On 23 December 2008 I sent a letter to a very influential minister in Israel, someone whom I know well, and who has a direct access to the military. It was an “Eyes Only” – a very private letter. It is worth noting here that, at the time, I did not know that soon after the IDF would be ordered to move into Gaza to execute “Operation Cast Lead”.
Here is what I said in my letter:
Dearest XXXX 23 December 2008
I know you’re busy so I’ll be short:
1. I’m following events from London and I can see the pressures you’re under …
2. But it is also clear to me that you might have to do things [in Gaza].
3. And this is why I write to you: I strongly suggest that you do not approve the firing of artillery into [Palestinian] civilian populated areas. Nobody here – in Europe – will accept it. Even if your legal advisors say that it is OK, this will still not be acceptable here. If there’s an error and a shell lands on civilians, they will then say that you’re a war criminal, and you’ll not be able to move freely in Europe in the future. These are harsh words, but I say them because I care about you.
4. Make sure that in all military forums – from General Staff to talks with simple soldiers – you warn them not to hurt civilians, and do keep the transcripts of your warnings.
I would not go on to describe here what actually happened in Gaza four days after this letter was sent to the minister, just mention that during the course of the Israeli military operation 773 Palestinian civilians, including 252 children under the age of 16 were killed (it would be fair to say that statistics about Palestinian casualties vary and the Israelis dispute the above number).
After the Gaza operation, a United Nations Fact Finding Mission was established. Its mandate: “to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.”
The mission was led by former South African judge Richard Goldstone – a Zionist whose daughter lives in Israel.
Yesterday, Goldstone and his team published their 575-page report. They concluded that, “actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly in some respect crimes against humanity, were committed by the Israel Defense Forces”.
They added that, “There were numerous instances of deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects … resulting in deaths and some serious injuries”. Goldstone called on the Security Council to order Israel to investigate possible war crimes. His words prompted me to look for my letter to my friend the minister as I felt that in it I quite accurately identified how things might develop.