Rocket and mortars have damaged houses, schools and cars in southern Israel. These attacks constitute indiscriminate attacks upon the civilian population of southern Israel. These acts would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity. The relatively few casualties sustained by civilians inside Israel is due in large part to the precautions put into place by Israel.
We found no evidence of any system of public monitoring or accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law set by the Gaza authorities.
The above statements are not quoted from a document produced by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Rather, they are an important part of the Goldstone Commission Report that looked into the conduct of all sides involved in the fighting in Gaza. Despite the official Israeli charges in respect to the report, it is not one-side, it is not biased against Israel, and it does not ignore Hamas’ crimes.
Israel’s official responses, provided immediately upon the report’s publication, sounded as though they were prepared in advance and issued without at all addressing the report’s content.
Indeed, in addition to the criticism of Hamas, the report includes harsh criticism against Israel, which is also charged with indiscriminate attacks on civilians and failure to comply with international law. The report thoroughly details cases of attacks on civilians that cannot be justified, as well as attacks on hospitals, mosques, and other sites. The report includes detailed analysis of testimonials of shocking cases where people were shot – sometimes in their own homes – under circumstances that have no reasonable explanation.
For example, read the story of the Abu-Khalima family: A phosphorous shell was fired at their home. Even though the family moved to what it thought would be a secure room, the shell penetrated through the ceiling and hit family members directly. Five people died on the spot, including four children aged 14, 12, 8, and a year-and-a-half. Other people were wounded. The IDF did not allow an ambulance to evacuate the dead and wounded, and also removed them from the vehicles they traveled in to the hospital as it fired and killed more relatives who survived the initial bombing.
And so, the family members who were ordered to leave behind the bodies, including a woman who sustained severe burns, had to walk to the hospital. When reading this, the responses issued by Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, and others sound hollow, hypocritical, and self-righteous.
The report looks into these strikes in the broader context of the Israeli siege on Gaza and its effect on the civilian population, and demonstrates how the Israeli assault punished, humiliated, and sowed terror among the member of a whole society.
At the end of the day, these testimonials should not surprise us. Similar reports surfaced during and after the fighting from human rights groups, from the Breaking the Silence organization, and from soldiers who discussed these issues at a preparatory school. These testimonials portrayed a scary snapshot of attacks on civilians as a norm of the operation in Gaza, rather than an anomaly.
The Goldstone Report reinforces this snapshot. It is not free of flaws or immune to criticism. Yet the all-out Israeli assault on it attests to an attempt to close our eyes and our heart. We don’t want to see, hear, or know.
But perhaps we can take a different path? Perhaps, during these days of self-reflection, we can recognize that we collectively deny the fact that we have shown great wickedness towards civilians? This does not absolve Hamas from its responsibility, and the Goldstone Report does not make pretenses of doing that, but will we stop being indifferent to the fact that Israel too kills many civilians – even more than Hamas – without justification?
The report was drafted by a distinguished group of experts that are not anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli. Goldstone made a name for himself not only as a prosecutor on behalf of the special courts for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, but also as a courageous South African judge, especially when he looked into the roots of political violence towards the end of the apartheid regime and exposed the complicity of security forces.
Perhaps when a person who nobody can accuse of being hostile to Israel or wishing to distort justice puts a mirror before us, as he did in his own country in the 1990s, our land too will open its eyes?
Prof. Eyal Gross teaches international and constitutional law at Tel Aviv University