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Travers and the Tonge Manoeuvre

This is a guest post from Amie

This event at LSE last night was billed as a discussion of the Goldstone report, in which Panellists would also examine the state of the peace process. The ‘also’ part turned out to mean, by and large, ‘instead’.

The make up of the panel was problematic from the outset. Chinkin and Travers were two of the Goldstone Commissioners. Then there was Karma Nabulsi.

Ami Ayalon provided the “balance”. Oh, and then there was the chair, Lakhdar Brahimi. This senior UN aide has publicly described Israel as a country whose policy constitutes “the great poison in the region.”

Those who still had hopes, even with this line up, of gaining an insight into the way the Goldstone commissioners had managed to arrive at their astonishing conclusions and to have the opportunity to put their methodology and findings under scrutiny, were instead treated to the following:

Chinkin’s contribution was so ineffectual my notes seem to have faded. Just one irony sticks out – her contention that Commissions such as this are good at bringing peace because they are objective assessment of disputed facts.

Ayalon discarded Goldstone from the outset, asserting that neither international law nor war could bring peace. Forget justice, look for fairness (whatever that meant). He was antiwar because there is no way of winning against Hamas who have changed the rules of war which separated combatants and non combatants and try and lure the Israeli military into civilian areas and fight behind human shields. The way forward is imagination, responsibility not blame, peace process not Goldstone. And er..that Kind of Thing.

Karma mentioned the Commission only as a peg to hang her prescription for Israel Palestine . She disagreed with Ayalon and saw the Commission as the means of enforcing Justice upon the region. She swiftly left Gaza 09 and it was back to 48 and ethnic cleansing. The area allocated to Israel under partition had almost an Arab majority then, so what would have been so terrible had they remained? What would be so terrible now, if all the refugees came back, she wondered.

And what of Col Travers? He at first concentrated exclusively on making a laudable, thoughtful informative case for a move to declare a range of very unpleasant weapons outlawed in International law. He made it clear that these currently perfectly legal weapons like white phosphorus were used universally in all armies. This was not in any way especially targeting Israel, it seemed, until imperceptibly he slid into the Tonge manoeuvre:

The Mission had found no evidence of the use by the IDF of DIME with tungsten other than anecdotal, but just to let us know this is nasty if used.

He then speculated about the use of depleted uranium to harden warheads. This might or might not have been used by the IDF, but still best to test at some point to check.

Never mind, the seeds of suspicion have been planted. Just sayin’.

Then the question I had drafted was put to Travers:

In your interview with Middle East Monitor last month, you deride the report of Colonel Tim Collins who visited a mosque that you had previously investigated. He said that there was evidence of secondary explosions in the basement, which was an indication that it had been used to store weapons. You called Collins’ findings “drivel and propaganda”. You also dismissed as “spurious” several photographs that were on an Israeli website showing weapons and munitions found in mosques. Are you saying that all this evidence is spurious and falsified, and if so, is not the credibility of your bare assertions undercut by your next statement in that interview that: “ Britain ’s foreign policy interests in the Middle East seem to be influenced strongly by Jewish lobbyists. I find it interesting that the two former military officers [Colonels Tim Collins and Richard Kemp] quoted in the media in defence of Israeli military actions in Gaza are both British.”

His answer begins by attacking Hoffman for being economical with his selectivity of the quote, in leaving out the part where he praised Collins. Yes well, this was praise of the kind where you preface an attack on your legal opponent: “with the greatest respect to my learned friend but..”

When he finished, I called, “What about the Jewish lobby?” Jonathan Hoffman shouted, more loudly “What about the Jewish lobby?” The chair tsked and called for the next question.

For more of Travers logic and wisdom see here (pdf). He is happy to divine Jewish influence on British policy, but even contemplating the hiding of munitions in mosques is taboo, as “Those charges reflect Western perceptions in some quarters that Islam is a violent religion.”

I do wish Col Travers had had the opportunity to explain his Jewish lobby remark. I think he should be asked to do so whenever he appears on a public platform in future.