Last January, speaking to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, I asked the question 'What would you do?' if Ireland found itself in a situation comparable to that of Israel at the end of 2008, following eight years of rocket and mortar attacks on its southern communities from Hamas-ruled Gaza. In the months since, nobody in Ireland has come forward with an answer to my question.
An implied answer has now come from an international source, in the shape of the report of the Goldstone "fact-finding" mission into the Gaza conflict at the start of this year.
The answer is that, in practice, a democratic state confronted with terrorist attacks against its citizens must do nothing. Terrorists everywhere will rejoice that a UN- mandated body has effectively ruled that there are no legitimate means by which states may counter the complex and innovative terrorist techniques evolved by groups such as Hamas.
The mission was mandated by the so-called Human Rights Council, a misnomer if ever there was one. This body, which has contained paragons of human rights values such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Cuba, currently has nothing to say about, for example, the 400,000 deaths in Darfur for which Sudan is responsible, or the 1,000,000 displaced civilians in Somalia.
It had absolutely nothing to say during the years when 12,000 Hamas rockets -- more than 7,000 since Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 -- landed on houses, streets, hospitals and schools, making a speciality of targeting the morning school-going period, and only an efficient system of shelters prevented heavy civilian casualties. Not a single UN resolution was passed condemning those criminal attacks.
Instead, of the 25 resolutions passed by the Council in the three years since its foundation, 20 have singled out Israel for censure.
The Goldstone mission contained members who had clearly voiced their conclusions about Israel's guilt well in advance of any "fact-finding" being carried out. This led several distinguished individuals, including former President of Ireland and former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, to refuse invitations to chair the mission. Ms Robinson objected that the mission seemed to her to be "guided not by human rights but by politics".
During its investigation, the mission did not ask its witnesses any questions relating to Hamas terrorist activity, the storage of weaponry in civilian areas or the launching of attacks from those areas. Except in one case, it failed to inquire into the widespread reports of the abuse of mosques to hide weapons and terrorist activity.
The Goldstone report accuses Israel of targeting Gaza's hospitals, but admits that it did not investigate the well-corroborated reports that the Hamas command centre was located in Shifa Hospital. Why did it not ask such questions? A clue is provided by its admission that the witnesses appeared "reluctant to speak about the presence or conduct of hostilities by the Palestinian armed groups" -- a reluctance which it says "may have stemmed from a fear of [Hamas] reprisals".
The report quotes the boast of a Hamas spokesman that it had created "a human shield of women, children, the elderly and the jihad fighters" but, incredibly, goes on to state that it does not consider this as evidence against Hamas.
In the narrative of the report, there is no place for the extensive diplomatic and political efforts made by Israel to avoid an outbreak of hostilities. Neither is there any place for self-defence. Former Prime Minister Olmert's direct plea on Al-Arabiya TV to the people of Gaza, just before the conflict, to stop the Hamas rocket fire, and his statement "that we are not acting against [the residents of Gaza] and that we have no intention of punishing them for the actions of Hamas", are ignored.
A recognised expert with insight into the dilemmas associated with combating the tactics of groups such as Hamas is Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan. Yet the commission made no attempt to interview him. Judge Goldstone admitted: "There was no reliance on Colonel Kemp mainly because in our report we did not deal with the issues he raised regarding the problems of conducting military operations in civilian areas ... "
The warning systems implemented by Israel to limit civilian casualties -- dropping one million flyers, sending tens of thousands of text messages and cellphone calls asking people to leave target areas -- measures which were, according to Colonel Kemp, unprecedented in the history of warfare, are mentioned in the report only to be criticised as "inadequate".
In complex urban warfare, despite the best precautions, civilian casualties are tragically inevitable. There may also have been incidents in which a few soldiers did not always maintain the standards that Israel expected of them.
The true test of a democracy is how it examines its own failings. Israel has opened more than 100 separate investigations into allegations of misconduct arising out of the Gaza conflict, and instituted criminal proceedings in 23 of these.
Overall, the worst feature of the Goldstone report is the moral equation it makes between a democratic state seeking to put an end to attacks against its citizens, and the terrorist group responsible for those attacks.
In the first case, the motives and intentions of Israel are treated as inherently suspect, and its own scrutiny and judicial mechanisms treated as flawed and inadequate. In the second case, Hamas, referred to as "the Gaza authorities", is allotted small space in the report. The history of its aggression is ignored, and its charter, calling for the killing of Jews and the destruction of Israel, similarly ignored.
However, regardless of this report, Israel is ready to open peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without any preconditions.
Hopefully, eventually, Israel and moderate Palestinians will be able to forge a lasting peace, based on two states for two peoples: the state of Israel that already exists as the homeland of the Jewish people and a future Palestinian state as the homeland of the Palestinian people.
Zion Evrony is the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland