Will The Resolution Condemning The Goldstone Gaza Report Pass The House?

October 30, 2009 12:31 pm ET — MJ Rosenberg

It is hard to imagine that the United States Congress can outdo its own record of rousing support for any and all Israeli actions and policies.  But it is now preparing to do just that.

Next week the Democratic House is slated to vote on a resolution - introduced by Howard Berman (chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee), Gary Ackerman (chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East) and two Republicans,  Ranking Members Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Dan Burton.  

The legislators pushing the resolution say the Goldstone report is unfair and biased against Israel.  Although the report also condemns both Israel and Hamas for "war crimes," the representatives take strong issue with Goldstone's finding that Israel took little care to protect civilians during its massive onslaught.

Of course, the numbers themselves support Goldstone. According to B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, "Israeli security forces killed 1,382 Palestinians during the 22-day military operation. Of those, 774 did not take part in the hostilities, including 320 minors and 109 women over the age of 18." 

Number of Israelis killed: 9 (3 by friendly fire).

The resolution ignores those numbers, offering not even a word of sympathy to those who were killed.

It is hard to imagine that Speaker Nancy Pelosi or George Miller, chair of the House Democratic Policy Committee, will permit this resolution to come to floor.  Both have worked for decades to promote America's role as honest broker between Israelis and Palestinians and a more balanced policy toward the Muslim world.  

But passing this resolution will remove any illusion that the United States can serve as mediator.  It also will send a message to Arabs and Muslims worldwide that our much proclaimed human rights ideals do not apply to them. That will hardly help us in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else in the Muslim world. This resolution can be opposed on national security grounds alone.

Does any of this matter to the House members who are pushing this resolution or the majority likely to vote for it? Many of them will likely be liberals too who have rightly criticized actions by our own country in Iraq, Afghanistan or wherever, some going all the way back to Vietnam.  Why this exception?

On the same day that news came of the Congressional resolution, Ken Silverstein of Harper's interviewed Desmond Travers, one of the four members of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, which produced the Goldstone Report. Travers is a retired colonel in the Irish army who commanded troops with in various UN and EU peace support missions. Excerpts follow.

Silverstein  to Travers: "Were you surprised by the criticism of the report?

Travers: "There was a lot of criticism even before the report came out, primarily against individuals, especially Justice Richard Goldstone. So we were not unduly surprised by the whinging when the report was released, except for the intensity and viciousness of the personal attacks. Justice Goldstone has publicly invited the critics, especially within the U.S. government, to come forward with substantive evidence of incorrect or inaccurate statements. But there has been no credible criticism of the report itself or of the information elucidated in it.

Silverstein: Critics have also said that Hamas deliberately inserted its fighters among civilians and that doing so increased the civilian toll. Did you find that to be the case?

Travers: We found no evidence that Hamas used civilians as hostages. I had expected to find such evidence but did not. We also found no evidence that mosques were used to store munitions. Those charges reflect Western perceptions in some quarters that Islam is a violent religion. Gaza is densely populated and has a labyrinth of makeshift shanties and a system of tunnels and bunkers. If I were a Hamas operative the last place I'd store munitions would be in a mosque. It's not secure, is very visible, and would probably be pre-targeted by Israeli surveillance. There are a many better places to store munitions. We investigated two destroyed mosques-one where worshippers were killed-and we found no evidence that either was used as anything but a place of worship.

There is a sinister and foolish notion among certain proponents of insurgency warfare that to fight an insurgency means that civilians will inevitably be killed. But if you give the state authority to be indiscriminate with the lives of civilians in pursuing insurgents, it plays into the hands of the insurgents. Dead bodies are grist to the insurgents' mill: if the dead are on your side they represent insurgent victories and if the dead are on their side then they have martyrs.

Silverstein: What other issues do you think need to be addressed

We were disturbed by the lethality and toxicity of weapons used in Gaza, some of which have been in Western arsenals since the Cold War, such as white phosphorous, which incinerated 14 people, including several children in one attack; flechettes, small darts that are designed to tumble upon entering human flesh in order to cause maximum damage, strictly in breach of the Geneva Convention; and highly carcinogenic tungsten shrapnel and dime munitions, which contain tungsten in powder form. There is also a whole cocktail of other problematic munitions suspected to have been used.

There are a number of other post-conflict issues in Gaza that need to be addressed. The land is dying. There are toxic deposits from all the munitions that have been dropped. There are serious issues with water-its depletion and its contamination. There is a high instance of nitrates in the soil that is especially dangerous to children. If these issues are not addressed, Gaza may not even be habitable by World Health Organization norms."

It is not a surprise that the Israeli government does not want its tactics criticized.  But it is a travesty when Israel's friends in Congress join Israel in that resistance to criticism.  320 children were killed and  the House will go on record criticizing not those deaths but those who say they should never have happened.

The House resolution needs to be stopped or re-written so that its purpose is not to shoot the messenger but to condemn violence directed at civilians by both sides.