The first half of the official Israeli response to the Goldstone report is a detailed explanation of why the world should trust the second half of the Israeli response to the Goldstone report.
It offers a summary of Israelâ€™s system for reviewing alleged military misconduct, and refutes the charge that the military is not capable of investigating itself. The message conveyed to a world that has lost all trust in Israel is: “Trust us. We know how to find out if our generals and soldiers violated the laws of war and we will prosecute them if they did.â€
The second half gets into some specific allegations made by the media, NGOs and the Goldstone report about Israelâ€™s conduct during the Gaza operation. I admit that I had a rooting interest in finding detailed refutations of those allegations. I did not want to believe Israeli behavior was as monstrous as its critics claimed. I hoped to find reasonable explanations for what I saw on my television screen and read about during and after the conflict.
The report asserts that, all told, the â€œIDF investigated 150 incidents that allegedly occurred during the Gaza Operation involving violations of the Law of Armed Conflict.â€ When there are detailed responses to specific, grave allegations, they make a strong defense of IDF behavior. For example, the report does not accept the claim that Israelis attacked the local infrastructure and deliberately caused the local population to suffer, as charged by Goldstone et. al.
After reviewing satellite imagery and other evidence, the report denies that water wells were bombed. On the contrary, it notes, there were standing orders against attacking water installations. It denies that a sewage plant was bombed or strafed by bullets, though it leaves open the possibility that some of it was damaged by the IDF (but not deliberately). It says a flour mill was hit by shells during a firefight, but not because there was a pre-planned assault meant to deprive Gazans of food.
There are also matter-of-fact admissions of “intelligence and operational errors,” such as the mistaken targeting of a home rather than a neighboring weapons storage facility and an attack on the lead car of a UNRWA convey. And the report claims there are orders to fix what was broken and ensure such errors don’t happen again.
So far, so good.
But there are very few other detailed refutations, very few examinations of specific incidents. With a handful of exceptions, most of the allegations are conveyed through statistics and we have no way of knowing what they involve or how serious they are. Plus, much of the investigative work is still not finished. For example, we’re told that of 90 individual incidents which were referred for “command investigations” (where there is no criminal activity alleged) only 45 are complete. And of those, 7 have been referred for further criminal investigation. Of the total of 36 “criminal investigations,” 28 are still going on. In other words, “Trust us. We’ll get to the bottom of this.”
A blog post can’t do complete justice to a 46-page report, but for the most part, the rest of the responses fall into two categories:
1) â€œTrust us. Weâ€™ve already investigated these and reported on them. See the earlier report we did, `The Operation in Gaza.'”
2) â€œTrust us. Weâ€™ve already investigated these. The Military Advocate General (at the highest rung of the investigatory ladder) has sometimes found problems, but, for the most part has exonerated our soldiers.”
I want to trust the Israeli military. But I’m afraid I can’t trust the military in any country to investigate itself honestly and thoroughly. I certainly see no reason to trust the IDF more than I trust B’tselem, or Breaking the Silence, or the other NGOs that have put forward serious allegations.
All of the Israeli arguments, including the detailed ones, are like those made by a defense lawyer at a trial. But the prosecutor alleges something else. That is why the report does not make a convincing argument against an independent assessment by people outside of the Israeli military, which thus far Israel has refused to do.
If Israel really is innocent of most of the charges, why not allow an independent investigation? Even Prime Minister Netanyahu reportedly wants that, but the Israeli defense establishment is blocking him. That is not a good move. It will do more harm than good to Israel. Because if the goverment is banking on this latest, woefully incomplete report to stop the p.r. assault against Operation Cast Lead, it has made a mistake.