The Goldstone Report found that there is evidence of serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by both Israeli forces and Hamas fighters and recommended that there should be criminal investigations where there is evidence of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
Washington State Congressional representative Brian Baird is one of only 8 US members of Congress that has visited Gaza since the Israeli attack ended on January 18, 2009, and the only member of Congress that has visited Gaza twice. His constituent, twenty --three year old Rachel Corrie, was killed in March, 2003 in Gaza when an Israeli military bulldozer ran over her as she was protecting a Palestinian home from destruction.
On November 2, 2009, in an article for Capitol Hill's Roll Call newspaper , Baird questioned why the leadership of Congress is bringing the House resolution to a vote without ever giving former South African Constitutional Court Justice Richard Goldstone a hearing to explain his findings. House Foreign Affairs committee chair Howard Berman and committee ranking Republican member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and committee members Dan Burton and Gary Ackerman co-sponsored the resolution.
Brian wondered in the article how many who will vote on House Resolution 867 will have read either the resolution or the Goldstone report and whether they aware that Justice Goldstone has issued a paragraph-by-paragraph response that pointed out that many of the resolution's assertions are factually inaccurate or deeply misleading.
Baird noted that Judge Goldstone is one of the most respected jurists in the world having led the investigations of human rights abuses in South Africa, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Kosovo, and worked to identify and prosecute Nazi war criminals as a member of the Panel of the Commission of Enquiry into the Activities of Nazism in Argentina. Judge Goldstone is a member of the Jewish faith.
Baird said that he has seen firsthand "the devastating destruction of hospitals, schools, homes, industries and infrastructure. Much of that devastation was wrought using U.S. manufactured and paid for weaponry." After reading the Goldstone report in its entirety, Baird concluded that the finding were "consistent with the facts and evidence" and that the incidents in the report are "worthy of further investigation," not of obstruction by the Congress.
Baird commented that "" if our own country is truly to stand for human rights and the rule of law, and if facts matter, how can we do other than insist that legitimate questions and evidence are followed by further investigation and, if necessary and warranted, appropriate consequences?"
"This is about whether we as individuals and this Congress as an institution find it acceptable to drop white phosphorous on civilian targets, to rocket civilian communities, to destroy hospitals and schools, to use civilians as human shields, and to deliberately destroy nonmilitary factories, industries and basic water, electrical and sanitation infrastructure. This is about whether it is acceptable to restrict the movement, opportunities and hopes of more than a million people every single day."
Baird concluded that "At the end of the day, this is also about our own domestic security. If we are seen internationally as condoning violations of human rights and international law, if our money and our weaponry play a leading role in those violations, and if we reflexively obstruct the findings of someone with the credentials, history and integrity of Justice Goldstone, it can only diminish our international standing and our own security."
Also, on November 2, 2009, 40 major human rights organizations from 23 countries around the world sent an open letterto member states of the United Nations General Assembly calling on them to "demonstrate resolve on the issue of accountability on both sides of this conflict, and ensure that international law is upheld." The letter asks for a UN resolution that calls on "the Israeli Government and relevant Palestinian authorities in Gaza to launch independent investigations, in conformity with international standards, into the serious violations of International Humanitarian and International Human Rights Law reported by the Mission and to ensure the establishment of an appropriate international mechanism to provide an independent assessment of the investigations."
I have been to Gaza three times this year and once to Israel. I have seen the force used by the Israeli military against a population that has no airplanes, jet fighters or attack helicopters (or even an airport), no navy (only small fishing boats kept within one mile of shore by the Israeli navy), no tanks or armored personnel carriers (only construction companies bulldozers which were destroyed by the Israeli military).
The massive, disproportionate force used on the people of Gaza by the Israeli military was done with the full knowledge that the United States government --the President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and the Congress-- would protect its actions from international investigation and criminal prosecution, as U.S. governments have done for the past 60 years, since the founding of the state of Israel.
On the day of the release of the Goldstone Report, senior Israeli officials in Washington, New York and Jerusalem met with senior officials of the Obama administration to give the talking points for undermining and questioning the Goldstone Report. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talked with U.S. special Middle East envoy George Mitchell. Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister met with Susan Rice, American ambassador to the U.N., and Rice later in the day said the United States viewed the Mission's report 'as unbalanced, one-sided and basically unacceptable' and that "we have very serious concerns about many of the recommendations in the report." Secretary of State Hilary Clinton echoed the Israeli talking points calling the report "one-sided."
In my trips to Gaza, I have seen Gaza still in the rubble of the 22 day attack because the international community will not allow reconstruction materials into Gaza. I have seen the tunnels through which food is brought into Gaza to keep people alive. I have witnessed the inhumane effects of the collective punishment of the blockade and siege by Israel and the international community on the people for Gaza for democratically electing representatives of the political party Hamas to the Palestinian parliament in such numbers that Hamas became the government of Gaza as a result of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority providing only minimal support for the people of Gaza.
I admire Congressman Baird for his decision to travel twice to Gaza, see for himself what happened there and speak out.
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