Australia/Israel Review

Editorial: A Great Leap Backwards

Sep 25, 2009 | Colin Rubenstein


Colin Rubenstein

Operation Cast Lead was outstandingly effective in achieving its basic goal. The three-week Israeli operation was launched in late December last year after Hamas unilaterally ended a six-month ceasefire. It came after years – and thousands – of rocket attacks from Gaza into Israeli cities, and saw effective deterrence re-established. Indeed, less than 10 rockets have been fired in the past six months.

Moreover, despite the Gaza Strip being one of the most densely populated places on earth and despite Palestinian fighters deliberately courting Palestinian civilian casualties by fighting from urban areas and shedding their uniforms – in gross violation of international law – fewer than 300 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israel during the operation, about one-fourth of total Palestinian casualties. While all civilian casualties are regrettable, a 1:3 civilian to combatant casualty ratio is nonetheless well below the global average for modern warfare, which is 8:1 (that is, eight civilians killed for every one combatant).

If one were to reject the Israeli figures and employ instead the incorrect figures supplied by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (which has been shown to list as civilians people claimed by Hamas to be combatants), the ratio would still be 2:1, well below the macabre average.

Thus, Israel and its moral military should be congratulated by the international community for keeping civilian casualties so low in extremely difficult circumstances, against an enemy that exploits Israel’s commitment to civilian life and international law.

Instead, as we all know, the opposite has occurred.

The latest slap in the face has come from an unsurprising source, the United Nations Human Rights Council and its Goldstone Report.

The Goldstone Report is not, as often portrayed, the result of a fact-finding mission established by the Council to report on the Gaza violence. In actual fact, the Council resolution that created the mission called on it to “investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying power, Israel.” Notice that only Israel was to be investigated, no other party. Notice also that Israel is still declared to be “occupying” Gaza despite having not a single soldier or settler there. Note most importantly that Israel’s guilt was firmly established in the terms of reference.

Such outrageous language was enough to convince the Council’s West European members to abstain from the vote, but the human rights luminaries on the Council – such as Bangladesh, China, Cuba, Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia and, of course, Saudi Arabia – made sure that it passed.

It’s telling that five of the 11 special sessions of the Human Rights Council, including the first three, have been devoted to criticism of Israel. No other country or conflict has been the subject of more than one.

A session about Sudan failed to condemn that country’s involvement in the Darfur genocide, in which 300,000 people have been killed since 2003. Instead, Sudan was actually congratulated for its cooperation!

The Sri Lanka special session led to an affirmation of Sri Lanka’s “sovereign rights to protect its citizens and to combat terrorism” – something the Council wouldn’t dream of allowing Israel – and congratulated the government on its efforts in defeating the Tamil national movement in May this year. This civil war, it might be pointed out, reportedly saw 6,500 Tamil civilians killed between January and April of this year alone.

Thus, no one was surprised that the Goldstone Report, released Sept. 15, strongly condemned Israel, and was riddled with demonstrable falsehoods and blatant bias.

After all, one of the mission’s investigators, London School of Economics Professor Christine Chinkin, declared Israel guilty of war crimes even before the investigation started.

As Jonathan Halevi reveals in these pages, no critical questions were asked of Palestinian witnesses about Palestinian war crimes. Indeed, clear evidence that demonstrate Hamas perfidy was ignored. Readily available video evidence of Palestinians firing rockets from amidst civilian areas was not reviewed. Perhaps most astoundingly, even though the report included a quote from a Hamas official bragging about having “formed human shields of the women, the children, the elderly” this quote wasn’t accepted as evidence of Hamas’ use of human shields.

While it is both easy and necessary to write volumes on the systemic bias and many inaccuracies of the report, it is perhaps more important to think of the implications of the report.

If accepted by the Security Council, as its authors have requested, this report will make it illegal in practice to fight guerrilla or terrorist groups that flaunt international law. That is to say, the report condemns Israel for responding to fire from amidst civilian areas – despite the fact this fire was being directed primarily at civilian areas inside Israel – and offers no realistic way Israel could have responded lawfully under its standards.

For those countries fighting insurgencies around the world – and Australia is on that list – this report ties the hands of law-abiding armies, allowing anyone willing to ignore the laws of war to land free punches, free from the fear of being penalised for their perfidy – while increasing the overall danger to civilians

If this report is accepted as a blueprint for fighting future wars, it will represent a great leap backwards, not only in the ability of democratic countries to win wars, but for the credibility of those desiring the protection of human rights around the world.

Of course, many have realised that the implications of this report are not really meant to constrain Australian, American or other armies. As Alan Dershowitz writes, “The report is not intended to establish general principles of international law, applicable to all nations. It is directed at one nation and one nation only: the Jew among nations – Israel.”



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