Suppose a United Nations investigation team found that the United States had committed war crimes in its response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The report finds that while al Qaeda may have been culpable for the attacks and the carnage they wreaked, America was equally to blame - if not more so - for the civilian deaths caused during Operation Enduring Freedom. The U.N. instructs the United States to conduct an internal investigation and punish the perpetrators, or face action from the International Criminal Court.
This is the framework established by the Goldstone Commission Report, which is the product of an investigation led by South African judge Richard Goldstone. Its target was Israel's war against the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza last January. The United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed the report on Friday, and it will now move to the international body's New York headquarters for further action.
On a factual level, the Goldstone report is notoriously flawed and one-sided. Much of the 575-page document was cut and pasted from unsubstantiated and suspect reports from nongovernmental organizations with openly anti-Israel sentiments. Some of the "witnesses" interviewed by the mission were disguised Hamas officials. The fact that Hamas loves the report should raise eyebrows about its contents.
Even more troublingly is the report's fatal moral blind spot, which is ignoring the differences between Israel, a sovereign state, and Hamas, a terrorist organization. The Israeli armed forces are professional organizations governed by strict policies to limit civilian deaths during the conduct of war. Israel is a signatory to the Geneva conventions and respects the rights of noncombatants. After the conflict, Israel conducted some 100 investigations into reports of misconduct by its troops.
Killing civilians is central to Hamas' military doctrine. Hamas launched 7,000 rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli cities between the pullout from Gaza in 2005 and 2009. During the ground fighting in Gaza, Hamas routinely used mosques, schools and hospitals as military sites and employed civilians as human shields. Hamas exploited the chaos of the conflict to round up Palestinian political opponents, some of whom were crippled with shots to the legs, while others were reportedly executed.
There is no moral equality between Hamas and Israel any more than there is between al Qaeda and the United States. Yet under the Goldstone logic, terrorists and sovereign states are identical. The incidental, unintentional civilian deaths Israel caused during the Gaza conflict are condemned as war crimes; the widespread and intentional Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians are basically ignored. The Goldstone model makes it impossible for civilized states to strike effectively against the world's barbarians who are fighting a shadow war against decency that views innocent noncombatants as both legitimate targets and useful shields.
The United States voted against the report and will presumably use its veto power if action is taken before the Security Council. America would do well to make it clear, publicly and privately, that it will not countenance the report or its twisted logic, nor endorse any moves to level the playing field between terror organizations and civilized states. If this movement gains traction, one day the United States will be in the dock.