Jeremiah Haber, 17 November 2009
The question was anticipated and answered already in the Goldstone Report, and I cite it in my post below. Another answer has now been provided by Prof. David Shulman, Halbertal’s Hebrew University colleague. Shulman, whose book Dark Hope was reported on in this blog, has long been an activist on the West Bank with the Jewish-Arab group Ta’ayush.
Shulman’s piece, “Israel Without Illusions: What the Goldstone Report Got Right” starts off with partial agreement with Halbertal on some points.
There are, in my view, problems, distortions, and lacunae in the Goldstone report—some of them resulting from the fact that the Israeli government refused to cooperate with the UN commission. At the very least, Israeli testimony, both by ordinary soldiers and higher-ranking officers, might have modulated the sweeping conclusions in three of the most damning chapters of the report: “Chapter X. Indiscriminate Attacks by Israeli Armed Forces Resulting in the Loss of Life and Injury to Civilians”; “Chapter XI. Deliberate Attacks Against the Civilian Population”; and “Chapter XIII. Attacks on the Foundations of Civilian Life in Gaza.”
Shulman doesn’t say what these “problems, distortions, and lacunae” are, but when he writes that “at the very least,” more interviews with the IDF “might have modulated the sweeping conclusions in the three of the most damning chapters of the report,” you know how fundamentally he disagrees with Halbertal’s moral outrage over the report.
So where does he agree? On the “eerily neutral tone” taken by the report towards Hamas. C’est tout.
But after the perfunctory attempt at sounding conciliatory, Shulman gets down to business.
But the report’s attempt to link whatever happened in Gaza with what has been going on in the West Bank for the last forty-two years is wholly justified. The political background to the report is, before all else, a cultural and moral one. I do not believe that a society can disenfranchise, dispossess, and effectively dehumanize large numbers of people living between Jenin and Hebron without this process influencing the way it conducts a war in Gaza. No one who regularly visits the Palestinian territories controlled by Israel has to speculate about whether or not Israel is engaged in the routine abuse of human rights.
But at heart the problem is not, after all, a legal one: rather, it reflects our deeper vision of ourselves in the world and our ability to see, to imagine, and to acknowledge the suffering of other human beings, including those aspects of their suffering for which we are directly responsible. It is also important to note that the public debate itself has its limits, as you can see by the recent attempts to silence Dr. Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University or the no less invidious government campaign to dry up international funding for Shovrim Shtika (“Breaking the Silence”), the remarkably courageous group of ex-soldiers who have exposed recurrent acts of army violence against Palestinian civilians that they witnessed in Hebron and elsewhere in the territories. Shovrim Shtika has also meticulously collected soldiers’ testimony about what they saw or did during the Gaza campaign last December and January.
Shulman ends with saying what many have said – that the Gaza Op was different from previous operations in terms of dealing with civilians — that with each operation the IDF sinks to a new low. Those of us who have been around for a while remember when Israelis had at least a modicum of outrage over civilian deaths. A whole commission was set up to probe Israeli responsibility for a massacre in which the IDF did not even take part! Sorry to wax nostalgiac, but those were the days!
As prophesied long ago by the late philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz and others, the occupation—and above all the settlement project—have profoundly eroded the moral fiber of Israel, corroded central institutions of the society, and undermined our integrity as a political community. None of this happened in a vacuum; the “other side” has much to atone for as well. But even I can remember a time when charges of war crimes were not simply sloughed off by Israel’s leaders, when military mistakes that cost innocent civilian lives were acknowledged as such and elicited expressions of sorrow, and when Israeli courts clearly articulated the principle that a soldier has not only the right but indeed the duty not to carry out an order that is at odds with his conscience as a human being or with basic human values.
I remember vividly an eloquent apology offered on national television by then Chief of Staff Mota Gur for accidental civilian casualties caused by shelling during Operation Litani in Lebanon in the spring of 1978. One might also recall the time in late 1982 when some 300,000 ordinary Israelis came out to demonstrate in Tel Aviv because of Israel’s indirect responsibility, as occupying power, for the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut. Times have changed.