Shooting the messenger (and everyone else): investigating war crimes in Gaza

The finding from the UN investigator Judge Richard Goldstone that both the Israeli Defense Forces and Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes in Gaza at the beginning of the year has met with two predictable responses.

Response no1: Hamas says it fired hundreds of rockets into southern Israel “in self-defence”. It rejects criticism on the basis that “resistance” apparently confers the right to behave this way.

Response no2: Israel rejects the 575 pages of the Goldstone report (presumably without reading any of them) because the UN fact-finding mission was a UN Human Rights Council investigation, a body that Israel considers to be biased against it.

Hamas’ rejoinder is flimsy in the extreme. Firing inaccurate Grad, Katyusha or Qassam rockets over the border and into Israeli towns like Ashkelon and Sderot was totally reckless behaviour that no self-respecting military outfit should ever try to justify. Being themselves under attack is no justification for this behaviour. As Amnesty has said before, these tactics amount to clear war crimes and those responsible should be investigated and brought to justice for them.

Israel’s reply? Also flimsy, but for a different reason. Attempting to besmirch the integrity of the UN’s investigation rather than engaging with its detailed findings (it’s apparently based on 10,000 pages of documentation, 1,200 photographs and 188 interviews), an official spokesman has denounced the fact-finding mission as a “kangaroo court” which was originally – in his florid, biblical phrase – “born in sin”. As Goldstone himself says, this constitutes “trying to shoot the messenger before the message has even been delivered”.

The sheer wrong-headedness of both these responses is enough to make you despair. It’s both sides covering their ears and chanting “We’re right”, “We’re right” over and over again. It’s ritualistic, sectarian, born not in sin but in a bloody-minded refusal to practise any self-criticism.

As Antony Lerman notes regarding the Human Rights Watch/WW2 military memorabilia affair, Israel has a nasty habit of playing the man not the ball when it comes to fending off critics. It’s presumably why Goldstone’s own daughter has given a “prebuttal” interview where she says her father is “a Zionist” who “loves Israel”. After HRW, is Amnesty International next? Are we set to be outed as a hotbed of Holocaust-deniers? Will key Amnesty researchers be unmasked, shown to be furtive collectors of David Irving DVDs? What about that Neil Durkin? Didn’t he once go to an “Oi” skinhead gig in the early 80s where the audience was wall-to-wall bovver boys all in thrall to The Cockney Rejects? (Yes, but I can explain…)

Rather than sinking to such scurillity, Israel ought to confront these serious criticisms head-on. The UN is asking that Israel ensure that there are proper independent investigations of some of their initial findings within six months. The same goes for the responsibility-evading Hamas side (Goldstone does not, as Melanie Phillips strangely claims, let Hamas off the hook). If either Israel or Hamas conspicuously fail in this lawful and urgently necessary task, the UN suggests this would then rightfully be a matter for the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

If it ever comes to that, stand by for the accusation that Luis Moreno-Ocampo has a fetishistic interest in the leather boots worn by members of Himmler’s Waffen-SS units.

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