Rabbis Brant Rosen and Brian Walt have created a wonderful project, Taanit Tzedek (Fast for Gaza), devoted to awakening opposition within the Jewish religious community to the siege of Gaza and the suffering it is causing to Gaza’s 1.5 million civilians. Today, Judge Richard Goldstone spoke eloquently to 150 rabbis mostly affiliated with the group (and me, I invited myself and the good rabbis allowed me to join in) about the effect Gaza has had on his own relationship with Israel and other important questions.
Many of the questions asked of him were regurgitations of arguments raised by the Israel lobby and Israeli government against the Report. Goldstone refuted them with firmness, but respectfully. For example, to the argument that the judge allowed himself and his Jewishness to be used by enemies of Israel to smear the Jewish state–he replied that just the opposite was the case. First, he wasn’t the first person asked to chair the investigation. Second, his Jewishness in fact was an impediment to assuming his position since the Council and Hamas itself felt his religious affiliation meant he could not be objective.
Responding to the claim that his Report will destroy the peace process (a claim advanced by Bibi Netanyahu**), the human rights lawyer responds: a. there IS no peace process currently; and b. there can be no true peace without justice. If you examine similar situations in which there were egregious violations of human rights followed by blanket amnesties absolving violators of liability, almost none of these amnesties held over the long term (Argentina, Chile, etc.). So Goldstone is precisely right. For there to be true peace the victims on both sides need to feel that justice has been done in some form.
Anyone listening to the judge talk about the very real suffering of the residents of southern Israel would understand that this man is just the opposite of one-sided or Israel-hating. He spoke very powerfully of the suffering of the people of Sderot, Ashkelon and elsewhere in southern Israel. He even paid for such victims to travel to Geneva to testify for his commission. He knows that these victims cannot come to terms with the Palestinians and the crimes committed against them until justice is done.
One of the Taanit Tzedek rabbis noted an important tension that motivates Jews involved with human rights: on the one hand we have a sense of tribal loyalty represented by the phrase kol yisrael arevim zeh ba-zeh (“All Israel is connected one to the other”). But on the other hand there is an indisputable prophetic call for universal human rights, not just rights for Jews. As an eminent jurist, Goldstone, if forced to choose, indicated that he would always choose universal rights and the call for justice for all, not just Jews. In this day and age, I think we must follow the good judge’s example. Any ideological movement that calls for us to betray our commitment to international law and human rights in favor of a tribal loyalty to our own (and often the worst among our own as represented by the settlers and IDF perpetrators of mayhem) is asking too much. Goldstone believes in effect, that to be a good Jew he must be true to this Jewish prophetic calling.
Listening to this discussion, I devised a proposal for Israel. We all know how politically unpalatable an Israeli investigation into potential war crimes during Operation Cast Lead would be. But what if we reinterpreted the mandate of such a commission? Instead of merely investigating and punishing IDF violators, why not incorporate the attacks on southern Israel into the mandate? In effect, do what Judge Goldstone wanted to do himself but was refused permission by the Israeli government. Gather massive amounts of evidence of Palestinians attacks on Israeli civilians. Interview victims. Determine as well as possible who on the Palestinian side might be culpable. Then present such evidence to the United Nations and demand that they act upon it. Present it as well to Hamas and demand that it act upon it.
If Israel undertakes such a project, it will place Hamas under a massive amount of pressure to do the same. This would be a very smart tactical move for Israel and place the moral onus on the other side. If Hamas responded favorably, then it might actually be possible for both sides to perform a credible investigation of their own respective potential crimes. Right now, we have impunity on both sides. Both the IDF and Gaza militants have literally gotten away with murder. It should be clear to Israel by now that the world is no longer prepared to sit back and allow such things to happen. Cast Lead was the watershed.
** Nahum Barnea reports the following in Yediot Achronot (thanks to Ori Nir) based on conversations with Bibi or a very close advisor:
Netanyahu believes that if Israel loses the battle over the Goldstone report, it will not be able to risk making concessions to the Palestinians. In other words: either Goldstone or the peace process. The two cannot go together.