Colonel Desmond Travers

This interview with Desmond Travers – the lead military expert for the Goldstone Mission – is fascinating.

HC – Why did you agree to undertake such a contentious and monumental role? What was your motivation? Politics? Justice?
DT – I had a very, very apolitical reason for doing this. If one teaches about war crimes, one has to be up to speed on current military operations. I wanted to see this so that I could produce a better product for investigators when I was giving lectures in The Hague later. I had no special romantic or moral agenda, I simply wanted to see how a modern, highly technically advanced army fought against an insurgency, because this is the new phenomenon. People are now saying this is the way it is going to be from here on out. Even the horrid word “asymmetric” has come into the conversation, which I reject entirely. It’s a totally nonsensical word, but it’s a big word so it impresses people. When I hear the Israelis saying, “How else can you fight an asymmetric war except by killing civilians?” immediately a razor sharp critique apparatus starts working in my head because it is a nonsensical phrase.

And in fact I only came across two incidents of where there was an actual combat situation, in other words where there were Hamas operatives and there were Israelis, and the reason I came across that was quite simply because the Israelis had got a 59 year old man and made him go into this house where there were three Hamas operatives in hiding, repeatedly, because they wouldn’t go in themselves. This human shield tactic, known among the IDF soldiers as the “Johnny” or “Good Neighbour” tactic brings me to another point. It was practiced and applied in all the Israeli brigade areas in Gaza and is strongly indicative of prior training. It does, however, also reveal an emphasis in that training on “risk aversion”. This aversion in turn imposed the transference of such risk onto the civilian population be they women or children. This is very troubling for various reasons but one in particular to me, an ex-soldier, and it is this: What is an army that commits its soldiers to avoidance of risk? Whatever it is now, it is no longer an army, in my view.

[We know what the Israeli occupation forces really are – ed]

DT – It astonishes me the degree to which the Western world have come to accept the idea that Red Crescent Ambulances are military trucks for ordnance and that mosques are repositories for military material. I was actually upbraided, when I came before the Irish government’s Foreign Affairs Committee, which is a public forum; I was upbraided by the only Jewish member of Parliament in Ireland because when I said we found no evidence of mosques being used whatsoever, he said, “How many mosques did you examine?” And I said that I had examined two, because they were ones that had been struck by missiles, and he said, “But did you examine any of the mosques that weren’t struck?” In other words, if I had not examined all mosques I had not provided a sufficiency of proof that they were ALL free of weapons…

Let me just give you an example of where I see it. Very few people have taken on board the implied negative stereotyping inferences about mosques and Red Crescent ambulances but let me give you a case in point. It couldn’t be applied elsewhere. During the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland if a British public figure or a military figure had said, “Catholic Churches are warehouses for Semtex”, there would have been an international outcry, especially in the Catholic world, over such a slur. HC – Double Standards. DT – Totally, totally. And then when, for example, you see photographs of weapons caches found in mosques, like ones taken in the Zaytoun area where the Israeli Giv’ati Brigade went in – and demonstrated a particular enthusiasm for brutality and racist abusiveness in their operation in that area – I would say that unless they can give me absolute forensic proof, I do not believe the photographs.

HC – Did your report find the Israeli politicians and military leadership culpable of war crimes? DT – Well, in fact, it was Professor Norton who drew my attention to it more than anything else in conversation, there were extremely aggressive statements made about what the Israelis would do when they went into Gaza made by Tzipi Livni and by the Minister of Defence and by several generals and some academics. Those statements are incitements of war crimes in their own right.

HC – Much of the British public seem to have reacted very favourably to the findings of the Goldstone Report and have been moved to campaign against Israel by taking part in Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns, protests and so on. How best do you suggest the public now demonstrate their support for the Palestinian people and the findings of your Report, as well as their condemnation of Israel?
DT – I think they (the public) have to be alert to the insidious anti-Islamic inferences that legitimise, down the road, actions that would not be tolerated any place else in the world. For example, when I was in Lebanon there was a standard accusation that Red Crescent ambulances were ammunition carriers for Hisb’Allah. So what did they do when they got to Gaza? They knock out 29 ambulances, kill 16 ambulance crews and injure 19 and the West doesn’t even rate it! Ergo, now that mosques (are seen as) a place for ammunition, next time they’ll hit all the mosques in Gaza and the West are going to say, oh well, we’ve been prepared, we’ve been conditioned, we know mosques are ammunition warehouses. The fact that they firebombed Al-Quds Hospital means that it was just an extension of the ambulance park outside that they had levelled. You know that they drove Merkava tanks over ambulances? So I would be saying to young people, it’s time we gave the same courtesy and civility in our determinations of guilt or innocence to the persons of the Islamic tradition just as persons of the Judeo-Christian traditions have come to expect such considerations.

DT – Probably not but that would be a matter to be determined by jurists. But what I would like to see is, a term used as a consciousness raising issue. Gaza has now come into the history books in the same way as Guernica, Dresden, Stalingrad. Gaza is a gulag, the only gulag in the Western hemisphere; maintained by democracies; closed-off from food, water, air.

[note also how left wing the interviewer is]

HC – Absolutely. Let’s go back to Gilad Shalit for a moment. By naming him, you say that, in a way, you were trying to address one of the causes of the invasion, but on the other side there are still thousands of men, women and children and not one was mentioned by name. You only mention one name, on one side, (Israel’s) and he is a soldier, whereas on the other side they are civilians. He was given prominence over all of them.
DT – I think mainly it was because of the realisation during our interviews amongst those who had been interrogated that the Israelis were very, very anxious to get his release.
HC – But then don’t you think it is playing into Israel’s hands to mention the things that they are concerned about and not the other side? Do you not think that, in a way, you were trying to appease them?
DT – Can I come back to the question of Palestinian prisoners? When the Palestinians sign up to, say, the release of Shalit for 2000 Palestinians, they degrade their own value system. They ought not to do that. But then no civilized country ought to detain 8000, is it 8000 Palestinians? Very nearly 9000.
HC – I think the most disconcerting thing to me is the number of child prisoners. A child throwing a stone at the [Israeli apartheid] wall can get up to 20 years in jail, which means that the Israelis attribute more value to an inanimate object than they do to a human life, which is crazy.
DT – The treatment of children in this fashion is unacceptable. One human rights representative seemed to accept that it was understandable that the Israeli security forces had a right to take this kind of action when children throw stones at them. I explained that the British Forces in Northern Ireland had the same issues to contend with and never had to resort to such measures. Nevertheless, they won! Further, a soldier who takes issue with a child for throwing a stone demeans himself.
HC – All standards of international law are against the arrest, detention and torture of children and…
DT – All I can say is that it is unspeakable, outrageous. Some of the items described to us about the detention of children are very, very, very troubling.


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