It’s always nice to see when a group of diplomats does something right. In the case of the UN Human Rights Council, the announcement last week of a fact-finding mission headed by Richard Goldstone is not only smart and appropriate; it offers some correction for a past error.
During the Gaza fighting, the UNHRC set out a foolish mandate, where it called for an international, impartial investigation-but only into Israeli actions during the Gaza offensive. Not only is this inherently unjust and an unacceptable application of international law, it is also impractical. An independent investigation depends on the cooperation of the country in question.
As it stood, the mandate was going to be little more than hot air and another point against the UNHRC, which, like its predecessor (the UN Commission on Human Rights), has merited the criticism of paying more attention to Israeli crimes than to those of other countries. But the appointment of Goldstone to head a four-person team to investigate Gaza changes this.
The UNHRC president, Martin Uhomoibhi of Nigeria, stated explicitly that the investigation would cover the actions of both sides. More to the point, Goldstone wouldn’t be doing it if the purpose of the mission was only to “nail” Israel.
Goldstone has a rock solid reputation as a fair prosecutor of justice and his experience covers many of the most high-profile issues in recent times: South Africa, Yugoslavia, Rwanda and the Iraq Oil-for-Food program. He has also been involved in monitoring Nazi activity in Argentina.
Goldstone has always presented himself as a Jew in more than just ancestry. He has also always had strong ties with and an abiding concern for Israel. He is a trustee of the Hebrew University and this should not be underestimated. A professor might hold all sorts of views, but a trustee, especially one who is a foreign citizen, is not getting that position at Hebrew U if he is anti-Israel.
Indeed, in his remarks to the press, Goldstone was clearly trying to allay concerns that he would be biased IN FAVOR of Israel, an unusual concern for a representative of the UNHRC. If Israel cannot accept Goldstone, they are virtually declaring that they are unwilling to see an investigation undertaken unless it is pre-disposed to results in Israel’s favor.
The rest of the team includes two leading experts on international law who have participated in fact-finding missions that Israel has rejected in the past, Christine Chinkin of Britain and Hina Jilani of Pakistan. Both are respected in the field of human rights, and if questions remain in anyone’s mind about Goldstone’s fairness, their presence should help. But in truth, all three of these people have reputations for integrity and expertise. The accusations of bias are, as usual, self-serving on both sides.
The fourth member of the team, Col. Desmond Travers of Ireland is a well-established expert on munitions and their use in war, also with a very strong reputation. It would be hard to find a more balanced and well-constructed team for a task so grim and burdened with political hysteria as this one.
Israel stands accused of terrible crimes, and the fact is that most of the world believes the accusations in toto. Sure,
some of that is based on basic animosity toward Israel or maybe even Jews. But most of it is based on what we’ve actually seen in Gaza: the massive devastation, the enormous suffering and the petty and cruel behavior of Israel in preventing food, construction and emergency relief supplies into the Strip (before, during and after the fighting), despite the fact that many of the barred substances have no conceivable military application.
Israeli responses have been hollow to say the least. Where there has been any investigation at all, they’ve all been conducted by the IDF. Even if those investigations were thorough and objective, who would believe the results when the accused investigates itself? The IDF should, of course, be involved in any investigation, but if it carries it out by itself or leads it, no reasonable person can possibly accept the results. It requires the complete suspension of critical thinking to do so. The faithful will do that, but most people won’t.
It is hard to imagine a fair and credible investigation making Israel look any worse than it does now. Indeed, it seems likely that it would paint a somewhat less horrifying picture.
Thus, Israel should accept the Goldstone team and work with them. Hamas must do so as well, but even if they don’t, it remains the right choice for Israel, morally, practically and politically. No doubt, the Netanyahu government will have qualms about such cooperation. One hopes that the Obama administration, which has its own interest in getting the full truth out about Gaza and being able to start to move on from this debacle, recognizes this simple truth and helps its Mideast ally to do what is really best for everyone concerned.