Larry Cohler Esses, the Jewish Forward’s able assistant editor, alerted me to a new article by Gal Beckerman on the Goldstone Report. Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with Beckerman’s work. He wrote an awful profile of Haaretz for the Columbia Journalism Review a few years back. But he also wrote a sterling story for the Forward recently about BDS. The article on Goldstone isn’t entirely useless, as it does present an interview with Goldstone. But the Beckerman’s attempts to debunk the Report are simply lame.
The most important issue I take is his claim that Goldstone has a fatal flaw in that he only relied on Palestinian eyewitness testimony. If Beckerman had noted that Israel refused to offer its own IDF eyewitnesses to presents its own side, I would say that the Forward story should be taken seriously. But the reporter didn’t even note Israel’s refusal to participate.
In an attempt to present Israel’s point of view, Beckerman offers non-eyewitness testimony from an IDF officer who works for Dore Gold’s hasbara outfit, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The Forward neglects to mention the highly partisan nature of JCPA’s work, a fact that is critical in determining the probity of the officer’s contribution.
Lt. Col. Halevi, the officer in question, offers several points of rebuttal to Goldstone, none of which are persuasive. In discussing the al-Samouni massacre, in which the IDF shelled a family home and killed 20, Halevi attempts to justify the incident by examining Islamic Jihad websites which posted material at the time of the attack indicating there was Palestinian resistance in the home’s location. I find the notion that you can pinpoint any specific military activity happening at a specific location based on material posted to a website to be beyond ludicrous. Not to mention that neither Halevi or Beckerman note the nature of what was posted and how it proved what the former claimed.
Further, Halevi compares a list of the names of the murdered al-Samouni clan members with lists of Hamas fighters posted on an unnamed militant website and discovers that several of the dead may have been (if we believe the website) Hamas fighters. There are huge problems with this argument. First, how can we assume that the two lists containing supposedly identical names actually refer to one & the same person? In other words, a more concrete, physical form of identification is required before one can say with certainty that the names refer to the specific fighter in question.
Second, and even more important, so what if the murdered individual was a Hamas fighter? The key point is that the al-Samounis were unarmed (I’m certain that after the attack the IDF would’ve entered the home to determine whether there were arms there and I have not heard any claim that there was). And even if they were armed, how does that justify killing unarmed women and children who were not fighters? If you justify this, you are entering Salah Shehadeh territory (he was a Hamas militant murdered by a 1,000 ton bomb dropped on a residential apartment building where it killed 14 other innocent civilians). Bogie Yaalon, Dan Halutz and Doron Almog are each wanted outside Israel for possible war crimes based on this incident.
Next, Halevi uses the same argument to justify an attack on a mosque at which 350 residents were worshipping. Here is how Beckerman describes the attack:
In a mosque on the outskirts of Jabilyah, somewhere between 200 and 300 men and women are gathered for the evening prayer. An explosion rips the front door off its hinges and flings it all the way across the room. A missile has struck the mosque’s entrance, killing 15 people, some kneeling mid-prayer. A boy sitting by the door has his leg blown off.
Halevi again uses unnamed websites to correlate names of the dead with lists of supposed Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters and finds victims with the same name listed on the websites. This supposedly justifies their murder during the act of prayer.
This reminds me of the murder of the 250 Gaza police cadets at their graduation ceremony, which also has been justified by the hasbarists since these unarmed officers were part of the “Hamas terror apparatus.” I’m sorry, but if we go there then we have to justify Palestinian attacks on Israeli non-military law enforcement. Should we countenance a Palestinian attack on an Israel police cadet graduation ceremony in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem? Should we countenance the abduction of Israeli police and their murder because they too are part of the Israeli “apparatus of terror.” That’s a slippery slope I choose not to slide down.
Worshippers at prayer are not legitimate targets, period, whether they are militants or not. And even if they are militants, they are not legitimate targets with 350 civilians praying around them. You can dress up a pig any way you like, but in the end it’s still a pig. And this is a war crime.
I believe Israel should have an opportunity to present its side of the case. It should have presented the IDF units operating near the al-Samouni home and the mosque and even the soldiers who pulled the trigger on the missiles. Maybe they have a legitimate defense or explanation for their action. They should’ve been heard. But Israel refused to provide them. After their refusal, Israel doesn’t get to argue the report is one-sided because it only included eyewitness testimony from one side.
Besides, Goldstone paid for those Israelis who were willing to testify to travel to Geneva where they told their story (Israel refused to allow Goldstone to enter Israel and take testimony from Israelis). He, as opposed to the Israeli government, went to extra mile to be fair. But it has no credibility when it uses the argument of one-sidedness against the South African jurist.
Condescension drips from this passage by a Bar Ilan law professor, who actually attempts to make the claim that the al-Samounis either didn’t see what they saw, or else Hamas forced them to lie about what they saw, or they were already predisposed to hate Israel so much that they made it all up:
“People don’t see what they think they see,” said Bell, the Bar Ilan law professor. “They don’t remember what they think they remember. That’s in the best of circumstances when they are trying to give you accurate information. In this case, what you have are witnesses that, for the most part, are living under a totalitarian government and subject to systematic intimidation. And also, they are living in a long time war zone where they have extreme hostility to the other side.”
Perhaps Professor Bell can explain away the bodies as well. Are they a figment of a hate-filled Gazan imagination?
The crowning insult is Beckerman’s reliance on alleged “research” by a pro-settler extremist blogger, Elder of Ziyon. This is somone obsessed with Muslim-hatred without actually knowing anything about Islam other than what can fit into a thimble (if that). This is someone whose biases are so severe that he doesn’t even realize when he’s lying. He really believes his lies are the truth (at least as he sees it). Just a small fer instance, he’s called me “anti-Israel,” and that’s some of his milder epithets.
What sources does he rely on to buttress his claims? Honest Reporting, a hasbara site founded by the folks who bring you Aish Hatorah and Clarion Fund (producers of those masterworks of cinema, Third Jihad and Obsession); CAMERA, which falsely claimed that Desmond Tutu is an anti-Semite and that Canon Naim Ateek called Israelis “Christ-killers;” MEMRI, which either through ignorance or willful deceit mistranslated the script of a Hamas TV show to allegedly show that Palestinian children were being indoctrinated for martyrdom; Little Green Footballs, champion of global anti-jihadism; Debka File, a wannabe Israeli intelligence site which Yediot reporter Ronen Bergman says even Israeli intelligence refuses to believe (remember the NYC dirty bomb hoax?); and Commentary Magazine. These are the sites that receive pride of place in his blog and which he specifically lists as his trusted sources.
Elder of Ziyon has every right to choose whatever sources he wishes in writing his blog. But the Forward, as a serious journalistic enterprise doesn’t have a right to rely on this blogger for bupkes.
Another important fact the Forward report omits is that the only Israeli soldier so far actually punished for infractions during the Gaza war stole a credit card. Sure, the IDF will tell you it has 100 open investigations. This you’re supposed to believe indicates that it takes it’s responsibility seriously to find and punish the guilty. But how much time has passed since the Gaza war? And in all that time only one soldier did anything bad enough to warrant punishment?
[NOTE: Larry Cohler Esses has pointed out my error in the following passage. I missed the quotation in the story. I do find Goldstone’s locution here awkward and take him to mean that his Report wasn’t meant as a formal legal document that could be used to indict or convict anyone. That would rely on Israel, Palestine or the ICC for adjudication. I still think using this quotation as the headline of the article was unfortunate.] Strangely, the title of the story is Goldstone: ‘If This Was a Court Of Law, There Would Have Been Nothing Proven.’ Yet, nowhere in the story does this quotation appear. As a result you have no idea what it refers to: was it something Goldstone himself said or a claim made against his work? Only Beckerman and perhaps his editor know for sure.
I know the Forward to be a thorough, high quality newspaper and I have written here praising its reporting. But today is not one of those days I’m sorry to say.