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Middle East Issues





America Magazine Invokes Goldstone Report and Mishnah Torah to Indict Israel


America, a Catholic weekly founded by the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1909 was one of Israel's most persistent and unfair critics during its fight against Hamas and Hezbollah in 2006. In its coverage of this fighting, the magazine's editors and writers invoked the language of the Catholic Church's teachings on war to condemn Israel without using the principles of the Just War Doctrine to assess the behavior of Hamas and Hezbollah. Consequently, America's coverage was marred by a troubling double-standard in which violence against Israel was unremarkable and Israel's response to this violence was subject to intense scrutiny. (For more details of this bias, please go here.)

America's bias has manifested itself again in its response to the release of the Goldstone Report. In an editorial (“Siege Mentality,” Oct. 5, 2009), which calls on the Obama Administration to support efforts to bring Israel before the International Criminal Court, the publication's editors portray Israel as failing to protect the civilian population of the Gaza Strip during its assault on Hamas. In particular, the editorial suggests that Israeli leaders were motivated by a “deliberate if unspoken intention … to inflict collective punishment on the Gazan community in retribution for its support of Hamas.” The editorial also asserts that Israel engaged in “unlimited use of force” during the fighting and failed to live up to its “responsibility to distinguish between civilians and militants.”

A look at the numbers reported in the editorial reveals just how ludicrous these allegations and suggestions are. The editors wrote:

By the end of Operation Cast Lead, 1,400 Palestinians had been killed and 5,500 wounded. According to a report from the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, 773 of the Palestinians killed in the assault did not take part in the hostilities, including 320 minors and 109 women over the age of 18. During the period of the conflict, Hamas rockets and fighters killed nine Israelis, including three civilians, and four I.D.F. soldiers were killed by friendly fire.

There are approximately 1.4 million people living in the Gaza Strip indicating that the noncombatant deaths as a result of Israeli fire totaled approximately 1/2000th of the affected population.

While all of the deaths associated with the recent fighting are tragic, America's suggestion that Israeli officials used unlimited force and failed to discriminate between legitimate military targets and civilians in an act of collective punishment is simply insupportable in light of these numbers. Compared to the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed by Allied bombers in Germany and Japan during World War II, Israel exhibited remarkable restraint in its efforts to bring an end to eight years' worth of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

(America, by the way, did not acknowledge that the Israeli government reports that 1,166 people died in the Gaza Strip as a result of the fighting, and that 709 of these people were in fact, fighters. It also failed to report that the accuracy of B'Tselem's estimates have been challenged by both the IDF and academic researchers.)

Goldstone Commission

America also offers an unreflective defense of the Goldstone Report, portraying criticism of the error-laden and biased report as motivated by politics. In particular, the editors assert that Richard Goldstone, who chaired the commission that published the report is a victim of “character assassination in Israel, where the report has been received with outrage.”

To be sure, the report has been received with outrage in Israel. Haaretz quotes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as calling the Goldstone Commission a “Kangaroo Court” and Israeli President Simon Peres as a “mockery of history” that “fails to distinguish between the aggressor and a state exercising its right for self defense.” Rough polemic, but not without evidence to back it up. Much of the criticism leveled against the document and the commission that issued the text has been fact-based and based on legitimate argumentation which cannot be dismissed by merely raising the bogeyman of “character assassination” as America's editors have done.

For example, Herb Keinon wrote in the Jerusalem Post that by suggesting that Israel should be brought before the International Criminal Court, the Goldstone Report has made peace less likely because it will make it difficult for Arab leaders to face down extremists emboldened by the report and that it will give Israel reason to think that the international community will overreact to Israeli efforts to protect itself once a peace deal is negotiated. Michael Oren, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., made a similar argument writing in the Boston Globe:

Ironically, the greatest victim of the UN report is not Israel's ability to wage a moral war but its willingness to make an historic peace. If asked to take immense risks for peace, Israelis must be convinced of their internationally recognized right to self-defense should that peace be broken. Deprived of that right, even after being subjected to years of murderous rocket attacks, an Israeli electorate will understandably recoil from such risks.
Moreover, Israelis have good reason to think the commission itself was biased against Israel. First off, one of the members of the commission, Christine Chinkin, publicly declared Israel guilty of war crimes even before the fighting came to an end in January 2009 rendering her unfit to serve on an ostensibly impartial commission.

Secondly, the commission was created by the United Nations Human Rights Council, an institution that has worked assiduously to isolate Israel in the international community while remaining silent about abuses in other countries. This should not come as a surprise because the council itself was created to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission, an organization that was dismantled in 2006 because its obsessive focus on Israel and failure to condemn the genocidal regime in Sudan. The Associated Press reported in 2008 that the council's own chairman warned that the new organization still had problems:

The U.N.'s top human rights body still lacks real credibility, even as it prepares to enter its third year, its chairman said Friday.
 
The U.N. Human Rights Council has come a long way since replacing the discredited Human Rights Commission in 2006 but "still has a lot to do" to convince skeptics of its value, Doru-Romulus Costea told The Association Press.
 
Some of the strongest criticism has come from Western countries and non-governmental organizations, who argue that the Geneva-based body is little better than its predecessor at pursuing rights abuses around the world.
 
Costea, who chairs the 47-nation council until June 19, said the body has proved it can react to crisis situations at short notice, holding emergency sessions on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Myanmar and next week on the global food crisis.
 
But its heavy focus on Israel [-] in the course of two years it has held four urgent meetings to debate abuses by the Jewish state [-] has led to accusations of bias from the United States, Canada, former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, and Israel itself. (Associated Press World Stream, May 16, 2009)

(Kofi Annan, by the way, was one of the most vocal critics of the Human Rights Commission, the organization which preceded the current commission. In 2005, he called for the body to be dismantled. Sadly, it appears the organization has not changed its spots, even if it has changed its name.)

The Human Rights Commission's anti-Israel bias is so palpable that B'Tselem's executive director Jessical Montell told the Jerusalem Post "There's no question that the HRC, which mandated the Goldstone [fact-finding mission into the Gaza fighting], has an inappropriate, disproportionate fixation with Israel.” The article also reports:
Furthermore, [Montell believes] the Goldstone Report itself … is "disagreeable" and mistaken in some of its gravest accusations against Israel, she believes. These include the claim that Israel intentionally targeted the civilian population rather than Hamas, and the "weak, hesitant way that the report mentions Hamas's strategy of using civilians [in combat]."
When B'Tselem's executive director starts talking like this, there's a problem.
 
Thirdly, the resolution that created the Goldstone Commission (as it was later called) stated that Israel was guilty of human rights violations against the Palestinians and made no reference whatsoever to notorious and manifest crimes perpetrated by Hamas before and during the fighting. (The word “Hamas,” for example, appears no where in the document.)

In an article that appeared in the Jerusalem Post in August 2009, noted human rights jurist Irwin Cotler reported the following about the investigation:

Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson stated that "the resolution is not balanced because it focuses on what Israel did, without calling for an investigation on the launch of the rockets by Hamas. This is unfortunately a practice by the Council: adopting resolutions guided not by human rights but by politics. This is very regrettable." Asked to head up the mission before Goldstone, Robinson refused.
 
Goldstone admits that he also refused the appointment - at least initially. "More than hesitate, I initially refused to become involved in any way [with the inquiry], on the basis of what seemed to me to be a biased, uneven-handed resolution of the UN Human Rights Council," he explained. But he felt comfortable enough to proceed when the then-president of the Council, Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi, purportedly expanded the mission's mandate for him, even though the enabling resolution behind the inquiry would remain unchanged, and though he would still be accountable to the Council that passed this resolution.

Interestingly enough, Robinson herself has distanced herself from these remarks in an opinion piece in the Daily Times of Pakistan. In this piece, Robinson calls for “a full and fair examination based on the report's findings and recommendations.” She also expresses concern that the process that led up to the Goldstone Commission's creation will “limit full discussion of the report” and its “detailed findings.”

Report Downplays Evidence of Hamas Wrongdoing

Robinson's affirmation notwithstanding, the Goldstone Report cannot withstand the type of scrutiny she suggests it can. One particularly glaring problem is the manner in which its authors assiduously downplay evidence Hamas' wrongdoings. In particular, the Goldstone Report states there is no evidence to support the Israeli assertion that Hamas used civilian installations such as schools, mosques and hospitals for military purposes. In fact, the IDF provided visual proof of weaponry being stored in mosques and of booby-trapped schools. Hamas has even bragged about its use of human shields.

According to a report issued by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in July (The Operation in Gaza: Factual and Legal Aspects), captured Palestinians also told the IDF that Shifa Hospital was used as a refuge by Hamas leaders during the fighting. (See page 64).

This document also cites an Italian newspaper report that Hamas members commandeered ambulances and stole uniforms for Al Quds Hospital to evade detection by Israeli soldiers. The report offers the following quote from an Italian newspaper, the Corriere della Sera:

Magah al Rachmah, aged 25, residing a few dozen meters from the four large buildings of the now seriously damaged health complex, says about this fact: The men of Hamas took refuge mainly in the building that houses the administrative offices of al Quds. They used the ambulances and forced ambulance drivers and nurses to take off their uniforms with the paramedic symbols, so they could blend in better and elude Israeli snipers.

Newsweek also provided information regarding Hamas' use of Al Quds Hospital, which was shelled by Israeli forces on Jan. 15. 2009. The magazine reported that “Talal Safadi, an official in the leftist Palestinian People's Party, said that resistance fighters were firing from positions all around the hospital.”

Other problems with the Goldstone Report include its portrayal of Palestinians who are members of terror organizations and who have gone through Hamas infantry training as illegitimate targets of attack and its reliance on witnesses who have told numerous contradictory stories about alleged Israeli atrocities.

Goldstone Report Suggests Hamas Accepts Israel

The Goldstone Report also falsely suggests that Hamas has “implicitly” accepted Israel's right to exist by virtue of having signed the “Prisoner's Document” in 2006. A footnote on page 57 of the report reads: "An implicit recognition of the State of Israel could be traced to the statement [the Prisoner's Document] that 'the right to establish their independent state with al-Quds al-Sharif as its capital on all territories occupied in 1967'".

The section of the “Prisoner's Document” quoted in this footnote says nothing about the legitimacy of Israel, but merely calls for the creation of a Palestinian state. Days after the document was made public, a Hamas spokesman stated that the organization still refused to acknowledge Israel's legitimacy:

The Hamas Movement's position is a clear one: We refuse to recognize the Israeli occupation, but we do not object to any gradual solutions that do not stem from recognition of the Israeli occupation's state. If we are speaking in the context of a transient and gradual solution, then yes, we do not object to the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders without that leading to the recognition of the occupation's legitimacy. (Sami Abu Zuhri, May 11, 2006, translated by BBC Monitoring Middle East)

(For more on Hamas and the “Prisoner's Document” see this BBC report dated June 27, 2006 titled “Hamas resists Israel recognition.”)

The Goldstone Commission's suggestion that Hamas has “implicitly” accepted Israel's right to exist is insupportable, ridiculous, and demonstrative of a powerful desire to downplay Hamas' hostility toward the Jewish state. No serious journalist could ignore this tendency, and yet the editors at America do just that.

Mishneh Torah

Another offensive aspect of the editorial is the condescending manner with which it invokes Jewish writings to indict Israel of wrongdoing:

Israel's own traditions require it to do better. As the Mishneh Torah's Laws of Kings and Their Wars (6:7) puts it: “When a city is under siege, the blockade should not include all four sides. One side should be left open to allow the inhabitants to flee for their lives.” In Gaza last winter, no such quarter was offered the unfortunate inhabitants.

This passage ignores a few salient facts: Egypt also controls a crossing into the Gaza Strip, but has kept it closed to keep Hamas from destabilizing its regime. Moreover, Israel warned the inhabitants of Gaza of impending attacks by dropping leaflets, sending text messages to cell phones and by making phone calls to peoples' homes. Hamas, on the other hand attacked – without warning – civilians while hiding among civilians and civilian institutions.

More to the point, when will America's editors search the Koran and the Hadith for words of mercy, tolerance and responsibility and use these passages to assess the behavior of Hamas? Are their no convenient proof-texts in these books for them to use?

Clearly, Hamas is in dire need of admonition and correction – which for some reason America is unwilling to provide. In 2007, Hamas killed its opponents in the streets, and threw its adversaries off rooftops. It has hijacked UN trucks carrying international aid and diverted the goods to its supporters. It has stolen food and fuel and denied Palestinian hospitals of the equipment and supplies they needed to operate. It has staged blackouts in an effort to portray Israel as a heartless and cruel oppressor. It has encouraged children to place themselves on rooftops to protect Qassam rocket factories.

In sum, Hamas is a mass movement that rules the Gaza Strip by force, murders its opponents and uses the civilian population as a pawn in its effort to demonize Israel and render Israeli civilians as legitimate targets of violence. Hamas' primary supporter is Iran, a country whose leaders have repeatedly expressed a desire to perpetrate mass murder of Jews in the Middle East and also oppresses its own citizens.

None of these actions has provoked much outrage from the editors at America, who in their editorial stated “the welfare of the Palestinian people, owing to their unique and vulnerable status, remains the responsibility of the international community.”

Given America's tolerant silence over Hamas' misdeeds, and its readily apparent obsession with Israel's misdeeds, the conclusion is inescapable: The troubling double standard that was so evident in the magazine's coverage of Israel's 2006 wars with Hamas and Hezbollah is still in force at the publication today.


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