Friday, December 11, 2009

On Purity of Arms

David Schraub has a post on the IDF's investigations of the Gaza War. I would quibble with the word credible -- Israel's refusal to cooperate does make the Goldstone Report less credible. The report is, consequently, less well informed than it could be and so less believable. In fact, even the Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem, criticized the report for going too far while also praising it in parts. What Israel's refusal does not effect is the report's integrity, which is more a matter of the relationship between Goldstone and the UNHRC. With regards to its integrity, the suggestion of internal investigations is quite reasonable, but many commenters seemed to misunderstand that Israel was already investigating many allegations.

Some commenters have presumed that such internal investigations, carried out by the IDF, are incapable of being fair. I believe (not that every internal IDF or civil Israeli investigation is necessarily fair and unbiased, but that) those commenters woefully misunderstand the debate going on within Israel. Though there are right-wingers arguing that Israel did nothing wrong and that Goldstone's existence is a travesty of Justice, they are relatively few. A more moderate position, widely held (though sometime abbreviated) is that Israel ought to continue internal IDF investigations (and perhaps initiate civilian investigations depending) but that the Goldstone Report was biased from the start. Many of those attacking the Goldstone report understand that Israel is already investigating.

There's been a pretty robust debate within Israel, owing to the tradition of purity of arms. Israeli critics of IDF actions in Gaza cite the shared Israeli value of purity of arms, which lends great force to their arguments for thorough investigation. Here's my tiny contribution: Those outside Israel who support peace and a two-state solution would do well to appeal to this shared value when arguing for thorough investigation. In part, by distancing themselves from those for whom Israel can never be justified, they would receive a fairer hearing from Israel's defenders.

Quoting from JPost, via David:
The IDF has completed a review of the 36 "most serious" cases of alleged war crimes as cited by Judge Richard Goldstone in his damning report on Operation Cast Lead, and concluded that 30 of them are "baseless accusations," The Jerusalem Post has learned. The other six were found to relate to genuine instances, where operational errors and mistakes were involved.
David goes on to make comments, most interestingly, about the role of internal investigations in international law.
Referral to international legal organs is supposed to be an extraordinary step, taken only when the internal mechanisms of the state in question are either so biased or so dysfunctional as to make justice impossible. The upshot of this is that the IDF report cannot be evaluated de novo -- that is, it is not acceptable or unacceptable based solely on whether it comes to the same conclusions Judge Goldstone would have come to were he the original arbiter. This concept of deference is, I believe, quite well entrenched in the mechanics of international law.

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