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Gaza: A Lament

Posted by rabbibrian on July 23, 2014

In two weeks time on Tisha B’Av (9th of the Jewish month of Av), Jews will read the Book of Lamentations, a bitter lament about the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple some 2,000 years ago.  Over the past few weeks, I have felt a lament welling up inside my broken heart.  Eicha/How? or Alas! is the first word of the book of Lamentations.  How have we, as Jews, come to the point where the state that claims to be acting in the name of our people and our ethical and historical legacy has killed, as of today, over 650 Palestinians, the majority of them innocent civilians, 160 of them children?  How do we, as Jews, face ourselves as we see the bodies of entire families in body bags, often just plastic bags, human beings that have been killed by jet fighters, tanks and navy ships of the fourth strongest military force in the world acting in the name of the Jewish people?  How do we face ourselves as we see people fleeing on carts and by foot, images that remind us of Jews in earlier times fleeing for their lives, trying to find shelter somewhere from the barrage of armaments unleashed against them on all sides?

The answer that is repeated over and over again is that Israel has the right to defend itself against the rockets launched into Israel.   Over 1,500 rockets have been launched  into Israel, killing, as of this date, 2 people.  The rockets are a terrifying attack on civilians and any country has the obligation and right to defend itself against such an attack.  Every day Israelis hear sirens and scurry to shelters and safe spaces. Everyone, especially the children, are traumatized by living with this threat of imminent danger.

However, focusing exclusively on Israel’s right to defend itself against the rockets, avoids looking at the root causes of this assault. The rockets are the desperate, and thankfully, mostly ineffective, response of an occupied people who have been subjected to an Israeli siege for the past 7 years.  It is an act of desperate resistance by a people who live in the “largest open air prison in the world.”

The bottom line is that this is not a war of defense.  This assault is a war of choice by Israel with the goal of maintaining the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza and no matter how brutal, it will not bring safety and security to Israel.  The only path to safety and security is a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians that ends the occupation of the West Bank and siege on Gaza, something Israel has steadfastly rejected.  Just a few days ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated that Israel would never withdraw from the West Bank and never allow the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state.

Since before the founding of the State of Israel, Israel has believed that the Palestinian claim to their homes and homeland can be defeated by military might.  This has been the underlying reason for all of Israel’s wars.   In 1956, in a famous eulogy by General Moshe Dayan for a young kibbutznik named Ro’i Rotenberg, killed by Gazans who had crossed over the border into Israel, Dayan articulated this position.

“Do not today besmirch the murderers with accusations. Who are we that we should bewail their mighty hatred of us?  For eight years they sit in refugee camps in Gaza, and opposite their gaze we appropriate for ourselves as our own portion the land and the villages in which they and their fathers dwelled…

This we know: that in order that the hope to destroy us should die we have to be armed and ready, morning and night. We are a generation of settlement, and without a steel helmet and the barrel of a cannon we cannot plant a tree and build a house. Our children will not live if we do not build shelters, and without a barbed wire fence and a machine gun we cannot pave a road and channel water.”

It is this same belief that underlies this latest assault on Gaza, a territory that has been under Israeli siege for 8 years and has been brutally attacked three times in the past six years. It is not a coincidence that the majority of Gazan residents are refugees or the children and grandchildren of refugees from the 1948 war.  There is no military solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The only solution is a negotiated settlement.

Again, so what about the rockets?

Israel has the right to defend itself.  I have compassion for the fear of the Israelis and all those traumatized by the rockets and the sirens.  Twice in my life I have been in Israel during the time when we had to run to shelters because of rockets; during the Gulf War and another a month before the Israeli assault in 2008 (Operation Cast Lead).  I know in my bones how terrifying it is to hear those sirens and to run for cover.

However, I believe there is no moral equivalence between the firing of rockets by Hamas and other militants in Gaza and the Israeli assault.  Gaza is a land and people living under Israeli siege since 2007.  There is a myth that Israel “withdrew” from Gaza and allowed the Gazans freedom. Nothing could be further from the truth. While Israel withdrew their settlements from Gaza in 2005 and the military force that protected them, in 2007 they placed a blockade on almost all exports and imports and on the movement of almost all Gazans.

Sara Roy, an economist at Harvard, has documented how the siege has impoverished the people of Gaza creating an entire population that is dependent on aid and has no means to develop its economy.  For a time, the Israelis even put Gazan’s on a “diet” controlling the amount of food they allowed into Gaza according to the number of calories that they deemed each Gazan would need.  There is no equivalence between the resistance of the occupied, which is an internationally recognized human right, and the assault of the occupier, the fourth strongest military on the planet.  While the Israelis are certainly suffering profound losses in this conflict, they are ultimately the occupier and oppressor.

There is also abundant evidence that this current war in Gaza is a war of choice. The prominent Jewish journalist, J.J. Goldberg, a life-long committed Zionist, recently wrote an article in the Jewish Forward describing how Israel used the kidnapping of the three teenagers to launch an attack on Hamas on the West Bank. Fearing the Palestinian unity government between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas established after the failure of the peace process, Israel manipulated the kidnapping to launch an attack on Hamas. Israel knew the teenagers had been killed yet it hid that truth and launched a “Bring our Boys Home” campaign all over the world.  It launched an assault on Hamas on the West Bank arresting many of its leaders who had been freed in the exchange for Gilad Shalit, attacking its institutions on the West Bank and killing six Palestinian leaders.  For the most part Hamas had maintained the ceasefire agreement of 2012 and Israel violated it.

There were no rockets from Gaza until these unprovoked attacks on Hamas by Israel even though there was, and still is, no evidence that the kidnapping was the work of Hamas.   You may also want to read the article by my colleague, Rabbi Brant Rosen and the article by M.J. Rosenberg who at one time worked for AIPAC.

Rosenberg writes:

 

Listening to Netanyahu’s defenders in the media (and that is pretty much all you get as objective reporters are yanked off the air), I’m struck by how Americans are indoctrinated into ignoring the most significant fact about Gaza.

 

It is under Israeli occupation (now called blockade) and has been since 1967.

That is the cause of the “war.” Yes, Israel has the “right” to defend itself but Palestinians have the “right” to resist occupation. Those conflicting rights are leading to perdition and, in my opinion, the loss of the Israel many of us have loved and identified with our entire lives.

The oft-proclaimed Gaza withdrawal was a fraud. Although Israel pulled the settlers out, it has maintained a blockade of Gaza ever since, blocking its air, sea, and land borders, locking its people in a giant prison.

I wish we could say, “this is not our problem, let the Israelis and the Palestinians sort it out.” Unfortunately, it is directly our problem as it is our government that provides the military, diplomatic and financial support for Israel. And it is my community, the Jewish community that plays a major role in ensuring the unconditional support of our country for Israeli government.  Two days ago, the Senate voted unanimously (including the most liberal Senators including mine, Senator Elizabeth Warren) for an AIPAC sponsored resolution in support of Israel’s actions without a single reference to the suffering of the Palestinians!   As Americans and as Jews, we are directly complicit in the oppression of the Palestinians.

So where are the prophetic voices in the Israel and in the Jewish community?

There are very some brave Israelis who have demonstrated against the assault. They are the moral heroes fighting for the soul of our people.  They have been attacked physically by thugs incited by Netanyahu and other members of the government, the same thugs who roam the streets looking for Arabs they can attack.  You can read Rabbi Rosen’s blog post on this frightening phenomenon here.

And, in America, I am so pleased to be part of Jewish Voice for Peace and of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council.  JVP is a bold and clear Jewish voice standing up against the Israeli assault and calling for a negotiated settlement that is based on equality, dignity and justice for all, Israelis and Palestinians. Yesterday, several JVP members,  including our visionary and courageous executive director, Rebecca Vilkomersen, were arrested in an act of civil disobedience in the Friends of the Israel Defense Force offices in New York.   You can view the action here.  Their courage is a source of inspiration at this dark time.  There are many Jews out there who know in their very bones that the State of Israel is betraying what they hold most dear about our legacy and increasing numbers of us are willing to say “not in my name!”

The prophets teach us that the only source of security is justice and love.  The prophets of our time are not to be found in the mainstream Jewish community, they are to be found on the streets of America and the streets of Israel.  At great cost, they courageously speak truth to power, calling for a negotiated settlement to the conflict  based on justice, dignity and love for everyone who lives in Israel/Palestine.  It is ultimately the only way both Israelis and Palestinians will find security.

Every day brings another horrifying series of images and reports about the suffering in Gaza. Today was another such day.  Every day also brings images of people in our country, in Israel and around the world, protesting the Israeli assault.

May the ceasefire come soon, a true ceasefire that brings an end to the siege on Gaza and a real commitment by Israel to negotiate an end the occupation, the settlement program and the siege of Gaza.  If the at the end of these hostilities there is no real negotiation, we will be back at the same point one, two, or three years from now, when Israel will again “mow the lawn.”

May our lament turn into a commitment to bring pressure to bear on Israel to turn from the suicidal path it has chosen.

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Posted in Gaza, Israel, Jewish Ethics, Judaism, Palestinians, Rabbis, Settlements, U.S. Middle East Policy | 14 Comments »

The second anniversary of Operation Cast Lead: Lift the Blockade!

Posted by rabbibrian on December 22, 2010

“As an American, I do not want my tax dollars to enable Israel to behave in a manner that is so clearly counter to moral conscience, human rights and international law.  Please call upon the Israeli government to end its blockade of Gaza immediately.  I urge you to use all diplomatic means at your disposal – including the cessation of military aid – to ensure that Israel complies.”

This coming Monday, December 27, will be the second anniversary of the first day of Operation Cast Lead.  Now, two years later the people of Gaza still live in an “open air prison” subject to a blockade by Israel.

Now is the time for us, as American citizens, to call on our President to take bold action to end the blockade.  Taanit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza, a project that I co-founded with Rabbi Brant Rosen, is calling on American citizens to send a letter to the President calling on him to take bold action,  to end the blockade  of Gaza.  I invite you to participate in this campaign.

Here is the text of the letter:

Dear President Obama,

I am writing to urge you to do everything in your power to end Israel’s four and a half year blockade against Gaza.

The human toll of this blockade has become utterly intolerable. Israel’s limits on export and import has destroyed Gaza’s economy.  According to international and Israeli human rights organizations, 80% of the Gazan population is dependent on international aid.  61% of the population is food insecure and more than 10% of Gaza’s children are chronically malnourished.

Israel’s blockade has also had a devastating effect on freedom of movement in Gaza.  Gisha, a leading Israeli human rights organization, has documented that the closure of Gaza’s borders has drastically impaired family life and the ability of Gaza’s residents to gain an education and receive medical treatment.

Since “Operation Cast Lead,” 78% of homes that sustained major damage have not yet been rebuilt and scores of Gazans are forced to live in tents or other temporary quarters.  Due to the damage sustained by Gaza’s water purification plants, 50 to 80 million liters of untreated or partially treated sewage are released into the sea every day.

As an American, I do not want my tax dollars to enable Israel to behave in a manner that is so clearly counter to moral conscience, human rights and international law.  Please call upon the Israeli government to end its blockade of Gaza immediately.  I urge you to use all diplomatic means at your disposal – including the cessation of military aid – to ensure that Israel complies.

I acknowledge that Hamas poses a security threat to Israel – but the collective punishment of Gaza will not bring Israel the security it seeks. True security will only be achieved through direct negotiations between Israel and all relevant Palestinian parties, including Hamas.

In your inspiring 2009 Cairo speech, you stated, “the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security…  Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.”

Now is the time for you, as President, to make these words a reality.

Sincerely,

To participate in this campaign, click here.

Taanit Tzedek needs your support to continue.  Please click here to make a contribution.

Posted in Gaza, Israel, Palestinians, U.S. Middle East Policy | 1 Comment »

Operation Cast Lead: 2 Years Later

Posted by rabbibrian on December 9, 2010

Rabbi Brant Rosen and I have just organized the next monthly conference call for Taanit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza.  It will take place 11 days before the 2nd anniversary of Operation Cast Lead.  I have posted information about the call below.  I have learned so much from these monthly calls and often feel so relieved and inspired to be in the presence (at least by phone) of courageous individuals who have spent time in Gaza.   I encourage you to make every effort to join us.

Last month’s call with Congressman Brian Baird was just extraordinary.   With the news this week of the utter collapse of the President Obama’s ineffective effort to move the “peace process” forward, the candor and honesty of Congressman Baird about what impedes American politicians in regard to peace in Israel/Palestine, are even more important.  You can listen to the audio of the call and/or read tue transcript here.

I hope you can join the call on Thursday next week and that you make the time to listen to the call with Congressman Baird.  I would be happy  to read your comments about either call.

Here is the information about the call next week.

Taanit TzedekJewish Fast for Gaza

invites you to join a phone conversation on

Operation Cast Lead: Two Years Later

with

Jared Malsin

Young American Journalist reporting from Gaza, who was deported by Israel this year.

Thursday, December 16 at 12 noon EDT

To participate in the call:

Dial the Access Number: 1.800.920.7487

When prompted, enter your Participant Code: 92247763#

There will be a question and answer period during the call.

This conference call is scheduled on the monthly fast day of Taanit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza.  For more information and to join our fast, visit www.fastforgaza.net

Additional Information about Jared Malsin

A 2007 graduate of Yale University, Jared Malsin is a young, independent American journalist who has reported directly from Gaza since October.  Prior to living in Gaza, Malsin, who is Jewish, spent two and a half years in Bethlehem working for Maan, a Palestinian news agency.

In January 2010, while returning from a vacation in Prague, the Israeli government detained him at the Tel Aviv airport after questioning him about his allegedly “anti-Israeli” political views, Palestinian contacts, and news articles authored “inside the territories” He spent a week in jail before he was deported to the US.   His deportation was condemned by the head of the International Federation of Journalists as “an intolerable violation of press freedom.”

As an independent journalist Malsin has also contributed to The Electronic Intifada, Open Democracy, The Huffington Post, Mondowiess, The New Haven Register, and other publications. He has appeared on Al-Jazeera and as a speaker on college campuses.

He has written extensively about Gaza.  You can read his articles here.

“… As a journalist your natural inclination is to give voice to people who don’t have a voice. There’s nothing like being on the ground and seeing what’s happening with your own eyes. You can read about the settlements and the wall. It’s another thing to be in Bethlehem, the city I lived in for two and a half years, and see how the wall cuts across the main road to Jerusalem and wraps around the gas station and then cuts between two house and through an olive field and has just completely mangled the city. Something about being there, and seeing it with your own eyes — there’s truth to it that you can’t argue with. The challenge is to get that across in reporting, in writing, in photography or whatever medium you’re working in.”

Jared Malsin in interview with Christopher Lyden.  Click here for complete interview.

Posted in Gaza, Israel, Palestinians | Leave a Comment »

Dershowitz, Goldstone, Israel and South Africa

Posted by rabbibrian on May 12, 2010

My colleague, Rabbi Brant Rosen, has just published a important response on Huffington Post to a series of articles by Alan Dershowitz over the last few weeks.  I recommend his article highly and encourage you to share it with others.

When a Jew starts to accuse rabbis of blood libel; when an American shouts “McCarthyism” at an American magazine editor whose life is dedicated to dialogue; when a professional, highly experienced lawyer accuses a world-renown jurist of “evil,” equating him with the Nazi “Angel of Death,” and uses Star Wars terminology against a legitimate, widely-supported political lobbying group – well, it adds up, and it indicates one thing: Desperation.

Alan Dershowitz, and many of Jewish America’s leading conservative lights, have seen the writing on the wall, and it frightens them. Their brand of Jewish chauvinism is fading from the world, and they are justifiably frightened that a different approach to both Israel and Jewish life is taking hold among American Jews.

Read the complete article here.

As an ex-South African, it was so distressing to see the latest attack by the Israeli newspaper, Yediot Achronot, on Judge Goldstone’s history as a judge during the Apartheid years. This latest attack celebrated by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and American Israeli apologists, is particularly odious as it is launched by Israelis who either ignored or supported Apartheid.   I recommend reading this important article, Glass Stones, Glass Houses, by Sasha Polakow-Suransky that highlights the hypocrisy of this latest attack:

Goldstone’s apartheid-era judicial rulings are undoubtedly a blot on his record, but his critics never mention the crucial part he played in shepherding South Africa through its democratic transition and warding off violent threats to a peaceful transfer of power — a role that led Nelson Mandela to embrace him and appoint him to the country’s highest court.

More importantly, Ayalon’s and Rivlin’s moralism conveniently ignores Israel’s history of arming the apartheid regime from the mid-1970s until the early 1990s. By serving as South Africa’s primary and most reliable arms supplier during a period of violent internal repression and external aggression, Israel’s government did far more to aid the apartheid regime than Goldstone ever did (emphasis mine).

In 1986 I was in my first pulpit and I remember the revelations about Israel’s role in supporting Apartheid.  In my rabbinic office I had publications and statements from several Jewish organizations denying the charges of Israel’s close ties to the Apartheid government.  When I think of that time it is so similar to the current campaign to deny the Goldstone Report.  I was younger then and was shocked that the mainstream Jewish organizations had lied, calling those who wrote about the relationship anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and worse.  Now it all seems very familiar.

The only reason that Yediot Achronot, the Israeli government and Israeli apologists are focused on this story is another cynical effort to avoid facing the allegations in the Goldstone Report.  Even if Judge Goldstone was a pro-Apartheid judge, which he wasn’t in any way, the reports don’t alter the shocking moral violations by Israel detailed in the Goldstone Report.  The same Israeli apologists and Jewish organizations who lied then about the relationship between Israel and South Africa are the ones attacking Goldstone now.

As Rabbi Rosen wrote:

It’s time for Jewish leaders in Israel, America, and around the world to grapple with the difficult truths of Israel’s occupation and its treatment of the Palestinian people – rather than launching personal attacks against the messengers with whom they don’t happen to agree.

Posted in Gaza, Israel, Jewish Ethics, Judaism, Palestinians, Rabbis | 6 Comments »

Hannukah and Operation Cast Lead: One year later

Posted by rabbibrian on December 18, 2009

Tomorrow is Shabbat Hannukah, the Sabbath that occurs during Hannukah.   Exactly one year ago, on Shabbat Hannukah (Saturday December 27, 2008), Israel launched Operation Cast Lead.

On that day, Saturday December 27, 2008,  at 11:30 in the morning, a time when schoolchildren were still in school, 88 Israeli aircraft simultaneously attacked 100 preplanned targets in Gaza within a span of 4 minutes.  This initial attack was followed by another attack and by the end of that Sabbath day, at least 230 Palestinians were killed and more than 700 injured. Shabbat Hannukah last year, was the day with the highest   one day death toll in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A Reuters report from that day reads as follows:

“Black smoke billowed over Gaza City, where the dead and wounded lay on the ground after Israel bombed more than 40 security compounds, including two where Hamas was hosting graduation ceremonies for new recruits.

At the main Gaza City graduation ceremony, uniformed bodies lay in a pile and the wounded writhed in pain.”

Our traditional greeting for Shabbat is Shabbat Shalom/ A Sabbath of Peace.  That day was far from a Sabbath of Peace.

Not only did the Israeli military assault start on Hannukah, the name of the campaign, Operation Cast Lead, is from a Hannukah poem by Haim Nachman Bialik about a dreidel made from cast lead that a father bought for his child.   The poem became a popular Hannukah children’s song.  I learned the song when I was a child and Jewish children in Israel and around the world sing it joyously.  From now on the image of the cast lead dreidl will be associated with the lead of armaments and the violence of Operation Cast Lead.

I imagine we all remember those days last year of the military campaign. I remember how shocked I was by the brutality and disproportional nature of the response.  Israel with one of the strongest armies in the world bombarded one and a half million people who live in one of the most densely populated areas in the world, in an open air prison, in isolation enforced by  the Israeli siege with no way to leave or enter.

Israel claimed it had no choice, any nation-state would do the same thing.  Israel has a right and a responsibility to defend itself.  The rockets that Palestinian armed groups fired into Israeli civilian areas terrorized the entire population, damaged property and sometimes injured and killed civilians.

Was it true that Israel had no choice?  Was this a wise or an ethical way to defend oneself?

My shock about the campaign grew as the reports of the massive deliberate targeting of civilian targets were revealed: the death of 1100-1400 civilians among them hundreds of children, the extensive wanton destruction of property, evidence of people killed even when they were holding white flags of surrender, the use of white phosphorus and other weaponry not used in congested urban areas,  the destruction of thousands of homes, of water wells, the vile graffiti scrawled on the homes of Palestinians and the list goes on and on.

As a Jew, as a rabbi, as a human being I was shocked.  Israel is a state that acts in the name of the Jewish people.  This attack was neither wise, nor ethical.  Is this what the ethical tradition of our people had come to?   We say that to be Jewish is to be compassionate,  “the compassionate who are also the children of the compassionate”?  Isn’t  the essence of our faith  that every human being is created in the image of God?

An Israeli friend told me of her experience at a family Hannukah party.  They turned on the television and saw the horrifying images of the bombing of Gaza and the smoke rising from the ground.  She was shocked by what she saw.  But then without another thought the members of her family turned off the television and resumed their party as if nothing had happened.  She was stunned that no one in her family missed a beat.  It was not significant enough to interrupt the joy of Hannukah.  It was as if the death and misery of Palestinians didn’t concern them.

Now a year later this seems an appropriate image to describe our reaction over the past year, we “turned off the TV”.

Overwhelmingly Israelis, even liberal Israelis, supported the military campaign assault.  Some Israelis called for a ceasefire but opposition to the war was minimal.  It is so striking that when Israel allowed the Phalangists to enter the Palestinian refugee camps in Sabra and Shatila and they killed 700 Palestinians, over 400,000 Israelis protested in Tel Aviv.  Last year Israeli soldiers, not someone else with Israeli permission, killed more than 1300  Palestinians and the largest protest in Israel was of 5-6,000 people many of them Palestinian citizens of Israel.

And there was the same reaction by Jewish organizations and leaders.  Everyone supported the military campaign.  Israel had no choice.  It had to defend itself.  If you dared to criticize the campaign you were a traitor to our people.

And we “turned off our TV”  by closing our ears to the devastating reports of human rights organizations in Israel and around the world issued before the war, during the war and till today about the unbearable suffering in Gaza.  – detailed reports by credible organization such B’tselem, Gisha, Shovrim Shtika, The Association for Civil rights in Israel, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and others.

We “turned off our TV” by the vilification of the Judge Goldstone and our concerted effort to squash the report.

Despite the efforts of our leaders to close our ears and hearts to the humanity of men, women and children in Gaza, for many Jews and for many Americans of all faiths, the Gaza assault marked a turning point in our relationship to Israel.   Many Americans who were deeply supportive of Israel simply couldn’t justify this action.  It raised disturbing questions about Israeli policy, questions that remain unanswered.

It was a turning point for me, too.   During the war I was devastated.  How could I support this brutal assault?  What could I do as a rabbi to stop the carnage, to express my opposition to this devastating military attack.  I was much too silent. Like other liberal rabbis I signed statements in favor of a mutual ceasefire but I didn’t raise my voice in moral outrage against the assault.

Why were we so silent?

We were so silent out of fear that if we expressed our opposition to the Israeli military operation we would be targeted as traitors by members of our community.  Many rabbis are legitimately afraid of losing our rabbinic positions.

Someone told me that a Passover Seder he raised the question of the Gaza assault.  It was hard to do, there were many there who supported the Operation and he was afraid.  He thought to himself what will I tell my Palestinian friends?  Will I tell them that I was a afraid to raise the question of their suffering because some folk may be upset by me doing so?

In June of this year, 10 rabbis came together to break the silence and created Taanit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza. Within a few weeks Taanit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza garnered the support of 300 people, including rabbis, ministers, imams, cantors and rabbinical students.

Our call is simple:

Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s blood is being spilled (Leviticus 19:16).

“As Jews, people of many faiths and people of conscience, we can no longer stand idly by Israel’s collective punishment of the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Since Hamas’ electoral victory in January 2006, Israel has subjected the Gaza Strip to an increasingly intolerable blockade that restricts Gaza’s ability to import food, fuel and other essential materials, and to export finished products. As a result, the Gazan economy has completely collapsed. Most of Gaza’s industrial plants have been forced to close, further contributing to already high levels of unemployment and poverty and rising levels of childhood malnutrition.

On three things the world stands: on justice, on truth, and on peace (Mishnah Avot 1:18).

From this we learn that justice, truth and peace are interdependent and irrevocably intertwined. Thus we cannot separate our call for justice in Gaza from the painful truth of this conflict and the ongoing tragedy of war in this tortured region. We condemn Hamas’ deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians. Out of the same ethical commitments we also condemn the use of much greater violence by the Israeli government, causing many more deaths of Palestinian civilians. Since the end of Israel’s recent military campaign, the severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza has grown all the more dire.”

Our call is three-fold:  Break the Silence, Lift the Siege, Pursue Peace

Break the Silence:  We must affirm the humanity of the residents of Gaza by breaking our silence about their suffering.  They are human beings, just like us, created in the image of God and as deserving of human dignity, compassion and justice.

Lift the Siege: The Israeli siege on Gaza by land, air and sea that is causing untold human suffering is an unconscionable attack on civilians.   This siege that is supported by U.S. government and the EU must be lifted.

Pursue the Peace: There is no military solution to the conflict.  The only real solution is a negotiated settlement and it is time for Israel to negotiate with all relevant parties including Hamas towards a resolution of the conflict.

There is an ancient Jewish tradition of calling a public fast in times of moral crisis.  The situation in Gaza is a moral crisis for Jews, people of all faiths and all people of conscience.  We fast once a month dedicating ourselves to do all we can to end the siege on Gaza and to advocate for negotiation and peace.  We support the Milk for Pre-Schoolers program of ANERA that provides fortified milk and a biscuit to children in Gaza.

There are now over 900 people across the world who have made a commitment to Jewish Fast for Gaza.  If you wish to join this growing community of conscience, you can sign up on our website.

Some Congressional Representatives have initiated efforts to ameliorate the suffering in Gaza.   Jewish Voice for Peace is one of several organizations that has promoted these efforts.

In a few weeks some 1400 people from around the world will be participating in the Gaza Freedom March.  We are proud that Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb and other members of Taanit Tzedek have made this sacred commitment.  To support them, visit the Gaza Freedom March website.

Now, a year later, the suffering in Gaza is even greater than a year ago.  Gazans have no way to rebuild their homes, to reclaim their agricultural land, to renew their lives as Israel blocks the entry of materials needed for reconstruction.  Israel still doesn’t allow sufficient food into Gaza, the water supply is contaminated and there is the danger of a catastrophic health crisis.

Tomorrow for Sahbbat Hannukah we will read a special Haftarah, a prophetic portion assigned by the rabbis for particular days.    For Shabbat Hannukah the rabbis made a surprising choice, they assigned the passage from Zachariah that ends:

“Not by Might, nor by Power, but My Spirit ”

The rabbis understood the dangers of military power, that human beings tend to believe that conflict can be resolved by military force.   For this reason, they were ambivalent about the Maccabees and expressed that ambivalence by assigning Zechariah’s prophetic words to be read on Hannukah.

This year these words are particularly powerful.  Operation Cast Lead is based on the belief that overwhelming military force will provide security for the people of Israel.  The rockets from Gaza are also a desperate effort to resist by military means.   Israel is less secure than before the operation.  There is no military solution to this or any other human conflict.  The only solution is political a direct negotiated settlement.  As the prophet Isaiah said justice is the only way to create peace and security.

For many in Israel the military resistance of the Maccabees is what is celebrated on Hannukah.  This story was very important in the history of Zionism and Israel who saw the Maccabean resistance as an inspiring model.

The rabbis offer a different meaning of Hannukah.  Hannukah is a rejection of power and military might and an affirmation of the Spirit of  God that inheres in every human being.  And it is this connection to the Spirit of Life that must be the center of our lives.

The small Hannukah candles are a reminder of the Divine light in each and every human being.  This Shabbat Hannukah, one year later, we are called to bring light to Gaza, the light of justice, compassion and peace.  Will we close our hearts and “turn off the TV”?

Posted in Gaza, Israel, Jewish Ethics, Judaism, Palestinians, Rabbis, U.S. Middle East Policy | 10 Comments »

British Jews do not speak with one voice!

Posted by rabbibrian on December 1, 2009

An open letter to Gordon Brown signed by British Jews in support of Judge Goldstone and his report on Gaza was published as full page ad in the London Times today.  “British Jews do not speak with one Voice” is the title of the open letter.

Could we imagine a full page ad in the New York Times from American Jews responding to the many ways the Administration, the Congress and Jewish leaders and organizations have worked together to bury the report?

Here is the text of the British ad:

OPEN LETTER TO GORDON BROWN ON THE GOLDSTONE REPORT:
BRITISH JEWS DO NOT SPEAK WITH ONE VOICE

Dear Prime Minister,
We appreciate your Government’s stated intention to
build bridges with the Jewish community in the light of
responses to the Goldstone report. To achieve this, it is
vital for you to recognise that British Jews do not speak
with one voice on this matter.
We welcome the Goldstone Fact Finding Mission on the
Gaza conflict as a key document in the upholding of
international law in situations of violent conflict, and
regret your Government’s failure to endorse the Report
and its recommendations at the United Nations General
Assembly.
We condemn the vilification of Richard Goldstone, an
internationally acclaimed jurist who has made a
substantial contribution worldwide to the development
and maintenance of international humanitarian law, and
his distinguished co-authors.
We note that the preparation of the Report was severely
hampered by the refusal of the Israeli authorities to respond to
reasonable enquiries or to facilitate access by the mission to
Gaza or the West Bank and that it was only Egypt’s assistance
which eventually allowed the Mission to gain access to Gaza.
We further note that the Report unequivocally condemns not
just Israel’s devastation of Gaza but also Hamas’s indiscriminate
rocket attacks against Israeli neighbourhoods and does not in
any way deny Israel its right to legitimate self-defence. We fully
support its recommendation that both parties conduct full
investigations into the allegations of war crimes in the Report.
We believe Israel cannot afford, nor should it wish, to exempt
itself from the scrutiny of the international community on these
matters. We consider that it is the attempt to do so, rather than
the Goldstone Report, that is damaging Israel. We therefore urge
you to endorse the Report at the next available opportunity.
SUPPORTED  BY: INDEPENDENT JEWISH VOICES http://www.ijv.org.uk  •  JEWS FOR JUSTICE FOR PALESTINIANS http://www.jfjfp.org  •  JEWISH FORUM FOR JUSTICE AND HUMAN RIGHTS http://www.jfjhr.org
JEWISH SOCIALISTS’ GROUPwww.jewishsocialist.org.uk  •  JEWISH WRITERS AGAINST THE OCCUPATION ann@barnowlbooks.com  •  SCOTTISH JEWS FOR A JUST PEACE http://www.sjjp.org.uk
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Posted in Gaza, Israel, Jewish Ethics, Judaism, Palestinians | 9 Comments »

Watch Goldstone and Gold discuss the Report

Posted by rabbibrian on November 5, 2009

TODAY AT 5:00 PM EST- RICHARD GOLDSTONE AND DORE GOLD DISCUSS THE GOLDSTONE REPORT LIVE ON STREAMING COMPUTER CONNECTION
November 5, 2009 Brandeis University

Richard Goldstone and Dore Gold Discuss the Goldstone Report

at Brandeis University

Watch it LIVE online!
www.brandeis.edu/streaming
Thursday, November 5, 2009

5:00 PM Eastern Standard Time

Film of the forum will be archived on the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies site after the event.

http://www.brandeis.edu/israelcenter/

Posted in Gaza, Israel, Palestinians, U.S. Middle East Policy | Leave a Comment »

“Congress insults victims of Gaza War”

Posted by rabbibrian on November 5, 2009

“Yesterday the US Congress gravely insulted hundreds of civilians who were wounded or killed in the most recent war in the Middle East.”

This is the opening line of a powerful article by Fred Abrahams, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, about the outrageous resolution passed  by Congress yesterday (344-36) condemning the Goldstone Report.  Fred, who I know personally, participated in a conference call on the Report for Taanit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza.

The non-binding Congressional resolution contains many factual errors and it reveals that most representatives have not read the report.  Yet it was rushed through Congress and only 36 Representatives had the courage to stand up to the Israel Lobby.  The resolution didn’t even call for independent investigations by both sides, the recommendation of the Report.  The Israeli public is debating this issue and many Jewish organizations and Israeli human rights organizations urged Congress to include a call for independent and credible investigation by both Hamas and Israel.   They rejected these requests.

Abrahams writes:

“The resolution succumbs to predictable American politics, in which criticisms of Israeli actions are rejected as delegitimizing attacks on Israel, and even as anti-Semitism. It misses a chance to break the impunity on all sides that has dogged the conflict and impeded efforts at peace. And, most significant for US foreign policy, it gives abusive governments around the world a handy excuse to deflect US criticism of their own unlawful conduct.

Abrahams points out the errors in the resolution:

“The resolution claims that the Goldstone report “makes no mention of the relentless rocket and mortar attacks” by Palestinian armed groups into Israel. But the report indeed documents these attacks on Israeli civilians, calling them war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

The resolution contends that the fact-finding mission’s mandate was biased, but fails to mention that the mandate was deliberately expanded to look at both sides. And the resolution claims that Hamas significantly shaped the report’s findings “by selecting and pre-screening some of the witnesses.” Goldstone has adamantly rejected that claim, and no one has provided any evidence that Hamas selected or pre-screened witnesses.

The resolution also repeats an oft-heard critique that the report “denied the State of Israel the right to self-defense.” The report does not question Israel’s right to use military force. It examines whether Israel and Hamas, in resorting to force, conducted military operations in compliance with the laws of armed conflict, which are designed to spare civilians as much as possible the hazards of war.

Before the vote Taanit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza encouraged our supporters to email or call congressional representatives urging them to vote against the resolution.   I called the office of Bill Delahunt, our representative.  Representative Delahunt voted “present”, although I wish he was one of those who voted against the resolution.  It is ironic that those who demand “balance” when anyone dares to criticize any policy of the Israeli government, have passed such a rushed and biased resolution.

Now Congress has joined the growing list of of those involved in covering up the war crimes committed during the war.  The  list includes among others: The Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative) , Rabbi Yoffie, leader of the Reform movement, the Anti Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and on and on.     The cover up continues…..

One suggestion for today: Check how your representative voted.  If they voted “no” call to thank them, if they supported the resolution, call them to ask why and to express your disappointment.  Let us know what you hear from them.

Even though the Congress wasn’t interested in talking to Goldstone,  you can listen to a wonderful interview we conducted with him.

Posted in Gaza, Israel, Jewish Ethics, Palestinians, Rabbis, U.S. Middle East Policy | 3 Comments »

Goldstone Transcript: Righteous in our Generation

Posted by rabbibrian on October 23, 2009

We’ve just uploaded the transcript of Ta’anit Tzedek’s recent rabbical conference call with Judge Richard Goldstone. As I wrote in my previous post this conversation with Judge Goldstone was extraordinary.   He reflects on his growing up in South Africa under Apartheid, his reasons to take on this Fact Finding Mission in Gaza, and the evidence that led to the commission’s determination that Israeli forces had intentionally targeted civilians in Gaza.  This Shabbat/Sabbath  we read about Noah who the Torah describes as a righteous person in his generation.  Listening to the audio or reading the transcript, you will hear a decent human being explain how he has pursued righteousness in his life.

See below for a cleaned up, very slightly edited version. You can also listen to an audio file of the entire interview here.

Judge Richard Goldstone: Thank you very much indeed, Rabbi Walt. First, I’d like to thank you and Rabbi Rosen for having arranged this call. I’m deeply appreciative, and I say good evening to all of the people listening in. As Rabbi Walt suggested, I’m going to spend a few minutes just talking about where I’ve come from and say a few words about the Gaza mission.

Firstly, as Rabbi Walt mentioned, I was born and grew up in South Africa. My parents were born in South Africa and my one grandmother was born in South Africa. The others came as very young children in the 1880s. And I grew up in a very typical upper middle-class white South African Jewish home. It was a Zionist home very much. My mother was very active in the Zionist movement from way back in the 1950s, before I was born. And that was the atmosphere in which I grew up. My parents opposed racial discrimination and apartheid but they were not activists at all, and I certainly met no black South Africans in my home. And indeed, until I went to university, to Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, I’d met no black South Africans as peers. So I grew up with the prejudices that were dominant in the white South African community generally, and that applied pretty much to 95% of the Jewish community.

The other point I’d make – and I’m sure Rabbi Walt would agree – I think the South African Jewish community is possibly unique, possibly not, but certainly in the South African Jewish community there’s no split between being Jewish and being Zionist as the two go together and I think are pretty much the two sides of the same coin. And that was certainly my understanding of the position – if one was Jewish, one was a Zionist and one supported Israel. And certainly I did that for my youngest days at university. I became, I think, the first chairman of the Younger [unintelligible] Association and then in 1966 I was recruited and became involved with World ORT. And that was my major commitment in Jewish life, to World ORT. I served for many years as the chairman of South African ORT. I joined the executive committee of World ORT [unintelligible] in 1967 and rose through the ranks to become President of World ORT for seven years. And at the end of that, I’m still the President Emeritus of World ORT.

I don’t believe that being Jewish has shaped my views particularly towards racism and racial oppression. As I mentioned, until I went to university I’d never met black South Africans and it was a watershed event for me. My first week at university was the first time in my life meeting black South Africans as equals, as peers, and striking up friendships and having lunch together in the university cafeteria. And I became angry and frustrated in that very first week at the inequity and unfairness of black students being equals on the campus but the minute they stepped off into the street they lived in a completely different world. They had to carry special ID documents, called passes. If they forgot them at home they were liable to be picked up and put in prison for the night. They went home to enforced segregated poorly developed black townships in Soweto, Alexandra Township. Many of them didn’t have electricity. Many of them didn’t have running water. And when I went home to a comfortable home in a white suburb with tarred roads and parks and electricity,they had to go to these very poor living conditions. And it was really in that first week that I became actively involved in the student anti-apartheid movement. And that, I think, shaped the rest of my adult career.

I’d like to think that being Jewish played a role. I’ve certainly had difficulty in understanding how Jews who have been persecuted for over two millennia can themselves be in support at all of any form of irrelevant discrimination, whether on grounds of color or religion or race and so forth. And yet I suppose we all are products of our own homes and the overwhelming majority of South Africans, if they didn’t actively support apartheid, certainly felt comfortable with it. And did very little to stop the racial oppression in South Africa.

The question of collective punishment was raised by Rabbi Rosen in his introductory remarks and, again, one of the things that shocked me in coming to Gaza was to see how collective had been visited on the people of Gaza, and saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears the affect of the blockade. And I fully support the action that your movement is taking in that regard. I’ve been involved, as Rabbi Walt indicated, with investigating war crimes and serious crimes against humanity not only in my own country but in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda – in Kosevo in particular. I was involved in investigations into the highest level of government when I joined Paul Volcker in the investigation into the United Nations Iraq Oil-for-Food Program. I have for five years now been a co-chair of the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, and I co-sign letters just about every week protesting a human rights violation in many countries around the world, including China and Iran and Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc. So it’s been part of my adult life, and particularly in the last fifteen or twenty years, to be actively involved in this area and particularly with violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

It was in that context that I found it difficult to reject a plea I received from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who is fellow South African I’ve known for at least the last twenty years. Initially, as is well know, I refused to become involved in the Gaza mission because I was not prepared to get involved with a mandate I considered not to be evenhanded, a mandate that suggested that only Israel had committed violations in the context of Operation Cast Lead. And I thought that was the end of it. But it wasn’t, because I was asked to meet with the High Commissioner and, more importantly perhaps, the President of the Human Rights Council, who was then the Ambassador from Nigeria, who asked me what I would consider to be an evenhanded mandate. And I informed him I would consider an evenhanded mandate an investigation into all relevant violations in the context of Operation Cast Lead, whether committed before, during or after the military operations launched by the Israel Defense Force. And the mandate that I explained was given to me by the President of the Human Rights Council and he said, “Well, if that’s the mandate that you think is evenhanded it’s my job to set up the fact-finding mission. That’s the mandate I’ll give you and I’m sure it will be accepted by the Human Rights Council.” Well, I wasn’t so sure about that, but in fact the President took it to a plenary meeting of the Human Rights Council and there was no objection to the expanded mandate. And I then discussed the mandate with the four sponsoring ambassadors, the four nations that sponsored the original resolution, and they had no objection.

I think that explains why the Human Rights Council last week adopted the whole report. I was always nervous that the Human Rights Council might treat the repor as a sort of a-la-carte menu and approve those parts which were condemning of Israel and would reject those parts which were condemning of the Palestinians, whether Hamas or Fatah. But in fact, those of you who would have seen or read about the resolution know that it adopted the whole report, which obviously includes the findings of serious human violations and humanitarian law violations – war crimes – on the part of Hamas.

It was a more difficult decision, I think, for me as a Jew to accept the leadership of the Commission. I knew there would be strong and negative opposition to my doing it on the part of members of the Jewish community and particularly the government of Israel and its supporters in Israel and the Diaspora. But I really felt that to live with myself and to live with my own conscience, I couldn’t justify having gotten involved in the investigations in many other countries and because I was Jewish refuse to use the same norms and the same principles in relation to Israel.

Let me say, to conclude this part, that I really did believe – perhaps naively, in hindsight – that the government of Israel would cooperate. I thought this was the first time that the Human Rights Council had ever given an evenhanded mandate in a matter relating to the Middle East. I thought this was a new direction – and it is a new direction, but I thought that the government of Israel would see it in that light and would cooperate. Unfortunately, when I wanted to discuss this with the Israeli Ambassador in Geneva my overtures were rejected. I sent further letters asking for a reconsideration of the initial rejection on grounds that were incorrect. The first rejection was on the basis of the original mandate, which I had rejected.

And I pointed out that that was incorrect and requested the Ambassador to bring this to the attention of his government. I then wrote a letter personally to Prime Minister Netanyahu, offering to come at short notice to meet with him or any members of his government who were relevant to discuss how the mandate should be approached. I requested their advice as to what incidents we should look into and their advice as to how our mission should implement the mandate.  There was no response for almost two months, until I received a letter from the Israeli Ambassador in Geneva saying on his own behalf and on behalf of the Prime Minister – and without reflecting on my own integrity and reputation – the Israel government was not able to work with us, or to cooperate.

So I think that’s the sort of general background of where I was coming from and how I got involved.

Rabbi Brant Rosen: Thank you, Judge Goldstone, so much, in particular for your comments in speaking personally as a South African Jew. I think towards the end we’d like to talk to you a little bit more to reflect on your experience in that regard. But we’d like to have our first set of questions really focus on the report itself, and in particular the methodology that you used to gather the information for the report. I think the first place that would probably be most helpful would be for us to hear you reflect a bit about how you gathered your information, and in particular how you verified the veracity of the information that you gathered. That was the subject of a number of questions that we received.

Judge Richard Goldstone: Well, for any of you that have the report, the methodology we adopted is set out in some detail in paragraphs 151 to 174, beginning on Page 41 of the report. But in general – let me first deal with Gaza. I’ll deal separately with the West Bank and with Southern Israel, and I make the distinction because we were allowed to go to Gaza but we weren’t allowed into Southern Israel and we weren’t allowed into the West Bank because of the attitude of the Israeli government. But in respect to Gaza, we interviewed many people. We conducted roughly a hundred interviews in Gaza: with victims, with organizations, with the United Nations, agencies, and so forth. We saw many of the witnesses in the office we were given in the U.N, in the UNWRA offices. We saw many of the witnesses at their own homes and people from the area came to see us in their circumstances.

Let me immediately refute with every conviction that I can muster the mischievous and untruthful suggestion that there was any Hamas presence anywhere near the places where we interviewed witnesses. It just isn’t true. Had it been so, I would have found that completely unacceptable and would have immediately stopped the process. So that just didn’t happen. The suggestion was made – I see there’s an Op-Ed in answer to an Op-Ed I’ve just published in the Jerusalem Post this morning in Israel on Monday suggesting that we were directed or influenced by Hamas in who we saw. Again, that is without any truth at all. We had our own independent staff. We had a staff of about sixteen, almost all lawyers. And in addition, we had interpreters obviously, from Arabic and from Hebrew. But our professional staff were – very few, maybe two or three, came from the permanent staff of the High Commissioner’s Office in Geneva. The other staff were recruited specially and came from about twelve countries, including Italy and the United Kingdom, Scotland and various other countries – South America – people really without any particular history or contract with the Middle East, but people who were experienced in investigations. Some of them had worked for the International War Crimes Tribunal, the International Criminal Court. And they spent some time in Gaza before we got there consulting and finding out what sort of incidents there were that we should consider looking into.

And we were given a very long menu of incidents, from which we chose thirty-six. It could have been 136. We had a very limited timeline of two to three months to investigate. And we decided to choose those situations which appeared to us to be the most serious, where there were the highest fatalities and injuries, to investigate in situations which didn’t appear to involve difficult decisions being taken by soldiers in what’s being called “the fog of war.” We wanted to look at situations that appeared, on the face of it, clearly to involve attacks on civilians in situations that didn’t appear to have any military justification. So obviously we chose what we wanted to look into, and that was the main guidelines on which we operated. We received documentation. We looked at thousands of pages of reports of other organizations. Because we got there fairly late – by the time we got there, there were investigations by Amnesty International, by Humans Rights Watch, by the John Dugard’s Arab League Report, and Ian Martin’s [unintelligible] Report on behalf of the Board of Inquiry that was set up by the Secretary-General into attacks on the United Nations facilities.

So we had a mass of written information, which we familiarized ourselves with. And we then started meeting witnesses, and obviously we asked questions of them. We inquired whether they had any Hamas connections. We obviously didn’t take at face value answers we got – we checked to the extent we could on the information we got. We tested it against information which some of the same people we saw had given previously. We checked for consistency. Obviously, all four members of the mission had had experience in this sort of activity and I think after having been a judge for twenty-three years I’ve got a pretty good idea of weighing up the veracity of people. I’m obviously not a psychologist, and mistakes can be made. But we certainly applied our best efforts in deciding on the credibility of witnesses we heard, the logical rationality of the information they gave us.

In addition, we commissioned UNOSAT, which is the United Nations satellite facility, to give us a full satellite report, which is part of our report. It’s a thirty-four page report with satellite photographs of Gaza before and after the Israeli Defense Force campaign. And we used that to corroborate or not corroborate a lot of the information we got with regard to damage.

So that generally is the approach we took.

Rabbi Brant Rosen: To follow up on the issue of the interviews and the veracity of the interviews, Ambassador Michael Oren has stated publicly that he believes the report is flawed because the only people interviewed were Palestinians and that the witnesses had to testify publicly, which meant they may well have been intimidated into providing false evidence. So how would you respond to such a claim?

Judge Richard Goldstone: Well, I reject the claim absolutely. The fact that we only spoke to Palestinians in Gaza speaks for itself. But even that is incorrect – obviously the victims were Palestinian, but we spoke to many members of the international community in the United Nations and in the foreign few embassies [unintelligible] representation to journalists.

And very importantly, we spoke to a number of really outstanding non-governmental organizations, both Palestinian and Israeli. I just have the highest regard and respect for some of the – particularly, perhaps, the Israeli NGOs who have been involved in Gaza with tremendous courage and commitment. And obviously, a lot of the information we got from them was important. A lot of photographs – a lot of photographic information, because these NGOs realized the importance of taking photographs immediately, actually during the war itself. And that provided important corroboration.

To give you just one example, I was very distressed at some of the graffiti I saw that we were told had been written on the walls of destroyed or damaged homes by the Israeli Army, in Hebrew and in Russian. And one of the questions I asked our staff was: how do we know this wasn’t put there afterwards as propaganda by the Hamas or Palestinians? And we were shown photographs taken really within very few hours of the damage being done, showing this graffiti on the wall. So it’s that sort of corroboration that’s very important.

Rabbi Brant Rosen: I think for many people who don’t understand how these kinds of investigations work, there’s this sense or concern that you’re only able to get to partial information – that you’re not able to get the whole picture. And I think it’s important for people to understand that you’re able to get the picture given the restrictions that exist during the investigations.  To that point, Judge Goldstone, you were quoted recently as saying that you personally wouldn’t be embarrassed if any of the allegations in your report eventually turn out to be disproved down the line. And some are suggesting that this means you may well be backing away from the findings in your missions report.

Judge Richard Goldstone: Well, you know, I’ve read that. It’s a complete, I suppose, misunderstanding. But certainly, it’s a wrong understanding of what I was saying. We weren’t conducting a judicial investigation, obviously. It wasn’t even a quasi-judicial investigation. It was a fact-finding mission. We didn’t make our findings according to the criminal standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. We didn’t adopt any formal standard, but I would say it was a prima facie case, reasonableness on weighing up the evidence.

And in most of the incidents we had a look at, the evidence went all one way. But obviously, if there were a criminal investigation and if some of the allegations were found to be true were rejected by a court of law or not being proven beyond a reasonable doubt – well, I would absolutely accept that and it wouldn’t be surprising. The information we’ve got would not be admissible as evidence in a criminal court.

I was in exactly the same position when I arrived at the Yugoslavia Tribunal. We had volumes of evidence and very strong findings made by an expert team on a fact finding mission that had been set up by the Security Council – allegations, hundreds of allegations of rape and torture and murder in Bosnia and Herzegovina – a very similar investigation to ours. We used that, as I mentioned in my interview with the Forward, as a roadmap – which was very useful, to be able to know where to go to investigate. And I see our report being useful in the same way. I still very much hope that by an open and transparent domestic inquiry in Israel and in Gaza the findings we made in our report, I’m sure, will be very helpful to investigators. But if a court of law came to a different conclusion, I wouldn’t have any problem about that.

Rabbi Brant Rosen: Thank you. I want to now refer back to a comment you made in your introduction, vis-à-vis the Human Right’s Council’s endorsement of the report last week. And maybe this is an opportunity for you to clear up a little bit of confusion. I believe it was quoted in your Forward interview, an interview you made with a Swiss newspaper in which you said that the HRC’s endorsement of your report was unfortunate because it only included censure of Israel and not of Palestinians. But you said in your introduction that it included both. I wanted to make sure –

Judge Richard Goldstone: Let me explain what happened. I was at a conference in Berne in Switzerland, an annual conference organized by the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This was on Wednesday of this last week, and I was sent the then draft resolution that was being put before the Human Rights Council the next afternoon. And in fact, I got it early on Thursday morning, if I remember correctly. It could have been Wednesday night. But I was concerned, because I read a roughly thirty-six-paragraph resolution that was in three parts, and only one part – Part B – dealt with the report. And there wasn’t a word in this resolution other than condemnation of Israel. I was concerned, and I’m still disappointed, that the resolution dealing with our report wasn’t a separate resolution. I think it should have been. It shouldn’t have been mixed in with condemnations about East Jerusalem and other matters that were not relevant to our report.

But it was in that context that I spoke. At the conference I was on a plenary panel and also had a press conference with the Swiss media, and I said that I was saddened by the fact that the whole resolution only condemned Israel, where our report also condemned Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups.

As a result of my complaint, the matter was taken up in Geneva. And it resulted in an additional paragraph being inserted into the section dealing with the report, condemning the targeting of any civilians and calling for accountability of all parties. And that was a clear reference to all sides. Even if it might not have gone as far as I would have liked, it seemed to me that that at least put into the resolution findings that involved both sides. So we’re talking about, in fact, two different resolutions – the original draft, which I objected to, and the resolution that ultimately went before the Council, which had the additional paragraph.

Rabbi Brant Rosen: Well, thank you. That’s helpful to clarify. Brian, would you like to take over?

Rabbi Brian Walt: Judge Goldstone, I think we want to move to the second area of questions, and I’d like to ask you more about the substance of the report and particularly about this question of intention, which has become such a big issue. For Israelis and for many supporters of Israel, there is a legitimate conversation about how one wages a war and how mistakes can happen in a war where civilians are hurt, and especially in a war where it’s between a nation state and a resistance group or what some people call terrorists. In your report, the report does go further and suggests some level of intentionality on the part of the IDF and I’d like you to elaborate on: what’s the evidence that led you to this claim? What do you have to back up the claim?

Judge Richard Goldstone: Well, I think there are two aspects one must look at. The one is in respect of the intent to attack civilian targets in urban areas, in built-up areas. The example I’ve been giving, because it struck me particularly in a very hard way, was the mortar shelling of a mosque during a service. The mosque was full of worshippers in the combined morning and afternoon service. They were combined because of war and a mortar shell came through the front door of the mosque and killed fifteen people and injured many more. That clearly is unacceptable under any interpretation of the law of war.  Now, the evidence by the Israel Defense Force in all the reports they put out – and we studied them carefully – is that they’ve got the sort of munitions and the technology that that doesn’t happen in error. And in the absence of any explanation to justify it, we came to the conclusion – certainly on the balance of probability – that that was intentional.

When we saw the terrible destruction Gaza, five thousand homes wholly or partially destroyed – in fact, many more partially destroyed – that’s not by error. That’s by design. The Parliament building, which was completely destroyed, the American school was completely destroyed – these are civilian targets. It wasn’t a mistake. The Israeli Defense Force doesn’t do those things by error.

And it’s consistent with that approach that there was this terrible damage to the infrastructure of Gaza. On what basis does one plow up, bulldoze, fields — huge tracts of agricultural land? On what basis does one bomb the water works? On what basis does one destroy a large part of the egg-producing capacity of Gaza? Tens of thousands of chickens killed. On what basis does one destroy the only flour factory in Gaza? And so on.

Now, all of those things were done intentionally. And there’s certainly been no response – our report has been out five weeks, over five weeks, and there’s been no, no explanation of any of the events to which I’ve been referring.

Rabbi Brian Walt: And do you draw a distinction, then, between the attacks on the infrastructure and the attacks on human life, or do you regard them as the same?

Judge Richard Goldstone: Well, it seems to me to be consistent – there’s one thread running through, and that was to punish the people of Gaza. It was a collective punishment. And I don’t believe that sufficient distinction was made between civilians and combatants in that respect.

Rabbi Brian Walt: So let me ask you about another question that has come up. These questions all have come from the rabbis and also from Rabbi Rosen and I collecting all those questions. This is a question that was submitted by a rabbi who’s participating in the call, and it’s the concern that the IDF claims that Hamas uses Gazan civilians as human shields in staged attacks from the midst of civilian areas – from schools, from mosques – and it goes directly to the question you just addressed, because the Israeli government claims that Hamas was hiding in these civilian structures. And furthermore, one of our questioners cited video evidence that has shown up on YouTube of Palestinians using rocket launchers from a school compound. Now, your report seems to suggest that you didn’t find much indication of this.

Judge Richard Goldstone: Well, the incidents we investigate – that’s true. And we said very clearly in our report that we didn’t exclude that that may have happened in situations that we didn’t investigate. So that certainly, as far as our report is concerned, is an open question. But certainly, as an international humanitarian lawyer – and incidentally, the YouTube reference that was made – we had a look at those photographs and other photographs we were sent. There’s absolutely no basis on which one can say when those photographs were taken. So if that happened three or four years ago, that would have no relevance, obviously, to Operation Cast Lead.

But to give you example, if three or four Hamas militants come onto a school ground, assuming they came onto the grounds of the American school in Gaza City and launched mortars from there and then ran away there’s no basis – there could be absolutely no justification for bombing and destroying the whole school. I obviously recognize the difficulty of fighting what’s being called an asymmetric war – a war between the Israel Defense Force on the one hand and non-state actors on the other. It’s very difficult, especially in a built-up area like Gaza. But by the same token, the laws of war require that the principle of distinction that is fundamental to the law of war, the distinction between civilians and combatants, has to be taken into account.

We investigated one situation, in fact, where homeowners that we consulted with described to us how two Hamas militants came with rocket launchers into their back garden, to their backyard, and were busy erecting the mortars. And the homeowner chased them out and said, “Don’t you dare do this from here. You’re going to endanger us.” And they left. But assuming that they had, at gunpoint, stopped being chased away and refused to be chased away and launched their mortars and then ran away I don’t believe that any international lawyer would justify the bombing of the home of those civilians who objected to this happening.

Rabbi Brian Walt: But the one way in which it doesn’t seem completely irrelevant – for instance, you say that the photographs don’t have any relevance or that of course if someone came and then ran away it doesn’t give justification to bomb the school. But it does in some way give some understanding as to how an army that’s fighting that war could make a mistake or could attack a particularly civilian structure that has been used by armed forces, by non-state armed combatants.

Judge Richard Goldstone: Well, of course mistakes can be made, as I say, in the fog of battle. But then it’s a matter to put before an investigation.

Rabbi Brian Walt: Right. And so you believe that what you found there is significant, is overwhelming evidence that you could safely say that this was not error, it was –

Judge Richard Goldstone: It was by design.

Rabbi Brian Walt: By design.

Judge Richard Goldstone: Correct.

Rabbi Brian Walt: That’s correct. Okay. And what you’re saying now is that what you would recommend is an investigation to really investigate that claim and the incidents that you describe in the report and in other reports and have a judicial investigation eventually.

Judge Richard Goldstone: That’s correct. Now, I would add another dimension, which is very important. We didn’t investigate because it wasn’t our mandate and we didn’t have the ability to investigate, on the assumption that these acts or any of them were deliberate, who was responsible. The question of individual guilt is a matter that seems to me to be calling out, crying out for investigation. Who gave the orders to bomb the American school? For what reason? I mean, we didn’t investigate the American school, but I drove past it on a few occasions. And it seemed to me to be a strange incident because the American school, on my understanding and from what we were told, was an anathema to Hamas. The American school stood for the United States Imperialism, for not teaching Islam, and it was a sort of focal point of opposition on the part of Hamas. And frankly, I would love to know why the Israeli Defense Force decided to completely destroy the whole school. I mean, it’s really razed to the ground.

Rabbi Brian Walt: Thank you so much. To end this section – I’m watching the time – many people claim that the report focuses in an unbalanced way on Israel. And in one particular way there seems to be consensus, or a large body of opinion, that Hamas or the armed groups in Gaza will never launch an internal investigation. And on the other hand, Israel has in the past launched an internal investigation, and there is reason to hope that Israel could, if it chose to, launch such an investigation. Do you think there are any sanctions that can realistically be placed upon Hamas and do you believe there’s any reasonable chance that they would carry out an internal investigation?

Judge Richard Goldstone: Well, I think if Israel carried out an internal investigation there would be huge pressure on Hamas to do the same. I think politically it would be difficult for them. The impression I got was that certainly some leaders of Hamas would like nothing more than to be recognized by the international community. They want to become part of negotiations and it seems to me from the cooperation that they indicated that certainly we got, in facilitating our visit to Gaza – and obviously, we couldn’t have come into Gaza if Hamas had said, “We’re not having you here.” Obviously, our lives would have been in imminent danger from the minute we set foot into Gaza. It’s the de facto government of the Gaza strip. So I think there would be tremendous pressure on them to do that. And I’ve been asked whether I thought that Hamas administration in Gaza is capable of an open and transparent investigation into the firing of rockets and mortars into Israel and, frankly, I don’t know. All I know is that they do have an operating justice system. They have murder trials and they sentence people to be executed and they’re caught, and there’s a very active Palestinian bar. But if they’re not then it’s a matter, it seems to me, for the international community – and particularly the United Nations – to insist that the investigation in Gaza should be done locally but certainly with strong international assistance. There would be enough lawyers and judges in the Arab world to make it possible. It’s a question of political will, not a question of ability.

Rabbi Brant Rosen: Judge Goldstone, if I might, just one final question about the substance of the report – this is reference something you mentioned earlier in reference to Israeli actions against Palestinians in occupied territory other than Gaza, namely the West Bank. The question is: if this was really a report focusing on potential war crimes during the period of Cast Lead, what would the relevance be in focusing any attention on Israeli actions in the West Bank?

Judge Richard Goldstone: Well, the mandate related to violations in the context of Operation Cast Lead. For example, one of the areas we looked at were actions taken by Fatah, by the Palestinian authority, to put down pro-Hamas demonstrations during Operation Cast Lead. The assassination of Hamas members on the West Bank, the detention and torture of Hamas or perceived Hamas members – this reached a crescendo during Operation Cast Lead and were clearly human rights violations that were associated with it.

Rabbi Brian Walt: So, Brant, can we move on to the next set?

Rabbi Brant Rosen: Yes, absolutely.

Rabbi Brian Walt: We have one mass set and then some final questions. The last set focuses more on what you started with, which was so moving, your description about how you were asked –I didn’t actually put this all together, that the person who asked you originally was herself South African, and then Nigerian – and the wrestling inside yourself about how you, as a Jew, speak out about Sri Lanka and China and all other countries in the world. And you were being asked to do something that challenging, which was about a country with which you had particular connection as a Jew.

We have several questions about this from the participants in this call, and I will just read you one that came to me. Do you think the fact that you are Jewish played any role in you being chosen to head the Commission? Did your Jewish identity play any role in your own experience of the investigation or writing the report? You answered that fully in the first part. But some people have criticized you for allowing yourself to be used, if in fact you were chosen to head the Commission partly because you were Jewish. There are people who are critical of you for having allowed yourself to be used by the United Nations as a Jew to help to do this investigation about Israel, and thus giving them cover. What do you say to such criticism?

Judge Richard Goldstone: Well, I reject that completely. I don’t believe I was chosen to lead the mission because I’m Jewish at all. Firstly, I wasn’t the first person approached. I happen to have been the first person that insisted on and managed to get an evenhanded mandate. But I was chosen obviously because of the experience I’ve had with investigating war crimes. This was the reason. And my Jewishness obviously would have been taken into consideration by the President of the Human Rights Council, whose decision it was. But certainly, being Jewish, I would have imagined – if I were in his position – would have been more negative than positive. I think I would have been, if I were in his shoes, concerned – as I’m sure he must have been, and as I was – that being Jewish would make me unacceptable to the Palestinians. And the immediate reaction from Hamas was a negative one. One senior Hamas member rejected the mission because it was being headed by a Jew. So the suggestion that I was, as it were, co-opted to – being misused or manipulated, I really can’t accept at all.

Rabbi Brian Walt: I wanted to ask: as a committed Jew, were you surprised by what you saw in Gaza? In what way did it differ from what you expected, and has it affected the way you think about Jews in Israel?

Judge Richard Goldstone: Well, certainly I was shocked. I’ve been shocked twice in my life in that context. The first was my first visit to Sarajevo after I became the prosecutor of the Yugoslavia Tribunal, where I’d read many reports about the damage done to Sarajevo and the bombing of mosques and so on. I’d seen video films of it but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I was flown over it in a helicopter during the war. It was a really dangerous trip, but I couldn’t believe mile after mile of absolute destruction. And it came back to me on the visit to Gaza, because one can’t drive a block in Gaza City or in Rafah or any of the other areas without seeing destroyed buildings, without seeing people living in makeshift tents. Because this is the one shocking aspect, as far as I’m concerned, and that is that the thousands and thousands of homes that have been destroyed are still in the condition they were at the time of Operation Cast Lead some six months before we went there because no rebuilding can be done because of the blockade and no building materials are allowed in. So it was the extent of the destruction that shocked me.

Rabbi Brian Walt: And how has that affected the way you –

Judge Richard Goldstone: Well, you know, it hasn’t obviously affected my attitude to Israel. My love for Israel remains unaffected. I’m critical of the Israeli government. I’m critical of the leaders of the Israel Defense Force. I understand the position of the foot soldiers. They take instructions and pretty much are affected by the philosophy that is applied to them.

Rabbi Brant Rosen: To the extent that you’re comfortable talking about this, the intense personal criticism that you’re receiving now from Israel, from American Jews, and even perhaps from South Africans as well – could you reflect a little bit about how that affected you, if you expected this response, and how you understand the intensity of this attack?

Judge Richard Goldstone: Well, certainly I expected criticism. But I didn’t expect the venom and the personal, what I consider really to be unfair, attacks. It’s saddened me. It’s upset me. It’s the sort of thing that keeps me awake at night – and not only for myself, but even more for my family because this obviously has had a tremendous affect on them. They live in Jewish communities; one in South Africa and one in Canada, and this obviously has a very serious affect on them.

Rabbi Brant Rosen: Is this the first time you’ve experienced something in this regard?

Judge Richard Goldstone: No, no, it’s not, not at all. I went through a very similar situation when I was investigating violence in South Africa, with huge criticism from many people in the white community – and in the Jewish community, who thought that what I was doing was unnecessary: why should a Jew get involved in these things? And that was still during the apartheid or towards the end of the apartheid era. So there were also – I got typed letters and there were letters to newspapers criticizing me for doing this, not so much as a Jew but as a white South African.

Rabbi Brian Walt: And do you understand that, Judge Goldstone, to be somewhat similar in structure in that you were then being criticized because you were breaking with your racial group –

Judge Richard Goldstone: Breaking ranks – absolutely.

Rabbi Brian Walt: – and now you’re breaking rank with your tribe, with your people, the Jewish people?

Judge Richard Goldstone: Absolutely. And one’s treated as a sort of traitor.

Rabbi Brian Walt: But that somehow your commitment to – not somehow, but your commitment to a universal ethic of human rights transcends those?

Judge Richard Goldstone: Well, absolutely. And this is why I admire what you’re doing, because I think as rabbis it’s very important to have that commitment to morality and to the norms – certainly I’m not an expert on Judaism or Judaic philosophy, but certainly I’ve grown up to believe that the Jewish tradition is a highly moral system and certainly one that recognizes the humanity of all people.

Rabbi Brant Rosen: You know, as Rabbi Walt and I have talked about this with one another, one of the things that occurs to us as rabbis is that there are these two Jewish values that often feel in conflict. One is this notion ” Kol Yisrael arevim zeba’ze’” – that, you know, we have a responsibility to our tribe, to our people. And on the other hand, there’s a very central Jewish value of Divine image and are worthy of dignity and justice. And how we as Jews work out that tension, I think, is very important. I’d love to hear if you have any thoughts about this – in your work, both as someone who’s a committed Jew but also someone who is committed to universal human rights, if you feel that tension as well.

Judge Richard Goldstone: I understand that. But I think at the end of it, one’s got to have one’s own moral – one has one’s own moral norms. And certainly, I hope that they’re consistent with Jewish ethics and Jewish teaching.

Rabbi Brian Walt: We want to honor your timeframe. You gave us an hour and we’re extending it a little bit and we’re almost at the end, so I really appreciate you spending the time with us. If we can just go on a little bit with some final questions, is that all right with you?

Judge Richard Goldstone: Yes, absolutely.

Rabbi Brian Walt: Thank you. These are some final questions. A question was submitted to us by a rabbi who notes that it was submitted by his grandson, who’s a student in international relations at Johns Hopkins and asked him to pose the question: how do you think your report, with its harsh condemnation of Israel for responding militarily to rocket attacks from an evacuated territory, affects the likelihood that the Israeli public would be willing to risk further withdrawals from any place in Palestine?

And Israel has warned, the Israeli government has warned, along the way that acceptance of your report will damage – I’m now going beyond the question. Israel has warned that acceptance of your report will damage the peace process. How do you respond to this charge, and how do you understand the connectionb etween the pursuit of peace and human rights?

Judge Richard Goldstone: Well, firstly, I really strongly believe – and it’s not just a fancy phrase – I really do believe that there can’t be any enduring or lasting peace without justice. I think you’re not going to get peace before victims are acknowledged – victims on all sides. I think that the victims of Southern Israel need acknowledgement. The evidence that was given to us in Geneva and the telephone calls – many phone calls were made by our staff to victims and people in Southern Israel to get their views. And we took advice as to whom we should speak – they were community leaders. It’s very important for them to get that acknowledgement. And it’s saddened me that Israel has completely downgraded to the point of ignoring, I think, a pretty full treatment of the victimization and the terror caused by thousands of rockets and mortars to the people of Sderot and Ashkelon and other parts of Southern Israel. I think the people there need that acknowledgement. They’ve suffered grievously. Their children are in fear and terror every day of hearing air raid sirens giving them less than forty-five seconds to get into shelters. You know, it’s really amazing that the death toll in Southern Israel has been as low as it is. It’s pure happenstance and luck. If one of those rockets had hit a kindergarten during school hours, the death toll could have been in hundreds.

So it’s really important, and I don’t believe that you can really have a lasting peace until these things have been put on the table, looked at, investigated, opened, the people responsible being prosecuted or a form of truth and reconciliation commission, as we had in South Africa – it needs to be done officially. And you can’t brush it under the table. You may get a ceasefire, but you’re not going to get peace. And that’s my firm belief from the experience I’ve had in South Africa and Yugoslavia and Rwanda and what I’ve read about and seen in Chile and other countries around the world.

As far as the Israeli public is concerned and stopping the occupation, this was a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. So it wasn’t done in pursuance of a peace negotiation or a peace treaty – it was driven by the politics of the situation. It wasn’t done out of any motive of giving freedom or recognizing the right of self determination for the people in Gaza at all. It had the effect of splitting Gaza from the West Bank and it was seen for what it was, a political maneuver. And if anybody thought that was going to bring peace and quiet from Gaza, obviously it wasn’t. And I don’t believe that there was ever any chance of that.

And as far as the Israeli government’s attitude to our report inhibiting the peace process – I mean, this is a shallow and I believe false allegation. What peace process are they talking about? There isn’t one. The Israeli Foreign Minister doesn’t want one – at all. The whole question over one state or a two-state solution – you know, what peace process are they talking about that is going to be impeded?

Rabbi Brian Walt: What do you think now are the possible scenarios of what will happen over the next six months regarding the report and what do you think would be the ideal scenario over the next six months?

Judge Richard Goldstone: You know, I hate being a prophet. I don’t have a crystal ball that I can trust. But certainly, it’s my hope – if you ask me what I hope will happen, it’s certainly domestic inquiries in Israel and in Gaza. There seem to be more calls for inquiries coming from Israel, and I see one of the Kadima members of the Knesset has called for an inquiry today. And I just published an Op Ed in the Jerusalem Post, as I mentioned, and there’s already a response from Allen Baker, formerly of the Foreign Office – who is, not surprisingly, highly critical of me, but ends off by also suggesting that there should be an inquiry, an investigation, in Israel.

If the Israeli government set up an appropriate open investigation, it would really be the end of the matter. That’s where the report would end as far as Israel is concerned, certainly with respect to most of the recommendations we’ve made. The other recommendations I think should go forward. There are questions that we looked at of environmental damage done by Operation Cast Lead, and we believe that should be looked at by appropriate United Nations experts. And it’s not only environmental damage to Gaza but also to Southern Israel, so Israel has got an interest in it. But certainly, the heart of the report would become pretty irrelevant if there were a bona fide open investigation.

Rabbi Brian Walt: I want to just thank you. Brant, I think we’re at that point, right?

Rabbi Brant Rosen: Yes.

Rabbi Brian Walt: I want to thank you so much, Judge Goldstone, for spending this time with us. I’d like to ask the people on the call to stay on the call. We have a few things we still want to cover about what we are going to do in relationship to this call. But I just want to say that for all of us it is such a gift. There are people on the call that are part of Taa’nit Tzedek, there are people who are not, there are people of different points of view on the call, and our intention was exactly what happened tonight – just to hear directly from you about your thinking about this and the values that informed you. And also the facts of the matter, because in the controversy there are a lot of charges being made that aren’t necessarily true. And I can’t thank you enough for your generosity in giving time to Taa’nit Tzedek and to our cosponsors and to the rabbis on this call.

Obviously we, as rabbis, are charged with being moral leaders of the Jewish people. And I know you along the way said you’re not an expert in Judaic ethics and so on. I must say I disagree — I think you’re an embodiment of Jewish ethics, but that’s my own particular evaluation of the work that you’ve done that I just find totally admirable and very inspiring in terms of your courage and your conviction about the idea that all human beings are entitled to human rights, and to protect an international humanitarian law that in some way draws a lot of its energy from the terrible experience that our people had during the Holocaust. So I really want to thank you so much.

Judge Richard Goldstone: Rabbi, thank you. Thanks to both Rabbi Rosen and Rabbi Walt for having set this up and for the most enjoyable hour and a quarter. I must say the time went very quickly.

Posted in Gaza, Israel, Jewish Ethics, Judaism, Palestinians, Rabbis, U.S. Middle East Policy, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

“It’s so sad that a respected member of the tribe would bash Israel so unfairly”

Posted by rabbibrian on October 15, 2009

“He sold us out,” says Ze’ev Krengel, Chair of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.   “It’s so sad that a respected, elder member of the tribe would bash Israel so unfairly.”

I grew up as a committed Jew in South Africa under Apartheid.  One of the most disturbing realities of Jewish life was the shameful silence of synagogues and Jewish communal organizations, including the Jewish Board of Deputies, about the cruel racism of Apartheid.   Individual Jews played a very important role as activists against Apartheid, but the more Jews were connected with Jewish life the less likely they were as individuals to be active opponents of Apartheid.  Jewish communal institutions and leaders, including most of the rabbis, were shamefully silent about Apartheid.

As a rabbi, and as a Jew who grew up in South Africa, I have always been so proud of those Jews who broke the silence of our community with courageous and principled opposition to Apartheid and those, who since the transformation of South Africa, have become human rights advocates in South Africa or around the world.

Judge Richard Goldstone is one those Jews.  As a judge he issued a judgement against the eviction of an Asian woman under the notorious Group Areas Act, a core Apartheid law that determined where people could live according to their race.  His judgement ended the evictions enacted under that law.  In the last years of Apartheid, as the chair of a commission into the use of violence by the secret agents of the Apartheid government against its opponents, he uncovered murder squads set up by the government and revealed the details of their despicable acts of violence.   In the early years of the new democratic South Africa, he served as a judge on the Constitutional Court.

In the international arena he became the chief prosecutor in the International Criminal Tribunals on Yugoslavia and Rwanda.   Judge Goldstone is also a committed Jew and Zionist, a member of the Board of Trustees of Hebrew University, a president emeritus of World ORT, to name just two of his Jewish communal commitments.

The vilification of Judge Goldstone  is just shocking.  Israeli and American Jews have accused him of being an “anti-Semitic” and much worse.  “He sold us out,” says Ze’ev Krengel, Chair of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.   “It’s so sad that a respected, elder member of the tribe would bash Israel so unfairly.”  Among South African Jews there is fury and a barrage of public criticism.

The attacks on Goldstone are unfounded.  Jews in South Africa were so proud of Judge Goldstone when he was a member of the Constitutional Court or prosecuting the crimes in Rwanda and Yugoslavia.   How does one justify celebrating Goldstone’s dedication to the rule of law in South Africa, Yugoslavia, Rwanda and anywhere else in the world, but not in relation to Israel.   A commitment to human rights means a commitment to the human rights of all human beings and it must include  those living in Israel, those living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank, and those living in under an Israeli blockade in the Gaza Strip.  We can’t expect Israel or the members of our “tribe” to get a “pass” on human rights violations.

For Jews, it is profoundly upsetting to even imagine that the Israeli forces may have committed such egregious violations of human rights in Gaza as detailed in the Goldstone Report.  Reading the report is painful.  It breaks our heart to think that Israel may be guilty of war crimes or of crimes against humanity.

The way to counter these claims is by a credible investigation but the government of Israel has steadfastly refused to initiate such an investigation.  It has refused to do so not only in relation to the Goldstone report, but also in response to reports by many highly respected Israeli and international human rights organizations that have issued numerous disturbing reports about Israeli actions in Gaza.  All these detailed reports support the findings of the Goldstone Report.  Until the government of Israel agrees to launch a credible, transparent investigation that contradicts the findings of the Goldstone Report, we have no choice but to confront the painful reality of the evidence presented by the Goldstone report and the reports of Israeli, American and international human rights organizations.  Most Jews haven’t read any of these reports.  If we care about Jewish ethics, Israel and the Jewish people it is time we do so.

Attacks on Judge Goldstone constitute an attempt at deflection, to turn our attention from the disturbing substance of the report, by attacking the messenger.  The statements by Israeli leaders, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and most recently, Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the Unites States, claiming that the report denies Israel the right to defend itself, is also an attempt to deflect attention from the report. Personally, Judge Goldstone is a Zionist and has repeatedly affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself and that the report does not address the issue of the right to wage war by either side.  The report focused solely on how Israel and Hamas acted during the war and particularly on the question of  whether appropriate efforts were made by both sides to minimize harm to civilians.  This was the sole focus of the report, not whether either side was justified in their attack.

Other efforts at deflection include a consistent focus on the original mandate of the mission and the bias of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.   Judge Goldstone has made it clear that he only agreed to take on leadership of the mission once the mandate was changed to investigate the actions of both Hamas and Israel.  This change was accepted by the President of the Human Rights Commission and by the commission.  It is true that the  Human Rights Commission has focused an unfair amount of attention to human rights violations by Israel.  The substance of the Goldstone report stands regardless of the nature or history of the Human Rights Commission.

In the face of a barrage of criticism, Goldstone has upheld the highest ethical traditions of our people and our history.  He took on the mission because “I believe in the rule of law and the laws of war and the principle that in armed conflict civilians should to the greatest extent possible be protected from harm.”

The report that he has prepared is very painful and disturbing to us as Jews who care deeply about Judaism and Israel. Unfortunately attacking the messenger will not free us from confronting the painful truth of what happened in Gaza.  Israel’s actions in Gaza violated international law and Jewish ethics.  This was true before the war when Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza and it is true today as the blockade continues.

I hope that Israel follows the recommendation of the Goldstone Report and launches a credible investigation of the charges.  If it doesn’t, I must support the report’s recommendation that the charges against Hamas and Israel be transferred to the Security Council and ultimately to the International Criminal Court.  I am sure that making this particular recommendation was not easy for Judge Goldstone.  For all who care deeply about Israel, this is very painful.  If we believe in human rights, we cannot expect the State of Israel to be exempt from international law.

The experience of living as a Jew under Apartheid has inspired many South African Jews to become dedicated defenders of the human rights of all.  In our tradition ethics has always been at the core of our faith and our understanding of what it means to be Jewish.

A true moral hero is one who follows the principles he believes in, especially when it is uncomfortable or painful. Judge Goldstone has done just that.  As a Jew who grew up in South Africa,  I am proud and grateful.

Posted in Gaza, Israel, Jewish Ethics, Judaism, Palestinians, Rabbis, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »