Goldstone and the Israelis — an Analysis by Uri Avnery

Note from Rabbi Michael Lerner: There is much wisdom in Uri Avnery’s analysis of the Goldstone controversy, but I cannot accept the ironic dissing of Goldstone himself. We did not give him the Tikkun award because we agreed with his report — we knew and said publicly long ago that the claim that Israel intentionally sought to kill civilians was at this point unsubstantiated and weakened the report, and I’m glad he repudiated that part. But we gave Goldstone the award for his integrity and willingness to challenge his own people’s blind allegiance to the government of Israel, and I continue to believe in his integrity even if I believe that the op-ed he published in the Washington Post was confused and ambiguous in many respects. Goldstone received the enthusiastic standing ovation when he was introduced and when he finished his remarks (which you can actually listen to online). And we were moved by his insistence on protecting the needs of civilians. Neverthelesss, Uri Avnery has a very important point in arguing that war itself is such a violation of human rights that the notion that we can only protect “innocent civilians” is itself a problematic retreat for those who know that the “legal” murdering that takes place in wars is itself fundamentally immoral. So I hope that Avnery’s cynical comments about Goldstone doesn’t deflect you from considering all the rest of his important analysis.

The Gold and the Stone

by Uri Avnery

THERE IS something tragicomic about the persona of Richard Goldstone.

First there was a veritable storm of fury when the original Goldstone report was issued.

What a fiend! A Jew who claims to be a Zionist and an Israel-lover, who publishes the most abominable slanders about against our valiant soldiers, aiding and abetting the worst anti-Semites around the world! The very prototype of a self-hating Jew! Still worse, a “mosser” – a Jew who turns another Jew over to the evil Goyim, the most detested figure in Jewish folklore.

And now the turnabout. Goldstone, the Jew who has recanted. Goldstone who has publicly confessed that he was wrong all along. That the Israeli army committed no crimes in the 2009-2010 “Cast Lead” Gaza operation, On the contrary, while the Israeli army has conducted honest and meticulous investigations into all the allegations, Hamas has not investigated any of the horrendous crimes it has committed.

Goldstone, the Man of Stone, has become Goldstone, the Man of Gold. A man of conscience! A man to be admired!

It was, of course, Binyamin Netanyahu who had the final word. Goldstone’s recantation, he summarized, has confirmed once again that the IDF is the Most Moral Army in the World.

MY HEART bleeds for Judge Goldstone. From the beginning he was placed in an impossible situation.

The UN commission which appointed him to head the inquiry into the allegations of war crimes committed during the operation was acting on a seemingly logical but actually foolish calculation. Appointing to the job a good Jew, and an avowed Zionist to boot, would disarm, it was thought, any allegation of anti-Israeli bias.

Goldstone and his colleagues undoubtedly did an honest and conscientious job. They sifted the evidence laid before them and arrived at reasonable conclusions on that basis. However, almost all the evidence came from Palestinian and UN sources. The commission could not interrogate the officers and soldiers of the Israeli forces because our government, in a typical and almost routine act of folly, refused to cooperate.

Why? The basic assumption is that all the world is out to get us, not because of anything we do, but because we are Jews. We know we are right, and we know that they are out to prove us wrong. So why cooperate with these bloody anti-Semites and Jewish self-haters?

Today, almost all influential Israelis concede that this was a stupid attitude. But there is no guarantee that our leaders will behave any differently next time, especially since the army is dead set against allowing any soldiers to appear before a non-Israeli forum, or, for that matter, before an Israeli non-military forum either.

BACK TO poor Goldstone. After the publication of his commission’s report, his life became hell.

The full fury of the Jewish ghetto against traitors from its midst was turned on him. Jews objected to his attending his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. His friends turned away from him, He was ostracized by all the people he valued.

So he searched his soul and found that he had been wrong all along. His findings were one-sided. He would have found differently if he had heard the Israeli side of the story. The Israeli army has conducted honest investigations into the allegations, while the barbarous Hamas has not conducted any investigations at all into their obvious war crimes.

So when was Goldstone wrong? The first or the second time?

The answer is, alas, that he was wrong both times.

THE VERY term “war crimes” is problematic. War itself is a crime, never to be justified unless it is the only way to prevent a bigger crime – as with the war against Adolf Hitler, and now – on an incomparably smaller scale – against Muammar Qaddafi.

The idea of war crimes arose after the horrendous atrocities of the 30-year war, which devastated central Europe. The idea was that it is impossible to prevent brutal actions if they are needed to win a war, but that such actions are illegitimate if they are not needed for this purpose. The principle is not moral, but practical. Killing prisoners and civilians is a war crime, because it serves no effective military purpose, since both sides can do it.  So is the wanton destruction of property.

In Israel this principle was embodied in the landmark judgment by Binyamin Halevy after the 1956 Kafr Qasim massacre of innocent farmers, men, women and children. The Judge ruled that a “black flag” flies over “manifestly” illegal orders – orders which even a simple person can see are illegal, without talking to a lawyer. Since then, obeying such orders has been a crime under Israeli law.

THE REAL question about Cast Lead is not whether individual soldiers did commit such crimes. They sure did – any army is composed of all types of human beings, decent youngsters with a moral conscience besides sadists, imbeciles and others suffering from moral insanity. In a war you give all of them arms and a license to kill, and the results can be foreseen. That is one reason why “war is hell”.

The problem with Lebanon War II and Cast Lead is that the basic approach – the same in both cases – makes war crimes as good as inevitable. The planners were no monsters – they just did their job. They superimposed two facts one on the other. The result was inevitable.

One consideration was the requirement to avoid casualties on our side. We have a people’s army, composed of conscripts from all walks of life (like the US army in Vietnam but not in Afghanistan.) Our public opinion judges wars according to the number of (our) soldiers killed and wounded. So the directive to the military planners is: do everything possible so the number of our casualties will be next to nil.

The other fact is the total disregard for the humanity of the other side. Years and years of the occupation have created an army for whom Palestinians, and Arabs in general, are mere objects. Not human enemies, not even human monsters, just objects.

These two mental attitudes lead necessarily to a strategic and tactical doctrine which dictates the application of lethal force to anyone and anything that can possibly menace soldiers advancing in enemy territory – liquidating them in front of the soldiers preferably from afar by artillery and air power.

When the opposition is a resistance movement operating in a densely populated area, the results can almost be calculated mathematically. In Cast Lead, at least 350 Palestinian civilians, among them hundreds of women and children, were killed, together with about 750 enemy fighters. On the Israeli side: altogether 5 (five!) Israeli soldiers were killed by enemy fire (some six more by “friendly fire”).

This result did not contradict the undeclared political aim of the operation. It was to pressure the Gaza Strip population into overthrowing the Hamas government. This result, of course, was not achieved. Rather the opposite.

The logic – and the balance of casualties – of Lebanon War II were about the same, with added huge material destruction of civilian targets.

FOLLOWING THE Goldstone report, our army did indeed conduct quite extensive investigations into individual incidents. The number is impressive, the results are not. Some 150 or so cases were investigated, two soldiers were convicted (one for theft), one officer was indicted for the killing – by mistake – of an entire extended family.

This seems to satisfy Goldstone, who this week gratefully accepted an invitation  from the Israeli Minister of the Interior – perhaps the most rabid racist in the entire government, in which racists abound – to visit Israel. (When the conversation was leaked, Goldstone cancelled the matter and stated that the report would not be withdrawn.)

On the other side, Goldstone is aflame with indignation against Hamas, for launching rockets and mortar shells at civilians in Israel and conducting no investigations at all. Isn’t it rather ridiculous: using the same standards for one of the five mightiest armies in the world and a band of irregular and poorly equipped resistance fighters (alias terrorists).?

Terrorism is the weapon of the weak. (“Give me tanks and airplanes, and I promise I won’t plant bombs’” a Palestinian once said.) Since the entire military strategy of Hamas is terrorizing Israeli communities along the border in order to persuade Israel to put an end to the occupation (and, in the case of Gaza, to the ongoing blockade), Goldstone’s indignation seems a bit surprising.

Altogether, Goldstone has now paved the way for another Cast Lead operation which will be far worse.

I expect , however, that he can now pray in any synagogue he chooses.


16 thoughts on “Goldstone and the Israelis — an Analysis by Uri Avnery

  1. It is evident that Cast Lead II has already begun. Both Uri Avneri and Gideon Levy are correct. I can’t feel a bit sorry for Goldstone.

    What the Goldstone retraction has wrought. It frees up Israel for Cast Lead II, as had been predicted.

    Published on Saturday, April 9, 2011 by Agence France-Presse
    Death Toll rises in Deadly Gaza Strikes
    12 Killed in Gaza’s Deadliest 24 Hours Since 2008-9 War
    GAZA CITY – An Israeli tank round killed a Palestinian in the Gaza Strip early on Saturday, bringing to 12 the overall toll from the deadliest 24 hours of violence since a devastating war more than two years ago.

    A truce declared by Palestinian armed groups in the enclave unravelled even before it could take hold as militants fired dozens of mortar rounds and rockets into southern Israel and the military retaliated.

    Hamas put security forces and emergency services in Gaza on 24-hour alert amid the escalating tit-for-tat violence and despite calls for an end to the hostilities from both the European Union and the United Nations.

    Around 30 mortar rounds or rockets fired from Gaza hit Israel early on Saturday, without causing damage or casualties, military radio said.

    Twenty mortar bombs exploded, while 10 Grad rockets struck the area around Ashdod, Beersheba and Kiryat Gat, the radio said.

    Israeli shelling killed the Palestinian and wounded a second in an eastern neighbourhood of Gaza City, medics said, without specifying whether they were militants or civilians.

    The Hamas interior ministry decreed a state of alert.

    “All security forces must work 24 hours in 24, even civil defence and medical services, to protect and save the people targeted by the Zionist occupiers,” ministry spokesman Ihab al-Ghussein said.

    “Groups in Gaza committed themselves to respecting the Palestinian consensus and halting rocket attacks, but the Zionist aggressor has ruined everything by attacking and killing civilians — women, children and old people,” he said.

    The latest fighting erupted on Thursday when Hamas militants fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli school bus, critically wounding a teenager and injuring the driver.

    “The attack on a school bus yesterday crossed the line… Whoever tries to hurt and murder children, his blood will be on his own head,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Prague on Friday before heading home.

    Since the bus attack, Israel has launched dozens of raids on targets across the Palestinian territory. By early Saturday, it had killed 17 Gazans — including a 10-year-old boy, at least five Hamas militants and one policeman.

    At least 57 Palestinians were wounded, 12 of them seriously, medics said.

    The death toll of 12 made it the deadliest 24 hours in Gaza since the end of Operation Cast Lead, the devastating 22-day offensive Israel launched in December 2008 that claimed the lives of some 1,400 Palestinians — more than half of them civilians — and 13 Israelis, 10 of them soldiers.

    Palestinian armed groups declared a unilateral truce but both Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed mortar and rocket attacks on Israel on Friday as the violence intensified.

    “Our holy warriors are ready to react to the Zionist aggression and respond to any foolish acts committed by the occupation with everything they have,” said a statement from Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

    An Israeli military spokeswoman said rocket and mortar fire by Gaza militants continued into Saturday morning.

    Several industrially manufactured Grad rockets were fired at the Israeli port city of Ashkelon but had been intercepted by the newly deployed Iron Dome short-range defence system, the spokeswoman added.

    A statement on the Hamas military wing’s website said the “resistance” had fired several Grads at Ashkelon on Friday, and that smoke was seen rising from the city.

    However, the Israeli defence ministry said the Iron Dome anti-rocket system, deployed around Ashkelon just last Monday, had intercepted three rockets, while a fourth struck open ground.

    The port city with a population of some 113,000 was the second city to be protected by an Iron Dome battery after the desert city of Beersheba which has also been targeted by Gaza militants.

    The defence system, the first of its kind in the world and still at the experimental stage, is not yet able to provide complete protection against rocket fire from Gaza, army commanders have warned.

    The Israeli military spokeswoman said overnight raids on Gaza had targeted a “large car carrying weapons,” a tunnel and “three Hamas commanders.”

    EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned the rocket fire from Gaza but also urged Israel to show restraint, urging “an immediate cessation of all violence” and prompting an Israeli diplomat’s “dismay” at her “choice of words.”

    © 2011 Agence France-Presse

  2. I will say this very simply. If Hamas si looking to set off another war, they should not whine abot the casualties. For Hamas, Palestinian casualties are no more than trophies to win over public opinion. just a few days ago Israel intercepted a shipment of weapons to Gaza. What do you think that is for. As for Avnery, well he has little or no respect in Israel. He hung out with his best buddy, the very criminal Yasser Arafat. Avnery is a has been. There is NOTHING wrong with the IDF protecting its own. Mr. Schulman have you held NATO to the same standard as they have mistakenly killed civilians in Libya??

  3. The death toll in Syria in is up to 170 at the start of their most recent massacre. perhaps Assad will equal or surpass his father’s legacy of slaughtering between 10,000 and 20,000 of his own in Hama. But all eyee remain on israeli acts of genocide in Gaza.

  4. Averni:
    1. describes the extreme pressure Goldstone was under
    2. states that Goldstone seems to be impressed with the IDF’s investigation of itself though the investigation’s results were unimpressive given what transpired in Cast Lead; namely, 350 Palestinian civilians killed; etc.
    3. makes the crucial points about the government’s war plan policy,
    a.avoid IDF casualities at all costs – a positive
    b.permeating mind set in Israeli consciousness was/is to regard Palestinians as dehumanized, as objects
    c.attack Hamas (which he sees as a resistance movement), to cast lead (my words here)in densely populated areas
    At this point, I ask the rhetorical question as to how complicit in targeting civilians is a government that unleashes its much superior military with the mind set and the manner just described?
    4.comes to the conclusion that Goldstone’s retraction facilitates the undertaking of a 2nd Cast Lead; and so Goldstone “…can now pray in any synagogue he choses.”
    My response to Rabbi Lerner:
    1. in my opinion, his “confused and ambiguous” report is indicative of a compromised integrity.
    2. Averni’s “ironic dissing”(he can now pray in a synagogue of his choosing) has extreme relevance precisely because it puts in stark contrast the alternative made more possible by his retraction – another Cast Lead.

    • John,
      Tell me this, how does the IDF protecting the lives of it soldiers translate to intentionally targeting civilians? That is really confusing to me. Why would civilians be at risk in the 1t place? What would cause them to be at risk? Could ot have been weapons fire coming from where they were residing? Come on, all you have to do is admit that was the case. In your heart of hearts you know it was.

      You know this whole thing about offering more protection for IDF soldiers came out of the experience in Lebanon in 2006. There wa one village being used to hide Ketushas that had to be taken several times because Hezbollah fighter kept in emerging from tunnels underneath the homes. On the approach to populated, heavily defended area there was going to be with more caution

      I have been in Jabalia and Gaza City. I patrolled those narrow alleyways a streets and can only imagine what it would be like with exploive booby traps and ambushes around each corner. yes this became the defense line for Hamas.

      You mentioned Israel’s superior fire power. Oh yes, it is superior, but Gaza did not see even a small percentage of it. When infantry approaches a point of attack artillery and the air force softens up the target to minimize casualties. If Israel really wanted to unleash its true fire power for this purpose, all of Gaza would be a pile of rubble.

      John, don’t worry, I know where your head is at. Israel will always be on the wrong side, Hamas can do no wrong. You know, when Syria went after the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama, they surrounded the city with tanks and ground that city down to rubble. No one will ever know how many died, 10,000 or 20,000. The world did not even blink.

      And a word about Goldstone, it appears that yesterday’s Tikkunista here is today’ s Yikkunista goat, and all he was doing was being honest

      • “…protecting the lives of it soldiers…”> How, by using illegal weapons against civilians? as well as the destruction of the infrastructure, a flour plant, a sewer treatment plant, a generating station etc. “…Why would civilians be at risk in the 1t place?” Gaza is the most populated place in the world, an open air prison. Where would civilians go to be out of harms way? Not to mention International Law which is violated many times by Israel. The July 15, 1999, conference was called after the UN General Assembly voted 115-2 in February to convene regarding the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits population transfers in occupied territories, to settlements in Israel.

        • Nice work Stirling. But which illegal weapons were used. Yes Phosphorus is often used legally as no more than the chemical to set of flares and smoke covee. I saw some greet Photo Shop work used to claim that the weapons were AIMED at civilians.

          BTW Stirling, I have been in Gaza and there ar lots of open spaced t mount a defense against the IDF without civilians getting caught in the cross fire. But Hamas chose the path using civilians as human shields. You might say that it was in violation of the Geneva Convention.

          ” The July 15, 1999, conference was called after the UN General Assembly voted 115-2 in February to convene regarding the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits population transfers in occupied territories, to settlements in Israel”

          Please explain this?

      • David,
        Read my initial response properly.
        I indicate that (a); namely, protecting IDF soldiers, is a positive.Any government should do that.
        It’s (b) and (c) that produces the carnage.
        Go make your case against Averny, as all I’m doing is summarizing his main points and defending his so called dissing of Goldstone.

        • John, I will pull up a quote of yours from the previous Goldstone column.:
          “It is obvious that Judge Goldstone has “caved” due to the harassment and ostracization he’s received. It’s equally obvious, that in doing so, he does Israel no favor as it enables its illegal and immoral behavior.
          In my opinion, rather than trying to “whitewash” his unfortunate retraction, you should be explaining how, due to “information after the fact”, you gave the Tikkun Award to the wrong man.
          In this way, you would continue to uphold your integrity as an institution”

          You were asked once and i will ask you again. What was illegal about the operation in Gaza? Was there intentional targeting of civilians by the IDF? If so, why?
          it is my understanding that warning were issued to the civilian population of the military operation.

          BTW in the heat of battle ‘love thy enemy” is not an embraced value

      • terangeree,This is not a problem for a spell check. This is deeablrite policy to drop the e’. There ar more exampls of this as you try and read through his posts. I once had a friend with manic depression (bipolar) who thought she had a brilliant idea to change to gender neutral usage terms she developed something like hem (replacing his and her) and hey (for they) etc., and she tried to publicise the idea and to speak and write using these terms.This action may be linked to the Seekers message of her youth that we’ll build a world of our own that no-one else can share and all our sorrows will be far behind us there etcetcetc. Well i know i found there was no piece of mind for the ppl trying to communicate with hem and the same goes for ron1.Maybe in the case of ron1 it could be more to do with texting short hand methods that is tolerable in short bursts, but it is frustrating to use in this kind of forum. Even though i am politically sympathetic to ron1, i skip his posts because of the frustration it engenders in me trying to make sense of his attempt to modernise’ the language. This is not a good approach if you want your ideas taken seriously. (Comrades, on this question of linguistics we are almost all Stalinists now)

  5. I thank God for Rabbi Lerner, who sets all of us an example of thoughtful analysis, and frankness in disagreement combined with charity. It is discourse like his that will, someday, enable us to join our fellow men and women in solutions to the most intractable problems.

  6. Avneri is wrong.
    Hamas does not terrorise Israelis by firing rockets on Western Neguev because it wants to pressure them to stop supporting the occupation.
    This is a mere lie.
    Three months before attacking Hamas, Olmert offered the Palestinians 100% of the West Bank + East-Jerusalem.
    The reason Hamas attacks Israel is because it wants to destroy the peace process, and so far, they have succeeded very well.
    But of course, you can except Avneri to put always the blame on Israel.

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