Stand up to Bibi, Mr. President; The World is Watching

children n Gaza

Updated three times below

by James M. Wall

The UN Report on Israel’s attack on Gaza, December 27, 2008-January, 18, 2009, found that the attack was “directed at the people of Gaza as a whole,” not just at Hamas militants.

This was just one of the conclusions reached in the massive UN report, written after public hearings and site visits in June and July by a four-member panel chaired by South African Judge Richard Goldstone. (Israel refused to participate.)

Judge Goldstone came to his assignment with impeccable credentials. He was the chief prosecutor with the war crimes tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

In releasing the Report, the judge said: “As a Jew with a long-standing affiliation with Israel, it’s obviously a great disappointment to me, to put it mildly, that Israel behaved as described in the report.”

There was nothing mild in the Report’s conclusion that the assault on Gaza reached the level of “war crimes and possibly, in some respects, crimes against humanity.”

US media has given little attention to the report. Those that do refer to it, usually focus on one finding, Hamas also may have committed war crimes by rocketing Israeli civilian areas.

The scattered Hamas attacks on Israel from across the border hardly compares, however, with the destruction inside Gaza from an Israel assault that continued for three weeks.

The attacks that continued from December 27 to January 18, were obviously planned by Israel well in advance of December 27. Armies do not move tanks, supplies and troops, spontaneously.

The dates are cynical in the extreme. The massacre in Gaza was begun two days after Christmas. It ended just before Barack Obama was sworn in as president. Word in Washington at the time was that president-elect Obama told Israel, “no killing on my watch”.

The Report concluded that Israel’s sustained attacks inside Gaza were

carefully planned in all their phases as a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.

The attacks were so well planned that they even had a template, first formulated in Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon.

In that invasion, Israel followed what its own commanders referred  to as Israel’s Dahiya Doctrine, “the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations.”

Jonathan Cook, writing in the Electronic Intafada, two days after the assault was halted, January 20, reported that “Israel’s ‘Dahiya Doctrine” had come to Gaza:

Palestinian Authority (PA) officials in Ramallah estimate the damage so far at $1.9 billion, pointing out that at least 21,000 residential apartment buildings need repairing or rebuilding, forcing 100,000 Palestinians into refugeedom once again. In addition, 80 percent of all agricultural infrastructure and crops were destroyed. The PA has described its estimate as “conservative.”

None of this will be regretted by Israel. In fact the general devastation, far from being unfortunate collateral damage, has been the offensive’s unstated goal. Israel has sought the political, as well as military, emasculation of Hamas through the widespread destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure and economy.

This is known as the “Dahiya Doctrine,” named after a suburb of Beirut that was almost leveled during Israel’s attack on Lebanon in summer 2006. The doctrine was encapsulated in a phrase used by Dan Halutz, Israel’s chief of staff, at the time. He said Lebanon’s bombardment would “turn back the clock 20 years.”

The commanding officer in Israel’s south, Yoav Galant, echoed those sentiments on the Gaza offensive’s first day: the aim, he said, was to “send Gaza decades into the past.”

This was not, as Israel claimed, and the US public was told, a spontaneous attack to punish Hamas for rocket attacks on Israel.  It was a deliberate act that the Goldstone Report spent eight months studying before concluding that Israel actions reached the level of “war crimes and possibly, in some respects, crimes against humanity.”

Following the same Doctrine it employed in Lebanon, Cook writes:

Israel’s destruction of Gaza continued with unrelenting vigor to the very last moment, even though according to reports in the Israeli media the air force exhausted what it called its “bank of Hamas targets” in the first few days of fighting.

The military sidestepped the problem by widening its definition of Hamas-affiliated buildings. Or as one senior official explained: “There are many aspects of Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel.”

That included mosques, universities, most government buildings, the courts, 25 schools, 20 ambulances and several hospitals, as well as bridges, roads, 10 electricity generating stations, sewage lines, and 1,500 factories, workshops and shops.

Palestinian Authority (PA) officials in Ramallah estimate the damage so far at $1.9 billion, pointing out that at least 21,000 residential apartment buildings need repairing or rebuilding, forcing 100,000 Palestinians into refugeedom once again. In addition, 80 percent of all agricultural infrastructure and crops were destroyed. The PA has described its estimate as “conservative.”

The Goldstone Report is being attacked as “biased” by Israel and its supporters in the U.S. Anything negative against Israel is, in Israeli eyes, “biased”, and if is written by a Jewish jurist loyal to Israel, it must be the work of a “self-hating Jew”. These two terms have lost their ability to intimidate critics, thanks to their overuse in any critical responses to Israeli policies.

The more serious problem facing the Goldstone Report’s ability to bring Israel’s conduct to the attention of the American public, is the ability of Israel to fire back at the Report with its usual “Israel never does anything wrong” reaction. The day after the Report was released, theNew York Timesreported from Jerusalem:

Israeli officials on Wednesday bluntly dismissed one of the main recommendations of the United Nations fact-finding mission’s report on the three-week war in Gaza last winter: a call for the Israeli government to begin an independent investigation of “serious violations” of international humanitarian and human rights law, including evidence of war crimes, during the military campaign.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that the internal military investigations into the Israeli Army’s conduct in Gaza already under way were “a thousand times more serious” than the investigation just completed by the United Nations mission led by Richard Goldstone, a respected South African judge.

Shimon Peres, also harshly criticized the report, calling it “a mockery of history” for failing “to distinguish between the aggressor and a state exercising its right for self-defense.” Mr. Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, added that the report “legitimizes terrorist activity, the pursuit of murder and death.”Goldstone at UN

Judge Goldstone (shown in a UN photo with a colleague at right) saw a different reality. In a New York Times column, he explained what led him to direct the panel and write the UN Report:

I accepted because I believe deeply in the rule of law and the laws of war, and the principle that in armed conflict civilians should to the greatest extent possible be protected from harm.

In the fighting in Gaza, all sides flouted that fundamental principle. Many civilians unnecessarily died and even more were seriously hurt. In Israel, three civilians were killed and hundreds wounded by rockets from Gaza fired by Hamas and other groups. Two Palestinian girls also lost their lives when these rockets misfired.

In Gaza, hundreds of civilians died. They died from disproportionate attacks on legitimate military targets and from attacks on hospitals and other civilian structures. They died from precision weapons like missiles from aerial drones as well as from heavy artillery. Repeatedly, the Israel Defense Forces failed to adequately distinguish between combatants and civilians, as the laws of war strictly require.

President Obama must pay attention to this report. It is a serious indictment of a US ally, supported and funded by Washington. What is preventing him from acknowledging and then acting upon the Goldstone Report?  The answer is simple:  Bibi Netanyahu

Obama has failed to stand up to the US Congress, which takes its marching orders on all things Israeli from AIPAC and Netanyahu. Now, on a world stage, President Obama must stand up to Bibi Netanyahu.

Stephen Walt explains, in a Washington Post column,  how difficult this will be:

Unfortunately, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has no interest in a two-state solution, much less ending settlement expansion. He and his government want a “greater Israel,” which means maintaining effective control of the West Bank and Gaza. His response to Obama’s initiative has ranged from foot-dragging to outright defiance, with little pushback from Washington.

This situation is a tragedy in the making between peoples who have known more than their share. Unless Obama summons the will and skill to break the logjam, a two-state solution will become impossible and those who yearn for peace will be even worse off than before.

To counter that pessimistic forecast, Middle East scholar and University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, suggests that Obama should confront Bibi with the harsh reality that Israel has emerged on the world stage as an “international pariah” (Note the boldface links within this link which provide an overview of the boycott movement.)

Israel’s continued inhumane blockade of the people of Gaza and its drive to further colonize the Palestinian West Bank, as well as its tendency to launch wars at the drop of a hat, are increasingly making it an international pariah and impelling a boycott movement, especially in Europe but also Canada.

The recent World Council of Churches resolution in favor of some boycotts is also a bellwether. (Nor can such boycotts be avoided by Jewish nationalists’ attacks on the academic freedom of boycott proponents such as Neve Gordon; or by Stern Gang character assassination tactics deployed against US academics who protest the policies of the Israeli rightwing.)

Israel is deeply dependent on trade and technological sharing with Europe, and the Goldstone report will give a fillip to the boycott movement. It will also cast a long shadow on future Israeli wars on its neighbors and how they are perceived, as Aluf Benn argues in Haaretz. . . .

. . . No Israeli official publicly presents a plausible end-game for Gaza and the West Bank. You can’t just go on economically strangling 4 million people for decades. Unlike other world conflict situations, Israel is not striving to incorporate the Palestinians as citizens (unlike the case in Sri Lanka, which wants the Tamils as citizens, or in Tibet, where China wants the Tibetans as citizens).

In contrast, Israel is keeping the Palestinians stateless, and stateless people have no property or human rights. It is governments that guarantee rights. For those lacking citizenship in a real country, the only glimmer of justice that ever appears is in the form of blue ribbon commissions. Hence Justice Goldstone’s report.

So look beyond your own shores for support, Mr. President.  When you do, you may be surprised that you have a greater support base in the United States than you realize.

Richard Falk wrote in the Electronic Intifada that:

[T]he weight of the [Goldstone]report will be felt by world public opinion. Ever since the Gaza war the solidity of Jewish support for Israel has been fraying at the edges, and will likely now fray much further. More globally, a very robust boycott and divestment movement has been gaining momentum ever since the Gaza war, and the Goldstone report will clearly lend added support to such initiatives.

There is a growing sense around the world that the only chance for the Palestinians to achieve some kind of just peace depends on shaping the outcome by way of the symbols of legitimacy, what I have called the legitimacy war. Increasingly, the Palestinians have been winning this second non-military war.

Such a war fought on a global political battlefield is what eventually and unexpectedly undermined the apartheid regime in South Africa, and has become much more threatening to the Israeli sense of security than has armed Palestinian resistance.

The legitimacy war is your kind of war, President Obama.  Israel is losing that war. With your leadership, the Palestinian people could win it.  You must make Bibi realize this before it is too late to prevent what Andrew Sullivan calls, “Israel’s long assisted suicide”.

FIRST UPDATE Wednesday 9 a.m.

An Australian version of the 60 Minutes television program aired this past weekend with some strong footage on Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Note carefully the opening narrative explaining the settler problem.  Also note carefully, this program is not being shown on the US version of 60 Minutes. The world outside the US is watching and talking.

Inside the US, however, there was good news on the settlement front.

This Associated Press story in the Jerusalem Post reports on an endorsement of one of the very few American political figures willing to speak honestly on the Palestinian issue, former President Jimmy Carter. Along with his wife Rosalynn, President Carter was honored by Virginia’s James Madison University.

President Carter told an audience of 6500 that there would be no peace in the region until all settlement construction in the occupied territories is halted.

SECOND UPDATE, Wednesday 1:10 p.m.

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly today, President Obama called for both Palestinians and Israelis to make progress toward peace.  Notice the careful manner in which his speech refers to the impact of the conflict on the children from both sides.

“We must remember that the greatest price of this conflict is not paid by us. It’s not paid by politicians. It’s paid by the Israeli girl in Sderot who closes her eyes in fear that a rocket will take her life in the middle of the night. It’s paid for by the Palestinian boy in Gaza who has no clean water and no country to call his own”.

A touching reminder, to be sure. But President Obama is projecting a “suffering equivalency” for Israelis and Palestinians that is morally indefensible. A better way to compare the suffering of the two sides is to recall the comparative death toll from the December 27, 2008-January 18, 2009, Gaza war.

B’Tselem is an Israeli-based non profit organization. Two of its Gaza-based researchers “went from home to home to record 320 non-combatant deaths in under-18s, of which 252 were under 16. Nineteen fighters under the age of 18 were also killed, it said, and 111 women over the age of 16. The military say only 89 children died. Altogether, B’Tselem said 1,387 Gazans were killed in the shelling and fighting, including 773 civilians, 330 combatants, and 248 police, the latter mostly killed in the bombardment on the first day of military action prior to ground forces moving in at the beginning of January”. Source: London Telegraph, September 9, 2009.

President Obama does neither himself nor his nation any good by employing an equivalency Israeli spin before a world audience. “The Israeli girl in Sderot” has replaced “the Palestinian suicide bomber in the Tel Aviv pizza parlor”, as Israel’s symbolic fear du jour. In Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian children are not symbols; they die every day in far greater numbers than do Israeli children.

A world audience knows this. President Obama’s American constituents do not know the factual falseness of his “suffering equivalency”. This means that either the President is clueless as to the equivalency (God forbid), or he does not wish to offend either Israel or the US Congress. This is not a good sign.

THIRD UPDATE, Wednesday, 5:27 p.m.

A late breaking afternoon report from Phllip Weiss on his website, Mondoweiss, is only a report.  But, if true, it is very ominous.

Weiss writes that the Jewish website, JTA, is reporting that the White House has called Jewish leaders to assure them that the Goldstone Report will be “vetoed”. It is not clear just what is meant by “vetoed”. The Obama administration may find another procedural ploy with which to bury the Report.  Whatever method is used, this would be very bad for all concerned parties, if the report is true. To find the link to JTA, click here to go to Mondoweiss. Weiss has the bad news, which, remember, is still only a report.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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10 Responses to Stand up to Bibi, Mr. President; The World is Watching

  1. When FDR met with labor leaders in 1934, after four hours of meeting, he said, ‘You’ve convinced me that you are right. Now, go out there and FORCE ME TO DO IT.’

    What he meant was that the pressures on a President to stay with the status quo, the forces of the economic and political elites of the country so enormous, that even when a President wants to change direction, he requires the support of forces that will push him in the correct direction.

    Go to for directions on how to contact Ambassador Susan Rice [before September 29!] to vote for the recommendations of the Goldstone Report at the UN Human Rights Council.

    Eileen Fleming

  2. Bill Gepford says:

    The Goldstone report should be supported by all peace, justice and democracy-loving people. The Zionist mindset (Christian and Jewish) will never accept criticism of the Jewish State. It is ironical that the report has been made available during this time of the United Nations meeting in New York.

    To do nothing in the face of this report is, in my mind a support of “terrorism.” It is time the world understood this and acted accordingly.

  3. Rev. Martin Luther King united people of faith and those with none over the issue of basic human rights and there is “Nothing in all the world more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity…The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy….History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”- Martin Luther King Jr

    Doing nothing is a political decision: it is collusion with the oppressor.

  4. The silence that has greeted the Goldstone report, especially in U.S. churches, is disconcerting. How will we explain our reticence to our grandchildren? I still can’t watch “Schlindler’s List” without nausea, knowing that the horror took place amid the silence of those who were too distracted or intimidated to cry out. What will our grandchildren think when they learn the full truth of this terrible episode in Gaza — and see that their government and their churches reacted with unbecoming caution? Mr. President: stand up to Netanyahu.

  5. Don’t look to Obama to solve this himself! Silence is complicity and if you go to church RISE UP and speak! Challenge apathy, ignorance and the empire where ever you meet it; and never ever give up.

    But, as this is my 3rd visit here-I will shut up on this thread after leaving you all with this:

    Once upon a time, there was an old widow, who lived in a certain town with a judge who cared nothing about justice, people or God. But an old widowed crone kept coming to him with her plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”

    The judge ignored her until she became such a PIA [pain in the ass] he finally muttered to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care a hoot about this old crone, she has become such a PIA, I will give into her, just to get her to leave me alone!” [Paraphrased from a story Jesus told in Luke 18 1-5]

    “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. … Genius will not. … Education will not. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”- Calvin Coolidge

    “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a 3rd time – a tremendous whack…And never, never, never, never, ever, never give up.” – Sir Winston Churchill

  6. Caroline Cracraft says:

    I am REALLY, REALLY depressed by Obama.
    WHAT/WHO is getting to him????
    I was so uplifted by the statistic that 78% American Jews had voted for him, knowing that he place a high priority in securing the future peace and security of both Israel and Palestine.

    I have emailed my US Campaign letter to UN Amb. Susan Rice and have also printed one out on my own stationary to put in the mail.

    I have copied the Australian “60 Minutes” to all on my list. But I feel that with my mailings I am just preaching to the converted.

    Judge Goldstone should be canonized. Truly courageous man. The Report would have none of its impact without his imprimatur.

  7. Lorrie Hall says:

    Ambassador Rice is acting like Ambassador Bolton and like she is taking orders from Pres. Bush and AIPAC. We expected and deserve a refreshing change with this administration. What a disappointment.

  8. Bill Gepford says:

    Where is the moral courage that is needed to break the political logjam in the I/P conflict? I, too, was a believer in the sincerity of the president to do something this time around. Although I am disappointed, I will never give up speaking out against such a horrendous injustice, paid for by American tax payers.

    Bill Gepford

  9. President Obama cannot quell Israel alone. We, the people in America, have to give him the power to make change that will address and solve the horrors of life in Palestine. Obama has not waited until the end of his second term to address the problems. He has spoken truth to power, but it would be nice to see him have a second term and, therefore, we cannot expect him to destroy himself to solve any of our issues instantly, “oh, ye of little faith. ” It’s like I used to tell my Palestinian students who wanted to just go out and die for the cause, “If you die, you’re done, finished. Stay and win: keep going, solve one problem, then, another and another until you have the world you want. And I will stand with you all the way.”

    As for now, give Obama the chance to make change possible. Franklin Roosevelt once said to those pestering him to move faster (paraphrased), “O.K., you make me do it! That’s what happens in a democracy. You decide and, then, you give me the power to carry out your wishes.”

    What are we going to do to give Obama the power to make a difference in the Middle East? It’s a little like choosing between Barabas and Jesus. What will we the people choose? I voted for Obama; I am not disappointed; I am working to keep the issue of Palestine alive in my ever so “silencing” Zionist- controlled community. I hope you are, too.

  10. Lorrie Hall says:

    In regard to Betsey Mayfield’s comment that she is trying to keep the issue alive in the ever so “silencing” Zionist community: I have something wonderfu to report.

    Anna Baltzer appeared on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The station had hundreds of angry phone calls prior to her appearance. Anna wrote that the staff was nervous, and she thought there would be hundreds more Zionist-type comments after her appearance. So she asked us to send an e-mail to Mr. Stewart thanking him for airing the interview (even though he cut out half of it!), and she supplied the telephone number as well.

    Anna sent an e-mail three days later saying the station had called her to tell her to call off her supporters, that they were tying up their phone lines. And they had received 142,000 e-mails and counting!

    It’s the first time I have ever heard of The Lobby being drowned out. Hooray!

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