Sunday, October 25, 2009

Goldstone Deserves Support

Ian Williams: Stand up and defend Richard Goldstone
October 24, 2009 11:59 pm Tribune

Under Tony Blair, Britain joined Palau and a few other Pacific quasi dependencies in voting along with the United States at the United Nations on Israeli issues, rather than abstaining as even Margaret Thatcher used to do. So it is not just a small mercy, more a medium sized one, that Britain (and France) refused to vote against the resolution on the Goldstone Report at the UN Human Rights Council last week,

Britain did not abstain in a formal way, but did not vote with the US and that is a big advance. However, in the annals of lame critiques, it would be difficult to beat the cackhanded attempt to be soft on Israel epitomized in the British ambassador’s desperate search for something critical to say. “Because Israel did not co-operate with the Mission, which we regret, the report lacks an authoritative Israeli perspective on the events in question, so crucial to determining the legality of actions.” That has to be up there with a child who has murdered his parents asking the court for mercy because he is an orphan.

Despite the ambassador’s revealing fatuity, this time Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly tried to persuade Benjamin Netanyahu that, in return for a “No” vote, Israel would agree to an impartial inquiry, end the blockade on Gaza and freeze settlements.

The big question is: what does Israel have to fear from mounting its own inquiry? For the answer, we can look to the Kahan commission into the Sabra and Chatila massacres back in 1982, which improbably somehow contrived to find Ariel Sharon culpable, but Israel not guilty. It was an unconvincing greywash that left most of the world convinced of complicity by the Israeli Defence Forces. Israel’s leaders know that their actions in Gaza cannot bear objective scrutiny.

Across much of the West, the 1982 massacres marked the point that Israel and its mostly Labour governments went into overdraft on the sympathy account. Under Tony Blair, once he had removed the recalcitrantly principled Robin Cook as Foreign Secretary, Britain returned to a reflexive support for Israel. The presumption of sympathy for the Israeli Labour Party has rarely been justified. It presided over the building and expansion of the settlements, annexed Jerusalem, demolished houses and imprisoned Palestinians in the same way as Likud. It was just that, unlike Likud, Labour made the right noises while doing so.

It was a Labour Prime Minister who scorched South Lebanon to get re-elected. Interestingly, Netanyahu told the Knesset after hearing the UNHRC vote: “We will not allow Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak, who sent our sons to war, to arrive at the international court in The Hague.” One cannot help suspecting that this was the Likud leader’s reminder to the White House that, despite the Israeli Prime Minister’s vigorous defence of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, it was the “peace” Labour/Kadima coalition that had planned and initiated it.

For the record, in the flood of personal attacks on former international war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone, neither the US nor Britain and France seriously challenged the substance of his report or the integrity of his mission. They have been reduced to the inanities mentioned earlier, lamenting its failure to hear the case that the Israelis refused to make.

There have been occasional references to the imbalance of his mandate. Yet Goldstone, a self-professed Zionist and Israel supporter, altered his mandate to include investigations of Hamas’ actions. Occasionally, in deference to the Israeli furore, references are made about the report being unbalanced – which could only come from people who have not read it. It calls on Hamas, as well as Israel, to investigate its actions.

Bearing mind the almost 100 to one Palestinian to Israeli death toll and the numerous mentions of one Israeli prisoner, Gilad Shalit, compared with the skimpy references to as many as 10,000 Palestinian prisoners, including many elected legislators, held by Israel, pro-Palestinian commentators have much more room to complain of bias about the report’s allocation of space.

The Israeli government is seriously worried that its charm of impunity is wearing off. It should be. Goldstone is a person of the highest integrity. From his work in South Africa, to the International Tribunal for the Balkans and even on the Volcker Commission on the Oil For Food programme in Iraq, he has shown his dedication to international law and accountability. He has even condemned the resolution adopting his report for not explicitly mentioning Hamas.

The question for the West is: who are you going to believe? Goldstone and his colleagues or the politicians who gave you Sabra and Chatila, who shelled refugees in Qana, who shelled UN compounds in Gaza, who continue building the “defence wall” in defiance of the World Court, who continue building settlements and evicting families from their homes in defiance of international law and their own promises?

Take away the reflexive pro-Israeli position and there is only one answer, which Gordon Brown seems to be arriving at – no matter how reluctantly.

Anyone who cares about international law and human rights should be standing up to defend Goldstone and attack his detractors. After all, his demands are most modest: investigate yourself, transparently – as even members of the Knesset are asking.

1 comment:

Liam said...

Thank you for writing about this. The American public is really tired of Israel having such a stranglehold on our politicians. That recent bill passed in congress against the Goldstone report was embarrassing to say the least. That there was even such a bill drawn up and voted on so completely tells you how corrupt and comprimised our Congress actually is. What was the tally? 340 to 32?

D.C. and NYC are
"occupied territories" as well, not just Palestine.