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Uri Avnery on the Goldstone report on the Gaza war

Uri Avnery
19.9.09

UM-Shmum, UM-Boom

IS THERE no limit to the wiles of those dastardly anti-Semites?

Now they have decided to slander the Jews with another blood libel. Not the old accusation of slaughtering Christian children to use their blood for baking Passover matzoth, as in the past, but of the mass slaughter of women and children in Gaza.

And who did they put at the head of the commission which was charged with this task? 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.

All this in order to defame the most moral army in the world, fresh from waging the most just war in history!

Richard Goldstone is not the only Jew manipulated by the world-wide anti-Semitic conspiracy. Throughout the three weeks of the Gaza War, more than 10 thousand Israelis demonstrated against it again and again. They were photographed carrying signs saying “End the massacre in Gaza”, “Stop the war crimes”’ “Israel commits war crimes”, “Bombing civilians is a war crime”. They chanted in unison: “Olmert, Olmert, it is true – They’re waiting in The Hague for you!”

Who would have believed that there are so many anti-Semites in Israel?!

THE OFFICIAL Israeli reaction to the Goldstone report would have been amusing, if the matter had not been so grave.

Except for the “usual suspects” (Gideon Levy, Amira Hass and their ilk), the condemnation of the report was unanimous, total and extreme, from Shimon Peres, that advocate of every abomination, down to the last scribbler in the newspapers.

Nobody, but nobody, dealt with the subject itself. Nobody examined the detailed conclusions. With such an anti-Semitic smear, there is no need for that. Actually, there is no need to read the report at all.

The public, in all its diversity, stood up like one person, in order to rebuff the plot, as it has learned to do in the thousand years of pogroms, Spanish inquisition and Holocaust. A siege mentality, the ghetto mentality.

The instinctive reaction in such a situation is denial. It’s just not true. It never happened. It’s all a pack of lies.

By itself, that is a natural reaction. When a human being is faced with a situation which he cannot handle, denial is the first refuge. If things did not happen, there is no need to cope. Basically, there is no difference between the deniers of the Armenian genocide, the deniers of the annihilation of the Native Americans and the deniers of the atrocities of all wars.

From this point of view, it can be said that denial is almost “normal”. But with us it has been developed into an art form.

WE HAVE a special method: when something happens that we don’t want to confront, we direct the spotlight to one specific detail, something completely marginal, and begin to insist on it, debate it, examine it from all angles as if it were a matter of life and death.

Take the Yom Kippur war. It broke out because for six years, beginning with the 1967 war, Israel had cruised like a Ship of Fools, intoxicated with victory songs, victory albums and the belief in the invincibility of the Israeli army. Golda Meir treated the Arab world with open contempt and rebuffed the peace overtures of Anwar Sadat. The result: more than 2000 young Israelis killed, and who knows how many Egyptians and Syrians.

And what was furiously debated? The “Omission”. “Why were the reserves not called up in time? Why were the tanks not moved in advance?” Menachem Begin thundered in the Knesset, and about this, books and articles galore were written and a blue-ribbon judicial board of inquiry deliberated.

The First Lebanon War was a political blunder and a military failure. It lasted 18 years, gave birth to Hizbullah and established it as a regional force. And what was discussed? Whether Ariel Sharon had deceived Begin and was responsible for his illness and eventual death.

The Second Lebanon War was a disgrace from beginning to end, a superfluous war that caused massive destruction, wholesale slaughter and the flight of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians from their homes, without achieving an Israeli victory. And what was our debate about? For what was a commission of inquiry appointed? About the way the decision to start the war was taken. Was there an appropriate process of decision making? Was there orderly staff work?

About the Gaza War, there was no debate at all, because everything was perfectly alright. A brilliant campaign. Marvelous political and military leadership. True, we did not convince the Gaza Strip population to overthrow their leaders; true, we did not succeed in freeing the captured soldier Gilad Shalit; true, the whole world condemned us – but we killed a lot of Arabs, destroyed their environment and taught them a lesson they will not forget.

Now, a profound debate on the Goldstone report is going on. Not about its content, God forbid. What’s there to discus? But about the one point that is really important: was our government right in deciding to boycott the commission? Perhaps it would have been better to take part in the deliberations? Did our Foreign Office act as foolishly as it usually does? (Our Ministry of Defense, of course, never behaves foolishly.) Tens of thousands of words about this world-shaking question were poured out from the newspapers, the radio and TV, with every self-respecting commentator weighing in.

SO WHY did the Israeli government boycott the commission? The real answer is quite simple: 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 neighborhoods, 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. The Israeli army did not allow journalists near the action, but the war was amply documented by the international media in all its details, the entire world saw it in real time on the TV screens. The testimonies are so many and so consistent, that any reasonable person can draw their own conclusions.

If the officers and soldiers of the Israeli army had given testimony before the commission, it would perhaps have been impressed by their angle, too – the fear, the confusion, the lack of orientation – and the conclusions could have been somewhat less severe. But the main thrust would not have changed. After all, the whole operation was based on the assumption that it was possible to overthrow the Hamas government in Gaza by causing intolerable suffering to the civilian population. The damage to civilians was not “collateral”, whether avoidable or unavoidable, but a central feature of the operation itself.

Moreover, the rules of engagement were designed to achieve “zero losses” to our forces – avoiding losses at any price. That was the conclusion our army – led by Gabi Ashkenazi – drew from the Second Lebanon War. The results speak for themselves: 200 dead Palestinians for every Israeli soldier killed by the other side – 1400:6.

Every real investigation must inevitably lead to the same conclusions as those of the Goldstone commission. Therefore, there was no Israeli wish for a real inquiry. The “investigations” that did take place were a farce. The person responsible, the Military Advocate General, kippa-wearing brigadier Avichai Mendelblit, was in charge of this task. He was promoted this week to the rank of major general. The promotion and its timing speak a clear language.

SO IT is clear that there is no chance of the Israeli government belatedly opening a real investigation, as demanded by Israeli peace activists.

In order to be credible, such an investigation would have to have the status of a State Commission of Inquiry as defined by Israeli law, headed by a Supreme Court justice. It would have to conduct its investigations publicly, in full view of the Israeli and international media. It would have to invite the victims, Gaza inhabitants, to testify together with the soldiers who took part in the war. It would have to investigate in detail each of the accusations that appear in the Goldstone report. It would have to check out the orders issued and decisions made, from the Chief of Staff down to the squad level. It would have to study the briefings of Air Force pilots and drone operators.

This list suffices to make it clear why such an investigation will not and cannot take place. Instead, the world-wide Israeli propaganda machine will continue to defame the Jewish judge and the people who appointed him.

Not all the Israeli accusations against the UN are groundless. For example: why does the organization investigate the war crimes in Gaza (and in former Yugoslavia and Darfur, investigations in which Goldstone took part as chief prosecutor) and not the actions of the US in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Russians in Chechnya?

But the main argument of the Israeli government is that the UN is an anti-Semitic organization, and its Human Rights Commission is doubly anti-Semitic.

ISRAEL’S RELATIONS with the UN are very complex. The state was founded on the basis of a UN resolution, and it is doubtful whether it would have come into being at precisely that time and those circumstance had there been no such resolution. Our Declaration of Independence is largely based on this resolution. A year later, Israel was accepted as a UN member in spite of the fact that it had not allowed the (then) 750 thousand Palestinian refugees to return.

But this honeymoon soured quickly. David Ben-Gurion spoke with contempt about UM-Shmum (“Um” is the Hebrew for “UN”, the prefix “shm” signifies contempt). From then on to this very day, Israel has systematically violated almost every single UN resolution that concerned it, complaining that there was an “automatic majority” of Arab and communist countries stacked against it. This attitude was reinforced when, on the eve of the 1967 war, the UN troops in Sinai where precipitously withdrawn on the demand of Gamal Abd-al-Nasser. And, of course, by the UN resolution (later annulled) equating Zionism with racism.

Now this argument is raising its head again. The UN, it is being said, is anti-Israeli, which means (of course) anti-Semitic. Everyone who acts in the name of the UN is an Israel-hater. To hell with the UN. To hell with the Goldstone report.

That is, however, a woefully short-sighted policy. The general public throughout the world is hearing about the report and remembering the pictures they saw on their TV screens during the Gaza war. The UN enjoys much respect. In the wake of the “Molten Lead” operation, Israel’s standing in the world has been steadily going down, and this report will send it down even further. This will have practical consequences – political, military, economic and cultural. Only a fool – or an Avigdor Lieberman – can ignore that.

If there is no credible Israeli investigation, there will be demands for the UN Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Barack Obama would have to decide whether to veto such a resolution – a move that would cause grave harm to the US, and for which he would demand a high price from Israel.

As has been said before: UM-Shmum may turn into UM-Boom.

A link to the UN mission report on the war in Gaza

This is a link to the UN factfinding mission’s report on Israels attack on Gaza from 27. December 2008 until 18 January this year.

Depressing news from the war zone

The prospect for peace and security for the Palestinians is slimmer than it has been for more than a decade.

Fatah rules the West Bank. Hamas rules in Gaza. The Israeli Army (IDF) controls both areas.

The Fatah of the West Bank are on the brink of becoming Palestinian quislings. Hamas in Gaza is isolated, boicotted by Israel and most of the world, starved and desperate.

The international community is fed up with the arrogant, brutal Israeli occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem. But with the USA government bending over to support the Israeli government, whatever foolishness the government cooks up, the rest of the world is paralyzed.

This is the backdrop, just before the coming negotiations in Annapolis in USA. But president Bush and his dangerously incompetent administration have been stripping away opportunities for peaceful solutions, ever since 9/11.

If the Bush administration really do want to make a difference in the Middle East, they have to confront the Israeli government and the IDF, as well as the extreme and hysterical religious rigth, in both Israel and the USA. They have to force the Israelis to give up all occupied land, give the Palestinian refugees from 1948 and 1967 the right to return, and compensate what was stolen from them. All the Palestinian children, parlamentarians and other political prisoners, must be set free. All the illegal settlements must be removed.

The Arab world has offered Israel peace. The conditions are modest, in line with countless UN resolutions, the Geneva convention and the Human Rights Charter.

It is up to Israel to choose peace. But again and again, different Israeli governments have pretended to want peace, but in reality, they have chosen war, terror and humiliation. And the majority of Israeli voters have been unable to produce a political leader with the integrity and moral courage to fight for peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis.

For many years, clever PR staffs and diplomats made the world believe in the brave, little democracy, fighting to survive in a hostile environment. They could fool us all, for a while. But the falsified image have melted away, long ago. Today, Israels real image is emerging: A brutal, aggressive, immoral occupant.

What can we do?