The Goldstone report on Gaza:
The best single response by an Israeli diplomat
Published: 9 October 2009
Briefing Number 244
Summary: This Briefing contains the full text of a speech delivered by Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Mission in Geneva, Aharon Leshno Ya’ar, responding to the UN’s Goldstone Report into the Gaza war of December 2008-January 2009. Leshno Ya’ar delivered the speech before the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council on 29th September 2009, and it has been republished on the website of the Israeli Foreign Ministry (see www.mfa.gov.il).
We on Beyond Images have read many speeches, articles, blogs and interview transcripts about the Goldstone Report, written by Israeli spokesmen and commentators, and by experts, journalists and politicians from around the world. But we think that Leshno Ya’ar’s speech may be the best single statement responding to the Goldstone Report. The speech is lucid and focused, packed with insights, calm and comprehensive. Leshno Ya’ar maintains a balanced tone, and coherently restores Israel’s narrative.
So far as we can tell, the speech has gone unnoticed and unremarked in the international media, and among pro-Israel constituencies and advocacy groups.
We have reproduced the speech verbatim; our only addition is the section headings, which we have included to make the text as user-friendly as possible.
On 29 September 2009 Israeli diplomat Aharon Leshno Ya’ar, who is Israel’s Permanent Representative at the UN in Geneva, delivered the following speech as part of the 12th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council. He was responding to publication two weeks earlier of the Report of Richard Goldstone’s Fact-Finding Mission into Gaza.
Ambassador Aharon Leshno Ya’ar:
Yesterday, on Yom Kippur, Jews all over the world – in Jerusalem, Sderot, here in Geneva – commemorated Yom Kippur, the most holy day in the Jewish calendar. It is the day when, according to Jewish tradition, our fate is determined for the coming year: “who will live and who will die, who will be raised up and who will be brought low…”. Not only for individuals but also for States, this is a decisive time. In the words of our prayers: “which for war and which for peace, which for famine and which for plenty”.
For the States of this Council, this is indeed a fateful time. Today’s debate is a real test of the integrity and purpose of this body. But more than that, the response to the challenge presented today will have a clear effect on our ability – collectively and individually – to face some of the greatest challenges in the year ahead.
How Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza was followed by further Hamas missile attacks
Five years ago, in a remarkable gesture reaching out for peace, Israel removed every one of its soldiers and over 8000 civilians from the Gaza Strip. We withdrew hospitals and kindergartens, synagogues and cemeteries, leaving only greenhouses we had struggled to build in the hope that these would be the start of a productive Palestinian society. And you, the States of this Council, applauded this unprecedented measure. You told us in no uncertain terms that in the nightmare scenario that terror would take root, you would back us in our inherent right of self-defense.
Five years later, the greenhouses had been ransacked by Hamas thugs, over 8000 rockets and mortars had been fired on schools and kindergartens in Sderot and other Israeli towns [of those 8000, several thousand had been fired before Israel withdrew, but the intensity increased after withdrawal – Beyond Images], and an unceasing supply of weaponry was being smuggled through tunnels into Gaza from terror-sponsoring states like Iran. Israel’s urgent appeals to the international community were to no avail, and out attempts to extend a fragile ceasefire were met with new, increased barrages of missiles from Hamas. And all the while the range of the attacks was increasing. Now Ashkelon and Beer Sheva were within reach. One million Israeli children, women and men had to live every moment of their lives within seconds of a bomb shelter.
Israel protected the lives of Palestinian civilians that Hamas had put at risk
The decision to launch a military operation is never an easy one. It is even more challenging when we have to face an enemy that intentionally deploys its forces in densely populated areas, stores its explosives in private homes, and launches rockets from crowded school yards and mosques. These are new and horrendous challenges, and we sought to deal with them responsibly and with humanity. Yet when we dropped millions of leaflets and made tens of thousands of phone calls to warn Palestinian civilians in advance of operations we were witness to the callous and deliberate Hamas tactic of sending women and children onto the roofs of terrorist headquarters and weapons factories. In such cases, again and again missions were aborted, letting the Hamas terrorists escape. Israel protected Palestinian civilians that Hamas had put at risk.
Israel’s dilemmas in combatting Hamas tactics
In grappling with these dilemmas we seek the guidance of other states. We do not have all the right answers but we struggle to ask the right questions. And in discussions between our officials charged with securing the lives of their civilians we hear genuine admiration for our restraint. For example, when Colonel Richard Kemp, Commander of British forces in Afghanistan, was asked about Israel’s conduct in Gaza, he replied: “I don’t think there has ever been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF in Gaza”
Israel’s investigations into incidents of wrongdoing by its soldiers in Gaza
In complex urban warfare, though, civilian casualties are tragically inevitable. There also have been many incidents in which soldiers did not always maintain the standards that we expected of them. The true test of a genuine democracy is how it deals with such cases, and how it examines its own failings. Following the Gaza operation, Israel has opened over 100 separate investigations into fundamental operational questions, like damage to UN centers and medical facilities, as well as specific allegations of misconduct. Of these investigations, 23 have already resulted in criminal proceedings. And this process continues. Any decision regarding whether to open criminal proceedings can be appealed by any Israeli or Palestinian to Israel’s Supreme Court – a court which has been cited with respect and admiration throughout the democratic world.
Goldstone had a one-sided mandate and disregarded these issues
Israel struggles to deal with these tough questions, raised by terrorists acting within civilian centers. Sadly, these are questions which also occupy many other democratic countries and which they and we will have to continue to grapple with.
But these questions, apparently, do not occupy the authors of the shameful Report which has been presented to this Council.
Like many other states in this Council, we could not support a resolution [establishing the Goldstone investigation – Beyond Images] which only addressed one side of the conflict, and which established four separate mechanisms to condemn Israel and not even one to examine Hamas.
Like many other distinguished individuals who rejected invitations to head the fact finding mission with its one-sided mandate, we objected to a mission which, in the words of Mary Robinson [former President of Ireland, and leading figure in the UN Human Rights Commission – Beyond Images], was “guided by politics and not by human rights”. While Israel has cooperated with dozens of enquiries and investigations from international organisations and NGOs into the events in Gaza, it refused to cooperate with this Mission. And the Report presented today fully justifies that decision.
Even prior to the start of any investigation one member of the Mission went on public record stating that Israel’s defence of its civilians against Hamas attacks was “aggression not self-defence” [this is a reference to Christine Chinkin, professor of law at the London School of Economics – Beyond Images]. The document submitted today simply reiterates that prejudice.
The Goldstone report’s silence on Israel’s right of self-defence
This is a report – 575 pages – in which Israel’s right of self-defence is not mentioned, in which the smuggling of weapons into Gaza through hundreds of tunnels deserves not a word.
The Report’s unbalanced handling of the evidence and disregard for facts
A report based on pre-screened Palestinian witnesses, not one of whom was asked about Hamas terrorist activity or the abuse of civilians, hospitals and mosques for terrorist attacks.
A report based on carefully selected incidents, cherry picked for political effect. As Justice Goldstone has revealed in open correspondence: “We did not deal with the problems of conducting military operations in civilian areas. We avoided having to do so in the incidents we decided to investigate….”
A report which gives credibility to every allegation or hearsay against Israel, and none to even direct admissions of guilt by Hamas leaders. Indeed, which sometimes accepts the same source as authoritative as against Israel, but somehow unreliable vis-à-vis Hamas.
The report as part of a political assault on Israel in international forums
The authors of this Fact-Finding Report had little concern for finding facts. The Report was instigated as part of a political campaign, and it represents a political assault directed against Israel and against every state forced to confront terrorist threats. Its recommendations are fully in line with its one-sided agenda and seek to harness the Security Council, the General Assembly, the International Criminal Court, the Human Rights Council, and the entire international community in its political campaign. In so doing it seeks to inject these bodies with the same political poison that has so undermined the integrity of this Council.
How the Report weakens international law and encourages terrorist groups to exploit civilian suffering in the future
Unlike the Hamas terrorists who rejoice with every civilian death, Israel regards every civilian casualty as a tragedy. Israel is committed to fully examining every allegation of wrongdoing. Not because of the Report but despite it.
For let there be no doubt. This Report will do nothing to ease the lives of those in Sderot and Gaza City, Kiryat Shemona and Jenin. In providing support and vindication for terrorist tactics, it is a betrayal of Israelis and moderate Palestinians alike.
In the final analysis, the true test of such a report can only be whether in future armed conflicts it will have the effect of increasing or decreasing respect for the rule of law by the parties. Regrettably, this one-sided report, claiming to represent international law but in fact perverting it to serve a political agenda, can only weaken the standing of international law in future conflicts.
This report broadcasts a troubling – and legally unfounded – message to States
everywhere confronting terrorist threats, that international law has no effective response to offer them, and so serves to undermine willingness to comply with its provisions. At the same time, it signals an even more troubling message to terrorist groups, wherever they are, that the cynical tactics of seeking to exploit civilian suffering for political ends actually pays dividends.
Israel wants to find a way to live at peace with its neighbours
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we want to find a way to live in peace with our neighbours. This is the ultimate question that Prime Minister Netanyahu asked the General Assembly in New York last week:-
“The same UN that cheered Israel as it left Gaza and promised to back our right of self-defence now accuses us…. of war crimes? And for what? For acting responsibly in self-defence…? […..] Israel justly defended itself against terror. This biased and unjust report is a clear-cut test for all governments. Will you stand with Israel or will you stand with the terrorists? Because if Israel is again asked to take more risks for peace, we must know today that you will stand with us tomorrow. Only if we have confidence that we can defend ourselves can we take further risks for peace”.
Thank you very much.
Some related Beyond Images Briefings
See the Beyond Images online tool on Operation Cast Lead and its background, which is available on the home page of the website (www.beyondimages.info), under the button Israel and Hamas: 2009 Report, and is called:-
The context for the Israel-Hamas war of 2009 (Briefing 234, 5 February 2009)
On the Goldstone report specifically see also:
- The Goldstone Report into Gaza: a summary of twelve critiques (Beyond Images Briefing 245, forthcoming)
- ‘Blocking the truth of the Gaza war: How the Goldstone Commission understated the Hamas threat to Palestinian civilians’ (by Col Jonathan Halevi, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Vol 9 No 10, 18 September 2009)
On the background to Operation Cast Lead, Gaza disengagement etc see:
For Beyond Images resources generally see:
Beyond Images home page / All Beyond Images Briefings / Gaza and disengagement