Prime Minister Netanyahu was quoted in The Washington Post on Saturday, in response to a question on an independent inquiry following the Goldstone report, responding thus: "We're looking into that not because of the Goldstone report but because of our own internal needs."
There exists both hypocrisy and truth in the Prime Minister's short response.
Hypocrisy, because it is self evident that the Prime Minister, and his government, rejected all calls for an independent inquiry, until the Goldstone report. Now, they are still rejecting these calls while "looking into" launching an investigation. The real possibility of criminal investigations abroad against IDF officers is the only reason for this sudden change of heart from total rejection to consideration. If Israel indeed launches an independent investigation, it may very well shield IDF officers from prosecutions abroad. Countries that sincerely investigate themselves do not leave the door open to residual international authority.
Truth, because Israel indeed should investigate operation Cast Lead for "our own internal needs." The need for accountability, the rule of law, and the defense of human rights is an Israeli need as it is the need of any country wishing to uphold its democratic foundations and preserve its values. And that is exactly the reason while the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, together with the entire community of Israeli human rights organizations, have called for an independent Israeli investigation of Cast Lead. That call was already issued months ago, a short time after Cast Lead, as alarming data was accumulating already during the military operation itself; and that call outlined the criteria for such an independent Israeli investigation to be a real one. Unfortunately, we have bad experiences of how such investigation are handled. For our own internal needs, we need an investigation -- a genuine one.
Finally, a side point on Hamas: non of the above justifies Hamas' actions nor defends that organization's human rights record, for there is none to be defended. Hamas' cruel treatment of Gilad Shalit is one, especifically painful example out of many, and the accumulated record leaves little to be hoped for. Israeli human rights activists that are calling for their government to do the right thing are pressuring their own government for a very basic reason: because we are Israeli citizens and because we care for, and take responsibility for, how our own country and army act. And we would certainly not want Israel to take its moral cues from Hamas, nor use that organization's abuses as excuses.
The laws of war allow for a country to defend itself -- but not everything is moral or legal, even at a time of war, even against a cruel enemy. If norms were violated during Cast Lead, if mistakes, or worse, were made -- deliberate or otherwise -- it is high time to investigate. It is the right thing to do.