Our Foreign Minister Can't Handle The Truth


Recently a piece in the Fairfax media told of the "huge shock" the Israeli Government establishment is feeling as a result of the findings of the Goldstone report into war crimes during the Gaza conflict at the start of this year.

For the Israeli Government, one of the most shocking aspects of that report is the way it lays out detailed evidence contradicting the Israeli narrative of how that eruption of violence was triggered, in the context of the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That evidence itself is not news to anyone who has followed the events closely. What Israel and its allies find disturbing is the reality of high-level rejection of their justifications for that attack.

One of the most important sections of the UN-commissioned Goldstone report is its account of events leading up to the first air raids on 27 December last year. A truce brokered by the Egyptian Government, which came into effect some six months earlier, was proving largely effective. Then, the report notes: "After two months in which few incidents were reported, the ceasefire began to founder on 4 November 2008 following an incursion by Israeli soldiers into the Gaza Strip."

A member of Hamas’s Al-Qassam Brigade was killed in the raid on a house where — Israel said — a tunnel was to be dug for use in "kidnapping" its soldiers. The Brigade loosed off some 30 rockets in reply; this was followed by an Israeli air raid which killed five more of its members.

The UN General Assembly voted, by an overwhelming majority, to refer the report to the Security Council (Australia was one of the dissenting minority). As quoted by Peter Hartcher in his story on Israeli "shock", Foreign Minister Stephen Smith attributed Australia’s rejection of the report to Goldstone’s "unbalanced focus on Israel [and]insufficient attention to Hamas’ actions prior to the conflict, especially rocket attacks".

Canberra seems to have bought into Israeli propaganda over the sequence of events. The day after "Operation Cast Lead" began, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was interviewed on network television in the US, telling NBC’s Meet the Press program that: "About a half a year ago, according to the Egyptian Initiative, we decided to enter a kind of a truce and not to attack Gaza Strip. Hamas violated, on a daily basis, this truce. They targeted Israel, and we didn’t answer."

Goldstone is not the only authority to contradict this account. A private Israeli research group, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre, released a report in early January, dividing the ceasefire into a "period of relative quiet between June 19 and November 4", when "Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire", and "the escalation and erosion of the … arrangement" which it dated to "November 4 [when]the Israeli Defence Force carried out a military action close to the border security fence on the Gazan side". Indeed, a fact sheet produced by the Israeli consulate in New York said the rate of rocket and mortar fire from Gaza dropped to almost zero and stayed there for four straight months following the ceasefire.

Another canard refuted by the Goldstone report is that Hamas committed war crimes by using civilians as human shields. "The Mission found no evidence," it says, "to suggest that Palestinian armed groups either directed civilians to areas where attacks were being launched or that they forced civilians to remain within the vicinity of the attacks." There was no evidence that buildings attacked by Israel, including hospitals, were being put to any military use or that ambulances were being used to transport combatants, as Israel had claimed.

Stephen Zunes, a professor from the University of San Francisco and a seasoned observer of the conflict, called the 4 November raid "a huge provocation", and one that "was actually intended to get Hamas to break off the ceasefire". It raises the question of why Israel might want to attack when it did, which takes us beyond Goldstone’s remit.

At the time of the Israeli ceasefire violation, the dominant process for achieving peace in the area was the UN-backed "Road Map". That peace plan called for a Palestinian ceasefire as the prerequisite for "launch[ing]a process, leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders". Provisional or not, those borders would have to be on or very close to the Green Line that encompasses 22 per cent of Mandate Palestine, and that would entail an Israeli withdrawal from its illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (where it is still the occupying power by virtue of controlling air space, seaboard and border crossings) and the evacuation of its illegal settlements.

Parallel with this was the conference at Annapolis, Maryland, brokered by then US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and then Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert agreed to work continuously to reach a two-state solution by the end of 2008.

With the ceasefire apparently holding, pressure was mounting on Israel to make real concessions for peace, that pressure coming not least from its own citizens: a poll by Tel Aviv University, in February of last year, revealed that nearly two-thirds of Israelis favoured the opening of direct talks between their own government and the leadership of Hamas.

Israel has traditionally responded to such a situation with violence and provocation. The Hamas Charter lays claim to the whole of Palestine, but senior leaders sometimes signal that they would accept a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders, summoning up what is, for Israel, the alarming prospect of Palestinian unity. They have tended to be killed shortly afterwards, as was the fate of both Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, in Israeli missile strikes from American-supplied helicopters.

It certainly seems that this occasion was no different. In June, just before the ceasefire had even begun, Olmert paid a "surprise visit" to Washington, meeting with both president Bush and vice-president Dick Cheney, instead of Rice. Immediately on his return to Tel Aviv, Olmert was telling reporters that the "pendulum [was]swinging" towards an attack on Gaza. Just a few months after his Washington meeting, Olmert began his attack. Once again, Israel had launched military action with the green light from the US.

It’s not surprising therefore that the US leads the minority of countries that refuse to endorse the Goldstone report. Its role as self-proclaimed mediator should be viewed with scepticism, as it is also Israel’s chief ally and weapons supplier, a logic summed up in the phrase attributed to Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger: "Israel is America’s unsinkable battleship in the Middle East."

Despite the inconvenience of recognising these facts, the international community needs to acknowledge the responsibility of the people behind the calculated wrecking operation that Israel carried out in Gaza. It’s an acknowledgment that Australia should take part in too. Look again at the Goldstone report, Mr Smith, and think again, please.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.