On Goldstone And Oren

A reader writes:

I think you fail to understand the true reasons for the wall-to-wall outrage in Israel (except truly lunatic fringes) regarding this report. It is not that Israelis are not accustomed to criticism. It is that in this particular case, something else is going on.

1. There is a widespread feeling of a deliberate insult, felt by someone who is lied straight into one's face. You see, unlike many overseas observers, the Israelis have the benefit of an intimate familiarity with the situation, as almost everyone's relatives or friends actually fought in Gaza; and the Israelis know very well that in this particular war (not necessarily in other cases), the IDF's policy was to comply with the rules of warfare according to the strictest possible criteria, and that this policy was rigorously enforced. One cannot of course exclude the possibility of isolated accidents, but there was an enormous measure of care and no sign of violations on any significant scale.

Moreover, the Israelis assume that even a neutral observer without this inside knowledge would easily come to the conclusion that serious war crimes in this case were highly improbable.

Even the highest estimates give the number of the Palestinians killed as 1,400 and admit that at least a few hundred of them belonged to Hamas. Now, taking into account the conditions of warfare, the amount of the fire-power involved, and the duration of this conflict, it is inconceivable that such would be the overall amount of victims, and such would be the ratio of the killed civilians vis-a-vis militants, unless the army took extreme precautions - far beyond of what is required by international law - to avoid civil casualties. This does not mean of course that this number is low, as the loss of every human life is a tragedy. It is merely an objective proof of the absence of systematic violations.

Now, since Goldstone is not stupid, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he knows too well what he is doing, and this is why Israelis feel outraged. They just feel that this man wants to harm and humiliate them and is even prepared to lie.

2. Furthermore, the Israelis don't think that the Hamas rockets by themselves constitute an existential threat, as you seem to imply. What does constitute such a threat is the Goldstone report itself. Because, by accusing Israel of committing war crimes even when it fights with so many precautions, this report basically says that Israel is not allowed to fight at all. There is nothing Israel can do to satisfy its critics. Therefore, this report aims at delegitimising the very right of Israel to defend itself, and thus to delegitimise its sovereignty. And this is indeed an existential threat.

The exposure of war crimes came in Israel itself, revealing the robust and unique democracy it is in the Middle East. And the Israeli government refused to cooperate with Goldstone, thereby tilting the report against it. But I am grateful for my reader's more intelligible unpacking of Oren's rhetoric. Maybe he could be the Israeli ambassador instead.