Holding Israeli leaders accountable

The following column by Greg Barns, published in Murdoch’s Mercury newspaper, is instructive of a growing band of thinking; why should Israel be immune from investigation?

Last week the Right-wing media and their political friends worked themselves up into lather over an assessment by ASIO that a small number of Tamil asylum seekers should not be allowed into this country because they are apparently a security threat.

But when two Israeli political leaders came to Australia shortly before Christmas, those same politicians and media fawned over them, despite the fact they have been identified as possibly having committed crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Right at the outset let’s make it clear that just because ASIO assesses someone as a security threat means nothing. ASIO jumps at shadows and you have no way of knowing if its assessment is correct or not because it is secretive, unaccountable and has a history of getting it horribly wrong in the past.

But ASIO’s secret assessment of these asylum seekers was enough to get the now Far Right Liberal Party jumping. Leader Tony Abbott says the Rudd Government has put the security of Australia at risk, and his chief supporter in the media, The Australian, ran an editorial last week criticising the Rudd Government for failing to “protect our borders”.

Tragically neither The Australian nor Abbott queried for a nanosecond that ASIO might be wrong. But while The Australian or Abbott are running around condemning Tamil asylum seekers on the basis of a secret assessment by “spooks”, neither took issue with the visits just over a month ago by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and the current Israeli Deputy PM Silvan Shalom.

Yet both these men played a large part in the Gaza Offensive of a year ago. This military operation by Israel against the Palestinians resulted in 1300 Palestinians dying, and hundreds of thousands of others being displaced and injured.

The Gaza Offensive has been the subject of a major investigation and report by eminent South African jurist Richard Goldstone, who found that: “Repeatedly, the Israel defence forces failed to adequately distinguish between combatants and civilians, as the laws of war strictly require.”

Goldstone further noted that “pursuing justice in this case is essential because no state or armed group should be above the law”. Failure to do so “will have a deeply corrosive effect on international justice, and reveal an unacceptable hypocrisy. As a service to hundreds of civilians who needlessly died, and for the equal application of international justice, the perpetrators of serious violations must be held to account,” he said in his report, which he presented to the United Nations on September 29 last year.

Goldstone’s Mission found that those who were responsible for the devising, planning and execution of the Gaza Offensive — and this means Olmert and Shalom — should be held accountable for any crimes committed by Israeli forces.

Goldstone’s Mission said it found that Israel committed grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, including “wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly”.

And Goldstone’s Mission found that Israeli officials and armed forces should be held accountable for crimes against humanity because of a series of “acts that deprive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip of their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water, that deny their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country, that limit their rights to access a court of law and an effective remedy”.

Australian law now allows for persons suspected of having committed war crimes or crimes against humanity to be arrested and tried in this country, irrespective of where the alleged offences were committed.

One would have thought that, given the very public findings of the Goldstone report, Australian political leaders and the media would be making it clear to Shalom and Olmert that they risked arrest if they entered Australia.

You can bet if it were a Tamil leader seeking to enter Australia, about whom Goldstone-type findings had been made, that would definitely have been the reaction.

But Abbott and, it has to be said, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his deputy Julia Gillard feted their Israeli guests.

The Australian‘s Greg Sheridan conducted a long and sympathetic interview with Olmert and slobbered that he spent “90 minutes in the boardroom of Sydney’s Park Hyatt, and then over a relaxed lunch with his wife, Aliza, at Circular Quay”, while “Olmert talked with remarkable frankness about the military campaigns in Gaza and Lebanon, the historic peace deal he offered the Palestinians, [US] President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy and the options for action against Iran”.

Would Sheridan roll out the read carpet for a Tamil leader? One thinks not. Hypocrisy and double standards are awful things.

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