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8 October 2009 Edition

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International: Searing indictment of Israeli assault on Gaza

An end to impunity?


BY DARA MacNeilL

On 15 September, Justice Richard Goldstone delivered a searing indictment of the conduct of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), during their murderous assault on Gaza, which left some 1400 Palestinians dead. And the indictment – contained in his investigation into the war – is one that directly implicates the Israeli state and, by extension, its longstanding campaign to prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.
Goldstone’s own words could not have been clearer: “The mission concluded that actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly in some respects crimes against humanity, were committed by the Israel Defence Forces.”
In response to the outrage that greeted Operation Molten Lead, when the IDF launched an all out assault against a trapped civilian population  – probably the first instance of a war where refugees were prevented from fleeing, as one commentator noted – the United Nations had launched the Fact Finding Mission that was to be chaired by Justice Richard Goldstone.
Immediately, Israel had a very serious problem. Firstly, Justice Richard Goldstone had an impeccable record and one perfectly suited to the mission with which the UN had charged him – he had acted as chief prosecutor at the international tribunals that secured convictions in the case of both the Rwandan genocide and the war in the former Yugoslavia. So his credentials could not be rubbished, nor his experience questioned.
Secondly and perhaps more awkwardly, Goldstone is himself Jewish. This, as Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery outlined, created a particular difficulty for the Israeli government, as did Goldstone’s own political pedigree:
“Neither a British Holocaust-denier nor a German neo-Nazi, nor even an Iranian fanatic, but of all people a Jewish judge who bears the very Jewish name of Goldstone (originally Goldstein, of course). And not just a Jew with a Jewish name, but a Zionist, whose daughter, Nicole, is an enthusiastic Zionist who once “made Aliyah” and speaks fluent Hebrew. And not just a Jewish Zionist, but a South African who opposed apartheid and was appointed to the country’s Constitutional Court when that system was abolished.”

INVESTIGATION TEAM REFUSED ENTRY
Thus, the option of smearing of Goldstone as anti-semitic, or somehow possessing an irrational hatred of Israel was also ruled out. And so the Israelis dealt with Goldstone’s investigation by simply pretending that it was not happening and refusing all cooperation. They even refused the investigation team entry into Gaza. Indeed the Israeli Government had, in the aftermath of Gaza, such damaged credibility and so little room for manoeuvre that it was left with no option but to boycott Goldstone’s investigation.
As Avnery again explains: “they knew full well that the commission, any commission, would have to reach the conclusions it did reach......In fact, the commission did not say anything new. Almost all the facts were already known: the bombing of civilian neighbourhoods, the use of flechette rounds and white phosphorus against civilian targets, the bombing of mosques and schools, the blocking of rescue parties from reaching the wounded, the killing of fleeing civilians carrying white flags, the use of human shields, and more.” (Visit www.avnery-news.co.il for more trenchant and cogent analysis). 
In ordering the investigation into the Gaza assault and placing Richard Goldstone at its head, there can have been no one involved in that decision who operated under any illusion about what the outcome was likely to be, without prejudging it, nor anyone who hoped against hope that it would find some spurious basis on which to condone and excuse the behaviour of the IDF and its political masters.

ISRAEL’S INCREASED ISOLATION
Quiet clearly, the number and range of people who now hold that Israel has crossed a political and moral rubicon grows with each passing day. And allied to the growing international power and reach of the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions campaign – to which the ICTU has added its voice  – all amounts to a clear illustration of Israel’s increased isolation.
If nothing else, it appears to indicate that as far as Israel’s conduct in the Occupied Territories is concerned, the age of impunity is over. And this impunity – this capacity to breach UN resolutions at will and confidently ignore public and political pressure – was itself a key element in its control of the Occupied Territories, creating a fear amongst the occupied that it knew no restraint and was not subject to any rational boundaries. Sometimes they call it terror. 
Of course, it remains to be seen how the UN and the international community follow up on Goldstone’s meticulous 574 page report. One of its key recommendations was that the UN Security Council establish a team of experts to monitor Israel’s investigations of the war crimes it was found to have committed in Gaza. If it fails to do so, then the matter is to be referred to the Prosecutor in the International Criminal Court.
As with many an occupying power before, Israel has overestimated the limits of its own power and over reached. It may now be but one step away from being forced to explain its actions from the dock. 

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