Politics & Society
According to a press release dated 16 October 2009, the U.N. Human Rights Council, located in Geneva, Switzerland, in addition to “adopting a resolution that focused on continuing violations of human rights by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian territories, in particular in East Jerusalem,” also voted to endorse “the recommendations set out in reports of the Fact-Finding Mission to Gaza led by Justice Goldstone and by the High Commissioner for Human Rights,” calling for the recommendations contained in both to be implemented. This means that the so-called Goldstone Report, all 575-pages of it, will go to the U.N. Security Council for further action. The subject of this report is the Israeli invasion of Gaza earlier this year, an invasion that was prompted by months of Hamas rocket attacks that were indiscriminately launched against Israeli towns and settlements from Gaza, particularly from parts of northern Gaza which Israel unilaterally withdrew from in September 2005.
The report in essence, condemns Israel for engaging in “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.” The further action that could result, depending on how the Security Council decides once it is up for consideration, is that the report could now be sent to the International Criminal Court, which could, in turn, can use it as a basis to pursue charges against members of the Israeli government and armed forces, down to fairly low levels. The Human Rights Council consists of forty-two nations. The resolution regarding the Goldstone Report passed 25-6, with eleven abstentions. The United Kingdom abstained and the U.S. was one of the 6 votes against the resolution. In announcing his decision to abstain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown acknowledged that the report is one-sided and does not adequately deal with Hamas’ provocative behavior, but accepts the conclusions regarding Israel as “perfectly valid”.
The U.S. vote against sending this report to the Security Council and its opposition once it reaches the Security Council is reasonable and sound policy judgment because not only does it look out for U.S. interests, but those of all nations that face the threat of a terrorist attack. The interest is two-fold: to deter attacks through a strong defensive posture and, failing that, to conduct operations in order to disrupt terrorist operations, networks, and to destroy terrorist groups. It is important to put the U.S. position in some context. I will do so at the expense of being didactic: On 11 September 2001 a terrorist attack was successfully conducted against the United States. Less than two months later, with the overwhelming support of the international community via the U.N., U.S. launched Operation Enduring Freedom, a name substituted for the original name, Infinite Justice. In its initial phase, the objective of Operation Enduring Freedom was to dislodge Afghanistan’s Taliban government and to destroy Al-Qaeda’s training and organizational infrastructure. This initial phase was accomplished by a massive air campaign in support of Northern Alliance forces on the ground with U.S special operation forces embedded with them. In other words, in response to a terrorist attack, the U.S. took down an entire country! It is precisely this kind of response to terrorist attacks the U.S. is seeking to preserve by opposing the move to send the Goldstone Report to the Security Council.
Like the U.S., Israel has a decent track record of investigating abuses when allegations arise and punishing those members of their armed forces who are found guilty. None of this is to say that there is nothing to be learned from the Goldstone Report. In fact, PM Brown was correct when said that the report “raised serious issues”. The most serious issue the report raises is one that does not only vex Israel. It is one that arises from international law, which is largely rooted in the just war tradition: proportionality. This issue is serious because presently the biggest threat faced by countries comes from non-state groups, like Al-Qaeda, or quasi-state groups, like Hamas, or state-sponsored groups, like Hezbollah.
International laws regarding conduct in war as it currently stands were enacted only for nation-states. Without a doubt, the biggest issue that results from the problem of proportionality, which becomes very vexing when engaging an enemy that circumvents these rules at every turn, is the killing and wounding of innocent civilians, known in such law as non-combatants and often euphemistically referred to as collateral damage. One of the most pervasive tactics employed by the likes of Hamas and Al-Qaeda is deliberately not distinguishing themselves from non-combatants for the precise purpose of blending in with them in the hope that innocents will be killed in order to effectively propagandize among the population and to reap the benefits from an often uncritical western news media.
(Deacon Scott Dodge)
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