Friday, September 25, 2009

The Goldstone Report pretends to investigate whether Hamas used Gazans as human shields. As it does so, it bends over backwards to give the impression that Hamas is innocent even as the evidence it brings shows the opposite.

Goldstone starts off with the issue with allegations that Hamas forced civilians to act as human shields. Paragraph 473 states, not surprisingly, that none of the Gaza witnesses they called to testify claimed that Hamas forced them to stay in areas from where Hamas was attacking. Para. 474 mentions a 2007 incident where Hamas calls on civilians to voluntarily protect an area that israel was planning to bomb, but notes that this didn't occur during the war. Para. 475 mentions a video on YouTube where Hamas brags that Gazan women, children and the elderly act to protect areas from Israeli attack.

The report calls this "morally repugnant" but says it does not show that Hamas forced civilians to act as shields. (Interestingly, even though the video is crystal clear, Goldstone writes that "Mr. Hammad reportedly stated that...", the qualifier an indication of how the Goldstone report consistently valued evidence against Israel more than evidence against Hamas.)

At this point the impression that one gets from Goldstone is that the definition of human shields is where a group of civilians are forced to act to protect a military objective, and the report writes (accurately) that based on what they had seen, there was no evidence that this occurred. Of course, there is at least one video that indicates that Hamas did try to force civilians to act as human shields, but it is not clear that Goldstone was aware of it:

In addition, there are the published reports in Arab media from January that Goldstone should have been aware of, saying that Hamas did force the Abd Rabbo family to stay where they were so that rockets could be fired from their neighborhood:

The Abd Rabbo family kept quiet while Hamas fighters turned their farm in the Gaza strip into a fortress. Right now they are waiting for the aid promised by the [Hamas] movement after Israel bombed the farm and turned it into ruins...

The hill on which the Abd Rabbo family lives overlooks the Israeli town Sderot, a fact that turned it into an ideal military position for the Palestinian fighters, from which they have launched hundreds of rockets into southern Israel during the last few years. Several of the Abd Rabbo family members described how the fighters dug tunnels under their houses, stored arms in the fields and launched rockets from the yard of their farm during the nights.

The Abd Rabbo family members emphasize that they are not [Hamas] activists and that they are still loyal to the Fatah movement, but that they were unable to prevent the armed squads from entering their neighborhood at night. One family member, Hadi (age 22) said: "You can't say anything to the resistance [fighters], or they will accuse you of collaborating [with Israel] and shoot you in the legs."
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Jan. 27, 2009]

The next section of Goldstone talks about militants mingling with the civilian population in order to shield them from attack. Incredibly, Goldstone writes (para. 477) that "only one of the incidents it investigated clearly involved the presence of Palestinian combatants" - because that was the only incident where the Palestinian Arab combatants were wearing fatigues! Goldstone goes on to admit that there are reports that militants did abandon wearing military uniforms, but goes on to quote an NGO that "there is no evidence that they did so with the intent of shielding themselves" (para. 478.)

What other explanation could there be? Goldstone doesn't even hazard a guess.

Goldstone continues in his attempt to find ways to explain clear Hamas actions in ways that exonerate the group:
480. On the basis of the information it gathered, the Mission finds that there are indications that Palestinian armed groups launched rockets from urban areas. The Mission has not been able to obtain any direct evidence that this was done with the specific intent of shielding the rocket launchers from counterstrokes by the Israeli armed forces. The Mission also notes, however, that Palestinian armed groups do not appear to have given Gaza residents sufficient warning of their intention to launch rockets from their neighbourhoods to allow them to leave and protect themselves against Israeli strikes at the rocket launching sites. The Mission notes that, in any event, given the densely populated character of the northern half of the Gaza Strip, once Israeli forces gained control of the more open or outlying areas during the first days of the ground invasion, most -- if not all -- locations still accessible to Palestinian armed groups were in urban areas.
The bar that Goldstone creates of determining "specific intent" is much higher for Hamas than for the IDF, which it declares multiple times "deliberately" targeted civilians.

And notice how Goldstone excuses Hamas' using civilian neighborhoods, claiming that Hamas had no choice - as if there were no rocket attacks from civilian neighborhoods before the Israeli ground invasion. Again, Goldstone is doing everything possible to exonerate Hamas from war crimes.

The same logic continues on in para. 481:
While reports reviewed by the Mission credibly indicate that members of Palestinian armed groups were not always dressed in a way that distinguished them from civilians, the Mission found no evidence that Palestinian combatants mingled with the civilian population with the intention of shielding themselves from attack.
Finally, ten paragraphs later, Goldstone talks about the legal definition of human shields:
491. The Mission finds it useful to clarify what is meant, from a legal perspective, by using civilians or a civilian population as a human shield. Parties to a conflict are not permitted to use a civilian population or individual civilians in order to render certain points or areas immune from military operations. It is not in dispute that both Palestinian armed groups and Israeli forces were fighting within an area populated by civilians. Fighting within civilian areas is not, by itself, sufficient for a finding that a party is using the civilian population living in the area of the fighting as a human shield. As the words of article 57 (1) show (“shall not be used to render”, “in order to attempt to shield”), an intention to use the civilian population in order to shield an area from military attack is required.
Even though Goldstone started off the discussion as to whether Hamas forced civilians to stay in areas of fighting, at this point - 18 paragraphs later - he mentions that the legal requirement has nothing to do with someone being forced to act that way. The video of Hamas' "Mr. Hammad" that says explicitly that Gaza civilians were used to shield militants from attack is very relevant now, but Goldstone dismissed it above in context of whether civilians were forced to act that way - which is irrelevant for the purposes of this law.

In fact, there is video evidence that backs up Hammad's claims:

In other words, Goldstone organized the report structure itself in a way to make Hamas look as innocent as possible. Had he started off with the legal definition of human shield and then referred to the video above, the evidence is overwhelming that Hamas encourages this blatantly illegal action.

Yet in the very next paragraph, Goldstone goes back to his implied initial definition: 492. From the information available to it, the Mission found no evidence to suggest that Palestinian armed groups either directed civilians to areas where attacks were being launched or forced civilians to remain within the vicinity of the attacks.But there is abundant evidence that they located their rockets in civilian areas to shield themselves from retaliation, which is the legal standard!

As to the bigger question of whether Goldstone had material available to it which would have indicated that Hamas purposefully located rockets and mortars from residential neighborhoods, this video from ITN shown on CNN makes that very clear:

Not to mention published reports in Arab media of Hamas using people as human shields.

On this topic, where the truth is as clear as can be based on hard evidence, Goldstone twists the facts to try to make Hamas seem as innocent as he can. The difference between what he considers compelling evidence to accuse Hamas of war crimes and what he accepts vis a vis Israel's alleged war crimes could not be starker.

(UPDATE: Made some things a little clearer and added links to the Abed Rabbo human shield story.)

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