Republicans and Democrats Come Together to Launch Unprecedented Attack on International Law
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
In a stunning blow against international law and human rights, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a resolution on Tuesday attacking the report of the United Nations Human Rights Council's fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict. The report was authored by the well-respected South African jurist Richard Goldstone and three other noted authorities on international humanitarian law, who had been widely praised for taking leadership in previous investigations of war crimes in Rwanda, Darfur, the former Yugoslavia, and elsewhere. Since this report documented apparent war crimes by a key U.S. ally, however, Congress has taken the unprecedented action of passing a resolution condemning it. Perhaps most ominously, the resolution also endorses Israel's right to attack Syria and Iran on the grounds that they are "state sponsors of terrorism."
The principal co-sponsors of the resolution (HR 867), which passed on a 344-36 vote, included two powerful Democrats: House Foreign Relations Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) and Middle East subcommittee chairman Gary Ackerman (D-NY). Democratic majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) successfully pushed Democrats to support the resolution by a more than 6:1 margin, despite the risk of alienating the party's liberal pro-human rights base less than a year before critical midterm elections.
The resolution opens with a series of clauses criticizing the original mandate of the UN Human Rights Council, which called for an investigation of possible Israeli war crimes only. This argument is completely moot, however, since Goldstone and his colleagues — to their credit — refused to accept the offer to serve on the mission unless its mandate was changed to one that would investigate possible war crimes by both sides in the conflict.
As a result, the mandate of the mission was thereby broadened. The House resolution doesn't mention this, however, and instead implies that the original mandate remained the basis of the report. In reality, even though the report contained over 70 pages detailing a series of violations of the laws of war by Hamas, including rocket attacks into civilian-populated areas of Israel, torture of Palestinian opponents, and the continued holding of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, there is no acknowledgement in the 1,600-word resolution that the initial mandate had been superseded or that the report criticizes the conduct of both sides. In fact, despite the report's extensive documentation of Hamas assaults on Israeli towns — which it determined constituted war crimes and possible "crimes against humanity" — the resolution insists that the mission’s study "makes no mention of the relentless rocket and mortar attacks."
The Goldstone mission report — totaling 575 pages — contains detailed accounts of deadly Israeli attacks against schools, mosques, private homes, and businesses nowhere near legitimate military targets, which they accurately described as "a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish humiliate and terrorize a civilian population." In particular, the report cites 11 incidents in which Israeli armed forces engaged in direct attacks against civilians, including cases where people were shot "while they were trying to leave their homes to walk to a safer place, waving white flags." The House resolution, however, claims that such charges of deliberate Israeli attacks against civilian areas were "sweeping and unsubstantiated."
Both the report's conclusions and most of the particular incidents cited have been independently documented in detailed empirical investigations released in recent months by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, among others. Congressional attacks against the integrity of the Goldstone report, therefore, constitute attacks against the integrity of these reputable human rights groups as well.
Equating Killing Civilians with Self-Defense
In an apparent effort to further discredit the human rights community, the resolution goes on to claim that the report denies Israel's right to self defense, even though there was absolutely nothing in the report that questioned Israel's right to use military force. It simply insists that neither Israelis nor Palestinians have the right to attack civilians.