What Really Happened In Gaza? Book Review

17:13 02/26/2011
What Really Happened In Gaza? – Book Review

The book does little to legitimize an Israeli perspective.By Ira Glunts

(The Goldstone Report: The Legacy Of The Landmark Investigation Of The Gaza Conflict edited by Adam Horowitz, Lizzy Ratner, and Philip Weiss; foreword by Desmond Tutu, introduction by Naomi Klein, Nation Books, 2011.  449 pp., $18.95. paperback.)

The Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008/January 2009 and the subsequent investigation and unequivocal condemnation by a United Nations team led by Judge Richard Goldstone of Israeli conduct before and during what the Jewish State calls “Operation Cast Lead,” have radically altered the way many view Israel’s brutal occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people.  Gaza and Goldstone have also caused many to question the 18 year-old US-sponsored Israeli/Palestinian “peace-process” which never produces any positive results.

Here in Central New York, some local activists in the Syracuse Peace Council started the group Central New York Working For A Just Peace In Palestine & Israel as a direct result of the invasion of Gaza. In February, the Judaic Studies Program at Syracuse University hosted journalist Peter Beinart, a self-identified liberal Zionist, who has recently signed a public letter urging President Obama to support a United Nations resolution condemning the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (The US vetoed the resolution.) Neither Beinart’s willingness to sign this letter, nor an invitation extended by the Judaic Studies Program to someone expressing these views, would have been conceivable before the Gaza invasion.

The Goldstone Report: The Legacy Of The Landmark Investigation Of The Gaza Conflict is invaluable in assessing what really happened in Gaza. It presents an abridged version (327 pp.) of the “Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission On the Gaza Conflict (September, 2009),” with 11 insightful essays which explore the Goldstone document from progressive legal, historical, and political, as well as personal perspectives. This version also intersperses witness testimonies which were published by the Mission, but not included in the original report. (Full disclosure: I am a contributor to Mondoweiss.net which is edited by Weiss and Horowitz.)

The stark fact is that the Israeli army killed over 1,400 people during the Gaza invasion. This is as opposed to 13 Israeli fatalities, some of which were Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers killed by “friendly fire.” Of the 1,400 fatalities, over 80% were civilians. Approximately 5,300 Gazans were injured, including 2,400 women and children; 2,114 houses were destroyed, with an additional 3,400 houses rendered uninhabitable. The three-week Israeli assault resulted in over 51,000 displaced persons. Among the IDF’s targets were mosques, hospitals, private residences, a chicken farm, a sewage treatment plant, and a United Nations Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA) field office compound, which was sheltering 600 to 700 civilians. According to Goldstone, there was no military advantage gained by any of these attacks.

The Mission employed testimonies of Gazans, as well as on-site inspections in order to document its findings. Although the Israeli government refused to cooperate, and vehemently tried to prevent their citizens and soldiers from doing so, the Mission did interview Israelis outside of Israel and employed public testimony from the so-called “Soldiers’ Forum” at Israel’s Oranim military academy, as well as reports from the dissident soldiers’ group “Breaking the Silence.” The report contains statements made by Israeli officials, which were widely quoted in the Israeli and foreign press, that Israel’s declared aim was to punish the civilian population. The document also includes justifications made by Israeli officials, reported in the press for specific Israeli military actions.  Most of these were shown to be inaccurate, many purposefully so.

A Tzipi Livni quote illustrates the IDF intent to violate international norms of military conduct. Livni, who was the Israeli Foreign Minister during Operation Cast Lead, said, “Israel is not a country upon which you fire missiles and it does not respond. It is a country that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild – and this is a good thing.” The Israeli “wildness” violated the laws of war, including: use of human shields, capricious home invasions, illegal detention of civilians including elected officials, massive wanton destruction of personal property and of infrastructure, and killing of unarmed and non-threatening civilians.

The Goldstone Mission concluded that Operation Cast Lead “was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize 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.” Targeting a civilian population clearly violates international humanitarian law. The Mission also concluded, as did many who read the Israeli press before and during the three-week Israeli assault, that one purpose of the attack was to punish Gazans for voting for Hamas in the free democratic election of 2006.

The Goldstone Report not only addresses the Gaza invasion, but seeks to place it in the context of the ongoing struggle between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as between Israel and its Arab neighbors. In describing this history, the report harshly criticizes the Israelis for, among other things, the 8,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israel from the occupied territories (a violation of international human rights law), the restriction of movement (between Gaza and the West Bank and within each territory), the suppression of legitimate dissent in the occupied territories, and the blockade of Gaza. It also condemns Israel for its settlements on conquered land, a violation of the Geneva Conventions, the Judaization of East Jerusalem, and construction and maintenance of the separation wall, which has been ruled illegal by the World Court. And all that is not even to mention the illegitimate and disproportionate use of force during the 2006 Lebanon War. This is hardly the portrayal of an enlightened Western democracy. And it is a characterization of Israel which is all the more shocking for many because it came from Richard Goldstone.

Judge Richard Goldstone is a nightmare for the Israeli and US pro-Israel spin doctors. He is an internationally-recognized jurist with extensive experience in redressing the injustices of apartheid in his native South Africa. He is not only Jewish, but is a self-identified Zionist, and was an honorary member of the Board of Governors of Hebrew University for ten years. His daughter immigrated to Israel where she now lives. This made it difficult to dismiss Goldstone as an anti-Semite from a United Nations whose moral and legal authority Israel has always ignored, with the aid of the United States veto. However, this did not stop the Israelis and their US supporters from smearing the judge.

Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School called Goldstone “an evil man” and “a traitor to the Jews.” The usual charges of “self-hating Jew” echoed loudly in the Israeli and US media. On November 3, 2009 the US House of Representatives voted 344 to 36 for House Resolution 867, which called the Goldstone Report, “irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy.” The Obama administration, not known for great courage in its foreign policy decisions, has danced to the tune of what some euphemistically call “certain political interests.” In so doing, the US has followed the advice of the House resolution and blocked any further consideration of the Goldstone Report at the United Nations.

Judge Goldstone has invited “fair minded people” to read the report and “point out where it failed to be objective or even-handed.” Neither the Congress nor the Obama Administration has done so. The US mainstream media has all but shut the door on criticism of Israeli conduct during the Gaza invasion. But despite the dismissive response to the Goldstone Report and to the critics of the Gaza invasion, both the report and the invasion have resulted in increased public opposition to US policy regarding Israel. The US pro-Israel camp, alarmed by this new reality, has inaccurately labeled it “a campaign of delegitimization of Israel.”

The essays contained in the Goldstone Report do little to legitimize an Israeli perspective. Jerome Slater criticizes Goldstone’s position that Israel’s war in Gaza could be justified by the claim of self-defense. He writes that “when illegitimate and violent repression engenders resistance” then the claim of self-defense is invalid. Brian Baird, an ex-Congressman, details the degree to which his House colleagues passionately spoke in defense of Israel while demonstrating their almost complete lack of knowledge of the facts.  All his attempts to educate them met with indifference — caused by the giant shadow of the pro-Israel lobby.

The final word is given to Laila El-Haddad, a Palestinian journalist and blogger. She spent Operation Cast Lead in North Carolina connected via Skype and email to her father, who was under siege in his home in Gaza City. She details his messages of fright, courage, and despair, followed by relief and muted hope. These thoughts given from father to daughter provide the reader with a visceral understanding of the terror and horror visited on Gazans during the invasion, a horror which is impossible to transmit through a United Nations document. Sadly and soberingly, El-Haddad tells us that for now, for the people of Gaza, the Goldstone Report is just “ink on paper,” since it has not led to any improvement in their lives.

The presentation of the Goldstone Report and the accompanying materials contained in the volume are valuable because they make this extraordinary document accessible to those who might normally be reluctant to read it in its entirety on the United Nations web site. The book is especially recommended to those liberals who still check their progressivism at the gate before entering the portal of Palestine. What they read here just may shake some of their deeply-held beliefs.

(An earlier version of this book review appeared in the Syracuse Peace Council’s Peace Newsletter; March, 2011, PNL #802.)

– Ira Glunts is a Jewish-American who as an English teacher living in southern Israel boarded an Israeli intercity bus and traveled to Gaza City in 1972. He spent the summer of 1992 as a volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces. Currently, Mr. Glunts is a critic of Israeli policy and the Jewish-American establishment which supports it, and a member of Central New York Working For A Just Peace in Palestine & Israel. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
What Really Happened In Gaza? – Book Review.