Notes From the Margins…

We Killed You – But Not Intentionally

  • April 09, 2011
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Pity Richard Goldstone.  Relentlessly and ruthlessly pilloried by Israeli politicians and the Zionist propaganda machine for his UN investigation which had the temerity to find Israel – and Hamas – guilty of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead in 2009, he is now having second thoughts.

Needless to say Netanyahu and Israel’s supporters abroad are triumphant – but still indignant at the lingering suggestion that the IDF may have committed war crimes in Gaza.   Israel now wants the UN to withdraw the report completely.  Alan Dershowitz, one of the most bullying and vindictive proponents of Israeli exceptionalism, once described the report as a ‘blood libel’ and called Goldstone a ‘wicked, wicked man.’  Magnanimous in victory,  Dershowitz now demands that Goldstone perform teshuva (repentance) for his ‘biased and mendacious’ report.

To which one can only say – bollocks.  Nothing in Goldstone’s recantation changes the UN report’s conclusion that Operation Cast Lead was ‘directed by Israel at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population’, as part of  a ‘carefully planned’ assault intended ‘to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population’.

This policy was not a historical novelty.  Massive retaliation against civilians has been the cornerstone of Israeli ‘counterterrorist’ operations for decades.

Whether directed against the PLO in Jordan and Lebanon, Hezbollah or Hamas, the underlying philosophy behind such operations is always the same – to undermine popular support for the organizations concerned by making the civilian population pay a price for their actions.

Israeli politicians and military leaders have occasionally made these intentions quite clear. During Operation Cast Lead Shimon Peres declared that Israel’s aim was ‘to provide a strong blow to the people of Gaza so that they would lose their appetite for shooting at Israel’.

That ‘strong blow’ resulted in 1,394 deaths, including 300 children, and 115 women and 85 men over 50.   Israeli casualties were 13, including 3 civilians.  Despite these massively disproportionate figures,  Goldstone now argues that ‘civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy’ by Israel  while Hamas rockets ‘were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.’

Here Goldstone touches on a semantic device that Israel habitually uses to place even its most extreme acts of violence on a higher moral plane.  The weaponry unleashed  during Operation Cast Lead was always likely to cause civilian casualties  in a tiny area with a million people cramped together in close quarters .  In a 2009 report on Operation Cast Lead, Amnesty International notes that

Many other Palestinian civilians were killed in indiscriminate and reckless attacks using imprecise weapons which should never be used in densely populated civilian areas.

Israel however has always argued that its assault was ‘discriminate’ ie. directed against Hamas fighters, and that therefore any civilians killed in the course of these operations were not killed ‘deliberately’ or ‘intentionally’.    Just as it did in Lebanon with Hezbollah, Israel also accused Hamas of responsibility for these deaths because it ‘sheltered’ amongst the civilian population or used them as ‘human shields’.

This rationale is also reinforced – in the eyes of Israeli propagandists – by blurring the distinction between  ‘fighter’ and ‘civilian’ .  On the first day of Operation Cast Lead an Israeli missile wiped out more than two dozen Hamas traffic police cadets who were standing at a passing-out parade and were not even aware that the ceasefire was over – all of whom were regarded by Israel as potential  ‘fighters’ and therefore legitimate targets.

Had Hamas fired a rocket or carried out a suicide attack on a group of Israeli traffic cops with the same result, it is easy to imagine how such an event would have been presented.   The Goldstone report was certainly right to describe Hamas rockets as war crimes.    For Israel and its supporters however, war crimes are only carried out by its  ‘terrorist’ adversaries, while Israeli violence, no matter  how extreme – is always ‘counterterrorist’ and retaliatory – and therefore justifiable.

In the end these judgements are dictated by propaganda and military strategy, not morality.

So if Goldstone wants to abase himself before his persecutors and parade in sackcloth and ashes, that is his prerogative.  But that is no reason for the world to forgive or forget the savage crime that Israel perpetrated in Gaza.


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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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