Brog's Blog

October 16, 2009

Mistakes Are Not War Crimes

Filed under: All Posts — brogsblog @ 8:05 pm

Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted overwhelmingly to endorse the Goldstone Report and send it to the United Nations Security Council.  The Goldstone Report — for those who have managed to avoid this ugly bit of news — summarizes the findings of the Goldstone Commission which investigated Israel’s Operation Cast Lead to stop Hamas rocket fire from Gaza.  The report suggests that Israel was guilty of war crimes, and demands that Israel investigate these episodes to the UN’s satisfaction.  Failure to do so could lead to the prosecution of Israeli soldiers at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Israel refused to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission.  The resolution authorizing the commission gave it a biased mandate — to investigate only Israel, not Hamas.  Moreover, the commission was sponsored by the notorious UN Human Rights Council (HRC).  This body — like the UN itself — has an egregious record of singling out Israel for repeated condemnation while largely ignoring genocide and human rights abuses around the world.  With nations such as Russia, China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia sitting on the council, it is no wonder that they prefer to keep the focus on Israel.  And it is no wonder that Israel believed it could not get a fair hearing from such a body.
The Goldstone Report suffers from many flaws.  The investigative process was incomplete, and seems to have relied far too heavily on evidence sanctioned by Hamas.  As Goldstone himself has acknowledged, the report contains no “evidence” of war crimes by Israel.  He has further noted that, “if this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven.”  Instead, he has called the report a “road map” for future investigations.  Of course no one except for Goldstone appears to be treating the report as merely a road map.
The bigger problem is the very premise that underlies the report.  While the report does critique the Hamas rocket fire that forced Israel’s hand, it largely ignores cause and effect.  The report equates the Hamas terrorists who launched the rockets year after year and the Israeli soldiers who sought to stop the rocket fire.  The report condemns Israel’s operations in civilian areas while largely ignoring the fact that Hamas brought the fighting to these areas by operating in dense neighborhoods from behind human shields.  The report sets a standard that not only condemns Israel but, if applied more broadly, would condemn the United States, Britain and any other nation facing the difficult challenge of combating terrorists who take shelter among civilians.
The Human Rights Council’s vote came as no surprise.  Yet there was at least one unexpected bright spot in the debate that preceded the vote.  The former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp, was permitted to make a statement before the council.  Col. Kemp’s statement injected an important dose of reality into an otherwise surreal debate.  His words were important enough that I have chosen to include them in their entirety.  Here is what Col. Kemp told the Human Rights Council:
I am the former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan. I served with NATO and the United Nations; commanded troops in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Macedonia; and participated in the Gulf War. I spent considerable time in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and worked on international terrorism for the UK government’s Joint Intelligence Committee.
Mr. President, based on my knowledge and experience, I can say this: During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.
Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population.
Hamas, like Hizbullah, are expert at driving the media agenda. Both will always have people ready to give interviews condemning Israeli forces for war crimes. They are adept at staging and distorting incidents.
The IDF faces a challenge that we British do not have to face to the same extent. It is the automatic, Pavlovian presumption by many in the international media, and international human rights groups, that the IDF are in the wrong, that they are abusing human rights.
The truth is that the IDF took extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, dropping over 2 million leaflets, and making over 100,000 phone calls. Many missions that could have taken out Hamas military capability were aborted to prevent civilian casualties. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza. To deliver aid virtually into your enemy’s hands is, to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable. But the IDF took on those risks.
Despite all of this, of course innocent civilians were killed. War is chaos and full of mistakes. There have been mistakes by the British, American and other forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq, many of which can be put down to human error. But mistakes are not war crimes.
More than anything, the civilian casualties were a consequence of Hamas’s way of fighting. Hamas deliberately tried to sacrifice their own civilians.
Mr. President, Israel had no choice apart from defending its people, to stop Hamas from attacking them with rockets.
And I say this again: The IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.
Thank you, Mr. President

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