Another breach in Israel’s wall of impunity

Israel’s efforts to malign the reputation of Judge Richard Goldstone have failed to bury the UN inquiry he led. (Jean-Marc Ferre/UN Photo)

The Goldstone report into war crimes during Israel’s massacres in Gaza last winter finally managed to cross its first major procedural hurdle as the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva (HRC) passed a resolution endorsing it on 16 October. The resolution called on “all concerned parties including United Nations bodies” to implement the report’s recommendations — which include trying Israeli leaders in international courts if Israel fails to do so — and forwarding the report to the General Assembly for further action.

The US dismissed the resolution as being biased because it only criticized Israel — and not Palestinian armed groups which are also accused in the Goldstone report of committing war crimes by firing rockets at Israel that killed three Israeli civilians. The US also did not like the fact that the HRC resolution included issues unrelated to Gaza, namely, Israel’s aggressive expansion of settlements in occupied Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, the construction of the West Bank wall, interference with holy sites, and attempts to change the demographic character of Jerusalem.

But this focus was entirely appropriate because Hamas, unlike Israel, cooperated fully with the Goldstone report’s preparation, and Hamas even said it would conduct investigations of Palestinian actions as the report demands. One may be skeptical of how credible those investigations would be, but Israel has not even gone that far. Hence, the resolution correctly condemned “the non-cooperation by the occupying power, Israel, with the independent international fact-finding mission,” led by Goldstone.

The resolution was fully balanced in the sense that it placed matters back in their proper context: Israel is the “occupying power” and Palestinians are an occupied people. They are not equals.

Although Israel refused to cooperate with the report’s authors it is nevertheless alarmed by the report which documents in detail evidence of its flagrant war crimes and crimes against humanity. Israel’s efforts to malign the reputation of Judge Richard Goldstone — a jurist of impeccable international judicial credentials, and a Jewish Zionist South African — failed to bury the report.

Since its creation, Israel has managed to evade all its obligations under international law and for most of its six decades it has enjoyed American protection that has allowed Israel to act as an outlaw with total impunity.

The Goldstone report saga is no exception. In early October, intensive American and Israeli pressure and threats against Mahmoud Abbas and his Ramallah Palestinian Authority (PA) succeeded in getting the latter to pull support from an HRC draft resolution endorsing the report. This would effectively have buried it. But a sustained uproar among Palestinian public opinion at what was seen as a clear betrayal by Abbas, forced a change of course.

For Palestinians, long accustomed to the PA’s duplicitous dealings with Israel, the Goldstone affair was too much. How could Abbas — who is supposed to be defending Palestinians — extend a lifeline to the perpetrators of the Gaza massacre and offer them an escape from accountability? Neither Abbas nor his international and Israeli backers were able to ignore the growing popular rebellion against the PA, as well as the growing calls for Abbas’ removal and even trial for betraying his own people.

After weeks of confused and contradictory justifications, Abbas ordered his Geneva representative to reinstate the resolution, leading to the passage of the HRC resolution last week.

Abbas’ decision to return to Geneva and demand a special session of the HRC was met with some understanding by those who pushed him into this mess. Both the Israelis and the Americans seem to have realized that his half-hearted return to Geneva was solely meant for damage repair. Abbas’ desperate effort to save his political life was also in the interest of his manipulators who are not yet done with him and his role.

While they permitted Abbas’ tactical retreat, the Israelis and Americans directed their pressure this time towards other members of the HRC in the hope that they withhold their votes. Some did submit to this pressure to appease the US and Israel, but the resolution in favor of the report still passed by 25 votes to six, with 11 abstentions.

The United States led the opposing vote in line with its standard policy of protecting Israel from international censure. By doing this and by mobilizing others to vote the same way, Washington is in effect encouraging and rewarding Israeli aggression and crimes and destroying any chance of regaining any credibility in the region. The brief moment of hope generated by the election of President Barack Obama has been irretrievably lost as it is clear that the US superpower is still apparently being led by a small rogue state rather than using its power and authority to stop Israel from massacring Arabs in Palestine and elsewhere, stealing their land, occupying their territory, escalating the regional race for weapons of mass destruction, and threatening its neighbors near and far.

Israel has long fooled much of the world, claiming to be the only progressive Western-style democracy surrounded by savage, aggressive Arabs and terrorist Palestinians who want to destroy it. A blend of Western hypocrisy, fear, hidden racist tendencies, ignorance and appeasement have for too long shielded Israel from paying the price for its actions.

The HRC resolution’s condemnation of Israel’s restrictions on Palestinians “on the basis of national origin, religion, sex, age or any other discriminatory ground” as a “grave violation of the Palestinian People’s civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights,” is a welcome international recognition of the racist nature of Israel’s policies.

It may be too early to hope that the Goldstone report will result directly in Israeli leaders facing trial in international courts; there are still too many opportunities for Israel and its backers to block such action. But Goldstone marks another major breach in the wall of Israeli impunity that is slowly but surely crumbling. It is a matter of time before Israel faces the consequences of its crimes and all who support peace and justice should welcome and work for that with renewed vigor.

Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations. This essay first appeared in The Jordan Times and is republished with the author’s permission.