Richard Goldstone, who chaired the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict, wrote in The Washington Post on Friday that the Goldstone Report would have been a different one if he had known what he knows right now.
What does Goldstone mean? Let's answer that by revisiting his report and its conclusions, comparing these with what Goldstone is claiming today.
The 575-page Goldstone Report was delivered in September 2009, following the bloody war on the Gaza Strip that left more than 1400 people dead. In his Washington Post opinion, Goldstone says that the report found “potential war crimes” and “possibly crimes against humanity” by both Israel and Hamas. In fact, you cannot find such a phrase in the original report.
That difference is important in the context of the headline assertion from Goldstone's Friday piece: the intention of Hamas’s rockets against civilians was explicit whereas there was “no evidence” to support allegations of intentional targeting of individual civilians by Israel.
Goldstone's claim, while provocative, has also no connection with the commission’s construction of Israel responsiblity for crimes in the Operation Cast Lead, as well as its responsibility for the blockade of the Gaza Strip:
The continuum is evident most immediately with the policy of blockade that preceded the operations and that in the Mission’s view amounts to collective punishment intentionally inflicted by the Government of Israel on the people of the Gaza Strip. When the operations began, the Gaza Strip had been for almost three years under a severe regime of closures and restrictions on the movement of people, goods and services.
Prior to the military operation the Gaza economy had been depleted , the health sector beleaguered, the population had been made dependent on humanitarian assistance for survival and the conduct of daily life. Men, women and children were psychologically suffering from longstanding poverty, insecurity and violence, and enforced confinement in a heavily overcrowded territory. The dignity of the people of Gaza had been severely eroded.
According to the report, the collective punishment --- not the targeting of individuals, but collective punishment --- was not only valid through Israel’s blockade, restrictions or demolitions; but also during the operation itself. It says:
The Gaza military operations were, according to the Israeli Government, thoroughly and extensively planned. While the Israeli Government has sought to portray its operations as essentially a response to rocket attacks in the exercise of its right to self defence, the Mission considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole.
In this respect, the operations were in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas, and possibly with the intent of forcing a change in such support.
The timing of the first Israeli attack, at 11:30 am on a week day, when children were returning from school and the streets of Gaza were crowded with people going about their daily business, appears to have been calculated to create the greatest disruption and widespread panic among the civilian population. The treatment of many civilians detained or even killed while trying to surrender is one manifestation of the way in which the effective rules of engagement, standard operating procedures and instructions to the troops on the ground appear to have been framed in order to create an environment in which due regard for civilian lives and basic human dignity was replaced with the disregard for basic international humanitarian law and human rights norms.
The Mission recognizes that some of those killed were combatants directly engaged in hostilities against Israel, but many were not. The outcome and the modalities of the operations indicate, in the Mission’s view, that they were only partially aimed at killing leaders and members of Hamas, Qassam Brigades and other armed groups. They were also to a large degree aimed at destroying or incapacitating civilian property and the means of subsistence of the civilian population.
The Mission concludes that what occurred in just over three weeks at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.
The Mission found numerous instances of deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects (individuals, whole families, houses, mosques) in violation of the fundamental international humanitarian law principle of distinction, resulting in deaths and serious injuries.
The reports continues with the use of “certain weapons” (white phosphorous, flechettes and heavy metal), the use of “human shields”, the “destruction of property” and the “ refusal of cooperation by the Government of Israel”...
Goldstone’s declaration of “no evidence” over the intentionality of Israel also belittles the methodology of his Committee, as it tried to establish what had occurred during the war:
Information-gathering methods included: (a) the review of reports from different sources; (b) interviews with victims, witnesses and other persons having relevant information); (c) site visits to specific locations in Gaza where incidents had occurred; (d) the analysis of video and photographic images, including satellite imagery; (e) the review of medical reports about injuries to victims; (f) the forensic analysis of weapons and ammunition remnants collected at incident sites; (g) meetings with a variety of interlocutors; (h) invitations to provide information relating to the Mission’s investigation requirements; (i) the wide circulation of a public call for written submissions; (j) public hearings in Gaza and in Geneva.
The Mission conducted 188 individual interviews. It reviewed more than 300 reports, submissions and other documentation either researched of its own motion, received in reply to its call for submissions and notes verbales or provided during meetings or otherwise, amounting to more than 10,000 pages, over 30 videos and 1,200 photographs.
All of this disappears with the magic trick --- if not in Goldstone’s Washington Post piece, then in the way it was portrayed by supporters of Israel --- that there is nothing to see regarding Israeli actions.
Goldstone adds to this with his declaration that Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate more than 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza” while “the de facto authorities (i.e., Hamas) have not conducted any investigations into the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel.” Having said that Hamas deliberately hit Israeli civilians, he then says that he was naïve in thinking that Hamas would investigate allegations of its own war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In contrast, Israel’s credibility and moral superiority is intentionally boosted with the conclusion that West Jerusalem could have made mistakes only on the individual level. With that establishment of superiority, all the detail of the Committee report is swept away.
Why Goldstone's shift? First and foremost, it is a warning to Hamas. Following the recent increase in the number of mortars and rockets launched into southern Israel and the growing Israeli public criticism of its government that those rockets cannot be stopped, talk began of another Israeli attack on Gaza. Coming at a time of great change in the Arab world, a renewed war would have been disastrous for Washington and other interested parties in the region.
So Goldstone lets off some of the steam. By giving Israel absolution over the first Operation Cast Lead, he relieves the pressure for a second one: don't worry, we know who is really to blame here.
And then there is the current stagnation in the talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the leaders of the West Bank, over a political agreement. Gaza is a distraction from the effort to get West Jerusalem back to negotiations, so why not "solve" it with the reassurance that Hamas is beyond the acceptable?
But Israeli-American relations are not enough to explain what is happening. Ahead of a new flotilla seeking to arrive in Gaza in May, Israel has been threatening to annex major West Bank settlements before the planned Palestinian proposal to the UN General Assembly to recognise Palestine as a state. There is speculation that Britain, France, and Germany are urging the European Union and the United Nations to propose that a future agreement would be based upon the 1967 lines "with agreed upon land swaps" and reach a "just fair and agreed solution to the refugee question”.
Countering this, West Jerusalem has tried to put itself very close to Moscow. Isaac Molho, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s senior adviser, made a secret trip to Moscow on Wednesday.
And that prospect --- a Russian intervention on behalf of Israel --- may have stirred Washington.
Much of this is speculative. So let us go back to the fundamental that Goldstone’s latest statement has consolidated the nationalist “we told ya, we were right” camp in Israel. Amidst the political debates ahead of elections,the discourse is that, in an international community which is often misguided and indeed threatening, Israel stands alone but triumphant at the end of the day. This is what PM Benjamin Netanyahu said after his cabinet meeting this week:
There are very few instances in which those who disseminate libels retract their libel. This happened in the case of the Goldstone Report. Goldstone himself said that all of the things that we have been saying all along are correct – that Israel never intentionally fired at civilians and that our inquiries operated according to the highest international standards. Of course, this is in complete contrast to Hamas, which intentionally attacked and murdered civilians and, naturally, never carried out any sort of inquiry. This leads us to call for the immediate cancellation of the Goldstone Report.
Hello to the right and just Israel. Good-bye to the Goldstone Commission Report.