A mere 24 hours after the release of Richard Goldstone's United Nations-sponsored report on human-rights abuses during the war in Gaza last winter, the Internet bulged with 94,000 blogs and articles. Most were personal attacks on the integrity of Judge Goldstone. One would never know from the overheated rhetoric that he had condemned all the warring participants.
Both the Israel Defence Forces and the Hamas leadership stand accused of committing war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Among other atrocities, Judge Goldstone reported that Palestinians carrying white flags of surrender were shot outright, and that a mosque was attacked and 15 worshippers killed. He found that Palestinian survivors, especially children, continue to suffer severe mental trauma.
He also reported that the firing of rockets and mortars into southern Israel by Palestinian groups led to a loss of life and property. And to continuing mental trauma that parallels that of the Palestinians.
Most damming under international law, both Israeli and Hamas leaders were accused of targeting civilians - of a deliberate intent to kill where there was no proportionate military objective to be gained. Proportionality of this kind has been a central tenet of war law since the 19th century when the nations that faced one another on the battlefield first convened to hammer out what was, and was not, permissible during armed conflict.
Judge Goldstone has asked that his report be taken up by the UN Security Council, and that Israel and Hamas be given six months to conduct their own transparent investigations into his findings. Should they refuse to comply, he recommends that the situation be referred to the International Criminal Court. Although neither Israel nor Gaza is a member of the ICC, there is a precedent for a Security Council referral to the court. In 2005, after failing to stop the genocide in Darfur by diplomatic means, the council voted to send the Sudan file to the ICC for investigation.
An ICC arrest warrant for its top political and military leadership is what Israel understandably fears; this would be a devastating blow to the government and to the country's reputation, placing it in the company of unsavoury companions whose acts had also attracted the attention of international courts.
But Judge Goldstone has proffered something quite remarkable. By recommending that Israel and Hamas conduct investigations that meet international standards, he has effectively offered both parties a way out. He has also opened a door into the 21st century, should they wish to step through. The hard struggle for accountability in the case of major human-rights abuses is still in its infancy, but the trend is unmistakable. Almost every democracy in the world supports the precepts of international justice.
Nevertheless, the Netanyahu government has launched an international diplomatic offensive to persuade the major Western democracies to reject the report. Judge Goldstone is being impugned as a " self-hating" Jew, a hater of Israel and, egregiously, as the creator of a new " blood libel." Still, it will prove hard to puncture his reputation, for there is no one on the international legal stage who commands more widespread admiration.
Before joining South Africa's Constitutional Court, he chaired a national commission of inquiry that helped to effect the bloodless dismantling of apartheid. In 1994, he was appointed as the first chief prosecutor of the new UN international criminal courts for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. He is a Zionist - as are all of us who connect the dots between the unprecedented horrors of the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel. He is committed to the rule of law, itself a historic Jewish value, and to the principle that impunity for high-ranking perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes must be addressed.
By rejecting his report and its recommendations, both Israel and Hamas are clinging to an obsolete view of the state and its entitlements. In a globalized world where the rule of international law has assumed renewed prominence, national sovereignty no longer includes the right to wage war, even defensive war, in breach of humanitarian norms that protect us all.
This is the long view. And in the fractured Middle East, only the long view matters. Israel's ultimate survival will depend not on persuading world leaders to ignore the findings of a distinguished jurist but on a better understanding of emerging 21st-century realities. And a willingness to think new thoughts.
Erna Paris is author of The Sun Climbs Slow: The International Criminal Court and the Struggle for Justice.