Monday, November 16, 2009

Best critique of Goldstone?

Moshe Halbertal, a very highly regarded professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University who helped draft the IDF's code of ethics, has produced one of the finest critiques of the Goldstone Report I've seen so far.

He argues that Goldstone criticises a lot, but has no better suggestions how Israel should have conducted a war against terrorists who deliberately fight from civilian areas, wearing civilian clothes, and using civilians as human shields. Essentially, he accuses Goldstone of terrible intellectual laziness, of failing to engage on either a theoretical or practical level with the central question of how 'assymetical war' should be fought (as opposed to how it shouldn't).

For example:

The IDF code states that soldiers have to do their utmost to avoid
the harming of civilians. This principle states that it is not enough
not to intend to kill civilians while attacking legitimate targets. A
deliberate effort has to be made not to harm them. If such an active,
positive effort to avoid civilian harm is not taken, in what serious
way can the claim be made that the foreseeable death was unintended?
After all, the death occurred, and could have been expected to occur.
So the proper ammunition has to be chosen to minimize innocent deaths;
and, if another opportunity is expected to arise for eliminating the
target, the operation must be aborted or delayed. Civilians have to be
warned ahead of time to move from the area of operation if this is
possible, and units have to be well aware that they must operate with
caution, even after warning has been given, since not all civilians are
quick to move. A leaflet dropped from the sky warning of an attack does
not matter to the people--the sick, the old, the poor--who are not
immediately mobile.

In line with such principles, the Israeli Air Force developed the
following tactic. Since Hamas hides its headquarters and ammunition
storage facilities inside civilian residential areas, the Israeli army
calls the residents’ telephones or cell phones, asking them to move
immediately out of the house because an attack is imminent. But Hamas,
in reaction to such calls, brings the innocent residents up to the
roof, so as to protect the target from an attack, knowing that, as a
rule, the Israeli army films the target with an unmanned drone and will
avoid attacking the civilians on the roof. In response to this tactic,
Israel developed a missile that hits the roof without causing any
actual harm in order to show the seriousness of its intention. The
procedure, called “roof-knocking,” causes the civilians to move away
before the deadly attack.

It is rather a strange point in the Goldstone Report that this
practice, which goes a long way to protect civilians, is actually
criticized. Concerning such a practice, the report states that, “if
this was meant as a warning shot, it has to be deemed reckless in the
extreme.” The truth is that this is an admirable and costly effort to
avoid civilian collateral harm. As is true with many of its criticisms,
the report does not state what the alternative should be. What should
Israel do in such a case? Attack the house without calling on its
residents to move, or attack it while they are gathered on the roof? Or
maybe avoid attacks altogether, allowing the enemy to take effective
shelter among civilians?

Prof Halbertal - who does not, incidentally, reject all of Goldstone's criticisms - concludes that if the rate of civilian casualties in Gaza is compared to the rate of civilian casualties in other conflicts involving the West, Israel actually did brilliantly well. Read the whole thing here.

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