My own war crime: personal reflections following the Goldstone Report

Posted: October 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: this is personal, war | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »
Israeli artillery during operation Grapes of Wrath, 1996

Israeli artillery during operation Grapes of Wrath, 1996

When the Goldstone report was first mentioned in this blog, one of the readers asked me what is it exactly that makes me think that the IDF could have committed war crimes in Gaza. I was asked the same question in an e-mail exchange I had with Prof. Richard Landes, who is a passionate advocate of the Israeli point of view, and naturally, extremely critical of Goldstone.

In both cases I replied that my answer was based on what I learned from the media: That includes cases that the IDF itself confirmed, like as the white phosphorus bombing, and others where the Palestinians’ account of events seemed reliable; there were also numerous reports that the IDF “eased up” its fire-opening procedures during operation Cast Lead; and there were other, more subtle indications, such as a high rate of friendly fire casualties and a low rate or enemy fire casualties – which might, but not necessarily, indicate a policy of “shoot first, then ask questions”. None of this is solid evidence, of course. But the same goes for the people criticizing Judge Goldstone’s report – they also based their opinions on second hand information (at best).

More than anything, it seems to me that the discussion regarding the Goldstone report drifted very quickly from the legal sphere of war ethics and laws to pure propaganda: those who wanted to criticize Israel jumped on the opportunity to attack it, and Israel’s defenders automatically responded. It looks as though the Allen Dershowitzs of this world never even considered the possibility that Israel – let alone the IDF – could have committed a crime. At best, they thought, there might have been some “mistakes”, but never ever something intentional. This was their assumption before reading the report, and this is the conclusion they reached after reading it – if they ever bothered reading it at all.

(There is something absurd about whole debate regarding “war crimes”, because moving civilian population into an occupied territory, as Israel does for more than forty years, is a violation of the 4th Geneva Convention, but the Goldstone report deals with a different crime: widespread killing of uninvolved civilians, either by intension, or as collateral damage, when ways to avoid or substantially reduce this damage were available.)

This is what separates the two sides and at the same time shapes their approach to the Goldstone report: Israel’s defenders don’t believe such things could have happened, while those who attack Israel think that it could, and probably did. As for me, as I said, I don’t know for sure what happened in Gaza, but I’m certain in one thing: the IDF has no problem in attacking civilian targets on purpose, and it did so on numerous occasions. The reason I know this is simple: I did it myself. Read the rest of this entry »

The Goldstone Report: A response to Lawrence Siskind’s “Lawyer’s Perspective”

Posted: October 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, war | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

A friend sent me this article, dealing with the Goldstone report, which appeared in a San Francisco legal publication. The author, attorney Lawrence J. Siskind, examines the report from a legal perspective, and in doing so, raises most of the arguments Israel is using these days.

I thought it might be a good opportunity to join the debate regarding the Goldstone report. So here is Siskind, followed by my replay:

The Goldstone Report: A Lawyer’s Perspective

Commentary By Lawrence J. Siskind

October 16, 2009

Last month, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations formally released a 575-page report entitled “Human Rights in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories.” Popularly known as the “Goldstone Report,” it deals with Israel’s military campaign in Gaza between December 2008 and January 2009. Although it includes some language critical of Hamas, the report directs most of its fire against Israel, which it accuses of “war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.”

Much has been written about the Goldstone Report by international scholars and analysts. But no one has bothered to examine it from the perspective of an ordinary civil litigator. The report purports to be a legal document: evaluating evidence and arriving at legal conclusions. Its chief author, Richard Goldstone, is a noted South African judge. A lawyer’s review seems appropriate.

To fill that gap, this article examines the Goldstone Report from a lawyer’s perspective. So viewed, the report is not merely biased, it is a litigator’s worst nightmare. Read the rest of this entry »

IDF Finds Itself Not Guilty

Posted: March 30th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, war | Tags: , , | Comments Off

Military Advocate Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit announced today that the military police’s investigation into the soldiers’ testimonies concerning the fighting in Gaza found out that those “were based on rumors and not first-hand experience.”

It’s good to hear that the army investigated these incidents, and I do hope that the events described by the soldiers never actually happened. I am, however, concerned by the fact that the army doesn’t check all the other evidences of misconduct during operation Cast Lead – use of illegal weapons, looting, and other cases of reported intentional killings. Even in this latest case, the army knew about the soldiers’ testimonies well before they were handed to the media, but chose to investigate them only after it got all the bad press.

It was the former Militry Advocate, Brig. Gen. Menachem Finkelstein, who, during the 2ed Intifada, cancelled the army procedure of investigating all incidents resulting in the death of civilians. Now we know what makes the army open an investigation: a headline in the New York Times.