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.
It is, but that’s part of the problem – in the long-term, you’re encouraging potential insurgents and the like to hide among civilian populations and putting them at risk (like putting a headquarters underneath a hospital), and also allowing the conflict to stretch out forever since no side ever takes enough of a blow to seriously put them off fighting for a while.
Brett, that’s a “problem” you’ll have to take up with the states that have signed the 4th Geneva Convention.
I’d say that “potential insurgents” was a laughably meaningless designation, were it not for the fact that Palestinians routinely become “insurgents” posthumously, by virtue of having been killed by Israeli forces. Ironically that’s a point where Israeli and Hamas propaganda agree.
Even while alive but unable to prove a negative, every person becomes a “potential insurgent”, the inhabitants of Gaza no differently than those of Faludjah. Conversely, every Israeli then becomes a “potential soldier”; certainly actual but off-duty soldiers (protected under the 4th GC) become legitimate targets. According to you, such soldiers are also “hiding among civilians”, making collateral damage among the latter “regrettable, but inevitable”, as Israel would put it. IOW, you’re asking for Total War.
Quoting the international law at me doesn’t address the point.
That’s how Hamas treats them, or Al-Qaeda and their ilk.
You say the latter like it’s a bad thing. But look at the history of conflicts over the past 150 years. It was the wars that ended with restraint and few casualties, like the Franco-Prussian War, that did little permanent damage to either side but bred a giant mass of animosity, which is exactly the situation you’ve got in Gaza – even the Israeli assault in December barely put a dent in the population when you consider its phenomenal growth rate. That type of on-and-off conflict means that both sides can sustain the war for that much longer, and can thus put off any type of meaningful resolution for that much longer.
Richard Silverstein says
Hamas, al Qaeda…they’re all the same & blah, blah, blah…Don’t you guys ever play a new song or is the needle permanently stuck in this position?
I’ve got the solution. Total war against Gaza AND putting something in the water supply to stop those A-rab rabbits from multiplying like fleas. Whoa, this isn’t just racism it’s highly entertaining racism to boot in a dark sort of way.
But Brett, do spell out in greater detail how Total War would look against Gaza. Would it mean dropping the Big One (in which case wouldn’t you be taking Sderot with you into oblivion)? Or just carpet bombing with B-52s as Pammy Geller advocates?
I’m merely pointing out that both groups view all Israelis, civilian and military, are legitimate military targets. But do continue to mischaracterize my position – I’m rather used to it.
I find it amusing that you take a point I made about how it’s the low-level, stop-and-go conflicts that never really put a dent into either the population willing to fight or the strength of the groups (that includes all parties, including Israel, Hamas, Fatah, and whomever is involved) in terms of willingness to fight, and then try to stereotype me as a racist. For someone who goes into High Squeal whenever you think someone is mischaracterizing your position, you’re awfully quick to launch strawman and ad hominem attacks.
I’ll say it again – do you dispute the point I made, about how it’s the low-level conflicts that never settle things but breed considerable animosity, as opposed to the larger ones that do? Do you dispute my point about how in terms of casualties and the like, the December War barely put a dent into either Gaza in general or Hamas’ fighting strength in particular? Germany lost 10% of her population in World War 2, and the Japanese were close to that if you count the Chinese campaign. It was brutal, short compared to the decades-long conflict that has been going on between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and it was enough to put both groups off fighting altogether for a while.
Most likely it would involve extensive use of artillery, mostly from the Israeli side as far as I know (I have no idea of what Hamas’ military capabilities actually are, other than that they possess a number of short-range rockets).
But let me pose a question, Richard – which do you think settled more in terms of boundaries: decades of low-level fighting and animosity between Zionist settlers in Mandatory Palestine and the natives, followed by grotesque 1947 Partition Plan – or the resulting 1948-49 War, which was all out with the full stakes at hand?
That’s also how you’re asking them to be treated. What’s good for the Palestinian goose is good for the Israeli gander.
Brett, I don’t know where you live, but here in Germany (Europe, planet Earth) the phrase “totaler Krieg” (total war) has a specific ring ever since Joseph Goebbels asked his Sportpalast audience for it and got it. I wouldn’t exactly say Europeans were better for it. The 4th Geneva Convention of 1949 was largely an answer to this total warfare.
WW I did massive damage to all sides (even though it was relatively “restrained” in terms of civilian casualties), but still bred a giant mass of animosity, not so much because of either side’s conduct of the war but because of the idiotic, jingoist myopia on the side of the victors. Previously, too, it hadn’t been the war of 1870-1 but the politics of Prussia (in which that war was a means to Bismarck’s ends) that had stoked French resentment.
Your point? I never said that total war was only for the Palestinians. I’m merely pointing out that the Palestinians are the ones doing it right now, at least openly.
That’s partially true, but keep in mind the way the war ended. It ended with Germany suing for peace as opposed to being invaded, but then getting treated as if they had been invaded and stomped down. It was total war, but they didn’t really “finish” it in the way World War 2 was finished, which is why you had a proliferation of “stabbed in the back” mythology arising in Germany afterwards.
But even to get to that point, Germany had to be militarily exhausted and worn down from total war – and because of the unrestrained nature of the warfare, that only lasted four years. Try to imagine what it would have been if instead some type of low-level trench warfare and on-and-off artillery shots were exchanged. The overall casualties might be lower (or at least drawn out over a longer period), but would it have been less damaging over the long run?
That was certainly part of it (I’m not saying Total War is the sole reason determining whether a conflict is “decisive” or not, but it is a very important one), but I think you’re under-estimating how much of a blow the Franco-Prussian War was to France at the time (not to mention that it stirred up further animosity over the Alsace-Lorraine issue).
Richard Silverstein says
Oh please. Sling shots & Qassams are “total war?” You don’t know what you’re talking about.
YOu’re blathering on about a theory that has no relevance to the I-P conflict. War doesn’t work, period whether it’s all-out or guerilla insurgency. The Gaza war didn’t work. The LEbanon war didn’t work. The next war won’t work. The last one didn’t work.
There is no war between Israel & the Palestinians that can be decisive unless Israel is willing to engage in genocide. And even if it were the world would finally intervene & Israel would lose the ability to determine the outcome of the conflict as happened in both Rwanda & Kosovo.
My point is that if you advocate designating Palestinians, Gazans, or even Hamas members summarily as combatants, with adding the conditional “potential” making no difference to their actual treatment, then you can’t complain about Israelis getting a dose of the same medicine in the form of bus bombings or the like. That’s a morally indefensible position in my book.
WW I wasn’t total war the way the phrase is understood now. By and large, it was still a “traditional” war, combatants vs. combatants. Heck, for a while the “drôle de guerre” was hardly even that.
And even at the most terrible battlefield of all, Verdun, a monument was erected in honour of the former enemy, soldiers who in the view of their French “colleagues” had fought every bit as valiantly as they themselves.
Of course the civilian population suffered greatly, as in any war, but they weren’t specifically targeted on a grand scale. To change that was the dubious distinction of the “total war” that was to come. WW II was certainly not the first war in which civilians were targeted, but the first one in which the means to do so were available on an industrial scale and used with reckless abandon on all sides.
I believe the “stabbed in the back” myth after WW I would have evolved in any case, but the victors needn’t have provided the fertile ground for it to fester. The fact that democracy in the Weimar Republic was always an uphill struggle was partly due to the immature vindictiveness of the victors who, instead of giving Germany’s budding democracy every support it needed chose to humiliate it.
I’m mindful of the blow the crushing defeat of 1871 and the loss of Alsace and Lorraine was for France, but I can’t follow when you seem to say that Germany shouldn’t just have defeated but virtually exterminated France. And that’s even without considering that the war had been largely provoked by Bismarck.
Russell Miller says
Richard, you’ve attacked the Forward poorly.
“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.”
Did you read the article? How about:
‘For all that gathered information, though, he said, “We had to do the best we could with the material we had. If this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven.”’
I know, it’s a long paragraph. Two whole lines. Easy to miss.
And it’s nearly halfway down, so your attention span may have run out.
The proper interpretation of Beckerman’s scoop is that Goldstone is a jurist who responded to a specific request under specific circumstances, without cooperation from all sides, and that he’s dead honest about what it’s worth. It’s he, not Beckerman alone, who points to official Israel’s lack of cooperation. He’s refusing to be a propaganda tool for _either_ side.
If his report and The Forward quote “pro”-Israel sources who are right-wing crackpots, that’s because official Israel won’t respond. You can’t have it both ways; these are the closest approximations to an official Israeli response available, so it’s legitimate to include them.
The one truly problematic phrase I find in Beckerman’s piece is where he calls Goldstone’s report a “rush to judgment.” That’s an incorrect characterization, since Goldstone is clear that he’s reporting, not judging. It reflects a kneejerk tendency to reject observations by labeling them as the opinions of an enemy.
But those 3 words apart, this article is no attack on Goldstone. It’s a classic he said/she said piece which both allows Goldstone opportunity to let him explain himself and attempts to get something like a response from the Netanyahu govt (via an associate of his dear friend, the oleaginous Dore Gold).
Richard Silverstein says
I have not attacked the Forward poorly. My mistaken claim that the headline’s quote was not in the article wasn’t meant as an attack. There were many other arguments I did advance which were attacks. But this pt wasn’t.
The Forward’s assistant editor managed to pt out this error to me in a much less snarky way than you. I guess that’s why he’s a respected editor of the Forward and you’re left to snipe in a blog comment thread.
So yes, the quotation IS in the article, but used as a headline it is terribly misleading. I have my doubts that Goldstone even said precisely what he’s quoted as saying here since all of his other interviews have been models of clarity. What he meant to say was that his report is not a formal legal document and could not be used to indict or convict anyone for a crime. That has to be done either by Israel, Palestine or the ICC.
The day when Elder of Ziyon comes even close to be an “official Israeli response” is the day when Israel has become a state I will have nothing to do with. And the idea that you countenance the charade that this blogger is a legitimate source of opinion on anything is preposterous.
If the article isn’t an attack on Goldstone why did Larry write to me informing me about the article and warning me that there might be material in it to which I would object??
RE: The one truly problematic phrase I find in Beckerman’s piece is where he calls Goldstone’s report a “rush to judgment.” – Russell Miller
MY COMMENT: The “rush to judgement” argument was central to O.J. Simpson’s defense in the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Apparently, it can be quite effective.
DISCLAIMER: No insinuation(s) or generalization(s) are intended by the author of this reply/comment.
RE: “THE FORWARD ATTACKS GOLDSTONE, POORLY”
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