By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH
October 19, 2009
Richard Goldstone has become a household name. Palestinians know him because he is the UN-commissioned judge who called Israel out on its grave war crimes and human rights violations in Gaza during Cast Lead. Israelis know him because Goldstone represents a "self-hating Jew", a man who says he is Zionist and loves Israel but who nevertheless exposed the Israeli army and the government that directs it for its brutal pummeling of a largely unarmed population, which caused unimaginable devastation in its wake. The Americans know him because they understood that to keep Israel happy they would have to reject, delay and oppose the Goldstone Report in any forum possible. This is exactly what they did, last week in the UN Human Rights Council, when the US along with five other countries voted against endorsement of the report.
The report still passed, thankfully, because 25 other countries knew it was time for Israel to be held accountable for the crimes it committed.
For Israel, the Goldstone Report has assumed a life of its own, one which they probably had not anticipated. When the South African judge first came to Gaza, he requested, very strongly, from Israel to cooperate. Israel would hear nothing of it and banned Goldstone and his team from even entering Gaza from an Israeli border, thus forcing them to travel to Egypt and enter though the Rafah Crossing. Perhaps naively enough, Israel thought if it turned Goldstone away and closed its own eyes to what it knew Goldstone would uncover, this whole nightmare would go away.
That did not happen, obviously. On the contrary, not only is Israel being criticized for not cooperating with the UN team, it is now under close scrutiny for the acts it committed against the people of Gaza in 22 days of bombardment, shelling and devastation. If nothing else, the Goldstone Report has put Israel on the defensive in an unprecedented manner, which is no doubt, an achievement of its own.
Still, this is not enough. A report like Richard Goldstone's is one that the Palestinians have been long hoping for. We first looked for endorsement, now we want action. Unfortunately, given the history of the UN, the United States and most other western countries in dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the justice we seek is not the justice that will be served. One fundamental reason why resolutions on the Palestinians continue to fall through is because of an absurd premise that anything remotely pro-Palestinian is disregarded as "one-sided." That is how the United States described the Goldstone Report simply because it put more emphasis on Israel's violations than Hamas'. Isn't that logical given the fact that one, Israel is the occupying power with one of the strongest armies in the world and thus has the upper hand, and two, during its invasion it killed a staggering 1,400-plus Palestinians – overwhelmingly civilian – against a handful of Israeli casualties?
But this seems to be the modus operandi vis-à-vis the Palestinians who are constantly put on equal ground with the Israelis when it comes to accountability. "Both sides must show constraint" the US is often saying when violence flares up in the occupied territories. "The suffering on both sides," is another phrase used when describing the deaths of scores of Palestinians and a few Israelis. "Both sides need to show flexibility, be willing to compromise for the sake of peace."
There is an inherent flaw in all of these statements. When referring to the Palestinians and Israelis, the term "both sides" should not be used in equal terms. We are not equal in regards to political standing. We are far from equal when it comes to military might and we are certainly not equal in terms of realities on the ground. That is why the term "both sides" is so misleading. It implies that the Palestinians and Israelis are bound by the same obligations in terms of their commitments to one another. It also implies that the Palestinians and Israelis enjoy the same political and economic benefits and privileges at home and abroad.
This could not be farther from the truth. How is it possible that Palestinians must show "restraint" in a situation where they are being bombed by F-16s, heavy artillery shells and phosphorous bombs? Yes, there are some groups that fire Qassam rockets into Israeli territory as a response to Israel's oppression. But there is no comparison between the two, not in terms of capacity, damages or accuracy. When we talk about Israel, we are talking about a highly skilled, highly technological army that can devastate vast areas of land and kill dozens of people with a push of a button. Then, after the devastation is complete, it has the power to clamp down a closure so tight on the entire Strip that people are forced to smuggle in everything from baby formula to sheep through underground tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. Israel is a force to be reckoned with and it has somehow secured a spot in the international community as a "democratic, civilized country", which, when it carries out these acts of destruction, is doing so in the name of its own security and self-defense.
The Palestinians on the other hand, are an occupied people. They do not have a sovereign state, an army or independent borders. They have an Authority, which governs their internal affairs and their dealings with the outside world, including negotiations with Israel, but this Authority has no power outside the jurisdictions that Israel allows it. When "violence" occurs with Israel, it is by a frustrated, oppressed and beleaguered people. Even in Gaza, where Israel and the world at large blame Hamas for the rockets, it must be mentioned that Hamas is also not a government (even though it would like to think it is). It governs an extremely frustrated people who have been caged in this coastal strip for over two years now and who see no hope for the future. One can only wonder how Israelis would act if they were in the same situation.
The point here is that while the Palestinians should be held accountable for their actions just like any other people in this world, they should not be held to the same standards as their occupier, simply for the very reason of their occupied status. When addressing Israel's relationship with the Palestinians, the first thing that should be mentioned is its 42-year old occupation of this people and its land. If Israel is held accountable for this and this only – an occupation that has resulted in a slew of international law breaches and violations of human rights – then the international community's dealing with us – including the future of the Goldstone Report - may finally become more balanced and justice may actually be served.
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.