By Haroon Siddiqui
In trying to discredit Richard Goldstoneâ€™s UN report on the Israeli attack on Gaza, Israel and its supporters are shooting the messenger, says another high-profile Jewish public intellectual critical of Israeli policies on Palestinians.
Richard Falk, professor emeritus in international law at Princeton University and prolific author, is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Last December, he was expelled from Israel after characterizing the crippling Israeli economic blockade of Gaza (in effect since 2007) as collective punishment, amounting to â€œa crime against humanity.â€
Falk is to speak in Toronto today on the Arab-Israeli conflict (2 p.m., U of Tâ€™s Health Sciences Building, 155 College St., Room 610).
A four-person panel led by Judge Goldstone of South Africa, the former chief prosecutor of the war crimes tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, has accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza, including deliberately targeting civilians.
Falk said in a phone interview Thursday that the panel â€œconfirms the prior allegations that Israel has been acting unlawfully, indeed criminally, but it (the panel) does so more comprehensively and with a very credible group led by Goldstone, whoâ€™s known for his sympathy for Zionism and Israel.
â€œIâ€™ve known him well. He has deep emotional and intellectual links to Israel but he also has a professional attachment to the rule of law. If he can be attacked as biased against Israel, then anyone on the planet is susceptible to that attack.
â€œIsraelâ€™s tactic â€“ Iâ€™ve also experienced this myself â€“ is that rather than discuss the message, they talk about the messenger and try to discredit the auspices or the person whoâ€™s bringing critical assessments of their behavior.
â€œThey donâ€™t make any effort to engage in the substantive debate because they really canâ€™t do that with any degree of effectiveness.â€
Goldstone also characterized the Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel as war crimes. But Falk said that, contrary to popular belief, the rocket attacks â€œdid not precipitate the Israeli attack. They had basically stopped during the temporary ceasefire. It was Israel, not Hamas, that broke the ceasefire Nov. 4 by launching a big attack inside Gaza.â€
The Israeli Gaza operation and the Goldstone report represent a turning point. Both have had â€œa very strong political impact on the Palestinian solidarity movement around the world, which is essentially a successor to the (South African) anti-apartheid campaign that was also waged globally.â€
The Arab-Israeli conflict is thus â€œreaching a new phase thatâ€™ll be shaped less by the military and the violent dimensions of it but more by the symbolic and the normative dimensions of law and morality.â€
Therefore, overwhelming Israeli military superiority may no longer do. Israel will face increasing calls for an economic boycott, disinvestments and economic pressure.
Does he support such calls?
â€œIâ€™m not normally in favour but, under the circumstances, Iâ€™m reluctantly in favour.â€
His overall assessment:
â€œIsrael seems completely unwilling to allow a viable Palestinian state … The expansion of Jewish settlements, a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention; the blockade of Gaza, a collective punishment prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention, that endangers the entire population of 1.5 million that includes 53 per cent children; and the changing of the character of East Jerusalem by making it difficult for Palestinians to stay there and encouraging a much greater residential Jewish populationâ€ â€“ all seem designed to scuttle any real solution.
What of the argument that Israel does not have a peace partner?
â€œItâ€™s partially true that thereâ€™s neither Palestinian unity nor acceptable Palestinian representation.
â€œBut thatâ€™s partly a consequence of Israelâ€™s own actions â€“ its refusal to treat Hamas, democratically elected, as a real political actor, rather than dismissing it as a terrorist group. For decades that was done in Northern Ireland, preventing a negotiated resolution.â€
As for the Palestinian Authority, â€œits limited capacity is partly a result of Israelâ€™s own attempts to co-opt it, which it has been somewhat successful in, but that undermines the P.A.â€™s ability to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians.â€
Falk is not too hopeful regarding Barack Obamaâ€™s peace initiative, given that the president does not seem to apply to Israel his own oft-repeated commitment to the rule of law. Obama has backed out of his call on Israel to freeze settlements, urging it only to show â€œrestraint.â€
As for Canada, it â€œcould play a useful role if it were to be independent of pro-Israeli geopolitics and was more balanced and impartial.â€