A stirring call from Hagai El-Ad, executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. Civility and reason exists in Israel; just don’t expect the mainstream to agree:
What will they come up with next? The campaign to discredit Judge Richard Goldstone, his fact-finding commission and the report that now bears his name seems to reach new heights every week. The latest installment in this high-drama farce has been the revelations about Goldstone’s record during apartheid-era South Africa, and the implication that his report can therefore be disregarded. The mind reels at the intensity of attempts by Israeli officials and others to do everything to dodge the real questions of accountability, policy and justice that have been lingering inconveniently since Operation Cast Lead. But inconvenient questions do tend to linger, and the attempts to deploy an ever-thicker smokescreen usually only draw more attention to what may be hidden behind it.
And yet, the recent attacks on Goldstone have been helpful in re-introducing into public discourse what is perhaps the most important question of all: moral responsibility. How must individuals behave when faced with injustice? What do we expect from our judges, public servants and elected officials? And what do we expect from ourselves? The focus on Goldstone’s past, far from enabling us to escape the lingering questions of Cast Lead – and other questions that must trouble anyone seeking justice – actually serves to throw them into sharp relief.
So here are some complementary questions about justice and those involved in its disservice. And mind you, these questions were not drawn from a far-away past, but from the here-and-now. It is the present that will determine our future – and to what extent justice will be a part of it.
Consider this: What is the reader’s moral judgment of a law that allows some people to reclaim past ownership rights but denies the same rights to others? This is the question today in Sheikh Jarrah.
How just do we deem the conduct of legal advisers who approve the evacuation of longtime indigenous residents from the center of a thriving city, enforcing almost complete separation between the hundreds who have moved in and the thousands who were displaced? This is the question today in Hebron.
What do we think of military commanders who collectively punish more than a million human beings, systematically answering their nutritional needs with provisions that keep them just above a state-secret “red line”? This is the question today in Gaza.
What do you make of a court of justice that speaks in lofty terms of how wrong segregated roads are, but falls short of connecting principle and practice, and does not simply ban such wrongs outright? This is the question today regarding Route 443.
Morally speaking, how do you feel about a government that orders the arrest of leaders of nonviolent civil protest? This is the question in West Bank villages like Bil’in.
These were not questions about Goldstone’s past. There are questions about our present. Standing knee-deep in moral quicksand may not be the most convincing of postures from which to question someone else’s morality.
But let us not stop here. Let us go further and assume for a moment that Goldstone is indeed guilty as charged of having served an unjust regime. If you will, while at it, let us believe in the fiction that – as was falsely claimed by Im Tirtzu’s extremists – a huge part of Goldstone’s report was based on the work of Israeli human rights NGOs. So what? How does this information affect the real questions about justice and morality that should be concerning us? Do any of these diversions make the real questions about the Israel Defense Forces’ rules of engagement during Cast Lead or about civilian, noncombatant casualties in Gaza during the military operation less urgent or essential?
At the end of the day, after Goldstone is finally exorcised as a witch and Israel’s human rights NGOs shut down, what then? Won’t accountability still be a cornerstone of the rule of law? Putting the diversions aside for a moment – and the author is appreciative of how difficult that is, given the government’s urge to obsess on nothing but diversions – are we not still left with alarming suspicions, partial information, and a very real need for a credible, independent investigation into Cast Lead?
Not only Goldstone, but all of us, are morally responsible for our actions and inactions, for when we choose to speak out for justice and for when we keep our silence and help perpetuate what is unjust. South Africa’s past became a part of its future through the truth and reconciliation process; but here in Israel not only is there no reconciliation process, there is no desire by the government nor among most of the public to confront inconvenient truths. Rather, the focus is on truth-dodging, which only serves to further steer us away from reconciliation or justice.
The growing distance between where the moral compass points and where we as a society are headed is no one’s problem more than our own. We can stick pins in the Goldstone voodoo doll as much as we want to but, when we wake up tomorrow morning, the very same reality will still be right here, exactly as we left it. Morally speaking, it’s high time for our wake-up call, for a sincere look at our own image as reflected in our mirror, for truth-seeking instead of desperately, cynically, self-servingly trying to hide it – and hide from it.