Congress, Accountability, and the Goldstone Report
I have been to the Gaza Strip twice and southern Israel once since the 2008-09 war, where I had the opportunity to listen to accounts from both people about what had happened to them during that time. Israelis showed me thickly walled rooms that act as bomb shelters and explained air raid siren systems in Sderot and Ashqelon. As difficult as their situation was, nothing could have prepared me for the level of destruction I found in Gaza. I walked through bombed-out buildings like the United Nation's food and aid storage facility and the children's ward of al-Quds hospital and heard stories from people who had lost families and homes. The entire territory seemed to have been razed to the ground.
I imagine that Judge Goldstone had a similar experience in Gaza where he and his team visited with survivors while conducting the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. "It was a very difficult investigation which will give me nightmares for the rest of my life," he said in a television interview last week.
The human rights framework is critical for all parties involved to move forward in the wake of operation "Cast Lead"--and that's precisely what Goldstone's report provided to the United Nation's Human Rights Council. The council overwhelmingly voted to endorse the mission's recommendations. Now members of the U.S. House of Representatives have pushed to bury that report for good in a fast-track vote that passed 344 to 36.
Many of its critics have called the report "unbalanced" (the House Resolution uses the term "irredeemably biased"). Actually, the report was far more "balanced" than the war--it found Palestinian groups had violated international law as well as Israel. The war itself was terribly unbalanced in terms of disproportionate loss of life and livelihood. Palestinian militants killed nine Israelis, including three civilians, during the three-week conflict. While these actions should be condemned roundly, so should the actions of the Israeli military that cost at least 1,300 Palestinians in Gaza--the majority of whom were civilians--their lives. Despite all the attacks on the messenger, no one has claimed that any allegation in the report is actually false.
Congress--and all Americans for that matter--should welcome each and every investigation of human rights violations, wherever and by whomever they may have been committed. In this particular case, we provide $3 billion annually for weapons and military equipment to one of the two parties (Israel) alleged to have used those weapons illegally. We have more responsibility than any other country to ensure that serious investigations are undertaken.
Upholding the Goldstone Report in no way prevents the Israeli government from conducting an internal investigation--and they should do just that. Knesset member Yuli Tamir expressed the necessity of accountable reporting after events such as the last war with Gaza while speaking on a panel in Washington last week. "We should have had an inquiry," she said, "we will, but it will be too little, too late, and not trusted because it is coming after international pressure." Israeli human rights groups such as B'Tselem and international organizations like Human Rights Watch have already published their reports on the war.
There is obviously a lot at stake for both Israel and the Palestinians in the wake of the most violent actions against the occupied territories since the occupation itself in 1967. Another round of peace talks is about to take place, with the U.S. again taking up the part of the "honest broker". Dismissing much of what happened in Gaza will do little to earn us any respect in that role and has the potential to seriously upset that process.