Aren’t the British sickened by the moral confusions of their government? First, we have the weasel words to justify the unjustifiable release of the Lockerbie bomber. Now we have the sickening spectacle of Britain failing to stand by Israel, the only democracy with an independent judiciary in the entire region.
It was to be expected that the usual suspects of the risible UN human rights council would be eager to condemn Israel for war crimes in defending itself against Hamas. If you treat people as the Chinese do the Tibetans or Uighurs (“Off with their heads!”); or as the Russians eliminate Chechen dissidents; or as the Nigerians tolerate extrajudicial killings, the evictions of 800,000, rape and cruel treatment of prisoners; or as the Egyptians get prisoners to talk (torture) and the Saudis suppress half their population … well, go through the practices of all 25 states voting to refer Israel to the security council for the Gaza war, and you have to acknowledge they know a lot about the abuse of humans. Anything to divert attention from their own atrocities.
Only six refused to join the farce – Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Slovakia, Ukraine and the US. Britain didn’t just abstain. It shirked voting at all (along with those beacons of civilisation Angola, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, and surprisingly, France).
Of course, here the fig leaf for being scared of dictators, especially oil-rich abusers, is the report by the South African judge Richard Goldstone. Poor Judge Goldstone now regrets how his good name has been used to single out Israel. The Swiss paper Le Temps reports him complaining that “This draft [UN human rights council] resolution saddens me … there is not a single phrase condemning Hamas as we have done in the report. I hope the council can modify the text.” Fat hope.
The truth is he was suckered into lending his good name to a half-baked report – read its 575 pages and see. He said that, as a Jew himself, he was surprised to be invited. He shouldn’t have been, and should never have accepted leadership of a commission whose terms of reference were designed to excuse the aggressor, Hamas, and punish the defender, Israel. The council’s decision was to “dispatch an urgent, independent, international fact-finding mission … to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying power, Israel, against the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, due to the current aggression, and [it] calls upon Israel not to obstruct the process of investigation and to fully co-operate with the mission”.
Israel is not an “occupying power” in Gaza in either fact or international law. Four years ago it voluntarily pulled out all its soldiers and uprooted all its settlers. Here was a wonderful chance for Gaza to be the building block of a Palestinian state, and for Hamas to do what the Israelis did – take a piece of land and build a model state. They didn’t. Instead of helping the desperate Palestinians, they conducted a religious war.
In signing on for the UN mission – with others who had already condemned Israel – it seems to have escaped the judge that Hamas is committed not just to fight Israeli soldiers; it is a terrorist organisation hellbent on the destruction of the state of Israel. The terms of reference he accepted validate the torment of Israeli civilians. Hamas launched 7,000 rockets – every one intended to kill as many people as possible – then contemptuously dismissed repeated warnings from Israel to stop or face the consequences.
The rockets were war crimes and ought to have been universally condemned as such. While new rockets hit Israel over many months there was no rush by the world’s moralisers – including Britain – to censure Hamas, no urgency as there was in “world opinion” when Israel finally responded. Then Israel was immediately accused of a “disproportionate” response without anyone thinking: “What is a ‘proportionate’ attack against an enemy dedicated to exterminating your people?” A dedication to exterminating all of his?
Israel risked its own forces by imposing unprecedented restraint. In testimony volunteered to the human rights council (and ignored), Colonel Richard Kemp, a British commander in Bosnia and Afghanistan, stated: “The Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.” The “collateral damage” was less than the Nato allies inflicted on the Bosnians in the conflict with Yugoslavia.
No doubt there were blunders. A defensive war is still a war with all its suffering and destruction. But Hamas compounded its original war crime with another. It held its own people hostage. It used them as human shields. It regarded every (accidental) death as another bullet in the propaganda war. The Goldstone report won the gold standard of moral equivalence between the killer and the victim. Now Britain wins the silver. Who’s cheering?
Harold Evans, reporter, columnist, broadcaster, author, editor of dailies and Sundays and, in the US, of a tabloid.