Saturday, September 26, 2009

The risks of de-contextualizing Gaza war crimes

Goncalo de Almeida Ribeiro, Vishaal Kishore and Nimer Sultany, The Electronic Intifada, 26 September 2009
(Goncalo de Almeida Ribeiro is a doctoral candidate at Harvard Law School, working in the fields of Private Law Theory, Jurisprudence and Political Philosophy. He holds an LL.B. from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa (Portugal).

Vishaal Kishore is a doctoral candidate at Harvard Law School, working in the fields of International Economic Relations, Political Economy and Legal and Social Theory. He holds degrees from the University of Melbourne (Australia).

Nimer Sultany is a Palestinian citizen of Israel and currently a doctoral candidate at Harvard Law School. He has worked as a human rights lawyer in the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and as the head of the political monitoring project at Mada al-Carmel (the Arab center for applied social research).)

Despite expressly claiming to take into account the historical background to the Gaza events, the report, by its very nature, singles out a particular set of facts, and a limited period of time as the primary locus for investigation. In part this is justified. The conflict in Gaza involved levels of violence that are more or less exceptional. Yet, we fear that such a high-profile report, crafted specifically to address what is perceived to be an extreme or peculiar period of time in the lives of Palestinians under occupation, might have significant negative consequences. Particularly, we maintain that such a report, by focusing on one "drastic" period in the Israeli occupation, might in fact have the effect of overshadowing or downplaying the harsh and ongoing reality of the last 43 years of Israeli occupation........

Does this mean that we should do away with reports and leave the history of human rights violations untold? Obviously not -- that question involves a false choice. Rather, what human rights reports (and the mandates upon which they rely) should attempt to do is stretch beyond the confines of a period of extreme violence. Human rights violations have to be placed in a larger factual and moral context. Doing so may, of course, come at the cost of political controversy and the hostility of those who are content with half-truths. That, it seems to us, is a moderate price to pay when so much is at stake."

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