Obama Should Back Goldstone Report

President Obama has placed restoration of the stature of the United States among his primary foreign policy goals. He has already achieved substantial progress in Europe, where polls indicate that he is widely admired. The president’s June Cairo University speech also won praise in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Yet many across the globe still await the substantive policy changes implied by his inspiring words.

President Obama can solidify broader global respect by supporting the recommendations of the just-released Goldstone report in the United Nations Human Rights Council. Richard Goldstone, an eminent South African jurist, led a mission to investigate allegations of war crimes in Gaza last winter.

Indeed, the Goldstone mission concluded that Israel and Hamas committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. The report recommends that both parties be given six months to mount independent, internal investigations — and if they fail, that the United Nations Security Council refer the matter to the International Criminal Court for investigation and possible prosecutions.

Much of the 575-page report documents Israeli violations of the laws of war and human rights surrounding the intense fighting of last winter. That is fair, as the scale of harm Israel caused to lives and property in Gaza vastly exceeded that inflicted by Hamas. Israel killed approximately 100 Palestinians for every Israeli who died, and destroyed vast swaths of private housing, industrial buildings, agricultural facilities, and public infrastructure.

The Israeli government boycotted the Goldstone mission; Palestinian authorities, in contrast, cooperated with it. Doubtless, the group’s conclusions would have been more definitive had Israel shared information with its authors. Israel now seeks to discredit the report, attacking everything from Justice Goldstone himself to the United Nations Human Rights Council, and claiming that the report’s findings would hamstring other nations — including ours — facing “asymmetric warfare.”

This is nonsense. Justice Goldstone is a man of impeccable credentials and great personal integrity, and his colleagues are similarly distinguished.

The report is judicious and even-handed, and cannot be casually dismissed.

Nor is there anything novel about “asymmetric warfare,” at least not of the kind waged by Israel, requiring departures from standard international law.

Colonial powers that displace indigenous peoples, as Israel does regularly in Jerusalem and the West Bank, have always faced armed, and sometimes crude, popular resistance. Israel’s war against the Palestinians shares more with the French in Algeria than it does with our fight against al-Qaeda. Israel might prefer that international law to revert to pre-World War II levels, but that would undermine protections for us all.

The Obama administration should echo the Goldstone report and urge Israel to mount serious investigations of its military’s documented misdeeds. In fact, our ambassador, Susan Rice, already did so in her January inaugural address to the United Nations. We should also not quail at the Goldstone mission’s recommendation that the Security Council refer the matter to the International Criminal Court, if Israel fails to credibly investigate, as it has to date. Enforcement of international law cannot only be for the losers of international conflicts; indeed, the legitimacy of international law depends on its universal application. The world will take notice when President Obama’s warming rhetoric is matched by equally principled deeds – and will likewise take notice when it is not.

George Bisharat is a professor of law at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, and writes frequently on law and politics in the Middle East. Read other articles by George, or visit George's website.

13 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. balkas b b said on October 2nd, 2009 at 10:19am #

    Rage is on for planet. That means more wars by nato. Dozens of wars will be waged for puppetization of palestine, syria, iraq, stans, and most afrikan lands.
    This means also more crimes wld be perped by nato and its allies.
    The raid on gaza is telling all nations who are not with nato/US that they are against nato; thus an enemy and that they will be attacked and puppetized.
    There is no longer laws; actually we never; or since 15kyrs ago, never had them and may never again have them as we did some 20k yrs ago.
    We’ve never had justice or fairness, either. And it is not likely people in power who control spy agencies, cia/fbi/army echelons, ‘education’ disinformation, nukes, media, entertainment industry, and money [ab]use will start now to give it to us.
    However, goldstone is a + event and i thank him and all the others who engaged in the fact-finding mission. tnx

  2. Ismail Zayid said on October 2nd, 2009 at 11:29am #

    The author states:”The Obama administration should echo the Goldstone report and urge Israel to mount serious investigations of its military’s documented misdeeds.” This clearly is not happening, judging by the Obama’s government response and prevarication to the Goldstone report. Preisdent Obama is clearly demonstrating that he is, like other American politicians, taking note of the Israeli lobby, in the US, and acting accordingly.

  3. mary said on October 2nd, 2009 at 2:48pm #

    The Palestinian people are being betrayed by the PA quisling and stooge Abbas who has succumbed to the blackmailing and bullying of Israel and the US.


    Abbas helps Israel bury its crimes in Gaza
    Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 2 October 2009

    Just when it seemed that the Ramallah Palestinian Authority (PA) and its leader Mahmoud Abbas could not sink any lower in their complicity with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the murderous blockade of Gaza, Ramallah has dealt a further stunning blow to the Palestinian people.

    The Abbas delegation to the United Nations in Geneva (officially representing the moribund Palestine Liberation Organization) abandoned a resolution requesting the Human Rights Council to forward Judge Richard Goldstone’s report on war crimes in Gaza to the UN Security Council for further action. Although the PA acted under US pressure, there are strong indications that the commercial interests of Palestinian and Gulf businessmen closely linked to Abbas also played a part.

    The 575-page Goldstone report documents evidence of shocking Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity during last winter’s assault on the Gaza Strip which killed 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority noncombatants and hundreds of them children. The report also accuses the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas of war crimes for firing rockets into Israel that killed three civilians…

    Israel was rightly terrified of the report, mobilizing all its diplomatic and political resources to discredit it. In recent days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that if the report were acted on, it would “strike a severe blow to the war against terrorism,” and “strike a fatal blow to the peace process, because Israel will no longer be able to take additional steps and take risks for peace if its right to self-defense is denied.”

    Unsurprisingly, an early ally in the Israeli campaign for impunity was the Obama Administration…

    That the Goldstone report was a severe blow to Israel’s ability to commit future war crimes with impunity is not in doubt; this week bolstered by the report, lawyers in the UK asked a court to issue an arrest warrant for visiting Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. That action did not succeed, but Israel’s government has taken extraordinary measures in recent months to try to shield its officials from prosecution, fearing that successful arrests are just a matter of time. Along with the growing international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions, the fear of ending up in The Hague seems to be the only thing that causes the Israeli government and society to reconsider their destructive path.

    One would think, then, that the self-described representatives of the Palestinian people would not casually throw away this weapon. And yet, according to Abbas ambassador Ibrahim Khraishi, the Ramallah PA shelved its effort at the request of the Americans because “We don’t want to create an obstacle for them.”…

    This latest surrender comes less than two weeks after Abbas appeared at a summit in New York with US President Barack Obama and Netanyahu despite Obama abandoning his demand that Israel halt construction of Jewish-only settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Also under US pressure, the PA abandoned its pledge not to resume negotiations unless settlement-building stopped, and agreed to take part in US-mediated “peace talks” with Israel in Washington this week. Israel, meanwhile, announced plans for the largest ever West Bank settlement since 1967.

    What makes this even more galling, is the real possibility that the PA is helping Israel wash its hands of the blood it spilled in Gaza for something as base as the financial gain of businessmen closely linked to Abbas.

    The Independent (UK) reported on 1 October:

    “Shalom Kital, an aide to defense minister Ehud Barak, said today that Israel will not release a share of the radio spectrum that has long been sought by the Palestinian Authority to enable the launch of a second mobile telecommunications company unless the PA drops its efforts to put Israeli soldiers and officers in the dock over the Israeli operation.” (“Palestinians cry ‘blackmail’ over Israel phone service threat,” The Independent, 1 October)….

    The PA’s betrayal of the Palestinian people over the Goldstone report, as well as its continued “security coordination” with Israel to suppress resistance and political activity in the West Bank, should banish all doubt that it is an active arm of the Israeli occupation doing tangible and escalating harm to the Palestinian people and their just cause.

  4. B99 said on October 2nd, 2009 at 2:58pm #

    Mary – Yeah, Fatah is morally bankrupt and has been for some time. I was always afraid that Arafat himself would give away the store. I’m not even sure that Abbas was not involved with the death of Arafat. Maybe time will tell. But Abbas definitely is a quisling – he and other fat cat Palestinians have worked out comfortable arrangements with their Israeli uber-lords. That’s why Hamas has been able to come to the fore. Palestinians have long known Fatah to be totally corrupt. Maybe someday Palestinians will upchuck the Fatah bastards. They can live in Israel.

  5. bozhidar balkas vancouver said on October 2nd, 2009 at 5:07pm #

    All of palestine had been conquered. Conquest had been planned not only in 1897 but also from ’17-’67.
    And i’m doubtful that any country wld wage war for land only to return it to even as a strong side as self let alone as in israel’s case a thousandfold stronger econo-military-diplomatic power giving back the conquest to such a weakling as palestine.

    Nevertheless, it is disappointing to me that PA does not any longer insist on accuracy of the goldstone report.
    Palestine, most likely won`t ever rise again. Neither will iraq or afgh`n.
    Puppet gov`ts in palestine, iraq, and afgh`n differ a lot from puppet
    gov`ts in france, latvia, estonia, lithuania, slovakia, slovenia, croatia, norway, and serbia.
    For one thing, only germany had been puppetizing and occupying above-listed countries.
    Puppetization, occupation of and warfare in the 3 muslim lands is being carried out by many countries. Many others are quiet about that or even support nato.

    I think that resistance in palestine, iraq, and afgh`n is useless in achieving whatever is they want to achieve.
    Generals now want more troops in afgh`n. The cause for it being? Increased resistance, which will cause more slaughter of pashtuns and taliban because nato may double or tripple the number of fighters but also bombings, shellings, and missilings.
    And even if pashtuns ever establish an independent pashtoland, it wild have been crippled by sanctions and maybe still bombed invaded and reinvaded.
    Karzai, abbas, maliki may be stupid or may be not, but in such disfunctioal places even that may be better than almost any other alternative.
    In view that we now have planetism, watching these weaklings fighting nato and world plutos is like watching christians fighing lions in the emporium or is it in colliseum?
    Nobody can fight nato alone and we shld not encourage sunnis, pashtuns, and pal`ns to use military power against their oppressors. tnx

  6. opeluboy said on October 2nd, 2009 at 6:00pm #

    Obama Should Back Goldstone Report.

    Of course he should. Of course he won’t.

  7. Annie Ladysmith said on October 2nd, 2009 at 7:00pm #

    The research and resulting report by Justice Goldstone is THE SANIST, EGALITARIAN, UNBIASED, HUMANITARIAN words that have ever been written in this new century. He should get the next Nobel Peace Award for his degree of sanity alone. Is there anything else to add?

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain said on October 3rd, 2009 at 4:05pm #

    mary, Israel has murdered virtually every Palestinian leader up to and including Arafat, yet Abbas was never touched. I remember reading something written by the peerless Edward Said, expressing his revulsion at the undisguised corruption of the Fatah Quislings under the Oslo sell-out, and mentioning Abbas as the most blatant crook of all. This is the invariable colonial and imperial tactic. Kill the real leadership, or imprison them on trumped-up charges, like Mandela or Marwan Bhargouti, and cultivate collaborationists. The same process still pertains to this day in Australia, in regard to Aboriginal people. Under the extreme racist Howard regime, and his successor and policy perpetuator Kevin Rudd (our Tony Blair), the old Aboriginal leadership was ignored, vilified in the Rightwing press, pursued through the courts on trumped-up corruption charges, or on ‘rape’ accusations based on highly contested events of twenty or more years ago, from complainants assiduously cultivated and coached by ‘the filth’, and a tiny claque of collaborationists promoted. Their message, unsurprisingly, was the same as has been pushed by the race-hating Right for decades-assimilation, the disappearance of Aborigines as a distinct human culture, subsumed into the grey orthodoxy, homogeneity and banality of ‘Austrayan life’. These Uncle and Aunty Toms appear relentlessly in the Rightist media, preaching ‘tough love’ for their people, in order to supposedly cure the extreme social pathology of Aboriginal communities. ‘Tough love’ is a nasty and vicious euphemism for punitive, humiliating and disempowering policy, like quaranting welfare payments, or withholding them, from the poorest people in the country, for the merest infraction of increasingly proscriptive rules.
    Central to both the Israeli and Australian manifestations of colonialist brutality, one, of course, far more murderous than the other (we did all our actual killing decades ago)is simple, but visceral, race hatred. Australian Rightists and Israeli Rightists share an innate belief that the people they are brutalising are animals. Given the circumstances, and opportunities, I do not doubt that actual genocide could occur. For now dispossession, brutality, and in Israel, mass murder, torture and incessant demonisation must suffice. But we ought never, I believe, doubt that the Rightists in control of Israeli and Australian, not to forget the other Western, societies, are creatures at least the equal of any race-hater of the past, anywhere. That the still leading powers of the planet are, almost universally, governed by evil people, in thrall to a tiny tribal apartheid state inspired by an ideology of intense racialist supremacism and without scruple or mercy in its dealing with an imprisoned population millions strong, is a clear indication, in my eyes at least, that we are not ethically, morally or spritually equipped to face the dawning era of global catastrophic collapse that we see all about us. If the US, Israel and the West are, as they insistently bray, the highest expression of human civilization, then not only is humanity doomed, but it also deserves just that fate.

  9. dan e said on October 3rd, 2009 at 4:39pm #

    Jerry Haber, who blogs at http://themagneszionist.blogspot.com/ says at the conclusion
    of Horowitz and Weiss’s article:
    “Israel’s only recourse, after it violates the rights of Palestinians, is to deny that such rights exist.” But as time goes by, the denial, and especially the suppression of such rights is spreading to include human rights workers and other
    dissenters within Israel proper and anywhere else. The most prominent example at the moment is the attacks Israel and its “supporters” have been heaping on Richard Goldstone. (See, for example, Cecilie Surasky’s report at http://www.muzzlewatch.com/2009/10/01/anne-bayefsky-is-an-anti-semite-and-a-hypocrite-attacks-on-goldstone-cross-the-line/ ).
    Racheli Gai.

    Israel vs. Human Rights
    Adam Horowitz & Philip Weiss: Israel vs. Human Rights
    September 30, 2009

    The Human Rights Watch reports that were sharply critical of Israel’s killing of civilians in Lebanon represent the latest battle for Jewish hearts and minds in the ideological war over the Middle East.
    The head of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, Judge Richard Goldstone, was “upset” by the speech. “It is disingenuous, to put it lightly, what Netanyahu said,” he told The Nation. “The idea that this is aimed at
    delegitimating the state of Israel–that is the last thing I would want to do.”
    Goldstone, a Jew and a Zionist, said that Israel’s leaders were behaving contemptuously, “ignoring the specific allegations and simply launching a broadside.”
    Those broadsides began not long after the ascension of the right-wing Netanyahu government in March, when his ministers began painting human rights and peace groups as a fifth column for terrorists. “For the first time the Israeli government is taking an active role in the smearing of human rights groups,” says Sarah Leah Whitson of
    Human Rights Watch….

  10. balkas b b said on October 4th, 2009 at 9:34am #

    To me, it helps a lot not to rely to any degree on saviors. We’ve had jesus.
    But catholics have burned heretics on stake. Christans have waged 11 wars against palestine.
    Recently orthodox serbs fought catholic croats. In n. ireland, protestants were oppressing catholicss fro centuries.
    Of course, some conflicts are caused not only by jesus but by also other factors.
    In case of goldstone, he’s not only a savior or a factor in change but also a war criminal. He approbates theft of land. That’s good enough for me to regard him as participator in this crime.
    In US, a catholic cld not be a prez. Then came another savior, MLK. And what happpened? Are blacks treated the same as whites?
    Then we had marx. After that obama. And we’ve had gods of all kinds. And the more gods we have, the more suffering they cause.
    There is no UN save the UN nato lands accept. There is no int’l or domestic laws, save the ones, nato plutocracies aprove of.
    There is no UN reports save the ones nato deems them as such.
    There appears, as far as i know, two ways to put the stop to lawlesness: enlightenment or joining a political party that wants to bring on some decent laws and greater equality. tnx

  11. balkas b b said on October 4th, 2009 at 9:37am #

    correction! I meant to say that goldstone IS NOT a savior and not that he is.

  12. sid wright said on October 4th, 2009 at 10:38am #

    The Palestinian Authority’s actions and rhetoric, especially in the past few weeks and months, show that hypocrisy has become a major component of its official policy.

    One sometimes wonders whether the PA that speaks and acts during the day is the same PA that speaks and functions during the night.

    During the day, the Palestinian Authority acts and speaks as if its leaders had never signed a peace treaty with Israel. During the day, Israel is the enemy that continues to deny the Palestinians their rights, seize their lands, arrest and kill their innocents, and expand existing settlements.

    But during the night, the Palestinian Authority changes its colors and speaks and acts in a completely different manner. During the night, the Israeli enemy becomes a friend and peace partner with whom it’s legitimate to conduct security coordination and eat in fancy restaurants.

    During Operation Cast Lead, Palestinian security officers in the West Bank provided Israel with valuable intelligence that contributed to the elimination of many Hamas operatives and “military targets.” Moreover, the PA even pressured Israel not to stop the war unless Hamas was removed from power. In other words, the Palestinian Authority was telling Israel that it should continue bombing the Gaza Strip until Hamas surrendered.

    Palestinian officials, including some of Mahmoud Abbas’s top aides, did not hide their disappointment when the war ended without the removal or collapse of Hamas.

    As soon as the war ended, the same Palestinian Authority that had urged Israel to “finish off the job,” and that had provided Israel with vital information about Hamas figures and installations in the Gaza Strip, started accusing Israel of committing “war crimes.” The PA even appealed to The Hague court to launch an investigation into the alleged war crimes.

    The Palestinian Minister of Justice, Ali Khashan, was dispatched to The Hague to follow up on the issue with the court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

    Now the PA, which is holding some 1,000 Hamas “supporters” in its prisons without trial, is urging the UN Human Rights Council to adopt the Goldstone Commission Report in full and to pass it on to the General Assembly for action.

    The PA’s “generals” and “colonels” hold daily meetings with their Israeli counterparts to discuss security-related issues. Unlike ordinary Palestinians, senior Palestinian officials can travel to Israel and anywhere they want thanks to VIP cards and other privileges they receive from the Israeli Defense Ministry.

    During the night, Palestinian security officials hold secret meetings with their Israeli counterparts. But during the day, the Palestinian Authority is demanding that the same Israeli officials be tried as war criminals. Some of these “war criminals,” by the way, are responsible for the fact that the senior PA leaders and their families are able to receive free medical treatment in Israel – a privilege that most Palestinians can only dream about.

    This hypocrisy is also evident in the PA’s approach toward normalization with Israel and the status of the Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem.

    On the one hand, the Palestinian Authority is publicly combating normalization, exactly as Israel’s two other Arab peace partners, Egypt and Jordan, are doing. However, this anti-normalization drive obviously does not apply to the leaders of the PA and their sons, who continue to do business with Israel both openly and secretly. This, in addition to regular meetings that take place – away from the spotlight – between Palestinian government officials, businessmen, journalists and physicians and their Israeli counterparts.

    These days the PA is leading a fierce campaign against what it calls Israel’s efforts to destroy the Aksa Mosque. This campaign intensified immediately after the failed tripartite summit in New York on September 22 that brought Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas together with US President Barack Obama.

    Abbas went to the meeting against his will and after he had spent the last few months promising the Palestinians that he would not meet with Netanyahu or resume the peace talks until Israel halted construction in the settlements. Abbas was dragged to the summit under immense pressure from the Obama administration.

    Now that his pride has been hurt and his credibility shattered in the eyes of his constituents, Abbas has stepped up the verbal assault on Israel. Palestinian spokesmen and Abbas advisers have been exploiting every available platform to tell millions of Arabs and Muslims that the Jews are destroying Islam’s third holiest site. Earlier this week, this campaign resulted in an outburst of violence in Jerusalem – the worst in years.

    Israeli government officials have been working hard to explain to their Palestinian counterparts that there is no such thing as an Israeli “conspiracy” to destroy the mosque. Although many Palestinian officials and spokesmen have privately and quietly accepted the Israeli version, they nevertheless continue to shout that the mosque is on the verge of collapse.

  13. B99 said on October 4th, 2009 at 12:32pm #

    Well clearly the PA has been nothing short of a quisling organization for some years now. Hence the rise of Hamas. The Israeli conspiracy is not so much that they will destroy the mosque – which they in fact might do – the conspiracy is that they are trying very diligently to eliminate the Palestinians as a people.