Monthly Archives: October 2009

Moyers’ Tough Questions Help Goldstone Explain His Report

I want to know how and why it was decided to embark on Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip and to expand it into a ground offensive. I want to know if the decisions were affected by the Israeli election campaign then underway and the change in U.S. presidents. I want to know if the leaders who launched the operation correctly judged the political damage it would cause Israel and what they did to minimize it. I want to know if those who gave orders to the Israel Defense Forces assumed that hundreds of Palestinian civilians would be killed, and how they tried to prevent this.

These questions should be at the center of an investigation into Operation Cast Lead. An investigation is necessary because of the political complexities that resulted from the operation, the serious harm to Palestinian civilians, the Goldstone report and its claims of war crimes, and the limits that will be imposed on the IDF’s freedom of operation in the future. . . .

The investigations by the army and Military Police are meant to examine soldiers’ behavior on the battlefield. They are no substitute for a comprehensive examination of the activities of the political leadership and senior command, who are responsible for an operation and its results.

It’s not the company or battalion commanders who need to be investigated, but former prime minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and the heads of the intelligence chiefs and Foreign Ministry, who were party to the decisions. It is also important to investigate Barak and Livni’s election campaign advisers to find out if and how the campaign affected the military and diplomatic efforts.

Aluf Benn why Cast Lead

Until now, Israel has refused to have anything to do with the Goldstone investigation and the Report that followed. Will this change now that the United Nations General Assembly is waiting for a response from Israel and Hamas?

Uri Avenery, long time Israeli peace activist, believes Israel has three options:: conduct a real investigation;ignore the demand and proceed as if nothing has happened, or conduct a sham inquiry. Avenery wrote in his weekly column this week:

It is easy to dismiss the first option: it has not the slightest chance of being adopted. Except for the usual suspects (including myself) who demanded an investigation long before anyone in Israel had heard of a judge called Goldstone, nobody supports it.
Among all the members of our political, military and media establishments who are now suggesting an “inquiry”, there is no one – literally not one – who means by that a real investigation. The aim is to deceive the Goyim and get them to shut up. . . .
The second option is the one proposed by the army Chief of Staff and the Minister of Defense. In America it is called “stonewalling”. Meaning: To hell with it.
The army commanders object to any investigation and any inquiry whatsoever. They probably know why. After all, they know the facts. They know that a dark shadow lies over the very decision to go to war, over the planning of the operation, over the instructions given to the troops, and over many dozens of large and small acts committed during the operation.
In their opinion, even if their refusal has severe international repercussions, the consequences of any investigation, even a phony one, would be far worse. . . .
As for option three, Avenery believes:
The politicians who oppose (ever so quietly) the Chief of Staff’s position believe that it is impossible to withstand international pressure completely, and that some kind of an inquiry will have to be conducted. Since not one of them intends to hold a real investigation, they propose to follow a tried and trusted Israeli method, which has worked wonderfully hundreds of times in the past: the method of sham.
A sham inquiry. Sham conclusions. Sham adherence to international law. Sham civilian control over the military.
Nothing simpler than that. An “inquiry committee” (but not a Commission of Investigation according to the law) will be set up, chaired by a suitably patriotic judge and composed of carefully chosen honorable citizens who are all “one of us”.
Testimonies will be heard behind closed doors (for considerations of security, of course). Army lawyers will prove that everything was perfectly legal, the National Whitewasher, Professor Asa Kasher, will laud the ethics of the Most Moral Army in the World. Generals will speak about our inalienable right to self-defense. In the end, two or three junior officers or privates may be found guilty of “irregularities”.
Israel’s friends all over the world will break into an ecstatic chorus: What a lawful state! What a democracy! What morality! Western governments will declare that justice has been done and the case closed. The US veto will see to the rest.
So why don’t the army chiefs accept this proposal? Because they are afraid things might not proceed quite so smoothly. The international community will demand that at least part of the hearings be conducted in open court. There will be a demand for the presence of international observers. And, most importantly: there will be no justifiable way to exclude the testimonies of the Gazans themselves. Things will get complicated. The world will not accept fabricated conclusions. In the end we will be in exactly the same situation. Better to stay put and brave it out, whatever the price.
Avenery is a veteran journalist and Israeli politician. If there are any options other than these three, he hasn’t found it.
So how will Israel respond? And what will Hamas do next?
Those answers remain hidden insiide the power centers in Gaza and Tel Aviv, with some limited input from Ramallah.

Moyers hit the interview ground running, fast:

BILL MOYERS: Let me put down a few basics first. Personally, do you have any doubt about Israel’s right to self-defense?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Absolutely not. And our approach to our mission and in our report the right of Israel to defend its citizens is taken as a given.

MOYERS: So the report in no way challenges Israel’s right to self-defense?

GOLDSTONE: Not at all. What we look at is how that right was used. We don’t question the right.

MOYERS: Do you consider Hamas an enemy of Israel?

GOLDSTONE: Well, anybody who’s firing many thousands of rockets and mortars into a country is, I think, in anybody’s book, an enemy.

MOYERS: Were those rocket attacks on Israel a threat to the civilians of Israel, to the population of Israel?

GOLDSTONE: Absolutely.

Moyers asked Goldstone whe he took the assignment. Goldstone gave his reasons and in so doing, he laid out his credentials for the job

it was a question of conscience really. I’ve been involved in investigating very serious violations in my own country, South Africa, and I was castigated by many in the white community for doing that.

I investigated serious war crimes in the Balkans and the Serbs hated me, hated me for that. And I was under serious death threat, both in South Africa and in respect of the Balkans. And then I went onto Rwanda, and many people hated me for doing that. I’ve been a co-chair of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, and for the last five years, I’ve been sending letters of protest weekly to countries like China and Syria and you name it, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, complaining about violations of human rights.

So I’ve been involved in this business for the last fifteen years or so, and it seemed to me that being Jewish was no reason to treat Israel exceptionally, and to say because I’m Jewish, it’s all right for me to investigate everybody else, but not Israel.

The Moyers-Goldstone interview is available in two sections and with the full text at

Here are selected highlights:

BILL MOYERS: Your report, as you know, basically accuses Israel of waging war on the entire population of Gaza.

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: That’s correct.

MOYERS: I mean, there are allegations in here, some very tough allegations of Israeli soldiers shooting unarmed civilians who pose no threat, of shooting people whose hands were shackled behind them, of shooting two teenagers who’d been ordered off a tractor that they were driving, apparently carrying wounded civilians to a hospital, of homes, hundreds, maybe thousands of homes destroyed, left in rubble, of hospitals bombed. I mean there are some questions about one or two of your examples here, but it’s a damning indictment of Israel’s conduct in Gaza, right?

GOLDSTONE: Well, it is outrageous, and there should have been an outrage. You know, the response has not been to deal with the substance of those allegations. I’ve really seen or read no detailed response in respect of the incidents on which we report. . . .
MOYERS: What did you see with your own eyes when you went there?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, I saw the destruction of the only flour-producing factory in Gaza. I saw fields plowed up by Israeli tank bulldozers. I saw chicken farms, for egg production, completely destroyed. Tens of thousands of chickens killed. I met with families who lost their loved ones in homes in which they were seeking shelter from the Israeli ground forces. I had to have the very emotional and difficult interviews with fathers whose little daughters were killed, whose family were killed. One family, over 21 members, killed by Israeli mortars. So, it was a very difficult investigation, which will give me nightmares for the rest of my life. . . .

MOYERS: What makes those acts war crimes, as you say?

GOLDSTONE: Well, humanitarian law, really fundamentally is what’s known as the “principle of distinction.” It requires all people involved, commanders, troops, all people involved in making war, it requires them to distinguish between civilians and combatants. . . And then there’s a question of proportionality. One can, in war, target a military target. And there can be what’s euphemistically referred to as ‘collateral damage,’ but the ‘collateral damage’ must be proportionate to the military aim.

If you can take out a munitions factory in an urban area with a loss of 100 lives, or you can use a bomb twice as large and take out the same factory and kill 2000 people, the latter would be a war crime, the former wouldn’t. . . .

MOYERS: Did you find war crimes by Hamas? . . .

GOLDSTONE: We found that the firing of many thousands of rockets and mortars at a civilian population to constitute a very serious war crime. And we said possibly crimes against humanity.

MOYERS: But Hamas is not a party to the Geneva Convention, right? I mean, they are not law-

GOLDSTONE: Well it can’t be, because it’s not a state party.

MOYERS: It’s not-

GOLDSTONE: But it is bound by customary international law and by international human rights law, and that makes it equally a war crime to do what it’s been doing.

MOYERS: Yet critics say that by focusing more on the actions of the Israelis and, then on the Palestinians, you are, in essence making it clear whom you think is the more responsible party here.

GOLDSTONE: I suppose that’s fair comment, Bill. I think it’s difficult to deal equally with a state party, with a sophisticated army, with the sort of army Israel has, with an air force and a navy, and the most sophisticated weapons that are not only in the arsenal of Israel, but manufactured and exported by Israel, on the one hand, with Hamas using really improvised, imprecise armaments. So it’s difficult to equate their power. But that having been said, one has to look at the actions of each. And one has to judge the criminality, or the alleged criminality, of each. . . .

MOYERS: Why do you think they bombed the infrastructure so thoroughly?

GOLDSTONE: Well, we’ve found that the only logical reason is collective punishment against the people of Gaza for voting into power Hamas, and a form of reprisal for the rocket attacks and mortar attacks on southern Israel.

MOYERS: So that would be the explanation for why, if they were interested only in stopping the bombing, they didn’t have to destroy the land.

GOLDSTONE: No, this was a political this was a political decision, I think, and not a military one. I think they were telling the people of Gaza that if you support Hamas, this is what we’re going to do to you.
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A Bibi-Obama Split: Jones Speaks But Oren a J Street No-Show

Jeremy Ben Ami, J Street director, made it quite clear that J Street is Israeli-focused when he spoke to the conference:

Substantively, of course, we’re here because we care so deeply about changing the course of events in the Middle East. Because we know the path we are on – of endless conflict, failure to compromise, terror and bloodshed – leads only to hopelessness and despair.

We rally tonight around this simple premise: that the security and very future of the Jewish, democratic homeland in Israel is at risk without an end to the conflict and to the occupation of the Palestinian people.

The work begun in the generations before ours to build a nation in the image of our people to be the home of our people will only be complete when Israel has defined borders, a Palestinian state has been established next door and the rest of the region and the world recognizes Israel and accepts its existence.

Our presence here in such numbers and with such energy demonstrates the powerful base of political support ready to back active pursuit and achievement of comprehensive, regional peace in the Middle East – as an urgent priority not a distant, almost meaningless, aspiration.

We do not want the United States to simply be a passive facilitator of fruitless negotiation. No – as President Obama has said, we have had enough talking about talking.

We want action and we want resolution. We want the United States and the international community actively at the table – and we want this conflict to end.

As I hope has been clear in the early stages of the conversation tonight – while this movement is welcoming to all who seek peace, justice and an end to the conflict – it is rooted in a love of Israel and concern for its future.

Special Update on Bloggers Panel Monday afternoon

This just in from Helen Cobban:

Our decidedly “off-Broadway” blogger’s panel took place at noon today, tucked into something slightly larger than a broom closet in the bowels of J Street’s conference hotel. There were about ten of us on the panel and three additional panelists participating remotely, via the craziest kind of phone/Skype connections.

Audience people (who also included some really cool people like Australian-Jewish blogger Antony Lowenstein) were literally pasted to the walls and would have hung from rafters had there been rafters.

At one point J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami put in a small cameo appearance at the back of the audience. I believe he was not there when blogging superstars like Phil Weiss and Max Blumenthal were deciding whether to give J Street one thumb’s-up, one and a half, or two…

Anyway, bottom line, the panel was an independent activity. J Street did not endorse the views expressed there, and we weren’t obliged to line up like clockwork behind all of J Street’s positions, either. But all in all, huge kudos to J Street for embracing the idea of a free-speech forum like this.

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Tony Judt Still Fights to Expose Israel’s “Inconvenient Truths”

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty of Judt
Ali Abunimah’s One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse
Amos Alon writings

Israel continues to mock its American patron, building illegal settlements in cynical disregard of the “road map.” The President of the United States of America has been reduced to a ventriloquist’s dummy, pitifully reciting the Israeli cabinet line: “It’s all Arafat’s fault.”

Israelis themselves grimly await the next bomber. Palestinian Arabs, corralled into shrinking Bantustans, subsist on EU handouts. On the corpse-strewn landscape of the Fertile Crescent, Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, and a handful of terrorists can all claim victory, and they do. Have we reached the end of the road? What is to be done?

A huge community of leftleaning New Yorkers turned out because Judt has been so important, and this public act was one of leadership. As he has done on other occasions, he pulled aside the curtains and the wings to show that the little world we are used to accepting is not necessarily the world of history. It is the world of recent “opinion.” . . .

It was in the end a thrilling spiritual message, forged by Judt’s own misery, and a challenge to our creativity, to break the chains of established opinion and tell a different story about history.
In a New York Times column, written in June of this year, Judt cut to the heart of the phony diplomatic game the US an Israel have been playing over “freezing” settlement growth

He concluded his column:

President Obama faces a choice. He can play along with the Israelis, pretending to believe their promises of good intentions and the significance of the distinctions they offer him. Such a pretense would buy him time and favor with Congress. But the Israelis would be playing him for a fool, and he would be seen as one in the Mideast and beyond.

Alternatively, the president could break with two decades of American compliance, acknowledge publicly that the emperor is indeed naked, dismiss Mr. Netanyahu for the cynic he is and remind Israelis that all their settlements are hostage to American goodwill. He could also remind Israelis that the illegal communities have nothing to do with Israel’s defense, much less its founding ideals of agrarian self-sufficiency and Jewish autonomy. They are nothing but a colonial takeover that the United States has no business subsidizing.

But if I am right, and there is no realistic prospect of removing Israel’s settlements, then for the American government to agree that the mere nonexpansion of “authorized” settlements is a genuine step toward peace would be the worst possible outcome of the present diplomatic dance. No one else in the world believes this fairy tale; why should we? Israel’s political elite would breathe an unmerited sigh of relief, having once again pulled the wool over the eyes of its paymaster. The United States would be humiliated in the eyes of its friends, not to speak of its foes. If America cannot stand up for its own interests in the region, at least let it not be played yet again for a patsy.

Judt, who teaches at New York University, is known as a combative writer and reviewer, and this reputation is confirmed by his new collection of pieces, Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century, which opens with the trouncing of a recent biographer of Koestler for being, among other things, priggishly obsessed with his subject’s sex life. Over the years, Judt has been notable, in particular, for his acid dismissals of “romantic” communists and their fellow travellers. Many of his targets have been French intellectuals – he has ripped into Sartre numerous times – but in Reappraisals he also, from his own position on the left, accuses Eric Hobsbawm of being a “mandarin” and calls the much loved EP Thompson a “sanctimonious, priggish Little Englander”.
But by far the biggest tumults Judt has caused have followed an essay he published five years ago, entitled “Israel: The Alternative”, which opened with the notion that “the president of the United States of America has been reduced to a ventriloquist’s dummy, pitifully reciting the Israeli cabinet line”, and went on to contend that the time had come to “think the unthinkable” – the bringing to an end of Israel as a Jewish state, and the establishment in its place of a binational state of Israelis and Palestinians.

But whereas his anti-communism sat comfortably with mainstream liberal opinion in America, his early opposition to the Iraq war threw him out of alignment with his usual allies, who were still rallying around the president following the terrorist attacks.

He raised hackles by labelling liberal commentators in America – including New Yorker editor David Remnick, Michael Ignatieff and Paul Berman – Bush’s “useful idiots”.

The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European “enclave” in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a “Jewish state”—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism.

In one vital attribute, however, Israel is quite different from previous insecure, defensive microstates born of imperial collapse: it is a democracy. Hence its present dilemma. Thanks to its occupation of the lands conquered in 1967, Israel today faces three unattractive choices. It can dismantle the Jewish settlements in the territories, return to the 1967 state borders within which Jews constitute a clear majority, and thus remain both a Jewish state and a democracy, albeit one with a constitutionally anomalous community of second-class Arab citizens.

Alternatively, Israel can continue to occupy “Samaria,” “Judea,” and Gaza, whose Arab population—added to that of present-day Israel—will become the demographic majority within five to eight years: in which case Israel will be either a Jewish state (with an ever-larger majority of unenfranchised non-Jews) or it will be a democracy. But logically it cannot be both.

Or else Israel can keep control of the Occupied Territories but get rid of the overwhelming majority of the Arab population: either by forcible expulsion or else by starving them of land and livelihood, leaving them no option but to go into exile. In this way Israel could indeed remain both Jewish and at least formally democratic: but at the cost of becoming the first modern democracy to conduct full-scale ethnic cleansing as a state project, something which would condemn Israel forever to the status of an outlaw state, an international pariah. Israel: The Alternative

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Why Are Palestinians Losing Faith in Obama? Ask Rahm Emanuel

Why Are Palestinians Losing Faith in Obama? Ask Rahm Emanuel

By James M. Wall

I read an online report on Gentleman’s Quarterly (GQ)’s latest issue, and discovered why Palestinians are losing faith in President Obama.

There at the top of a list of the 50 Most Important People in Washington, DC, was my old political colleague from Chicago, Rahm Emanuel. (Click on the line above, it has 50 pictures, like the one at left.)

I quickly scrolled the entire list of the MIPs in DC and discovered folks who are close to Obama, or who are engaged in running his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or who are advising the president on how to rescue the economy.

There are even some Republicans, in or out of office, who are dedicated to seeing Obama fail. There is even a media heavyweight, former Bill Clinton White House aide, George Stephanopous.

But there is no one who really knows and feels the Palestinian narrative. (To continue, click here.) Continue reading

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Leipzig 10/9/89: The Day Prayers and Candles Ended an Occupation

By James M. Wall Twenty years ago, October 9, 1989, East German citizens marched to a prayer service at Leipzig’s St. Nicholas (Lutheran) Church. In a ritual they had repeated many nights before, they marched  to the church holding lighted … Continue reading

Posted in -Movies and politics, -Movies and Religion, Middle East Politics | 4 Comments

After Public Outrage, PA Says Blocking Report Was a “Mistake”

Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre – Jerusalem
September 30, 2009

The situation in the Occupied Territories, including the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, is dire and desperate. Israel continues to jeopardize any opportunity for a peaceful negotiated settlement by creating facts on the ground in defiance of the international community.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Israel has already finalized its intended objectives in the Occupied Territories and has a blueprint for a final resolution of the conflict, which it aims to achieve unilaterally.

Sabeel strongly denounces the postponement of the discussion of the Goldstone Report on Israel’s war on Gaza, at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The report must be followed up, Justice must take its course and the guilty must not get away with impunity. Continue reading

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US Churches Must Stop Following Israel Down the Trauma Trail

by James M. Wall Avraham Burg , former Israeli Chairman of the Jewish Agency and former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, has written a book with the provacative title, The Holocaust is Over; We must Rise from Its Ashes. In a … Continue reading

Posted in Middle East, Religious Faith | 15 Comments