Belated Thoughts on the Goldstone Op-ed

I usually try to stay current in my posts but alas, life invariably manages to intervene. Latest case in point: the now all-too-well-known Goldstone Washington Post, op-ed, which came out just as I was leaving to take my son on an extended college visit road trip. So even though this story is yesterday’s news by blogosphere standards, I’d like to weigh in with a few thoughts, belated though they may be:

Many are asking why Judge Richard Goldstone chose to “reconsider” his committee’s report nearly two years after it was presented to the UN Human Rights Council. In fact, Goldstone himself answers this question in the second paragraph of the op-ed: it was written in reaction to the recent release of a report by a UN commitee of experts — chaired by former New York judge Mary McGowan Davis — that followed up on the recommendations of the Goldstone Report.

But of course for most, it’s not quite that straightforward. Many have speculated that the somewhat conciliatory tone of the op-ed indicates that Goldstone, a lifelong Zionist, may be trying to make amends with Israel and the Jewish community. Indeed, the blogosphere has been positively rife with theories that explain the psychological rationale for Goldstone’s public “reconsideration.”

While interesting, this kind of speculation is ultimately fairly moot. Richard Goldstone himself has never been the issue here. What truly matters are the serious allegations his committee made regarding the events that took place during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009. And now: whether or not the new McGowan Davis Report has caused Goldstone to fundamentally recant these allegations.

In his op-ed, Goldstone found it significant that the McGowan Davis Report reported “Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza.” In particular, Goldstone felt this shed some light on the issue of “intentionality” – which many found to be the most damning finding of the Goldstone Report.

As Goldstone wrote in his op-ed:

While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the (McGowan Davis) report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.

Goldstone went on to say that if Israel had cooperated with his commission during its initial investigation, he would have been able to clarify further the critical issue of whether the IDF intentionally targeted civilians or whether these were isolated incidents perpetrated by individual soldiers.

While this may well be true, the issue of intentionality is by no means resolved. In fact, the McGowan Davis Report makes it clear that it cannot determine whether or not civilians were intentionally targeted as a matter of policy until Israel carries out a properly independent and transparent (i.e., non-military) investigation.

From p. 12 of the McGowan Davis Report:

Therefore, the Committee remains of the view that an independent public commission – and not the (Israeli Military Advocate General’s) office – is the appropriate mechanism for carrying out an independent and impartial analysis, as called for in (the Goldstone Report), into allegations that high-level decision-making related to the Gaza conflict violated international law.

At any rate, the issue of intentionality is but one of the many disturbing allegations brought to light by the Goldstone Report. In a Washington Post op-ed yesterday, Jessica Montell, Director of B’tselem, correctly pointed out that even if Israel did not intentionally target civilians, there are any number of troubling allegations regarding the IDF’s behavior during Operation Cast Lead:

In the operation, according to rigorous research by B’Tselem, Israel killed at least 758 Palestinian civilians who did not take part in the hostilities; 318 of them were minors. More than 5,300 Palestinians were injured, over 350 of them seriously. More than 3,500 houses were destroyed, and electricity, water and sewage infrastructure was severely damaged. In many ways, the Gaza Strip has yet to recover from the unprecedented destruction this operation wrought.

The extent of the harm to civilians does not prove that Israel violated the law. But Israel has yet to adequately address many allegations regarding its conduct, including: the levels of force authorized; the use of white phosphorous and inherently inaccurate mortar shells in densely populated areas; the determination that government office buildings were legitimate military targets; the obstruction of and harm to ambulances.

In his only interview since his op-ed, Goldstone has stated he has “no reason to believe any part of the report needs to be reconsidered at this time.” Two other members of his original commission, Hina Jilani and Desmond Travers have both stated that they fully stand behind their findings as well.

However you choose to characterize Goldstone’s recent words, it is clear that he has not in any way recanted his commission’s report. Indeed, the fury with which Israeli politicians first received the Goldstone Report – and their vociferous insistence that it now be formally withdrawn – is the surest sign of its continuing moral power – and of the continuing need for Israel to conduct an independent, credible and transparent investigation of its actions during Cast Lead.

This was, after all, the most important recommendation of the Goldstone Report – and why, in my opinion, it still remains as relevant as ever.

10 thoughts on “Belated Thoughts on the Goldstone Op-ed

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

      Another way to ask that question: what is the moral difference between intentionally targeting civilians and loosing hundreds of tons of state of the art weaponry on a tiny sliver of land filled with 1.5 million residents who have nowhere to run, with the very reasonable expectation that these actions would almost certainly kill a myriad of civilian non-combatants?

  1. Miriam

    It is telling, through Goldstone’s actions, how strong the Zionist heartstrings have been tugging at him. We have seen this same thing with Benny Morris. And while Goldstone will be accepted into the Zionist Jewish community with open (albeit conditional) arms, I wonder how well he will really be sleeping at night. He will have to quench the fire inside him that he knows he has seen – the underbelly of the Israeli occupation and the true consequences of Zionism. Many a Zionist before and after Goldstone will have to make a choice; may we be grounded and centered and supported enough to go the distance and see through to the other side that is justice.

  2. Richard Witty

    I think the questions that you raise don’t even touch the real questions implied by the op-ed.

    The pulling of a trigger of a gun is an intentional action, directed at a target. The aiming of a missile is an intentional action, directed at a target. The path of a tank unit is an intentional action.

    That describes ALL military actions.

    The shooting of a 100 rockets at civilians are also intentional actions, directed at random targets.

    The relevant question is what extent of response to shelling of civilians is justified, admissable under international law.

    The factors that were public at the time were that historically, Hamas and militias had done great harm to IDF ground forces during ground missions. Hamas and militias undertook a restoration of shelling of civilians after the cease-fire had ended (it had alternately broken down and then retook mostly, not completely) and escalated that shelling and rocket-firing before Israel responded militarily. During the week prior to the Israeli military actions, Hamas officials declared that they were fully armed and prepared to deal with a ground assault, and that they would wipe the Gazan streets with Israeli blood.

    The repeated (rather than token) shelling compelled a military response. (Anything can be delayed, but at some point the IDF becomes negligent of its responsibility as the military of a sovereign state whose civilians are being targeted by a foreign power.)

    The statements by Hamas, historical experience, and the political pressure from the Israeli populace to protect their children’s (soldiers) lives led to the decision to undertake a “careful” military approach (careful to protect IDF lives, and some care to protect Gazan civilians).

    That then included regarding Gaza at some state of war with Israel, the justification for taking out electrical and communications infrastructure, transportation infrastructure, clearing paths including consistent line of sight.

    Not careful enough to protect Gazan civilians is a VERY different beast than “intentionally targeting”.

    It is a very different scale of accusation than the sadistic IDF that is widely portrayed.

    And, it opens the question of how does one increase the degree of sensitivity in a populace and military, that IS actively under armed attack, and at other times.

    The resumption of terror directed at civilians is also a critical component of Israeli and world reasoning. I do not have a clear conscience if I equalize the deaths by community.

    The only clear conscience comes from realizing peace and mutual acceptance, including demanding that Israel and Israelis be accepted and not targeted.

  3. Stewart Mills

    Thanks for your sharing Brant.

    Another B’Tselem report you may want to take a look at it Void of Responsibility. It is surprising Richard Goldstone did not take such a report into account before he wrote his oped. The essence of this report is that the Israeli civil and military justice system is systematically failing to hold people to account, and yet all we get from Richard Goldstone is his belief that it will work. The difference between a faith based system and an empirical one. Quite surprising that RG resorts to a nationalistic faith based system when in fact empirical work from a premier human rights organisation says a very different message.

    I used the B’Tselem report as basis for an essay I prepared that begins:

    Since 29 September 2000 there have been more than 2,297 Palestinians who have been killed who had not taken part in hostilities against Israelis. That is people who have been killed at demonstrations, on their way to school or at their home. This is the equivalent of killing all the people on 52 buses filled to capacity. In comparison, between 1994 and 2004 the years when the suicide phase of bombing of buses occurred the equivalent of 6.4 buses of Israelis were killed. [I realise these are unpleasant comparisons, but it gives a sense of the quantitative difference in killing of innocents].

    Prior to the second intifada the Military Police Investigation Unit would have investigated the killing of all Palestinians who were killed despite not taking part in hostilities. Now this is not the case. B’Tselem in 2006-2009 demanded the MPIU investigate 148 matters. The Judge Advocate General’s Office only ordered the MPIU to investigate 22 of these matters. The killing of Bassem Abu Rahmah is one such case that only occurred due to intense pressure from Israeli human rights groups like B’Tselem. However, again no person was found to account. Again the killing was labeled as an accident. Once is an accident, twice sure…but 2,297 accidental killings?

    Not only are Palestinians being killed without a satisfactory explanation and appropriate persons being held to account, but internationals are also being killed. Rachel Corrie, Iain Hook, James Miller and UN personnel at UN Patrol base Khiam were all killed without anybody within the IDF being held to account. Tom Hurndall was a rare exception, in that someone was held to account. His killer served 6 years in prison, but this came after only extreme pressure of the family and British Government. Justice did not come as a matter of course but had to be demanded by the deceased’s families. Israelis too have been killed by Israeli security forces without someone being held to account. Asel Aslih (along with 12 other Palestinians Israelis) was killed in 2000 whilst taking part in demonstrations against Israeli actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Internationals too have been shot at and received serious injuries: Brian Avery (face disfigurement), Tristan Anderson (physical and mental disability) and Emily Henchowitz (loss of an eye). Again there has been no person held to account for these actions……

    Mr Lamm asserts that Israel conducts investigations into these killings. B’Tselem, argues this is not the case, and that investigations only occur for exceptional cases which often means outside pressure. The following essay clearly shows a substantial number of persons have been killed by IDF who have not taken part in hostilities and the IDF has failed to genuinely hold the perpetrators of the killing to account. The past decade has demonstrated a systematic failure in the Israeli civil and military justice system to account for the substantial amount of Palestinian fatalities occurring in the absence of hostilities to Israelis. Statements that suggest otherwise are not backed up by facts on the ground.

  4. Margaret Mayer

    Since the Washington Post Op-Ed by Jurist Richard Goldstone, I have read nothing but demands for retraction of the Goldstone Report, Bloglines screaming “Goldstone lied” and now “Fight to rescind the Goldstone report reaches the U.S. congress”. The same group of people who claimed that the Goldstone report was biased demanded international condemnation of the report, are those who did not even bother to read it. It holds true with the latest installment of the Goldstone saga. Those who see this as Israel’s salvation, didn’t even read bother the McGowan Davis Report.

    What has changed with Mr. Goldstone’s regret? Nowhere has the report denied the the use of white phosphorus on a heavily populated residential area? The McGowan Davis report has not cleared Israel of the use of disproportionate force. It hasn’t justified the senseless killing of 8 students waiting for a bus in front of a UN building? It hasn’t erase the use of Palestinian human shields by the IDF? It has not claime that a UN facility, hospitals, schools and ambulances were not targeted. It hasn’t addressed the wanton destruction of a chicken farm, including the killing of the chickens. Were they an existential threat to the Jewish state?

    I find it difficult to buy into the “war is hell” and there is always “collateral damage”. Collateral damage of over 700 non combatants? The Israeli military is one of the world’s best trained military units and is outfitted with most technology advanced weaponry. Yet half of the dead were civilians? They erred by 50%, armed with the most advanced weaponry in the world?? This leaves you with two options of what to believe. Either the IDF is the most incompentent force in the world, or they didn’t see their targets as fellow human beings and simply didn’t care. I thk this quote from Tzipi Livni sums it up “”the IDF demonstrated real hooliganism during the course of [Cast Lead], which I demanded.” Not intentional?

    1. Richard Kahn

      You claim that people who criticize the report have not read it. Do you have evidence to support this claim? You might be right, but I doubt that the percentage of its supporters who read it is much larger than the percentage of its detractors.

  5. Abbban Aziz

    “Nowhere has the report denied the the use of white phosphorus on a heavily populated residential area”

    There is nothing illegal about using WP in heavily populated residential areas, when those areas are loaded with Hamas terrorists.

    The nature of international law and the Geneva Conventions specifically prohibits combatants from operating in civilian areas, and the fact that they do does not make them immune from attack.

    Know this Margaret, the Hamas leadership HID UNDER A HOSPITAL DURING THE CONFLICT! Why would they do this? Why would they launch rockets from mosques, as documeted by named-Palestinian testimony, not anonymous, Hamas claims.

    The reality if the Palestinian casualties were more or less consistent with what Israel claimed. The Goldstone Report was responded to in full and the UN has yet to offer a proper response to Israel’s investigation.

    While the world accepted the claims of Hamas and Hamas-linked rights groups unchallenged, Israel spent over a year investigating claims. No army in modern warfare has done this. Not the French. Not the Americans. Not the British. And not the Muslim states.

    And FYI, The Goldstone Report was mandated when LIBYA WAS A MEMBER OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL! The UN is a disgrace. The fact that Israel is enemy #1 should be a badge of honor.


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