Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Moshe Halbertal: The Honest Broker of the Goldstone calumny

In Uncategorized on November 6, 2009 at 11:02 am

In TNR, Halbertal, a self-described leftist,  not only articulates  the biases contained in the report, he courageously mourns the fact that such distortions give Israel an excuse not to examine any shortcomings.  While others tout Mr. Goldstone’s Zionist bonafides, Halbertal, in classic Dragnet fashion, gives us “just the facts”. His conclusion points to the error of the two extreme positions common to the left and the right.

Faced with this unprecedented and deeply perplexing situation, two extreme positions have emerged in Israel. The radical left claims that, since such a struggle necessarily involves the killing of innocent civilians, there is no justifiable way of fighting it. Soldiers ought to refuse to engage in such a war, and the government has only one option, which is to end the occupation. This view is wrong, since Israel has the right and the obligation to protect its citizens, and without providing real security, it will fail also to achieve peace and to put an end to the occupation. The radical right claims that, since Hamas and Hezbollah initiated the targeting of Israeli civilians, and since they take refuge among their own civilians, the responsibility for harming Palestinian civilians during Israel’s attempt to defend itself falls upon the Palestinians exclusively. This approach is also wrong. The killing of our civilians does not justify the killing of their civilians. Civilians do not lose their right to life when they are used as shields by Hamas and Hezbollah. In fighting the militants, Israel must do as much as it possibly can do to avoid and minimize harm to civilian life and property.

While others imagine that there were commands from the highest quarters for Israeli soldiers to “take the gloves off”,  Halbertal puts the civilian casualties in the context of NATO bombings, Pakistan, and others. He doesn’t mention Somalia where the proportion of civilian casualties was obscenely high.

In asymmetrical war, the problem is that every soldier must make very complicated assessments of who is a civilian, who is making a legitimate threat and who is not.  This is not like a higher up decision to bomb Hiroshima or Dresden, this is a complex situation decided on the ground, sometimes in seconds, by citizen soldiers of the rank and file.

This is a fair analysis which yearns to hold Israel accountable for what it actually did, and not for what others imagine.  It also seems to me that the J Streeters who booed Rabbi Yoffe’s criticism of the Goldstone Report, hadn’t read it–after all it is 452 pages of Palestinian testimony.

Now that, by design, rag tag insurgents hide among civilians, we need new rules of engagement. Halbertal begins the conversation that Goldstone could have started.

Halbertal is a Professor of Law who is immersed in ethical issues of war in general and the new kind of war Israel faces now. He incredibly suggests that these complex moral equations be part of an Israeli soldiers training so that he won’t be paralyzed to act on the battlefield. I agree, but only a Jewish army would require such concern from her rank and file.  But even if we didn’t, the rest of the world would.

For those without the time to read the extraordinarily long Goldstone report, at least do yourself a favor, and read Halbertal’s analysis.

Thanks Moshe!


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