no judgement on who is to blame). i have clients from “palestine”, either stuck in gaza without the means to get out or not able to get a passport to go there, which also means they don’t have a chance here – because the passport defines the identity (read hannah arendt on the use of human rights without a state to guarantee them).

    Well then, we both seek to fix this problem.

    israel doesn’t need to come up with answers to refute the goldstone-report, she needs to address the issues touched upon in the report. same goes for the palestinian side, alas, that’s not going to happen, because, as a german international law-expert put it so nicely, this is a case where one side attempts to play by the rules and the other side doesn’t care. but this can’t be an excuse.

    If that can’t be an excuse than what can be? What if Israel played by the rules but Goldstone got it wrong? Why is the onus on Israel to prove this when the mandate he was given was flawed and biased to begin with and his report is full of shoddiness?

  31. Tom Morrissey

    10/22/2009 at 2:34 am

    Because Israel withheld cooperation.

  32. themiddle

    10/22/2009 at 12:00 pm

    Of course Israel withheld cooperation from an investigation with a flawed and biased mandate established by a UN body that treats Israel singularly in the most egregious manner and dominated by an anti-Israel bloc full of hypocritical states some of whose human rights records are nowhere near as clean as Israel’s.

    Just because Goldstone stuck it to them and twisted the knife with his petulant immature response to the fact that they wanted to have nothing to do with his flawed mandate, that doesn’t mean that they were wrong from an ethical point of view to ignore him. In fact, they should continue to do so if the issue were ethics. Since they’re now issues of realpolitik with serious consequences if Israel doesn’t play along, they will have to relent. But all of this is immoral, not least because the ONLY country that seems to have to play by these rules is Israel.

  33. Tom Morrissey

    10/22/2009 at 12:48 pm

    It’s not ethics, just a matter of choices. Israel could’ve cooperated, but didn’t. What flows from that, now that Goldstone has identified specific incidents, is that Israel should investigate them and make its own findings known.

    But it seems much more emotionally satisfying to pummel Goldstone, complain about double standards, etc. If the most left-wing human rights group complained that US use of drones in Afghanistan was recklessly killing civilians and therefore violated the law, would you spend all of your time beating up on the rights group? I would hope not.

    • themiddle

      10/22/2009 at 1:10 pm

      Well, since you ask, and as I’ve kept stating from the day the report came out, I believe Israel has to respond to the report factually, with all the accusations addressed properly and systematically. It’s interesting that there are serious jurists in Israel who disagree with me and feel that Israel should not be held to a different standard than other states, but I believe they will be over-ruled in time.

      On the other hand, there is a positive outcome from all of this. From now on when NATO, Russia, China, England or France go on military adventures, Israel can demand they be investigated at the UN. We’ll see how far that goes.

  34. Tom Morrissey

    10/22/2009 at 1:23 pm

    Part of what Israel may have to struggle with is that its overwhelming military superiority and advanced weaponry will not insulate it from mistakes and, indeed, will make such mistakes terribly lethal in terms of civilian casualties. That’s espectially true in highly populated, urban settings. Precision-guided munitions do not make war an antiseptic, surgical process, as we in America know all too well.

  35. themiddle

    10/22/2009 at 1:40 pm

    Civilians die in wars. The question is how they die. Sometimes mistakes happen and they shouldn’t, but they are mistakes. Sometimes they die because they are near the enemy’s fighters. That’s not a war crime. The question the report raises is a bigger one: is the Israeli army’s allegedly criminal behavior the product of a systematic approach to warfare or not?

    That’s a breathtaking charge for those of us who are familiar with Israel.

    It is not a breathtaking charge for Israel’s opponents.

    What’s ironic, of course, is that Israel visibly went out of its way to prevent harm to Palestinian civilians, as the report itself admits, while Hamas went out of its way to harm civilians and stated so publicly. However, in the report’s universe, the charges against Hamas are minimized and hedged upon while the charges against Israel are aggressive and straightforward. That this wasn’t a warning sign to Goldstone should be a mystery, but considering his relationship with HRW maybe it isn’t so mysterious. His commission gleaned much of its information from groups like HRW and the inherent bias of the report reflects the bias of these groups.

    These are the same groups for whom the breathtaking charges against Israel are a matter of day to day discourse. It appears that in the short run, they’ve won the day. Israel needs to refute Goldstone’s allegations systematically and with a serious and seriously led independent commission of inquiry.

  36. mark in east berlin

    10/22/2009 at 4:03 pm

    two wrongs don’t make a right.

  37. themiddle

    10/22/2009 at 5:15 pm

    Going to war to defend your population after years of attacks and after years in which you asked the international community to have the attacks ended is not a wrong.

    Attempting to target militants and warning civilians in the process is not a wrong.

    Permitting humanitarian supplies into a war zone in the middle of a war isn’t a wrong.

    If Israel had conducted this war indiscriminately or with anywhere near the level of civilian killing that we see in ALL other conflicts around the world including conflicts that involved the US, Britain, Russia, China and NATO, then maybe you could talk so simplistically about what happened here.

    It’s interesting, Mark, that you read Goldstone with such trust but reject Colonel Kemp’s assertions with such distrust.

  38. mark in east berlin

    10/23/2009 at 9:26 am

    It’s interesting, Mark, that you read Goldstone with such trust but reject Colonel Kemp’s assertions with such distrust.

    it’s interesting, then, that you know what i think and do.

    • themiddle

      10/23/2009 at 12:21 pm

      Okay, I’ll adjust.

      It’s interesting, Mark, that your comments appear to reflect that you read Goldstone with such trust but reject Colonel Kemp’s assertions with such distrust.

      Sheesh!

  39. themiddle

    10/23/2009 at 2:44 pm

    Red herring by HRW: “Human Rights Watch does not believe that the human rights records of “closed” societies are the only ones deserving investigation.”

    That’s not what he said. Here is what he wrote about the organization he founded and led for many years:

    At Human Rights Watch, we always recognized that open, democratic societies have faults and commit abuses. But we saw that they have the ability to correct them — through vigorous public debate, an adversarial press and many other mechanisms that encourage reform.

    That is why we sought to draw a sharp line between the democratic and nondemocratic worlds, in an effort to create clarity in human rights. We wanted to prevent the Soviet Union and its followers from playing a moral equivalence game with the West and to encourage liberalization by drawing attention to dissidents like Andrei Sakharov, Natan Sharansky and those in the Soviet gulag — and the millions in China’s laogai, or labor camps.

    When I stepped aside in 1998, Human Rights Watch was active in 70 countries, most of them closed societies. Now the organization, with increasing frequency, casts aside its important distinction between open and closed societies.

    Nowhere is this more evident than in its work in the Middle East. The region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.

    Similar obscuring of his charges can be read when HRW writes that they “produced more than 1,700 reports, letters, news releases and other commentaries on the Middle East and North Africa since January 2000.”

    That wasn’t his claim. He said that they have “written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.”

    Bernstein claimed that they had no way to know what happened in the war:

    “In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes.”

    HRW responds,

    “We have a research assistant based in Gaza, and other researchers entered via the border with Egypt after the fighting.”

    Oh, never mind, they also “conducted interviews with victims, eyewitnesses, U.N. officials, local authorities and others. We also visited attack sites, analyzed ballistics evidence, and examined autopsy and other medical reports.”

    Are they kidding? A research assistant?

    How are their “investigations” after the war with “local officials” any more valid than Goldstone’s research with Palestinians whom he acknowledges may be intimidated?

    In other words, nowhere in their letter does HRW properly address Bernstein’s points and in fact actually confirms a couple of his claims. Shame on HRW.

  40. mark in east berlin

    10/23/2009 at 5:21 pm

    middle, why is it so hard to accept that the IDF could have committed war crimes? it’s what soldiers do, the americans have done it, the british have done, everybody knows the germans have and the russians, too. sure, it’s not pleasant, war never is – but a change will be much more likely once wrong-doing is admitted to (because it implies that a change is needed). we – correctly – reject hamas’ justifactions for their criminal and terrorist actions, but we also have to accept the possibility that, despite good intentions and well-founded moral justification, not everything the IDF does is right and legal. that is a much better starting point for change, remaining on high moral ground and minimization of such occurrences in the future than harping on about the messenger, his mandate and his message.

    • themiddle

      10/23/2009 at 6:17 pm

      The IDF may have committed war crimes. After the world, led by the UN, investigates Russian, American, Chinese, British, Sri Lankan, Pakistani, Afghani, Eritrean, Sudanese and Spanish armies and their alleged war crimes, they can place Israel next on the list. At least then, you would be able to claim that justice is blind and fair for all.

      However, since that hasn’t happened and since it appears that only Israel gets berated for its wars, questioned about its behavior and vilified for it by the world’s other nations, at the very least we can demand fairness from them. We can demand a fair mandate for the investigation, a fair group of unbiased investigators that precludes those who publicly accuse Israel prior to the investigation’s start, a fair process that respects all sides and the information they provide, a proper investigation that doesn’t ignore readily available information, a correct investigation that doesn’t malign and turn upside down the information it does receive (such as calling Israeli warning to civilians “war crimes” or claiming that the Palestinian Police Force was a civilian target even though the majority of the policemen were affiliated with Hamas or other fighting groups), an investigation that comes to reasonable conclusions about the intentions of a military that would go to the extent of sending warnings prior to attacks, a concluding report that hedges its assertions regarding both fighting sides, a UN assessment of that report that doesn’t attack only one of the sides in an attempt to punish just that one side, and a careful recalibration of the voting states to any such resolution that excludes any that do not have exceptionally strong human rights records.

      Okay?

      You want fairness and justice? Good. So do I. The IDF isn’t holy, it is made up of humans and they can make mistakes or even commit crimes. It does happen. You might even have some commanders in the IDF who would commit crimes. However, the implication that the IDF as an organization or that Israelis in general conduct themselves with an intent to commit crimes in war or to target civilians is a risible lie. Any of us who have any contact with Israelis know this. That’s not convincing enough? Okay. Facts such as having the IDF publicly state that it seeks to fight within the bounds of law and within the context of what they call “purity of arms,” or the Israeli Minister of Defense speaking proudly of the aborted missions that were canceled because there were too many potential civilian casualties around contradict the gist of the Goldstone Report. The standard set in that report is not, as you peg it, that everything the IDF does should be “right and just,” suggesting mistakes or minor crimes here and there. Rather, the report claims that the entire fighting effort and virtually every aspect of that fighting effort by the IDF violates the laws of war. It is a substantial accusation and one that, considering the many limitations of Goldstone’s commission and the mandate they received, they should not be making. In fact, it is a caricature of justice and fairness.

      It’s quaint that you don’t want “harping about the messenger, his mandate and the message” except that we’re talking about a biased mandate, an apparently angry messenger with an ideological slant that may have colored his views, and a message that is rife with omitted or ignored information as well as a general approach that rewards non-state organizations that choose to fight wars in a manner that violates the laws of war and forces the fighting to take place in civilian centers. There is every reason to lambaste the messenger, his mandate and his message.

      And just to be clear, despite the injustice of it all, I didn’t say that Goldstone should be ignored. I said that even though it’s entirely unjust and even though it is unnecessary since the IDF has investigated its conduct, Israel should conduct an independent investigation that seeks to address the claims made in the Goldstone Report.

  41. xisnotx

    10/24/2009 at 11:30 pm

    TM, this Zvi Bar’el piece (not sure i agree w/it all but he makes some points) responds to the protest you made, namely, why not all those countries?

    http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1123309.html
    One more matter is puzzling. Why has the issue been directed against Israel and not, for example, the United States or Britain? Many Iraqi, Afghani and Pakistani civilians – their numbers are uncertain – have been killed in indiscriminate bombings by foreign armies. No official international investigation committee has been set up to examine the conduct of the U.S. or British armies. The reason is that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan enjoy international legitimacy, to some extent in the eyes of the local people. More importantly, the occupation in Iraq has a defined termination date. The Israeli occupation, on the other hand, gives off signs of being eternal. Disgust at this is powerful enough to affect even our friends.

    Also: you mention Sudan; the first case from Darfur recently reached the Hague: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hpiBm2hapcPAx3oiNuiCHvKt042wD9BE2UG80

  42. themiddle

    10/25/2009 at 3:07 am

    Um, the Sudanese is being tried for killing peacekeepers, not for the crimes taking place in Sudan.

    A Sudanese rebel leader is appearing at the International Criminal Court at a hearing to decide whether he must stand trial on charges of leading an attack that killed 12 peacekeepers.

    And I did read that piece by Zvi Bar’el and its premise is flawed. Evidence for this is Russia’s freedom of murder in Chechnya which did not result in any form of commission of inquiry, a special rapporteur at the UNHRC or 80% of the voted-on condemnations in that august body. That war had no measure of international legitimacy whatsoever.

    In addition, the people of Afghanistan are not necessarily in support of American moves there, unless Bar’el is reading the Karzai election fiasco differently than most people. The American and British war in Iraq most certainly does not enjoy international legitimacy, unless Bar’el would like to point out how many countries refused to participate in that war as allies, or refused to commit serious numbers of troops or troops who would be involved in the fighting. It’s a ridiculous assertion; pulling at straws, if you will.

    Also, until recently, there was no termination date for the Iraq “occupation” and there remain doubts as to whether the termination date will actually hold up since Iraqi troops are far from ready. Same thing in Afghanistan where the war has no end in sight.

    No, I’d hypothesize that those countries which vote in the UNHRC or as part of the Muslim and Arab bloc and their adjuncts, recognize that Britain and the US have far more clout internationally than Israel, with significant economic, military and historic ties to their countries. Also, THEY DON’T REALLY CARE about human rights, laws of war or anything of the sort unless it gives them a leg up politically over their opponents. In this case, we are witnessing that happen.

    Israel has 7 million people and an economy that is much smaller than the countries I listed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28nominal%29). It happens to be a Jewish country on land that many Muslims consider to be land that may not be owned or controlled by non-Muslims and it is at war with identifiably Muslim and Arab countries. What is happening at the UN has nothing to do with “international legitimacy” of the Iraq war or anything of the sort. What is happening is about clout and size. The manner in which Israel is treated at the UN is actually a sad commentary about the UN.

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