In Congress’s Attack on Goldstone Report, Fourth Geneva Conventions Takes a Hit
Leading Israeli politicians have claimed that Israel's conduct has been vindicated, distorting Justice Goldstone's op-ed so comprehensively that Amnesty International excoriated the Israeli spin as being "based on a deliberate misinterpretation of Justice Goldstone's comments". Meanwhile in Congress, every bill, letter, and press statement on the subject has parroted the very same narrative that Israel has been absolved of all allegations of wrong-doing in the wake of Justice Goldstone's op-ed.
On Thursday, April 14th, fifteen House Members sent a bi-partisan letter to Ambassador Rice claiming that “[Goldstone’s] retractions clear Israel of the charge that it violated international law under the Fourth Geneva Convention.” While Goldstone personally retracted the accusation in the Goldstone report that Israel ‘intentionally targeted civilians’, nowhere in his op-ed or anywhere else does he ‘clear Israel of the charge that it violated international law’. Yet the signatories of this letter—which includes Rep. Berman, the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs—use this argument to call for the US Mission in the UN to “take immediate action and introduce a resolution expunging the Goldstone Report from the official record of the United Nations”. A resolution passed unanimously by the Senate last week also calls for the UN Human Rights Council to rescind the Goldstone report.
You would never know from any of the grandstanding in Congress that Justice Goldstone still stands by the report that bears his name. In response to the call for nullification of the Goldstone report in the United Nations, he noted that “one correction should be made with regard to intentionality on the part of Israel” but that “as presently advised, I have no reason to believe any part of the report needs to be considered at this time".
Unmentioned in the House letter, the Senate resolution, or other pending legislation in Congress are the Goldstone report's findings on other Israeli violations of international law, in addition to its determinations on Hamas war crimes. As Kenneth Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch noted, “Goldstone has not retreated from the report's allegation that Israel engaged in large-scale attacks in violation of the laws of war.” Jessica Montell, the head of B’tselem, Israel’s leading human rights organization, also pointed out that Justice Goldstone's column “by no means absolves Israel of all the grave allegations regarding its conduct” during its Operation Cast Lead, in which approximately 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. Montell writes:
“Israel has yet to adequately address many allegations regarding its conduct, including: the levels of force authorized; the use of white phosphorous and inherently inaccurate mortar shells in densely populated areas; the determination that government office buildings were legitimate military targets; the obstruction of and harm to ambulances.”
As if Targeting Civilians is the Only War Crime…
The House letter and the entire flurry of legislation also fails to mention that the other three authors of the Goldstone report not only stand by the entirety of the report, they wrote in a devastating response to the Goldstone op-ed and the media storm it generated that “we consider that calls to reconsider or even retract the report, as well as attempts at misrepresenting its nature and purpose, disregard the right of victims, Palestinian and Israeli, to truth and justice”. The fact that Israel has been charged with many of the same violations of international law during Cast Lead by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other human rights and humanitarian aid organizations is entirely ignored in congressional action on the matter.
Even the International Committee of the Red Cross, stated categorically that “the whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility” and that “the closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law”.
By omitting any reference to other allegations of Israel’s violations of international law, Congress seems to suggest that targeting civilians is the only allegation that demands attention.
This is dangerous not only for the future of Israel/Palestine, but it undermines the Fourth Geneva Conventions, which govern the treatment of civilians during wartime. The international community adopted the Fourth Geneva Conventions on the Rules of War in 1949 in response to Nazi atrocities. The United State and Israel are signatories of the Fourth Geneva Conventions, and thus have committed to abiding by all of its provisions laying out the rules of war.
The Fight to Make the Fourth Geneva Conventions Matter
The Senate legislation also notes that “Justice Goldstone admitted that Israel investigated the findings in the report, while expressing disappointment that Hamas has not taken any steps to look into the report's findings”. However, Justice Goldstone's op-ed did not claim that Israel has investigated all of the report’s findings. As Roth of Human Rights Watch explained, “mainly, [Israel] has investigated the common soldier while leaving the top brass and policymakers untouched. Israel's investigations look good only by comparison with Hamas, which has done nothing at all to investigate its war crimes.” He also noted that only one Israeli soldier has served jail time, and that was for stealing a credit card. Even the soldiers convicted by an Israeli military court of using a Palestinian child as a human shield were merely demoted to the rank of sergeant and given suspended three-month sentences.
While Congress presses for the wholesale retraction of the Goldstone report, human rights organizations have stepped up the pressure to demand accountability for Israel’s conduct during its 22-day bombardment of the Gaza Strip by land, air, and sea and Palestinian militants’ conducts for launching unprecedented barrages of rocket fire into southern Israel. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for the UN Security Council to consider referring the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC), where Israel and Hamas could be tried for war crimes.
Despite every bill in the House and the Senate on the Goldstone 'reconsideration' resting on such an assumption, violations of international law cannot simply be excused on the grounds that civilians weren’t deliberately attacked.
All parties must be held accountable for all violations of international law. That would seem to be why international law exists.