They say justice delayed is justice denied, but not if you’re Israel and the subject is Operation Cast Lead. Justice would have certainly been denied in this case were it not for Judge Richard Goldstone and his report documenting potential Israeli (and Palestinian) war crimes. But Goldstone and the seriousness with which his report was taken by the world despite Israel’s campaign of demonization, has compelled the IDF to take action. So justice has been delayed by two years. But not fully denied. Yes, the actions are token, the least the army feels it can do in order to get the world to concede it is acting. And certainly these convictions are not enough.
Frankly, I would like to see Hamas react in parallel fashion by disciplining those who fired rockets that harmed Israelis before the Operation. That kind of symmetry would help their cause, I think.
In the current case, two sergeants have been found guilty, during Operation Cast Lead, of forcing a 9-year-old Palestinian boy to open bags which they suspected might contain explosives, using him as a human shield. What’s ironic about all of this is that the Israeli hasbara line is that Hamas are beastly cowards because THEY use civilians as human shields; when the truth is that there are multiple cases which I’ve covered here of the IDF using young children in this fashion and I’m not aware of any instances of the Palestinians doing anything similar. And in fact, Judge Goldstone says in his report that they deliberately sought out documentation of such Palestinian stories because they wanted to bring them to light and use them in the report. But they couldn’t find any.
Here is the story as Ethan Bronner reports it:
A summary of the court’s judgment provided by the military spokesman’s office said the two had rounded up civilians and come upon bags in a bathroom. They grabbed the child and ordered him to check the bags for booby traps.
“The boy, who feared for his fate and was pressured by the situation, wet his pants,” the judges said, pointedly noting that, “unlike the soldiers, the boy had no means of personal protection.”
After the boy emptied the contents of one bag and had trouble opening a second, one of the soldiers shot at the second bag. The boy was returned, terrified but unharmed, to his family.
One of my Israeli readers has sent me an expurgated version of a Facebook discussion among IDF soldiers about this case. An individual who claims he was there, argues that they were not using the boy as a human shield, but rather were using him to search bags that the soldiers thought might contain valuables. They were concerned that they might be accused of pilfering the bags if any valuable were missing.
Frankly, I don’t buy this and it sounds to me like a convenient excuse dreamed up after the fact.
I find it terribly amusing and ironic to read this passage which closes Bronner’s report:
At the military court where the two sergeants were convicted, several former comrades attending wore shirts with the slogan “We are victims of Goldstone.”
In fact, they are precisely right, but not in the way they imagine. According to their terms, they are scapegoats offered up to world opinion and they did nothing wrong, certainly nothing that many other IDF soldiers haven’t done before them. The truth is, of course, that they did something that violates IDF guidelines and international law so they deserve a serious punishment (and this hasn’t been meted out so it remains to be seen whether this will be meaningful or a slap on the wrist). But what is true about this slogan is that, were it not for Goldstone there would be no accountability amongst the IDF at all. No one would’ve been punished. The victims would all be Palestinian. The perpetrators all Israelis. Suffering only on one side. Abusers on the other. But they are not victims of Goldstone. They are victims of their own stupidity and the Occupation, which compels them to such inhumanity.
This doesn’t tip the scales so that they’re in balance. But it is at least something.
I can’t for the life of me understand why the Israel lobby is now smearing J Street for making a few phone calls to Congressional staffs asking if their bosses would meet with Judge Goldstone when he made the rounds of Capitol Hill to lobby on behalf of his report. If I were J Street, and seeing the news of these convictions, I’d be boasting of the group’s involvement. They should be saying: “Look, the Israeli system has worked. Soldiers are being held accountable. And were it not for Judge Goldstone this might not have happened. And we helped him.”
What angers me is that this is just what I argued to J Street staff when they put out their mealy-mouthed statement about the Report. Yet, they didn’t have to foresight to understand the important role Goldstone was playing and that his role might end up being valued at some point in the future. My problem with J Street is that it doesn’t think long-term. It only thinks of short-term benefits and losses. Goldstone was a long-term proposition and they needed to figure out how to finesse it and they didn’t. Now they’re being made to pay the price when they should be shouting from the rooftops that they were right all along.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.