The recently released UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission on the December-January Gaza conflict, released on the eve of Barack Obama’s attempt to jump-start comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, was but the latest in a series of investigations, most of them by human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Like its predecessors, the so-called Goldstone report, named after chief investigator Richard Goldstone, is devastating in its critique of Israeli actions: indiscriminate use of firepower; deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian structures, including hospitals, schools, mosques, water and sewage plants, and rescue vehicles; use of white phosphorus munitions in built-up areas; use of human shields; abusive treatment of detainees; imposition of a blockade on Gaza before and after the attack itself–the report concludes that Israel violated international humanitarian law, committed "grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of wilful killings and wilfully causing great suffering to protected persons," and war crimes, possibly even crimes against humanity. The courageous Israeli journalist Gideon Levy summed it up well in Haaretz: it was "an unrestrained assault on a besieged, totally unprotected civilian population which showed almost no signs of resistance during this operation."
Perhaps most damning of all was the testimony of some thirty Israeli veterans of the operation gathered by the organization Breaking the Silence, published in a booklet in July and cited by the Goldstone report. According to the booklet’s introduction, "The majority of the soldiers who spoke with us are still serving in their regular military units and turned to us in deep distress at the moral deterioration of the IDF.… The stories of this publication prove that we are not dealing with the failures of individual soldiers, and attest instead to failures in the application of values primarily on a systemic level." The testimony is chilling: "Fire power was insane"; "if you see any signs of movement at all, you shoot. These, essentially, were the rules of engagement. Shoot if you like"; "Houses were demolished everywhere.… We didn’t see a single house that was not hit"; "whole neighborhoods were simply razed because four houses in the area served to launch Qassam rockets"; "You know what? You feel like a child playing around with a magnifying glass, burning up ants. Really. A 20-year-old kid should not be doing such things to people."