Rabbis ask support to urge Israel to investigate war-crimes charges

From Rabbis for Human Rights/ North America

[RHR/NA welcomes wide support for its letter to the Israeli government urging it to follow the recommendation of the Goldstone Report for an indeoendent judicially led and empowered commission to "investigate allegations made about abuses that might have occurred in the conduct of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza." The letter follows. You can sign it here: http://www.rhr-na.org/add-name#addname --AW, editor]

October 26, 2009 / 8 Heshvan 5770

His Excellency Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel
The Honorable Binyamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel

Dear President Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu,

Rabbis for Human Rights-North America is an organization of rabbis from all major streams of North American Judaism deeply committed to the Zionist ideal and to the security of the state of Israel. It is made up of rabbis who also see their role as upholding the most fundamental values of Judaism--honoring the value of every human being (tzelem elokim) and every human life (pikuach nefesh). We are not unaware that the government of the state of Israel has, as its first priority, guaranteeing the safety and security of the state of all the citizens of the state. Yet in the exercise of that responsibility, a Jewish state also needs to be mindful of the values that are at the core of Judaism.

As such, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, calls upon the state of Israel to appoint an independent commission to investigate allegations made about abuses that might have occurred in the conduct of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The recently issued report by the Goldstone Commission has put an international spotlight on violations of human rights by both Hamas and by the Israel Defense Forces. We are well aware of the controversy surrounding that report, its original charter and the track record of the U.N. Human Rights Council that appointed the Goldstone Commission. Nevertheless a country committed to democracy and human rights has an obligation to uncover the truth, especially when such serious allegations of human rights abuses have been raised.

Israel has long been a beacon of liberty and democracy in a region of the world where such a posture is extremely difficult to maintain. As rabbis and leaders of Jewish communities across North America we have taken pride in the many times Israel has taken the moral high ground even when it put the country, its soldiers and its citizens at great risk. We ask that you take the moral high ground now.

The Israeli Supreme Court has, time and again, held the state of Israel and its respective governments up to the highest standards of democracy and human rights in the conduct of its affairs. The precedent of the Kahan Commission report, which investigated allegations of Israeli complicity in the massacre of civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during the Lebanon Campaign of 1982, indicated to the world that Israel was a country that respected the rule of law, even in the midst of armed conflict. The standard set by the Kahan Commission went beyond international statutes that govern the conduct of war; the standard was one that came from the Torah.

We take note that the U.S. Government has urged that Israel “utilize appropriate domestic review procedures and meaningful accountability to investigate and address all credible allegations of misconduct or violations of international law.” (Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner Statement to UN Human Rights Council, September 2009). Several human rights organizations in Israel—including our sister organization, Rabbis for Human Rights-- have called upon the State of Israel to conduct an independent and impartial investigation and to cooperate with an international monitoring mechanism that would guarantee both the independence of that investigation and the implementation of its conclusions. Rabbis for Human Rights-North America adds its voice to these requests.

An independent commission headed by a respected Israeli jurist or former justice of Israel’s Supreme Court would put such a body in the company of other independent commissions that have served Israel well (e.g. Kahan, Winograd, Or) and have allowed Israel to stake proper claim to its commitment to the values and vision of its founders as espoused in its Declaration of Independence and by its prophets and rabbis through the centuries.

With the utmost respect for your leadership of our beloved state of Israel, we pray that you heed our call in the spirit of Isaiah’s prophecy: “Zion shall be redeemed through justice (1:27)”.

Yours sincerely,

Rabbis for Human Rights-North America

Rabbis Ellen Lippmann and Tirzah Firestone

Steven Gerber
Executive Director


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