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Robert Fisk’s World: Israel should pay attention to criticism from its own people

They wouldn’t accept that the casualties of this war were disproportionate

I met Judge Richard Goldstone at The Hague at the height of the Bosnian war, a small, dapper man whose belief in the righteousness of justice shone through his every word.

As head of the War Crimes Tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia, he pursued the blood-drenched gangsters of the Balkans – Croat Catholic, Bosnian Muslim, Serb Orthodox – with Nuremberg-like persistence. He believed that one day even Slobodan Milosevic would be brought to book. I doubted this. But he was right, as they say, and I was wrong. He was Jewish – and not afraid to talk of his hatred of apartheid in his native South Africa – and I thought he was a fine man.

So would he be pissed on by the Israelis when he investigated the crimes of the winter war in Gaza? Or would Israel – just this once – desist from its usual venom for all critics if this great jurist produced a report that blamed Israel as well as Hamas for crimes against humanity? Not because he was Jewish. Not because he drew the sword of justice on behalf of the UN. But because he was a patently decent and fair man. "I accepted with hesitation my United Nations mandate," he wrote last week, "because I believe deeply in the rule of law and the laws of war, and the principle that in armed conflict civilians should to the greatest extent possible be protected from harm."

Not a hope, of course. Israeli investigations of the Gaza war, its government officials announced, were "a thousand times" fairer than the Goldstone investigation – a preposterous claim, given Israel's constant inability to conduct fair inquiries of its own – and that his mission "gave legitimacy to the Hamas terrorist organisation". The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem found that 1,387 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza war, more than 770 of them civilians. Thirteen Israelis were killed, four by their own troops, three of the others Israeli Arabs. Goldstone bitterly condemned Hamas for firing at civilians – from civilians areas of Gaza – but Chapter 11 of his report, for example, found that Israel shelled a house in which Palestinian civilians had been forced to gather, intentionally bombed a hospital with white phosphorous shells, shot civilians who were waving white flags and refused to allow wounded to be evacuated.

But no, Israel – as unwilling to accept criticism as Hamas – which, typically and cynically, washed its own dirty hands of the report, even though it murdered at least 40 suspected Palestinian collaborators while killing only six of its military enemies – wouldn't face up to Goldstone's conclusions, wouldn't accept that the casualties of this monstrous war were disproportionate. Israel's response wasn't disproportionate. It never was.

This nonsense is unworthy of a grown-up nation. For not long before the Gaza war, Gadi Eisenkot, the Israeli army northern commander, defined his doctrine very carefully. "We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction... This isn't a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorised." No wonder the world watches, amazed, at Israel's response to Goldstone's conclusions. And the United States – which, of course, once defined Hiroshima as "a military base" – was either silent or took Israel's side. Barack Obama's UN ambassador, Susan Rice, condemned the Goldstone investigation with the pathetic (and, again, typical) remark that "our view is that we have to remain focused on the future".

But these things come by the bucketful. Take the Toronto Film Festival that ended this week. A group of eight actresses, actors and activists objected to the festival for embracing a city-to-city spotlight with Tel Aviv just a few months after the Gaza slaughter, accusing the Canadian organisers of helping to wash Israel's image after the bloodbath. They weren't trying to boycott the Israeli films at the festival – and by the way, I urge readers to watch the Israeli film Lebanon, filmed almost entirely inside a tank, when it comes your way – and five of the eight letter-signers were Jewish, one an Israeli.

It mattered not, of course. They were accused of trying to organise a racist boycott, abused as hypocrites, censors and – since slanders are now part of the grammar of Israel's so-called supporters – anti-Semites. Naomi Klein, one of the most brilliant of North America's journalists, was abused in Canada's National Post ("the strange, enduring rage of Naomi Klein"), thus cementing the paper's role as Canada's version of the Jerusalem Post.

But there was just one little hiccup for the protesters and their letter. I noticed Jane Fonda's name among them. Fonda? Remember little Jane when she outraged her friends by visiting North Vietnam during America's own disproportionate war in South-east Asia? Tough little Jane, we thought then. But I went back to my files (paper, of course) and discovered that doughty Jane turned up in Lebanon in 1982 when Israel was besieging Beirut – with plenty of white phosphorous shells falling among civilians, of course – to entertain the Israeli soldiers whose war was to claim 17,000 lives. According to Yediot Ahronot (4 July 1982, if readers want to check it out), she "expressed her identification with Israel's struggle against Palestinian terror...", later announcing her "unqualified support for Israel", attributing protests at the invasion to "anti-Semitism". (Please read Al-Hamishmar of 5 December 1982.)

Years later, she turned up in Egypt to marvel at the temples of Luxor, but refused to take questions from me on her enthusiasm for the 1982 Israeli invaders. But then, bingo, up she pops in Toronto. Until last week, when she said she'd signed the letter "without reading it carefully enough... some of the words in the protest letter did not come from my heart... Many (Israeli) citizens now suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder..." The letter did not "hear the narratives of both sides" and could be "inflammatory".

Ye gods! With Jane as a friend, you don't need enemies. But given her previous behaviour and now this grovelling backtrack, you have to admit that the Toronto protesters must have some right on their side. Like Judge Richard Goldstone.