The Goldstone report: A Jewish view

Rabbinic student says accepting the report’s findings could be the first step toward peace.

Richard Goldstone headed the UN fact finding mission on the Gaza conflict [EPA]

I recently spent an evening on a conference call with Judge Richard Goldstone, who headed up the United Nations fact finding mission on the Gaza conflict.

His commission authored the Goldstone report, which has been received with controversy in some quarters of the Jewish community.

On the call were 150 American rabbis and rabbinic students who wanted to hear directly from Goldstone about the process of creating the report and about its findings.

There is an old saying that where there are two Jews, there will be three opinions. This is especially true on the subject of Israel and Palestine, where passions run high on all sides.

Shamed and frustrated

Many Jews objected to the Goldstone report from the moment it was released. They argued that the process through which it was created is biased against Israel, and that the report is therefore fatally flawed. But this is not the only opinion in the Jewish community.

No one can speak for the entire Jewish community, but I can speak for myself and on behalf of those who share my views. I honor Goldstone’s work toward ending apartheid and his investigations of human rights abuses in Rwanda and in the former Yugoslavia.

I see his work with this UN fact finding mission as cut from that same cloth. And I am deeply saddened by the abuses of power revealed by the Goldstone report and by the unwillingness on the part of some within my community to accept the realities that the report makes plain.

Like many Jews, I want to believe that the one nation which was founded by adherents to my religious tradition will naturally be just and righteous. When the state fails to live up to that ethical mandate, my heart is broken.

That the government of Israel refused to cooperate with the UN fact finding mission frustrates me; that the Goldstone report reveals such abuses of power shames me.

Spiral of hatred

Goldstone spoke to us about his perception that the Israeli government chose to punish the Palestinian population of Gaza collectively in return for the rocket fire which has been raining down on Ashkelon and Sderot.

He cited the destruction of flour factories and egg farms as evidence that the Israeli army acted unethically. He argued that the destruction of 5,000 homes and the attacks on schools and mosques cannot have been accidental.

This is difficult for Jews to hear, but I think it is imperative that we listen and understand.

At the end of the call, he expressed his strong hope that both the Israelis and the Palestinians will engage in a transparent process of criminal investigation to explore who is responsible for the decisions made on both sides.

Israel must explore who made the decisions to enact collective punishment on the Palestinians; Hamas must explore who made the decisions to fire rockets at civilians in Ashkelon and Sderot, creating a climate of terror for those cities’ inhabitants.

I join my voice to his in calling for investigation. The spiral of bloodshed and hatred will only continue unless both sides take seriously the obligation of bringing those responsible to justice.

Narrative of victimhood

Though many of my coreligionists do not accept the validity of the report – indeed, there have been strong efforts to quash and discredit it in the Jewish community worldwide – many Jews agree with me.

Goldstone said he felt the Israeli government had collectively punished Gazans [EPA]

Some are the clergy who were on that conference call. Others joined me in attending the recent J Street conference in Washington, DC.

We perceive that our holy texts speak with a clear voice on the question of human rights and human dignity.

Torah teaches us that all of humanity is created in the divine image. When human rights abuses are perpetrated, our religious tradition demands that we speak out.

This is true even when those abuses are perpetrated by others who share our faith.

Both sides need to let go of our collective trauma-filled past in order to move forward with the work of creating change.

Both Israelis and Palestinians will need to relinquish some of the narrative of victimhood in order to acknowledge that both sides have suffered and both sides are culpable.

I believe that this acknowledgement is a necessary prerequisite for forward motion and for change.

Transforming the status quo

A few months ago I attended a retreat for emerging Jewish and Muslim religious leaders.

Late in the retreat, once we had built relationships with one another, we entered into some challenging conversations about Israel and Palestine.

I was amazed at the extent to which each of our communities feels that the “other side” has all of the power and also that the “other side” is uninterested in real dialogue or real change.

I believe that both sides want – and need – to transform the broken and damaging status quo; but I also believe we are both going to have to do some stretching to get there.

Part of the stretching I think the Jewish and Israeli communities need to do is coming to terms with the Goldstone report and its implications.

Step toward peace

That stretching is happening in some quarters. The report has been championed by Ta’anit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza and by The Shalom Center. Rabbis for Human Rights-North America has formally called upon Israel to investigate Operation Cast Lead, and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom (the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace) takes the report as a call to redouble their work toward peace in the region.

These organisations are part of the coalition of Jewish voices calling for attention to the report and its findings, and calling for a real and meaningful investigation into both the rocket attacks on southern Israel and the Israeli army attacks on Gaza.

I hope that more of the Jewish community will join us. I hope that leaders in the Palestinian community will call for the same kind of scrutiny.

The Goldstone report, and its strong recommendation that both sides engage in an open and transparent review of the crimes committed by both sides over the course of this engagement, could be a step toward acknowledging the suffering of victims on both sides. This could in turn be the first step toward a lasting peace. May it happen speedily and in our days.

Rachel Barenblat is a student in the ALEPH rabbinic programme and a student member of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. She has blogged as The Velveteen Rabbi since 2003.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera

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