BRULL: Israeli terrorism: what the Goldstone report actually says about Israel’s attack on Gaza November 17, 2009


Michael Brull’s blog 22 October 2009

On December 3, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd may be lunching with Israel’s Vice Prime Minister, Silvan Shalom. He would never meet with Hamas representatives. The message he is sending is that he would not meet with a Palestinian murderer of Jewish civilians, but is okay with Jewish murderers of Palestinian civilians.

Some readers will protest: how can I draw a parallel between the Israeli government and Hamas, a terrorist organisation? Isn’t there an obvious moral disparity between the two?

For such people, I recommend a read of the Goldstone report.

What does the Goldstone Report say? Virtually no one has discussed the things it actually says. For most people, it has simply become known by a vague formula: “both sides are accused of war crimes”. It is true that the report accuses Hamas and the Israeli government of war crimes. For that matter, it also accuses Fatah of human rights violations (see paragraphs 1550-1589: all future references in brackets to paragraphs). The United Nations Fact Finding Mission (henceforth the Mission) was able to find “no evidence” that Hamas used Palestinian civilians as human shields (494). On the other hand, Israel was found guilty of using Palestinian civilians as human shields (1164: see also 1032-1106 for further discussion, and 1143-1163 for another example).

Hamas was condemned for firing indiscriminate rockets at Israel. Interestingly, as Netanyahu has put it many times before, Israel was also condemned for how it chose to protect its civilians. Yet not in the way he would have people believe. The Goldstone Report noted that Palestinian villages “lack the public shelters commonly found in towns and villages populated predominantly by Israel’s Jewish citizens.” (1675-81). The Mission complained that “Israel has not provided the same level of protection from rockets and mortars to affected Palestinian citizens as it has to Jewish citizens. In particular, it has failed to provide public shelters or fortification of schools… It ought to go without saying that the thousands of Palestinian Israelis– including a significant number of children – who live within the range of rocket fire, deserve the same protection as the Israeli Government provides to its Jewish citizens.” (1902)

This is but a minor part of a report that deals at great length with a broad range of issues, including the occupation, the checkpoints, the “Wall”, the “Israeli only roads”, and even “discrimination between Jewish Israeli citizens and Palestinian Israeli citizens, in law and practice.”  The report judges that insofar as the occupation and its infrastructure prevents “a viable, contiguous and sovereign Palestinian State from being created, they are in violation of the jus cogens right to self-determination.”(1502-1549)

Though  the report is held to be a model of even-handedness by some of its defenders, the report specifically rejects such a standard, writing that what has been written “in no way implies equating the position of Israel as the occupying Power with that of the occupied Palestinian population or entities representing it. The differences with regard to the power and capacity to inflict harm or to protect, including by securing justice when violations occur, are obvious and a comparison is neither possible nor necessary.” (1876)

The most striking finding of the report, which has achieved zero publicity anywhere, is that Israel is guilty of state terrorism.

This seems a shocking statement: perhaps it is merely my polemical exaggeration. It is true that in most of the charges levelled against Israel, the Goldstone report does not explicitly accuse Israel of terrorism. There are two exceptions: the blockade, and Israel’s abuse of Palestinian prisoners. The blockade, to which I’ll return, is condemned as a policy of “collective punishment”, and arguably a crime of persecution as a form of a crime against humanity (1331-1335). In paragraph 1328, it is noted that the prohibition in Article 33 Fourth Geneva Convention against collective punishment bans “likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism”. It is not judged explicitly whether the blockade infringes the prohibition of terrorism.

However, in the case of Palestinian detainees, the Goldstone report is explicit. The Mission found that “Civilians, including women and children, were detained in degrading conditions, deprived of food, water and access to sanitary facilities, and exposed to the elements in January without any shelter. The men were handcuffed, blindfolded and repeatedly made to strip, sometimes naked, at different stages of their detention.” (57) Palestinian civilians faced “continuous and systematic abuse, outrages on personal dignity, humiliating and degrading treatment”. (60) Palestinians faced “psychological torture. There were constant death threats and insults”, with one Palestinian forced “with a gun pressed against his head” to be a human shield for soldiers who “punched, slapped and insulted [him] throughout the process” (1147). Another group of eight Palestinian prisoners were shackled inside a bus for a four hour bus ride, during which they were “continuously beaten, kicked and punched by four or five soldiers on board” (1154). Furthermore, prisoners, including women and children, were “held close to artillery and tank positions, constant shelling and firing was taking place,  thus not only exposing them to danger, but increasing their fear and terror. This was deliberate, as is apparent from the fact that the sandpits to which they were taken were specially prepared.” (1164)

The Goldstone report declares that Israel “deliberately” subjected all of these civilians to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment throughout their ordeal in order to terrorize, intimidate and humiliate them.” (1164) It explicitly found that all detained were civilians (1168), and that this should not be considered internment (1170).It goes on in paragraph 1171: “The rounding-up of large groups of civilians and their prolonged detention under the circumstances described above constitute a collective penalty on those persons in violation of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and article 50 of the Hague Regulations. Such treatment amounts to measures of intimidation and terrorism, prohibited under article 33 and a grave breach of the Convention that constitutes a war crime.” [Emphasis added]

At this point, we can pause. The fellow who wrote the report accusing Israel of terrorism, Richard Goldstone, has “very deep ties to Israel”, and is a “dear friend” of Aharon Barak, to whom Alan Dershowitz dedicated The Case for Israel.

Yet this should not be considered all. It is true that this is the only part where Israel is explicitly accused of terrorism. Yet the report’s findings against Israel could surely fit any reasonable definition of terrorism. Furthermore, the evidence put forward for this conclusion is substantial.

With great significance, the report shows that Israel’s attacks were intentional. Two pieces of evidence substantiate this in particular. Firstly, after all the challenges made to the Israeli government, it has acknowledged only one error (1187). Secondly, the report says that the Israeli armed forces posted a notice in Hebrew on its website on 23 March 2009: “Official data gathered by the Air Force concluded that 99 per cent of the firing that was carried out hit targets accurately. It also concluded that over 80 per cent of the bombs and missiles used by the Air Force are defined as accurate”. (1188) The Mission explains that this means 80 per cent of weapons fired from the air were precision weapons. The other 20 per cent were unguided weapons, though this “did not diminish their accuracy in hitting their targets”. This shows that “what was struck was meant to be struck.” Hence, the “pattern of events” documented in the Goldstone report were due to “deliberate planning and policy decisions throughout the chain of command”. (1189-1191)

This is but a small measure of the evidence that Israel intentionally targeted Palestinian civilians. There is no shortage of such evidence. On one occasion, Israel bombed a mosque specifically when hundreds of Palestinians had gathered inside it for evening prayers. In Israel’s defence, it claimed that “the mosque was not attacked at all. Furthermore, it was found that the supposed uninvolved civilians who were the casualties of the attack were in fact Hamas operatives killed while fighting against the IDF.” The Mission notes the contradiction in this position, which it dismisses as “demonstrably false”. It also noted that there was “no suggestion” that the mosque was used to “launch rockets, store weapons or shelter combatants.”(822-843).

On another occasion, Israel attacked condolence tents during a condolence ceremony.  Israel fired “flechette shells… in the vicinity of a large group of civilians, killing 5 and injuring more than 20”. The Mission found that “any party using a flechette missile in circumstances that are totally or predominantly civilian cannot fail to anticipate the severe and unnecessary suffering of the civilians affected.” The attack was not “to pursue any genuine military objective”, but seemed designed to “kill and maim the victims directly. Indeed, it was “not only an attack intended to kill but also to spread terror among the civilian population” (881-884). Similarly, Israel attacked a “location filled with civilians”, near where they knew 1368 Palestinians were sheltering, with mortars: a weapon choice the Mission considered a “reckless one. Mortars are area weapons. They kill or maim whoever is within the impact zone after detonation and they are incapable of distinguishing between combatants and civilians. A decision to deploy them in a location filled with civilians is a decision that a commander knows will result in the death and injuries of some of those civilians.” (699)

Given Israel’s belief in the accuracy of its bombing targets, consider some of its successes. Israel “destroyed or damaged at least 280 schools and kindergartens” (1271). 57 UNRWA buildings “were damaged by shelling or airstrikes, including 36 schools (six serving as emergency shelters), seven health centres, three sanitation offices, two warehouses and five other buildings.” Furthermore, 35 UNRWA vehicles, including three armoured vehicles, were damaged. (1295-6) Israel also bombed the al-Quds and al-Wafa hospitals with white phosphorous shells (629, 635), among the “48 percent of Gaza’s 122 health facilities [which] were directly or indirectly hit by shelling.” (1255) Unsurprisingly, the Mission found the use of white phosphorous “in such an area [to be] reckless” (649). Israel also launched a “deliberate and premeditated” attack on the Gazan Wastewater Treatment Plant, striking it “precisely” where it would cause a mass outflow of raw sewage. (974) This is on top of various other forms of wanton destruction, such as the destruction of residential housing: deemed by the Mission “deliberate”, “extensive” and “systematic”. (997-1004)

The Goldstone Report advises that Israel’s attack on Gaza “cannot be understood or assessed in isolation from developments prior and subsequent to it. The operation fits into a continuum of policies”, a continuum which “is evident most immediately” in the blockade. (1877-1878) The mass destruction of civilian housing can be considered an example of this. Concrete is needed to rebuild what the UNDP estimates are 3 354 homes completely destroyed in Israel’s attack, and 11 112 partially damaged. Yet, as the Mission reported, Israel’s blockade has banned the import of cement into Gaza. (1245) The Gazans might have been able to rebuild some of their houses, if they had an intact concrete industry. Israel took care of this. It bombed the “only cement packaging plant in Gaza” by air, then sent in “bulldozers and tanks… Helicopters launched rockets to destroy the main manufacturing line and fired holes into the cement containers. Bulldozers were used to destroy the factory walls. Over four days the factory was systematically destroyed…  a civil engineer who inspected the site… confirmed that certain aspects of the destruction could have been achieved only by placing explosives inside the building.” The destruction of this plant “forms part of what appears to have been a very deliberate strategy of attacking the construction industry”. Gaza cannot rebuild what was destroyed, because “Nineteen of the 27 concrete factories were reported to have been destroyed, representing 85 per cent of the productive capacity.” (1012-1015)

Those are the figures of Israel’s attack on one area of Palestinian industry. This was not the only devastated industry. According to the Palestinian Federation of Industries, “324 factories had been destroyed during the Israeli military operations at a cost of 40,000 jobs.” (1009) The affected industries include metals and engineering, furniture, food, sewing textiles, chemicals and cosmetics, paper and carton and handicrafts.  The PFI stressed that “the Gaza Strip’s most crucial industries, and ones which require the greatest investment, were most severely hit”. (1010)

Similarly, there is the case of water in Gaza. Before the attack on Gaza in September, “some 80 per cent of Gaza’s water wells were only partially functioning while the others were not functioning at all.” Over half of Gaza City’s residents “had access to running water” only a “few hours a week…Of the water supplied in Gaza 80 per cent did not meet WHO standards for drinking water owing to, among other factors, the shortage of chlorine to purify the water.” This shortage was due to the blockade. (1247) Then the attack came, and Israel struck again at Gaza’s water supply. It launched “multiple air strikes” on the Namar Wells complex: an obviously “intentional” attack, part of a broader pattern. By the end of the Gaza military operations, “only 70 per cent of Gaza’s water wells were working, either whether fully or partially, i.e. 10 per cent less than before the hostilities.” (1249)

Surely, this would be bad enough. Yet there was also “large-scale and systematic destruction of greenhouses” throughout Gaza: “it is estimated that over 30 hectares of greenhouses were demolished”. This was “was not justified by any possible military objective” (1021). The massive destruction of greenhouses is a contributing factor to the current water crisis in Gaza. That is to say, the problem that the aquifer supplying Gaza with water is on the verge of collapse. Were it not for the attack on Gaza, this might not be the case.

Israel did not only target Gaza’s water supply. It also destroyed local sources of food. The Goldstone Report inquires into two cases in particular. The first is the case of a flour mill. It was subject to several missile attacks over somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half. The missiles, however, only attacked “key machinery”, not adjoining buildings. “If the reason for attacking the mill was to gain control of it for observation and control purposes, it made no sense to bomb the principal machinery and to destroy the upper floors. There is also no suggestion that the Israeli armed forces considered the building to be a source of enemy fire.” (919-929) Consequently, “the precise targeting of crucial machinery on one of the mid-level floors suggests that the intention was to disable its productive capacity.” (930) The Mission thus found that “the destruction of the mill was carried out for the purpose of denying sustenance to the civilian population”. (937) As a result of the “deliberate destruction of the sole remaining flour producing capacity in the Gaza Strip”, “the capacity of Gaza to produce milled flour, the most basic staple ingredient of the local diet, has been greatly diminished. As a result, the population of Gaza is now more dependent on the Israeli authorities’ granting permission for flour and bread to enter the Gaza Strip.” (933, 924)

The restrictions on food allowed into Gaza have had devastating effects on the Gazan population. For example, the World Health Organisation has found “indications of chronic micronutrient deficiencies among the population, in particular among children.” One indicator the Mission found particularly “worrying” is “the high prevalence of stunting among 6- to 16-year-old children (7.2 per cent)”.  The Mission also found levels of anaemia “alarming: 66 per cent on average among 9- to 12-month-old babies (the rate being higher for girls (69 per cent)). On average, 35 per cent of pregnant women suffer from anaemia.”(1237) This is a carefully measured policy by Israel: the New York Times (May 28 2009) openly reported that “[m]ilitary officials in Tel Aviv count the calories” allowed into Gaza.

The other case the Mission investigated was the destruction of the Sawafeary chicken farms. In this case, Israeli soldiers invaded his home on January 4, and “took control of the area within a matter of hours”. Yet, without any military need, in an area “relatively sparsely populated”, the Israeli army engaged in “a deliberate act of wanton destruction”. (957-960) Specifically, a Palestinian eyewitness saw “Israeli armoured bulldozers systematically destroy land, crops, chickens and farm infrastructure… the bulldozers plough[ed] through fields with crops and trees, destroying everything in their path… the drivers of the tanks would spend hours flattening the chicken coops, sometimes stopping for coffee breaks, before resuming their work” When Sawafeary returned to his farm, he found that “all 31,000 of his chickens had been killed and the coops systematically flattened.”  (949-950) His farm had supplied 10 per cent of the egg market in Gaza. Yet this was not all: other members of his family had their farms destroyed too. He estimated that “close to 100,000 chickens were killed in the process.” Together, this was 35 per cent of the egg market in Gaza. (954)

Why did Israel cause such wanton destruction?  The destruction of this civilian infrastructure was done for “the specific purpose of denying their use for the sustenance of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip”, which was “part of a policy of collective punishment of the civilian population”.(1320). This takes place in the context of a “military doctrine that views disproportionate destruction and creating maximum disruption in the lives of many people as a legitimate means to achieve military and political goals”. (1213) There is, of course, a well known term, for attacking civilians to achieve political goals: terrorism. The Goldstone Report found that “Statements by political and military leaders prior to and during the military operations in Gaza leave little doubt that disproportionate destruction and violence against civilians were part of a deliberate policy.” (1215)

There are various military figures quoted who have outlined or advocated a military policy described by the Mission as one of “massive and deliberate destruction”, ever since the last war on Lebanon. For example, Major General (Ret.) Giora Eiland held that the next time Israel attacks Lebanon, it should not target Hezbollah, but should aim at “the elimination of the Lebanese military, the destruction of the national infrastructure and intense suffering among the population… Serious damage to the Republic of Lebanon, the destruction of homes and infrastructure, and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people are consequences that can influence Hizbollah’s behaviour more than anything else”. (1192-1199) No less significantly, the Israeli government declared that it was legitimate to target the “supporting infrastructure” of Hamas (1200. See also 1209-1212). As the Mission notes, the severity of the blockade from 2007 showed that “Israel had already determined its view about what constitutes attacking the supporting infrastructure, and it appears to encompass effectively the population of Gaza.” (1211) The Report concludes that Israel, “rather than fighting the Palestinian armed groups operating in Gaza in a targeted way, has chosen to punish the whole Gaza Strip and the population in it with economic, political and military sanctions.”(1330) The Mission noted “statements by Israeli officials, including senior military officials, to the effect that the use of disproportionate force, attacks on civilian population and the destruction of civilian property are legitimate means to achieve Israel’s military and political objectives.” (1894)

The conclusions about the attack on Gaza are devastating. Israel’s

“destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces. It was not carried out because those objects presented a military threat or opportunity, but to make the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population.

Allied to the systematic destruction of the economic capacity of the Gaza Strip, there appears also to have been an assault on the dignity of the people.

The operations were carefully planned in all their phases. Legal opinions and advice were given throughout the planning stages and at certain operational levels during the campaign. There were almost no mistakes made according to the Government of Israel. It is in these circumstances that the Mission concludes that what occurred in just over three weeks at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 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.” (1891-1893)

That is, Israel targeted the civilian population intentionally, intending to “punish, humiliate and terrorise” it, to achieve political objectives, and as a policy of collective punishment. This is massive state terrorism. It has caused immeasurable suffering and trauma to the Palestinians in Gaza, who have already suffered terribly at the hands of Zionism, when one remembers most Gazans are refugees from the Nakba. I find it hard to summon words adequate to express my sheer horror at Israel’s vicious cruelty to the Palestinians in Gaza. Yet what must be stressed above all is what the Goldstone report recognised: the military attack was part of a continuum of a broader policy towards the Gazans, of which the blockade is the centrepiece. The Goldstone report argued the case for this being found a crime against humanity. It is part of the same framework of collective punishment: the very same state terrorism, less spectacular than the military assault, yet not less brutal. It is not enough to be horrified at the wanton slaughter during the Gaza massacre from December to January. Terrible as it was, the war on Gaza’s civilian population continues in the form of the blockade.

How has our government responded to all this? During the massacre, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard defended the right of Israel to defend itself. When she visited Israel, she didn’t visit Gaza, nor even mention it. Our Prime Minister Rudd is matching his predecessor John Howard’s support for the Israeli government, as it escalates its crimes against the Palestinians. Have they no shame? Or should we just conclude that our government supports terrorism against Arabs?

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