Sunday, April 24, 2011
To the remaining members of the UN fact-finding mission
The decision of Hina Jilani, Christine Chinkin and Desmond Travers to turn on Richard Goldstone is disturbing, to say the least.
I am astonished by the report in the Guardian of April 14 that, in response to Judge Richard Goldstone’s recent oped in The Washington Post, the remaining members of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Gaza, namely Hina Jilani, Christine Chinkin and Desmond Travers, have “turned on him,” accusing him of misrepresenting facts in order to cast doubt on the credibility of their joint report. It is regrettable that they did not explain what facts he misrepresented.
I trust they will agree that every intellectually honest person will willingly review previously held convictions if and when relevant new evidence becomes available. To his credit, that is exactly what Judge Goldstone has done. By contrast, their evidently inflexible belief in the immutability of every sentence of their 500-plus page report reflects an attitude reminiscent of those who refused to look at the evidence presented by Galileo.
If, as they wrote, they “find it necessary to dispel any impression that subsequent developments have rendered any part of the mission’s report unsubstantiated, erroneous or inaccurate,” it is puzzling that they did not refute the evidence that evidently influenced Judge Goldstone.
I therefore respectfully ask them to address the following circumstances.
1. Last November, when Hamas interior minister Fathi Hammad publicly admitted that the number of combatant casualties was very close to that announced by the IDF, it became obvious that their mission was mistaken in preferring casualty figures quoted by various NGOs.
In clause 361 of the report they stated: “The counterclaims published by the Government of Israel fall far short of international law standards.” In the circumstances, it is fair to ask what these standards are, and whether the claims by the NGOs met these standards.
The claim that the police casualties were civilians is obviously incorrect, since the Gaza police incorporates the Executive Force, described by The Telegraph and others as paramilitary. This is confirmed in clause 413 of the report, which states unambiguously that Executive Force members were integrated into the civil police, and that members of the force are resistance fighters. Their footnote 271 states that the Executive Force consisted of some estimated 6,800 members of the armed wings of Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees.
2. There is also a glaring lacuna in all the casualty figures quoted, namely the number ascribed to having been caused by Israel which may have actually been inflicted by Palestinians. On Feb 2, 2009 Ma’an, the Palestinian news agency, reported that a senior leader in Fatah published a list of 181 names of those in Gaza who had been killed, maimed, beaten or tortured during the Israeli war on Gaza.
3. It is unfortunate that the mission rejected my written suggestion to call for evidence from former British Army Colonel Richard Kemp, who is among the most qualified soldiers able to evaluate the circumstances in which decisions are made in the type of warfare conducted in Gaza
4. In order to arrive at an unbiased opinion, Israel’s actions in Gaza must be assessed against the backdrop of recent developments in Afghanistan and Libya, for example, which show conclusively that the standards by which the mission judged the IDF’s performance are impossible in practice. Even President Barack Obama, with his impeccable intentions, has been unable to avoid extensive civilian casualties.
The New York Times of February 19, 2010 reported that in Afghanistan the US Air Force now flies twice as many Predator drones as it did a year ago. They carried out more than 200 missile and bomb strikes over the past year, and the civilian casualties they caused have stoked anger and anti-Americanism. Since the start of 2009, the drones have fired at least 184 missiles and 66 laser-guided bombs at militant suspects in Afghanistan. I quote these figures to demonstrate that even with the very best intentions, civilian casualties are inevitable.
The strikes came when troops encountered people who appeared to be planting bombs, but P.W. Singer, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, said officers had to keep in mind that “not everyone digging by the side of the road is automatically an insurgent.” Singer’s warning emphasizes the danger of confusing genuine error with criminal intent in situations where the combatants are hardly distinguishable from civilians.
5. The above applies particularly to the tragic Samouni case, with its unjustified accusations in the report that have contributed largely to the vilification of Israel in international media. Israel was accused of intentionally bombing the Samouni family house and killing its occupants with no justification whatsoever, but new evidence shows that Israeli drone photographs of a group of men carrying firewood were incorrectly interpreted as fighters carrying rocket launchers, and led to the bombing. I ask you what a reasonable person would have done in the heat of battle on sighting what appears to be rockets about to be launched?
6. As many of the report’s conclusions are based on eyewitness testimony, it should be borne in mind that many miscarriages of justice have been recorded due to such testimony. In a paper “The reliability of eyewitness reports: The effect of accurate and inaccurate information on memory and bias,” Jennifer Scheer wrote: “A considerable amount of research has established that exposure to leading or misleading suggestions can dramatically influence the accuracy of eyewitness reports.
7. Although some mention is made of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit in the report, the saddest failure of the UN Mission while it was in Gaza conversing amiably with the persons holding him captive was its failure to demand an end to the blatant violation of his right to Red Cross visits and to receive letters, as required by the Third Geneva Convention.
By way of contrast, Palestinian prisoners in Israel enjoy visitation rights, including conjugal visits, access to telephones, newspapers, television and radio broadcasts, lawyers’ visits and even academic studies at state expense.
I would very much appreciate a considered response from them.
The writer is a commentator on current affairs. His website is www.2nd-thoughts.org; a special reference to the Goldstone Report can be found at http://www.2nd-thoughts.org/id220.html