Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Did The Same Israel That Saved Lives In Haiti, Purposely Destroy Hospitals In Gaza?

It doesn't make sense, but the Goldstone Report makes a point of claiming that Israel purposely singled out a number of targets that make it guilty of war crimes--and hospitals are among them.

According to the Executive Summary of the Goldstone Report:
The Mission did not find any evidence to support the allegations that hospital facilities were used by the Gaza authorities or by Palestinian armed groups to shield military activities or that ambulances were used to transport combatants or for other military purposes. On the basis of its own investigations and the statements by United Nations officials, the Mission excludes that Palestinian armed groups engaged in combat activities from United Nations facilities that were used as shelters during the military operations. The Mission cannot, however, discount the possibility that Palestinian armed groups were active in the vicinity of such United Nations facilities and hospitals. While the conduct of hostilities in built-up areas does not, of itself, constitute a violation of international law, Palestinian armed groups, where they launched attacks close to civilian or protected buildings, unnecessarily exposed the civilian population of Gaza to danger.
...39. The Mission also finds that, on the same day, the Israeli armed forces directly and intentionally attacked al-Quds hospital in Gaza City and the adjacent ambulance depot with white phosphorous shells. The attack caused fires which took a whole day to extinguish and caused panic among the sick and wounded who had to be evacuated. The Mission finds that no warning was given at any point of an imminent strike. On the basis of its investigation, the Mission rejects the allegation that fire was directed at the Israeli armed forces from within the hospital. 
40. The Mission also examined the intense artillery attacks, again including white phosphorous munitions, on al-Wafa hospital in eastern Gaza City, a facility for patients receiving long-term care and suffering from particularly serious injuries. On the basis of the information gathered, the Mission found a violation of the prohibition of attacks on civilian hospitals in both cases. The Mission also highlights that the warnings given by leaflets and pre-recorded phone messages in the case of al-Wafa hospital demonstrate the complete ineffectiveness of certain kinds of routine and generic warnings.
...68. The military operations and resulting casualties subjected the beleaguered Gaza health sector to additional strain. Hospitals and ambulances were targeted by Israeli attacks. Patients with chronic health conditions could not be given priority in hospitals faced with an influx of patients with life-threatening injuries. Patients injured during the hostilities were often discharged quickly to free beds. The long-term health impact of these early discharges, as well as of weapons containing substances such as tungsten and white phosphorous, remains a source of concern. While the exact number of people who will suffer permanent disabilities is still unknown, the Mission understands that many persons who sustained traumatic injuries during the conflict still face the risk of permanent disability owing to complications and inadequate follow-up and physical rehabilitation. 
...From the facts ascertained by it, the Mission believes that Israel has violated its obligation to allow free passage of all consignments of medical and hospital objects, food and clothing (article 23 of the Fourth Geneva Convention). The Mission also finds that Israel violated specific obligations which it has as the occupying Power and which are spelled out in the Fourth Geneva Convention, such as the duty to maintain medical and hospital establishments and services and to agree to relief schemes if the occupied territory is not well supplied. 
Needless to say, the charges are serious and demand a complete and thorough explanation from Israel as to why in fact it should not be accused of and held accountable for war crimes.

The fact of the matter is, however, that contrary to Col. Desmond Travers--who as late as January 23, 2010 has continued to insist that "so far, no substantive critique of the report has been received"--the fact of the matter is that based on a variety of critiques of the substance of the Goldstone Report that have consistently appeared since last year, a number of questions have been raised about many of the findings of the Goldstone Report, and the claim that Israel deliberately targeted hospitals is one of them.

In The Operation In Gaza: Factual And Legal Aspects, that appeared online on July 29, 2009, Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs points to an article in The Sydney Morning Herald: Hamas tried to hijack ambulances during Gaza war.

Among the points made clear in the article:
  • Mohammed Shriteh, an ambulance driver registered with Palestinian Red Crescent Society told Jason Koutsoukis: We would co-ordinate with the Israelis before we pick up patients, because they have all our names, and our IDs, so they would not shoot at us.
  • Hamas would lure the ambulances into the middle of a battle in order to move its fighters to safety.
  • Hamas attempted several times to hijack the al-Quds Hospital's fleet of ambulances during the war.
Contrary to the claims of the  Goldstone Report, Israel demonstrated respect for life and for the safety of Palestinian civilians to the degree it was possible. Hamas clearly did not.

Concerning the al-Quds hospital, there were indications that more than just the ambulances were being used by Hamas terrorists. According to Newsweek magazine:
One of the most notorious incidents during the war was the Jan. 15 shelling of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society buildings in the downtown Tal-al Hawa part of Gaza City, followed by a shell hitting their Al Quds Hospital next door; the subsequent fire forced all 500 patients to be evacuated. Asked if there were any militants firing from the hospital or the Red Crescent buildings, hospital director general Dr. Khalid Judah chose his words carefully. "I am not able to say if anyone was using the PRCS buildings [the two Palestine Red Crescent Society buildings adjacent to the hospital], but I know for a fact that no one was using the hospital." In the Tal-al Hawa neighborhood nearby, however, Talal Safadi, an official in the leftist Palestinian People's Party, said that resistance fighters were firing from positions all around the hospital. He shrugged that off, having a bigger beef with Hamas. "They failed to win the battle." Or as his fellow PPP official, Walid al Awad, put it: "It was a mistake to give Israel the excuse to come in."
The use of the al Quds hospital for cover by Hamas is further verified by a report from Corriere della Sera:
“Magah al Rachmah, aged 25, residing a few dozen meters from the four large buildings of the now seriously damaged health complex, says about this fact: ‘The men of Hamas took refuge mainly in the building that houses the administrative offices of al Quds.  They used the ambulances and forced ambulance drivers and nurses to take off their uniforms with the paramedic symbols, so they could blend in better and elude Israeli snipers.’”
Now remember, the Goldstone Report did not say that it found evidence of Hamas using hospitals to be tenuous or unconvincing--on the contrary, it claimed that such evidence did not even exist:
The Mission did not find any evidence to support the allegations that hospital facilities were used by the Gaza authorities or by Palestinian armed groups to shield military activities or that ambulances were used to transport combatants or for other military purposes.
More to the point, the Goldstone Report distorts the evidence that Israel brings to bear on the issue, by referencing the Newsweek article, but ignoring the corroboration of Corriere della Sera. In UN's Goldstone Report Contains Major Error that Calls into Question Work’s Credibility, CAMERA demonstrates how clearly both sources are presented side-by-side in Israel's report

and makes the obvious point:
If Justice Goldstone and his eminent colleagues can’t even accurately characterize and quote from a straightforward Israeli report, why would anyone trust them to do anything more complicated? Like, for example, impartially investigating alleged war crimes.

Whether this was an honest error, or something less innocent, it raises grave questions about the credibility of the Goldstone report.
In an open letter to Judge Goldstone, CAMERA notes that not only did the Goldstone Commission not follow up on the Corriere della Sera report, a further question is:
Why did the Mission choose not to visit the al-Shifa Hospital or investigate allegations that Hamas leaders and fighters used this hospital as a base, especially given the testimony by a captured Islamic Jihad fighter to this effect and the determination by Israeli intelligence that Hamas utilized al-Shifa Hospital as a meeting and distribution center for their operatives? (The testimony is summarized in English on Israel's Shabak (Security Agency)  site:  and the intelligence findings in this article.)
How odd that what claims to be a fact-finding mission, with an obvious interest in demonstrating evenhandedness in its dealings with both Hamas and Israel claims, should so readily ignore crucial evidence--especially since the Goldstone Report actually goes beyond the mere fact-finding that was its announced goal and announces its conclusion that Israel is guilty of war crimes.

In The Case Against the Goldstone Report: A Study in Evidentiary Bias, Alan Dershowitz demonstrates that how Hamas used civilian areas to defend its military goals, using a source the Goldstone Commission should have no trouble accepting:
Here is what Amnesty International, certainly no friend of Israel, wrote about Hamas tactics: “Hamas and other groups generally store weapons in civilian areas and there is no reason to believe that it was any different during Operation ‘Cast Lead’. By doing so, it rendered such locations possible targets of attack and therefore exposed civilians who may have been present to risk.”128 The Los Angeles Times reported that during Operation Cast Lead “even many purely civilian neighborhoods aren’t safe because Gaza militants often fire rockets from such areas….”129
Dershowitz goes on to note that allegations of  abuse of hospitals seem to only merit investigation when they are made against Israel:
The Israeli government alleged,168 with at least some independent support,169 that Hamas occupied portions of Shifa hospital during Operation Cast Lead. Israel contends that the hospital served as Hamas’ “main base of operations.”170 The Mission is aware of this allegation but “did not investigate the case of al-Shifa hospital and is not in a position to make any findings with regard to these allegations.”171 Why does the Mission avoid investigating one of Israel’s most serious allegations? 
In his open letter to Judge Goldstone, dated October 19, 2009, Trevor Norwitz writes about the commission's "Failure to Investigate Critical Facts"
Moreover, your Report shows virtually no effort to look beyond the evidence presented to you (overwhelmingly from the Palestinian side) to find out what really happened in Gaza and – most crucially – why: why Israel launched the (unfortunately named) “Operation Cast Lead” and why individual officers and soldiers took the actions they did in the heat of battle. [p. 3]
To cite one important example, it was widely reported that the Hamas high command was camped out in the Al-Shifa Hospital, which would of course constitute a war crime and would probably have justified Israel attacking that hospital notwithstanding the civilian presence there.  Fortunately for any actual civilians in the hospital, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) refrained (although neither that nor any other act of restraint by the IDF – and there is much evidence that the IDF pulled back from many attacks against legitimate military targets because of the presence of civilians – was deemed worthy of a mention in your Report). You note those reports about the Al-Shifa Hospital but simply state (at 466): “The Mission did not investigate the case of the Al-Shifa Hospital and is not in a position to make any finding with regard to these allegations.” You then immediately go on – astoundingly – to make a formal finding of fact (at 467) that ”[o] n the basis of the investigations it hasconducted, the Mission did not find any evidence to support the allegations made by the Israeli government [that Hamas used medical facilities for cover].”
The findings of the Goldstone Report in general--and in the example here of accusing Israel of purposely targeting hospitals--show a clear bias against Israel and a level of sloppiness we would not expect to find in a report that sets out to investigate such grave charges.

Contrary to Col. Travor's absurd claim that "no substantive critique of the report has been received," numerous well-documented critiques of the Goldstone Report have in fact been made--and it is long past time for those responsible for the report to either respond to these rebuttals.

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