Why I’m going to Gaza

December 16, 2009

Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, explains why he will travel to Gaza as part of a delegation to challenge Israel's blockade.

ALMOST A year ago, on the celebration of Martin Luther King's birth and just as the Israeli military assault on Gaza was coming to a close, I wrote a piece titled "Israel in Gaza: A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal."

In that piece, I spoke of the role of American Jews and of Americans in remaining silent in the face of horrendous human rights violations perpetrated on Palestinians. I acknowledged that, "For too long, and I do not exempt myself, most of us have stood silently by or made only a marginal protests about the massive violations of Palestinian rights carried out by Israel." I pointed out that for "as long as this silence continues, so will the U.S. billions in aid and arms that facilitates the killings of Palestinians."

Since that time, I and many others, Jews and non-Jews alike, have come some distance toward breaking the silence. We knew while the assault was continuing that we were witnessing massive crimes. We watched as most of the world stood by. Gaza, I think for many of us, demanded that we no longer stand on the sidelines.

A scene from Gaza following the January 2009 Israeli onslaught
A scene from Gaza following the January 2009 Israeli onslaught

I must admit to my shock at reading the Goldstone Report, the report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. Fact by fact, it documented violations of the laws of war and human rights law that were chilling.

The report put the assault in the context of the responsibilities under law of an occupying power, which Israel is in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. It addressed the annexation of East Jerusalem; the building of the wall, 85 percent of which is illegally located in occupied territory; the pass laws; and the settlements. It addressed the blockade of Gaza, which began years before the December 2008 assault, and the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.

As to the war, the report concluded that the "military operations were directed by Israel at the people of Gaza as a whole" to "punish them" and "in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population." Each example was more disturbing than the one before, and the cumulative effect was horrifying: deliberate targeting of civilians, the intentional destruction of the infrastructure of Gaza, including fuel supplies, the sewer system, the only flour mill and the Palestinian legislative building.

The killing statistics tell us almost all we need to know: over a thousand Palestinians were killed (estimates run from 1,166 to 1,444), most of them civilians; 13 Israelis lost their lives, of which three were civilians.

Imagine Gaza as an overcrowded prison, for that is what it is, with no ability for people to hide, escape or defend themselves. Then imagine an assault with impunity from the air, the sea and the land. Gaza was no accident. It was not a mistake. Israeli leaders justified the destruction of civilian objects: "Destroy 100 homes for every rocket fired." The Israeli government claimed that "there is really no distinction to be made between military and civilian objectives as far as government and public administration in Gaza are concerned."

AFTER THE Goldstone Report, there cannot be, if there ever was, any doubt about the need for investigation and prosecution of the criminality of the military assault on Gaza.

Judge Goldstone is one of the most preeminent jurists in the world--he would be in my top three, and I am not sure who the other two are. His credentials are impeccable. A South African courageously opposed to apartheid, a justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, and the chief prosecutor of the special UN tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia--and a Jew as well.

Yet attack him and his report is exactly what Israel and the United States have done. The U.S. State Department called it "deeply flawed," but did not elaborate. Israel, which had refused to cooperate in the investigation, said it was appalled and disappointed by the report, claiming it effectively ignored Israel's right of self-defense, makes unsubstantiated claims about its intent, and challenges Israel's democratic values and rule of law.

Even if Israel was acting in self-defense, although many would dispute this, that right does not grant permission to commit war crimes. And yes, the report challenges Israel's commitment to the rule of law: it does not seem to have a commitment when it comes to Palestinians. Despite these protestations, as Shakespeare wrote, "Truth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long...but at the length truth will out." Well it has, but truth still needs a push--a push into action.

That is why I am going to Gaza with the Code Pink Freedom March: because truth needs a push. It's straightforward. I want to break the blockade. I want to see for myself the damage caused the weapons bought with my tax dollars. I want it understood that Israel does not kill in my name. I want to follow words with actions.

First published at JustLeft.org.

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