Thursday, May 26, 2011

Goldstone Lessons

If Americans were shocked that UN investigators and human rights activists suggested earlier this month that the United States had violated international law when killing Osama Bin Laden, they might find it instructive to re-read the2009 UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (also called the ‘Goldstone Report’, after head-of-mission Richard Goldstone).
Goldstone and the United States?


At first blush, there seems to be no connection between Goldstone, Bin Laden and the US.

But in fact, there is a connection:  Goldstone teaches us how America can be targeted by activists.
First, the Goldstone Report represents perhaps the most up-to-date compilation of legal code on the topic of modern war, and what this compilation reveals is not good news for sovereign states who are terrorist targets.

What in 2009 looked simply like anti-Israel bias at the UN, has become a potential nightmare for all nations:  a terrorist attack against a sovereign state is ignored by both the UN and Right’s activists, but a sovereign state’s defensive retaliation against that attack becomes, because of existing international code, illegal. This is what happened with Israel, and it is exactly what can happen to the US with the Bin Laden killing.

The United States, Rights activists have claimed, has no legal defense for the killing of Bin Laden.


This may sound silly, for Bin Laden was a mass killer. But the activists are correct. The law is on their side.  

What’s happening here?
In 2009, the Goldstone Report demonstrated how international law and convention can be stacked against the sovereign state. Goldstone, in its detailed findings against Israel, clearly identifies the code, statue and Convention Article to cite in order to label any sovereign retaliation as illegal and contrary to current international law. The focus of Goldstone was, of course, Israel; but its scope, we can now see, is broader: all sovereign states who react to terrorist attack.

Since the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, the nations of the world have essentially outlawed the kind of warfare sovereign states must wage to fight the modern terrorist. Targeted killing, attacking fighters who wear civilian clothing while hiding among civilians, tracking killers across borders—the main tactics for sovereign defensive warfare—can almost always be labelled ‘illegal’, given the definitions and statute we see Goldstone applying in his Report.

What Goldstone did in 2009, using international code against Israel,  Rights activists can attempt today to do against the US in the Bin Laden affair.

Goldstone lesson number one: wake up America; the sovereign state has become the outlaw.
The second Goldstone lesson has to do with crimes against humanity, which include crimes against entire populations.  While the Report concludes that Israel might have committed such crimes, it is clear from tone and text that international law has come a long way since World War Two. Indeed, the post-World War Two UN Charter takes careful note of crimes against entire populations. This is important for our region because the enemies of Israel repeatedly accuse Israel of crimes against the populations in Gaza and the West Bank.

But there is a consequence here which can help Israel:  while the nations of the world have worked hard to create new international law that seems perfect for accusing Israel of war crimes, they may have been too successful, because the law is blind:  if Israel can be accused of crimes against populations, so too might the Arab be accused--especially when Arabs demand the ethnic cleansing of up to 450,000 Jews in order to create a new Jew-free state.

Lesson number two: wake up Israel; your enemies might be ‘hoisted by their own petard’: as Goldstone used international law to accuse you, you can now use those laws to accuse the Arab.
The third lesson Goldstone teaches focuses on what happens when the UN fails in its responsibility to protect a sovereign state against aggression—a protection proffered by the very first paragraph of Chapter One,  Article One of the UN Charter. While everyone reading Goldstone was busy focusing on its accusations and its bias, they ignored the Report’s descriptions of the damage done to Gaza by Israel’s armed forces. While the Israeli attack was limited in scope and relatively brief in duration,  the devastation wrought on Gaza seems truly, utterly catastrophic.

As a sovereign state, Israel has the right to protect herself; but if the UN fails its obligation to help a sovereign state as 8,000-plus rockets are fired into her, then the UN is not exactly innocent when the sovereign finally, after three years of such attacks, reacts.

Lesson number three: wake up, UN;   if you push the lion into a corner, thereby emboldening the jackals to attack, the devastation that results could be Biblical in proportion.

Goldstone: you’ll be surprised what you can learn there. 

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