Judge Richard Goldstone and the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict have issued a report about Gaza that is strongly critical of both Israel and Hamas for their violations of human rights. On Wednesday, a special meeting of the U.N. General Assembly began a debate on whether to refer the report to the Security Council.
In January 2009 rudimentary rockets had been launched from Gaza toward nearby Jewish communities, and Israel had wreaked havoc with bombs, missiles, and ground invading forces. Judge Goldstone’s claim is that they are both guilty of “crimes against humanity.” Predictably, both the accused parties have denounced the report as biased and inaccurate.
It is good to remember that Judge Goldstone, from South Africa, is one of the world’s most widely respected jurists, with an impeccable record of wisdom, honesty and integrity. He is a devout Jew and has long been known as a fervent defender of Israel’s right to peace and security.
In April 2008 I personally visited Sderot and Ashkelon, Israeli communities near enough to have been hit by rockets fired from within Gaza. While there, I condemned these indiscriminate attacks on civilians as acts of terrorism, and I consider their condemnation by Judge Goldstone to be justified.
A year later, after the Israeli attack on Gaza, I was able to examine the damage done to the small and heavily populated area, surrounded by an impenetrable wall, with its gates tightly controlled. Knowing of the ability of Israeli forces, often using U.S. weapons, to strike targets with pinpoint accuracy, it was difficult to understand or explain the destruction of hospitals, schools, prisons, United Nations facilities, small factories and repair shops, agricultural processing plants and almost 40,000 homes.
The Goldstone committee examined closely the cause of deaths of the 1,387 Palestinians who perished, and the degree of damage to the various areas. The conclusion was that the civilian areas were targeted and the devastation was deliberate. Again, the criticism of Israel in the Goldstone report is justified.
He has called on the United States, Israel and others who dispute the accuracy of the report to conduct an independent investigation of their own. Hamas leaders have announced that their investigation is under way, but Israel has rejected Judge Goldstone’s request.
Putting this dispute aside, it is important to examine present circumstances and the need to prevent further suffering. The rocket fire from Gaza is now being severely restrained, perhaps because of the certainty of Israeli retaliation, but the punishment of the 1.5 million Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza continues. Now and for the past 10 months, Israel has not permitted cement, lumber, panes of glass, or other building materials to pass their entry points into Gaza. Several hundred thousand homeless people suffered through last winter in a few tents, under plastic sheets, or huddled in caves dug into the debris of their former homes. The weather was warmer when I was there several months later, but the description of suffering through the winter cold was heartbreaking.
Another winter is now approaching, and neither the Israelis nor the international community has taken steps to alleviate the Gazans’ plight. United Nations agencies and leaders in the European community have offered to provide an avenue of channeling funds and building materials directly to the people in need, completely bypassing the Hamas political leaders. These officials, both in Gaza and in Damascus, have assured me that they would accept this arrangement.
There would be no chance for the misuse of such assistance for weapons, military fortifications, or other non-humanitarian purposes.
I was informed recently by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia that he has pledged $1 billion, and other Arab leaders have added an additional $300 million for this purpose. There is little doubt that other nations would also be generous.
Without ascribing blame to either of the disputing parties, it is imperative that the United States and the international community take steps to assure that the rebuilding of Gaza be commenced, and without delay. The cries of homeless and freezing people demand relief.