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Gazas goldstone on the backseat

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With or without the Goldstone Report, Israeli hegemony is nearing its end

By Hilary Wise

(source: The Journal Issue 26 )

The UN report on Israel’s assault on Gaza one year ago called the operation “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population.” It represents the most powerful international indictment yet of Israel’s policies. Despite massive pro-Israel lobbying the report was accepted by the UN Human Rights Council on 16 October by twenty-five votes to six, with eleven abstentions.

However, some cynics have greeted the report with a weary, “So what’s new?” In the past Israel has ignored dozens of resolutions calling upon it to allow the return of refugees to their homes, to cease colonising territories occupied in 1967, to dismantle the Wall being built on Palestinian land, to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, to abolish imprisonment without trial, and so on, and so on. On each occasion, Israel has given two fingers up to the international community—and gotten away with it.

Judge Richard Goldstone, who headed the fact-finding mission, is known to be a lifelong supporter of Israel and has impeccable legal credentials as the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. He was also chair of the commission in South Africa which investigated the crimes of the security forces in the apartheid era. However he has been accused, predictably, of “naveté, self-hatred and political bias”. He is in good company. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was pilloried and denied a visa to Gaza when he participated in a UN inquiry into the killing of 19 members of the Assamna family, that included eight children. Despite being the architect of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, ex- President Jimmy Carter has been snubbed by Israeli leaders on visits to the region and accused of anti-semitism. Time and again, insult has replaced argument when Israel seeks to justify its actions. Whatever the future of the Goldstone Report—whether it is translated into a Security Council Resolution or taken up by the International Criminal Court—Israel will maintain its position of defiant contempt, and the US will continue to provide Israel with economic, military and political support. So what is new, this time round? Those old enough to remember the campaign against South African apartheid will recall that for decades western governments backed the regime one hundred per cent. Mrs Thatcher famously called Nelson Mandela a terrorist who should be jailed for life. And yet US and British support for apartheid crumbled with surprising suddenness in the face of the accumulated evidence of gross violations of human rights and the growing groundswell of public opinion. Apartheid itself crumbled with equal speed, under the pressure of international sanctions. The campaign for Palestinian rights is following a similar trajectory. When the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) launched the boycott campaign at a meeting in the House of Commons in 2001, theirs was considered to be a marginal position, wishful thinking, even counterproductive to the ‘peace process’. Eight years on, as Israel’s policies of violent colonisation in the occupied territories and apartheid within Israel have become more and more clearly exposed, 'Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions' (BDS campaign) have come to be seen as the only possible practical and moral response. In this country, supermarkets are rejecting produce from the illegal settlements. Since these cannot be clearly distinguished from produce from Israel, the next logical step is the avoidance of all Israeli goods. Nineteen national trade unions have affiliated to PSC’s campaign, and at this year’s TUC conference trade unions voted overwhelmingly for an effective consumer boycott. Around the world the response is growing. More and more Israeli politicians and military leaders are being advised by their own foreign ministry not to travel abroad, for fear of arrest on war crimes charges. From Spain to Norway, from Venezuela to Australia, governments, unions and churches have been divesting from Israeli companies, and shunning cultural, sporting and academic events. All these actions have been driven by worldwide grassroots campaigning that will not go away. The Goldstone Report alone will not change the face of Middle East politics. But it has ensured that the 1,400 Palestinians who died in Gaza will not sink into oblivion —and it has given massive impetus to the BDS campaign. Sooner rather than later, global public opinion will be translated into full, government-backed sanctions. Before that tipping point is reached, Israel‘s leaders would be well advised to take a difficult but brave and wise decision: to end the occupation, take responsibility for past actions, and be welcomed into the community of law-abiding nations. Hilary Wise is deputy editor of Palestine News.