Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Right Way to Investigate Gaza.


by Evelyn Gordon

A group of South African immigrants to Israel submitted a novel proposal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week. Netanyahu, they said, should accede to the UN’s demand that Israel investigate its own actions during January’s war in Gaza. But it should do so in the only way that makes sense: not by focusing on Israel’s actions in a vacuum but by comparing them to those of other Western military campaigns in populated areas – for instance, American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan or NATO’s bombing of Serbia.

“I particularly mention Serbia, where the number of bombs dropped on a civilian population was tremendously high,” Charles Abelsohn, one of the proposal’s authors, told Haaretz. “This is how war is conducted. But all of a sudden, when Israel is involved, there is a law of human rights that doesn’t appear to apply anywhere else.”

The South Africans are right: The Gaza war can only be understood comparatively. Only by analyzing how the level of civilian casualties and efforts to minimize them compared with casualty levels in other Western military campaigns, only by assessing how Hamas’ efforts to use civilians as cover compare with those of other terrorist groups in other conflicts — only then can a fair determination be made about whether Israel is a war criminal, as the Goldstone Report claims, or whether it “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare,” as British Col. Richard Kemp claims.

Abelsohn is also right that such data would “assist those who are fighting the good fight on Israel’s behalf.” Without comparative facts and figures, Israel’s assertion that its Gaza operation was a model of morality will not convince anyone not predisposed to believe it – unless, like Kemp, they have the firsthand knowledge needed to make their own comparisons. But because most people have no combat experience, they have no basis for comparison.

During World War II, according to historian William Hitchcock, the British bombing of one single city, Rouen, on one single day, April 19, 1944, killed 900 allied civilians. And that figure, which was not atypical, does not even include combatants and enemy civilians.

By comparison, according to IDF figures, Israel killed 1,166 Palestinians in Gaza over the space of three weeks, of whom 709 were combatants. Hence, even if, as Palestinians claim, the total casualty figure was higher and the proportion of combatants lower, Israel would clearly not fare badly in an international comparison.

I doubt that would matter to the Goldstones of the world. But it would matter to those who would like to think well of Israel but are troubled by the endless stream of accusations, which Israel has done too little to counter. Israel needs to produce the necessary comparative data, and its friends need to make sure it gets disseminated. Indeed, this should have been done long ago. But better late than never.


Evelyn Gordon
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


1 comment:

shochu said...

Good idea, but not practical unfortunately.
Western countries will not be happy, if Israel will submit to UN a report about their warcrimes.

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