The Goldstone Report: My article on New Matilda

There is a lot to be said about the Goldstone Report. I make one point in my newmatilda article: that it accuses the Israeli government of terrorism. This finding hasn’t been discussed anywhere so far as I know. Yet it does so in two ways: firstly, directly, secondly, by accusing Israel of practices that should properly be called terrorist.

So firstly, it directly accuses Israel of terrorism because of its treatment of Palestinian detainees.

“The rounding-up of large groups of civilians and their prolonged detention under the circumstances described above constitute a collective penalty on those persons in violation of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and article 50 of the Hague Regulations. Such treatment amounts to measures of intimidation and terrorism, prohibited under article 33 and a grave breach of the Convention that constitutes a war crime.” [Emphasis added.]

What was the treatment described? Systematic torture, abuses, soldiers humiliating Palestinians – and everyone held was, according to the Mission, civilian. Palestinians were taken to sandpits specially designed to be near artillery firing at Palestinians – effectively using Palestinians as human shields (I read and posted reports of this on New Matilda at the start of the year). I think this treatment of Palestinians was appalling: I’m not sure why it should be considered terrorism. The Mission found that the mistreatment of the Palestinian prisoners should be attributed high in the authority chain, and was deliberate and systematic. I think a far stronger case can be made that Israel’s massacre itself, and the blockade, are acts of terrorism. And I think the report makes a strong case for this.

I’ll just quote the remainder of my article below:

Importantly, the report shows that Israel’s attacks were intentional. According to the Israeli military’s website, “Official data gathered by the Air Force concluded that 99 per cent of the firing that was carried out hit targets accurately”. Furthermore, the Israeli Government has only acknowledged one error in its attack, despite the various challenges it has faced from human rights organisations. From this, the Mission concluded that “what was struck was meant to be struck”. The destruction in Gaza was due to “deliberate planning and policy decisions throughout the chain of command” (1187-1191).

So what were these deliberate decisions? They include the decision to bomb a mosque specifically when hundreds had gathered inside it for prayers (822-843). There was the decision to fire flechette shells — a weapon by its “nature lacking in discrimination” — at a tent during a condolence ceremony “in the vicinity of a large group of civilians” (881-884). Similarly, Israel was condemned for firing mortars — a weapon “incapable of distinguishing between combatants and civilians” — at a location “filled with civilians” (699).

Israel also bombed, destroying partially or in full “at least 280 schools and kindergartens” (1271). Of the buildings housing operations of the UNRWA relief organisation, 57 “were damaged by shelling or airstrikes, including 36 schools (six serving as emergency shelters), seven health centres, three sanitation offices, two warehouses and five other buildings.” Furthermore, 35 UNRWA vehicles, including three armoured vehicles, were damaged (1295-6). Israel also bombed the al-Quds and al-Wafa hospitals with white phosphorous shells (629, 635), among the “48 per cent of Gaza’s 122 health facilities [which] were directly or indirectly hit by shelling” (1255). Unsurprisingly, the Mission found the use of white phosphorous “in such an area [to be] reckless” (649).

Israel also launched a “deliberate and premeditated” attack on the Gazan Wastewater Treatment Plant, striking it “precisely” where it would cause a mass outflow of raw sewage (974). According to the Palestinian Federation of Industries, “324 factories had been destroyed during the Israeli military operations at a cost of 40,000 jobs” (1009). This is on top of various other forms of wanton destruction, such as what the UNDP estimates are 3354 homes completely destroyed in Israel’s attack, and 11,112 partially damaged (1245). Israel also destroyed 19 out of 27 concrete factories in Gaza, “representing 85 per cent of the productive capacity”. This includes the only cement packaging plant, first bombed by helicopters, then attacked with bulldozers, tanks, and explosives which had to be placed “inside the building”(1012-1015).

Israel launched “multiple air strikes” on the Namar Wells complex, among the 10 per cent of Gaza’s water wells destroyed in the attacks (1249). There was also “large-scale and systematic destruction of greenhouses” throughout Gaza: “it is estimated that over 30 hectares of greenhouses were demolished” (1021). Partially as a result of this, Gazans now face the complete collapse of their water supply.

Israel destroyed a Gazan flour mill with several missile attacks, ending Gaza’s “sole remaining flour producing capacity” (933). It also sent in tanks and bulldozers to “systematically” destroy the “land, crops, chickens and farm infrastructure” of the Sawafeary chicken farms, killing all of its 31,000 chickens and “systematically flatten[ing]” its coops. Across Gaza “close to 100,000 chickens were killed”, and 35 per cent of the egg market was destroyed (954-960).

Why did Israel cause such malicious damage? The destruction of this civilian infrastructure was done for “the specific purpose of denying their use for the sustenance of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip”, which was “part of a policy of collective punishment of the civilian population”(1320). This takes place in the context of a “military doctrine that views disproportionate destruction and creating maximum disruption in the lives of many people as a legitimate means to achieve military and political goals” (1213).

There is a well known term for attacking civilians to achieve political goals — that term is “terrorism”. The Goldstone Report found that “Statements by political and military leaders prior to and during the military operations in Gaza leave little doubt that disproportionate destruction and violence against civilians were part of a deliberate policy” (1215).

There are various military figures quoted who have outlined or advocated a military policy described by the Mission as one of “massive and deliberate destruction”, ever since the last war on Lebanon. For example, Major General (Ret.) Giora Eiland held that the next time Israel attacks Lebanon, it should not target Hezbollah, but should include different targets, such as “the destruction of the national infrastructure and intense suffering among the population” (1192-1199). No less significantly, the Israeli Government declared that it was legitimate to target the “supporting infrastructure” of Hamas (1200 — see also 1209-1212). As the Mission notes, the severity of the blockade from 2007 showed Israel had decided that “effectively the population of Gaza” was the supporting infrastructure that it should target (1211).

The report concludes that Israel, “rather than fighting the Palestinian armed groups operating in Gaza in a targeted way, has chosen to punish the whole Gaza Strip and the population in it with economic, political and military sanctions” (1330). The Mission noted statements by Israeli officials “to the effect that the use of disproportionate force, attacks on civilian population and the destruction of civilian property are legitimate means to achieve Israel’s military and political objectives” (1894). That is, they adopted the means of a terrorist organisation carrying out terrorist acts.

The conclusions about the attack on Gaza are devastating. Israel’s attack on civilian infrastructure “was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces. It was not carried out because those objects presented a military threat or opportunity, but to make the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population.”

It further found that “the operations were carefully planned in all their phases. […] There were almost no mistakes made according to the Government of Israel. It is in these circumstances that the Mission concludes that what occurred in just over three weeks at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability” (1891-1893).

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