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Friday, 6 February 2015

Getting Away With Murder Again: Israel’s Latest Victory |

Getting Away With Murder Again: Israel’s Latest Victory |

Getting Away With Murder Again: Israel’s Latest Victory

By Michael Brull
report into the latest slaughter in Gaza isn't even out yet, and
already Israel is working to undermine the process, writes Michael
Israeli government is undoubtedly rubbing its hands together with glee.
Their local propagandists throughout Australia are eagerly awaiting
their talking points. Any hopes of holding Israel accountable for its
latest massacre in Gaza have basically vanished, and the path is
effectively being cleared for a new round of horrors.

Over the course of several weeks last year, Israel unleashed hell on Gaza. It killed more than 2,200 Palestinians,
including hundreds of children. It destroyed and badly damaged about
18,000 homes, rendering about 100,000 homeless. It resumed its attack on
Gaza’s electricity supplies, further reducing the access of Gazans to clean water.

The destruction is really indescribable – there are pictures
published by the United Nations and others, showing entire suburbs
reduced to rubble.

As usually happens after such events, the United Nations decided to inquire into what happened. In August last year, it appointed a respected Canadian legal academic with Jewish ancestry to lead the inquiry, William Schabas.

As a scholar on human rights issues and international criminal law, Schabas had unsurprisingly voiced opinions critical
of the Israeli government, such as suggesting that Prime Minister
Netanyahu should be put in the dock at the International Criminal Court.
However, he said that this position should not be overstated: “I didn’t
say he was guilty of anything.” Schabas denied being “anti-Israel”
(whatever that means), and is a member of
the editorial board of the Israel Law Review. This may be compared to
his work on a “truth commission” which investigated allegations of human
rights abuses in Iran. On that occasion, the commission found “the
Islamic Republic of Iran” the “only authority responsible for these

So does this make Schabas biased against Israel? It all depends on
what you consider constitutes bias. If expressing an opinion on Israeli
actions in the past constitutes bias, then Schabas was biased. But if
this is bias, we can also dismiss every Amnesty International or Human
Rights Watch report. Why should North Korea listen to Amnesty, when it’s
been criticised by them before? The fallacy is obvious: those who work
in a human rights field don’t do anything illegitimate by coming to
certain conclusions, unless the path to that conclusion itself was

Reaching unfavourable conclusions only show bias, if those
conclusions were illegitimately unfavourable. To demonstrate that
Schabas could not investigate the facts fairly and impartially would be a
demonstration of bias. If there was a certain predisposition one way or
another – such as, if Schabas were married to a leader of Hamas or the
Israeli government - one might expect that kind of attachment to
influence his findings. Showing that Schabas has said something critical
of Israel in the past would only demonstrate bias, only on the
assumption that no fair and impartial investigation of the actions of
Israel could reach that conclusion.

Some Israelis found this argument compelling, but it did not impress
many others. As is traditional, once Schabas was appointed, Israel and
its loyal propagandists around the world began their battle to discredit
the report before it was written. With customary restraint, the Israeli Prime Minister announced that the United Nations Human Rights Council was, in fact, a “terrorist rights council”.

Denouncing investigations by the UN and human rights organisations is
kind of a national pastime in Israel. And elsewhere, for that matter.
Back in 2009, after that year’s Gaza massacre ended, the UN appointed a
famous inquiry led by Richard Goldstone. The Australian Jewish News
warned in an editorial one week that it should be taken “very seriously”
– before flip flopping the next. Still, the first editorial warned against “The boilerplate argument that the report should not be taken seriously because the UN has a historic bias against Israel”.

Under heavy pressure, Goldstone later distanced himself
from the report he led the way in writing. That distancing helped clear
the way for Israel’s later massacres, such as the one last year. This
time, Israeli propagandists have had another great success, and much
earlier too.

Israel sent a letter to the UN Human Rights Council, noting that Schabas once wrote a legal opinion for the PLO, for which he was paid $1,300. Schabas doesn’t think that this has discredited him,
but claimed that the situation had become “unbearable” for him, and
that by resigning, he will prevent personal attacks overshadowing the
substance of the report.

Schabas has commented that
the opinion he was paid to give was “of a technical legal nature”, so
Israel’s alleged concern about the letter is not about its substance,
but that because of the exchange of money, Schabas had a “blatant
conflict of interest”. It might be a little bit hard for some to
understand why doing paid work for an organisation once would forever
make it impossible to have an unbiased opinion about that organisation,
but really, all that’s ever needed is a little bit of mud and the hope
that some of it will stick.

No matter who was appointed by the UN, Israel was always going to do
what it could to discredit the appointment, and proclaim that the new
appointee was notoriously biased against Israel. The problem, of course,
is that any serious investigation of how Israel treats the Palestinians
is going to come to unpleasant conclusions, because what Israel has
done to them is unconscionable. Gideon Levy commented that that anyone who wasn’t shocked by Israel’s attack on Gaza last year:

deserves to be condemned, have their character assassinated and
their past scrutinized. They either live in blindness, denial and
repression, or their moral standards are fundamentally distorted and

It was impossible not to be appalled by what the Israel Defense
Forces did in Gaza last summer - unless you’re a propagandist, a liar or
a racist.
Canadian legal professor William Shabas.

Canadian legal professor William Shabas.
Israel is already crowing over its victory. Netanyahu predictably declared that
“After the resignation of the committee chairman, who was biased
against Israel, the report must not be published”. When the report comes
out, Israel will already have its stick to beat it with. Israel refused
to cooperate with the inquiry when Schabas led it. As noted in a
Ha’aretz editorial, Israel still refuses to cooperate with it.

Already, human rights organisations have started releasing reports
documenting Israeli atrocities last year. Amnesty International released a report
documenting Israel killing “scores of Palestinian civilians in attacks
targeting houses full of families which in some cases have amounted to
war crimes”. Israeli human rights group B’Tselem released a similar report
on Israeli targeting of residential homes, investigating 70 incidents
in which 606 Palestinians were killed, more than 70 percent of them

The report noted that these attacks were because of a “policy of
attacking homes”, supported by a “broad definition” of a valid “military
objective” for targeting, and a “flexible interpretation of the concept
of ‘collateral damage’”.

The Israeli NGO Physicians for Human Rights also released a report. It found there were serious violations of human rights law.
For example, there was “heavy and unpredictable bombardments of
civilian neighbourhoods in a manner that failed to discriminate between
legitimate targets and protected populations and caused widespread
destruction of homes and property”. These attacks “must have entailed
approval from top-level decision-makers in the Israeli military and/or
government”. There is also Israel’s continued use of the “double tap”
strike – whereby, after Israel bombs an area, it waits a little while
before bombing again, the second strike killing medical workers, loved
ones and others who attended to the scene of the first strike.

Harvard specialist on Gaza, Sara Roy observed
that in three decades of studying Gaza, she has “never seen the kind of
physical and psychological destruction that I see there today”.

A whole indigenous economy has been all but destroyed, with
extensive damage to civilian infrastructure; Gazan society has been
reduced to almost complete aid dependence. It has also been radically
economically levelled, with the virtual destruction of its middle class
and the emergence of a broad new class of “poor”.

Gaza’s social fabric has greatly weakened, and is now characterised
by a new kind of fragility and disempowerment; entire neighbourhoods
have been eliminated, and their community life destroyed.
Roy observed that the supposed plans for reconstructing Gaza after
the devastation imposed on it by Israel “read more like security plans”
for Israel, explaining how the UN will address Israel’s concerns.
Meanwhile, the blockade of Gaza was to be “strengthened”, whilst the UN
was to take on responsibility for maintaining the siege. Israel took on
zero financial responsibility for reconstruction – this was left to the
international community. In short, another triumph for Israel.

The devastation of the attack and ongoing siege was worsened
with floods in November, with the UN declaring a “state of emergency”
in Gaza. Meanwhile, three Palestinians, including two infants, were
reported as having frozen to death in Gaza,
due to a lack of public shelter. I’m sure their families will take
heart from the fact that the reconstruction process has been properly
taking into account Israel’s “security concerns”, which is presumably
why they didn’t have homes in the first place.

As for the UN inquiry, it is going ahead with a new head,
former New York judge Mary McGowan-Davis. Israel has decided she’s more
“balanced”, because the inquiry she led into the follow up to the
Goldstone Report supposedly convinced Goldstone that the conclusions of
his report had been wrong.

In fact, the report plainly did no such thing. I reviewed it in May 2011.
The conclusions were not particularly damning. In part, this was
because Israel was purporting to investigate allegations of human rights
violations at the time, and McGowan-Davis’s report didn’t dismiss all
such investigations in advance (unlike another government we might be
able to think of).

At the time, Israel refused to cooperate with her investigation. Her
report complained that Israel wasn’t investigating “those who designed,
planned, ordered and oversaw Operation Cast Lead”, and held that the
“appropriate mechanism” for investigations was a “public commission”,
not the Military Attorney General.

As for the credibility of the process, McGowan-Davis’s report
observed that whilst one soldier was sentenced to seven months
imprisonment for stealing a credit card, two soldiers who used a child
as a human shield received suspended sentences of three months, and were
demoted. That was their punishment – and that exhausts the list of
Israelis who were held accountable for atrocities committed during the
massacre in Gaza from 2008-9.

The report observed that “as long as victims – in Israel and in Gaza -
continue to lack confidence in the investigative processes, and
continue to live in difficult and unsafe conditions, without remedy,
there will be no genuine accountability and no justice”.

Whilst McGowan-Davis had grounds for drawing stronger conclusions,
her report still had valuable information. However, it was, like so many
other reports on Israel, mostly ignored, and almost entirely unread.

Which is the path we can expect for her next report on Gaza. Israel
will argue the whole process is tainted, and will claim vindication in
the resignation of Schabas. He resigned because Israel produced what it
regarded as irrefutable evidence of his bias, and every news story on
the report will note that the process involved a different leader, who
resigned in the wake of accusations of bias.

Few will read that report, just as few read McGowan-Davis’s report in
2011. All most took from the Goldstone Report was that it condemned
both sides and was written by a respected Jewish Zionist. And then, when
he distanced himself from it, that was the end of the Goldstone Report
in the mainstream media.

This time around, Israel’s talking points have been neatly lined up
for it, and soon there will be an avalanche of bullshit, as its
propagandists around the world do their best to prevent Israel being
held accountable for another slaughter in Gaza, and a continuation of
the siege.

And they can pat themselves on the back, for their tremendous
victory, as Gazans freeze to death because Israel won’t let them rebuild
their homes. What a wonderful triumph.

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