Analysis: Israel never had a chance with the UN’s Gaza report

By Shmuel Rosner, September 18, 2009
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Too much force? Remains of a hotel destroyed in Gaza in January

Too much force? Remains of a hotel destroyed in Gaza in January

It is true: Israel did use “disproportionate force” when fighting Operation Cast Lead. It was also “collectively punishing” the Palestinians.

“The testimonies we have heard… have been very difficult to hear, but I believe it is important that we listen to these stories,” said UN investigator Richard Goldstone, presenting his committee’s report this week.

Again, that is hardly a stunning insight. People who reside in war zones have ugly stories to tell, and regular consumers of both Israeli and Palestinian press reports already know the gory details — many accurate, some invented — of Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Some actions by IDF soldiers should be condemned, investigated, maybe even prosecuted by Israeli authorities. Others were taken in the aggressive pursuit of achieving the war goal, of stopping the shelling of Israel.

So there is very little new evidence in this report, few new revelations. The committee could even argue that it suffered from lack of information because Israel did not cooperate with it — a cause, or an excuse, for errors.

One example: the committee could find no evidence proving that Hamas men were hiding in hospitals. Israel could have provided such evidence.

However, Israel decided not to play this game of bias-under-the-fig-leaf-of-the-UN. This was the only reasonable decision to be made. And the proof of that pudding is in the eating. Judge Goldstone might reasonably claim he is innocent when confronted with questions of accuracy and detail, of shady sources and one-sided reliance on the Palestinian side, because Israel was not cooperative. But the way the committee analysed the facts it did have shows that Israel had no chance of being treated fairly.

For example, the report says that Israel carried out “direct attacks against civilians with lethal outcome”.

That civilians were killed is known. That in some cases more caution should have been used is also clear. But had Israel practised “direct attacks” against civilians in Gaza — had this been Israel’s policy — the number of Palestinians killed would have been in the thousands, not hundreds.

When the vast majority of the killed and wounded are gun-holders and Hamas members, one should assume that killing civilians was not Israel’s intention. Mostly it was a mistake. Occasionally, over-zealous pursuit by unruly soldiers was to blame.

But the judge did not just want to highlight the “outliers”, to say that in some instances IDF soldiers used too much force. Judge Goldstone wanted to indict the government and the military, to claim that the policy was criminal in nature.

In essence, he was playing a role. Judge Goldstone himself is one tool — call it a weapon — that Palestinians learned to use skillfully against Israel. They cannot win on the battlefront, they do not seem to want to compromise or invest more energy in building their “institutions”. But they can use the Goldstones of this world, the Human Rights Watches and the international legal circus as a way of harassing Israel.

This should not be treated lightly. As modern Israeli history has shown again and again, systematic delegitimising is dangerous.

Shmuel Rosner is a Tel Aviv-based columnist and editor

    Last updated: 4:55pm, October 6 2009