Justice Richard Goldstone, a widely respected South African judge, is no doubt an honorable man, but his report leaves much to be desired in objectivity. In fact, it is highly prejudiced – perhaps not entirely due to the Judge’s fault. Not having served in combat, he is clearly lacking insight into the intricacies of modern warfighting under complex urban conditions, such as happened during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The claim that Israel’s official refusal to co-operate with the UN Fact-Finding commission is to blame is highly dubious, as previous commissions raised by the United Nations usually ostracized every Israeli military action, even when carried out in undisputed self defense.
The Goldstone mission concluded that actions amounting to war crimes and possibly, in some respects, crimes against humanity, were committed by the Israel Defense Force (IDF). The Israeli armed forces constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of willful killings, using Palestinians as “human shields” in their actions in Gaza, the UN report’s executive summary claimed.
The report concludes that the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole. In most of the incidents investigated by it, and described in the report, loss of life and destruction caused by Israeli forces during the military operation, was a result of disrespect for the fundamental principle of ‘distinction’ in international humanitarian law that requires military forces to distinguish between military targets and civilians and civilian objects at all times.
Amnesty International’s Donatella Rovera, who headed Amnesty International’s investigation into the conflict in Israel and Gaza said after the Goldstone report’s release that “The UN Human Rights Council should endorse the report and its recommendations and request the UN Secretary-General to refer it to the UN Security Council. Unfortunately, no such action was ever called for during eight long years of incessant bombarding of Israel’s sovereign territory by Hamas, even after the Gaza Strip was unilaterally vacated from every last Israeli citizen and soldier in August 2005.
Even Israeli human rights organizations called upon the Israeli Government “to take the one-sided Goldstone report seriously and to refrain from automatically rejecting its findings or denying its legitimacy”. Ironically, but not surprisingly, the pathetic fact is, that there are no Human Rights organizations in the Arab world, which is in sixty years of continuous conflict with Israel.
But from time to time there is a refreshing glimpse of light at the far end of the somber tunnel, in which Israeli citizens spend their lives, constantly suffering under condemnation from their own and foreign, usually prejudiced media reports.
Colonel Richard Kemp CBE, served in the British Army from 1977 until 2006. Among his many appointments, he was Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan. An army veteran of 30 years, much of it in combat, the colonel knows what he is talking about, when he assesses complex asymmetric counter-insurgency operations in the Middle East. In a lecture which he held recently, and broadcast on TV, the veteran commander has offered a clear and unfettered view on military actions against Islamic fundamentalist terrorists: “The same tactics tried and tested by Hezbollah on IDF soldiers in Lebanon have also killed British soldiers in Helmand Province and in Basra,” Colonel Kemp said. “Groups are trained and equipped for warfare fought from within the civilian population. Islamist fighting groups ignore the international laws of armed conflict, but they study it carefully and understand it well. Their very modus operandi is built on the cynical assumption that Western armies will normally abide by the rules. In Gaza, as in Basra, as in the towns and villages of southern Afghanistan, civilians and their property are routinely exploited by these groups, in deliberate and flagrant violation of any international laws”.
The unfortunate fact is that on the tactical level, protected buildings, mosques, schools and hospitals are used as strongholds allowing the enemy the protection not only of stone walls, but also from international law, producing international outcry and condemnation, when attacked. Islamic insurgents cleverly exploit the international media, as a critical element in their overall military strategy. Colonel Kemp recalls media reports screaming outcry, when the US Army bombarded a Fallujah mosque, in Iraq, from which insurgents fired and killed five Marines, only minutes before!
When accusing the IDF using Palestinians as “human shields” in Gaza, the report seems to forget that Hamas fighters who previously proudly wore black or khaki uniforms, discarded them when Operation Cast Lead began, blending-in with the crowds and use these as their human shields! Similar practice is used these days in Afghanistan. British soldiers patrolling in Helmand Province will come under sustained rocket, machine-gun and small-arms fire from within a populated village or a network of farming complexes containing local men, women and children. According to Colonel Kemp, like Hamas in Gaza, the Taliban in southern Afghanistan are masters at shielding themselves behind the civilian population and then melting in among them for protection. Female suicide bombers are almost commonplace. “When an enemy flouts the rules of war then we cannot shy away from hard decisions. Schools and civilian buildings are routinely booby-trapped. Snipers shelter in houses deliberately filled with women and children,” the veteran colonel remembers. “We respect international norms and the sanctity of holy places. However, when our troops take fire from these locations or roadside bombs stored there are used to murder the innocent, we have no choice other than to act.”
It is often overlooked in media and human rights groups’ frenzies, exposing fault among military forces fighting in the toughest conditions, that junior military commanders must make a snap judgment between the safety of their own troops and that of other people. For soldiers to follow their commander into mortal combat – at any level, but especially at the point of battle – they must trust him completely. Loyalty to the men under his command is crucial in combat- and the decision rests entirely on his shoulders.
Colonel Kemp: “In combat you are surrounded by your men, yet you are nevertheless totally alone. More than often you, as a commander have not slept for days, you are shattered by the loss of some of your men and wet with sweat and sometimes blood, you are overcome by the noise of battle and total chaos raging all around. Still you have to keep calm and install confidence in your men, who depend of your judgment with their lives. Moreover, the battle manifests itself as a wall of noise that surrounds you, interspersed with the infantryman’s most detested sound, incoming bullets cracking above, to the side and below your head. Amid the disorientation, the smoke, the fire, the explosions, the ear-piercing rattle of bullets, the screams of the wounded, the incomplete intelligence picture and the failure of technology, commanders and soldiers must work on to achieve their mission, no matter how hard it gets”.
Every soldier who has been in combat – whether it is Gaza, Lebanon, Afghanistan or Iraq – can testify to the chaos and confusion of war. Unfortunately, only few of the more courageous media reporters are brave enough to join men into mortal combat. Those who dare, emerge with a totally different kind of reporting, however.
It is sometimes forgotten, that in the IDF, the fighting men, are youngsters, right out of school, which are facing the challenges of mortal combat for the first time. Exposed to the hazards of war and human misery – turns them, almost overnight into battle-hardened veterans. Their commanders are not much older, but shoulder huge responsibilities in combat, having to choose between life and death of their men within minutes. These are facts, not the fantasies reported by ignorant media reporters, or post-war fact-finding commissions, writing their reports, while safely protected in quiet air-conditioned studios and offices.
The Goldstone report, as did the other “Human Rights” condemnations, purposely ignored, that the IDF gave at least four hours’ notice to civilians to leave areas targeted for attack. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza, the IDF unilaterally announced a daily three-hour cease fire. The air force dropped over 900,000 leaflets warning the population of impending attacks to allow them to leave designated areas. Over 30,000 Palestinian households in Gaza received phone-calls urging them in Arabic to leave homes. All these actions were totally disregarded by the media and the UN Goldstone Commission!
According to Colonel Richard Kemp, by taking these actions before and during Operation Cast Lead the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other Army in the history of warfare. This sober assessment by such an experienced officer, should speak for itself, to clear the IDF from so-called “criminal acts against humanity”.
Bar the shouting by the media, probably the most important result from Operation Cast Lead is the fact that since the cease fire, last January – for the first time in nearly a decade, people on Israel’s border can breathe freely, without coming under constant rocket and mortar fire alerts. Hamas and Hezbollah (and perhaps even the Islamic clerics of Tehran) seemed to have learnt the lesson, that Israel was certainly no “Paper Tiger” and that its strong bite still proved a painful deterrent.