The United States has long been on the receiving end of Israeli misbehavior. Israel invades Lebanon or Gaza, the US vetoes UN Security Council resolutions condemning civilian deaths and destruction of infrastructure, and Washington winds up taking the blame for condoning Tel Aviv’s recklessness. Repeat that twenty times and it is no surprise that most of the world regards the United States as the enabler of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. Osama bin Laden has repeatedly cited American support of Israeli repression as one of his reasons for attacking the United States. Opinion polls taken in Muslim countries, where footage of Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians is nightly fare on television, demonstrate sharp declines in the numbers of those who regard the US favorably. And the repeated application of the get out of jail free card to Israel has produced an insufferable arrogance in Israeli leaders like Benjamin Netanyahu, confident that the American dog will let itself be wagged by the Israeli tail whenever necessary. It invites more of the same, whether it is building more settlements, killing civilians in Gaza, or intercepting humanitarian missions on the high seas.
Not being held accountable ever has led to recklessness on the part of the Israelis and has further diminished America’s international reputation as it is increasingly seen as complicit in various outrages and even war crimes. In the Cast Lead invasion of Gaza in December 2008 Israel was able to unleash an enormous and sophisticated US-provided military arsenal against a largely helpless civilian population within which a small number of genuine Hamas militants concealed themselves. It was probably Israel’s most audacious defiance of international norms of behavior and the fact that it has escaped consequence-free suggests that history will soon repeat itself in the form of another assault on Hamas which will undoubtedly bring in its wake a large number of civilian casualties and further destruction of schools, hospitals, homes, and businesses.
This time Judge Richard Goldstone, who was commissioned by the United Nations to head a group of four jurists asked to write a report on Cast Lead, has to be seen as an enabler of any possible future conflict. Let us assume for a moment that Goldstone, who was under tremendous pressure from international Jewry, was actually sincere in his recent recantation regarding Israeli war crimes in Gaza. His first report for the United Nations asserted that Israel and Hamas had both been guilty of war crimes, but that the devastation produced by Israel far exceeded anything accomplished by Hamas. Israeli crimes included destroying clearly identified schools, hospitals, and United Nations food warehouses. White phosphorous artillery shells were used against civilian targets, generally regarded as completely unacceptable by most of the world’s militaries. It was collective punishment time with Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister declaring "The Palestinians are going to bring upon themselves a Holocaust."
The UN report details how civilians were shot down when trying to surrender to advancing Israeli soldiers. Mostly civilians died, possibly as many as 1,000, including at least 300 children. The Goldstone report concluded that Israel had initiated a "deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate, and terrorize a civilian population." It also called for the behavior of both Israel and Hamas to be thoroughly investigated in both Gaza and Israel and that the issue of possible war crimes be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for adjudication. But as the Goldstone report must first be referred to the court by the UN Security Council, a veto by the US to halt the proceedings is more-or-less a given.
In the more than two years since Cast Lead neither Israel nor Hamas has seriously investigated any aspects of it, and several independent reviews have concluded that Israel, which basically lets its army investigate itself, is institutionally incapable of an objective inquiry. The Israeli Defense Forces officer who oversaw the killing of 29 members of one Palestinian family has not been charged or even investigated. One soldier received a seven-month prison sentence for stealing a credit card while another who used a Palestinian child as a shield received a three-month suspended sentence.
Now Goldstone would have one believe that it is his modified viewpoint that Israel did not deliberately target the civilians, the only issue that he is seeking to "reconsider" in the 575 page report. That presumably means that there is no order on paper in his possession indicating that to be the intention. And since Goldstone has had no access to any official Israeli sources of information as Tel Aviv did not cooperate in the inquiry, even that conclusion can presumably be challenged. One has to suspect that Goldstone has bowed to pressure, possibly including Israel’s recent creation of a branch of military intelligence that has been tasked with seeking out and confronting individuals and groups suspected of "delegitimizing" Israel abroad. That knock on the door might be a magazine salesman or it might be a friendly IDF representative with a warning.
Israel has been increasing the pressure on Gaza over the past month and many believe that the reprieve provided by Goldstone will give the green light to another major incursion. Prime Minister Netanyahu has threatened to use all necessary force to stop the missiles being fired into Israel from Gaza, while other government officials and military sources suggest that another invasion of Gaza is being planned, possibly for next month. The Gazan authorities have declared a cease-fire, which apparently is holding from their side, but Israeli artillery barrages have continued. The tit-for-tat between Hamas in Gaza and Israel began, in fact, with the Israeli targeted killing of five Palestinians in Gaza between April 1st and 5th. Hamas retaliated on the 7th by firing mortars into Israel and Israel responded immediately with artillery that killed five Palestinians. Over the weekend, Israel killed thirteen more Gazans with artillery and rocket strikes. When Israel kills civilians, they are invariably described as terrorists.
If Israel unleashes its military on Gaza many Arab civilians will die and it is the United States that again will ultimately pay the piper. Congress will immediately support Israel, claiming that it has the right to defend itself and the mainstream media will also be on board. Even if the White House knows it is Israel that is cranking up the fighting, it too will quickly cave in and make itself available to stop any contrary resolution in the UN Security Council. American prestige in the Middle East will be mired in the single digits and the ability of Washington to act effectively in any country in the region if a vital interest seriously is threatened will be nullified. Judge Richard Goldstone might feel that he has mended fences with his coreligionists, but he has a lot to answer for among those who believe that truth and accountability truly matter.