Israeli Intimidation Brings Shift in Gaza Report
This column was published on SF Gate on 6 April 2011.
Justice Richard Goldstone dropped a bombshell last week by appearing to repudiate parts of the 2009 report that bears his name.
The 575-page report, compiled under United Nations mandate by Goldstone and three highly esteemed experts, investigated 36 incidents during Israel's 2008-2009 assault on the Gaza Strip, including allegations of indiscriminate and disproportionate attack, illegal use of white phosphorous, using Palestinian civilians as human shields, and deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure. The team concluded that Israel had launched "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."
In response, Israel and its supporters shot the messenger. Justice Goldstone, although an admirer of Israel, suffered withering attack and ostracism. Leaders of his own South African Jewish community threatened to picket his grandson's bar mitzvah, should he attend. Still, for 18 months he stood his ground, publicly affirming the accuracy of the report. Now that he has buckled, Israeli politicians are crowing. Prime Minister Netanyahu claimed that "Everything we said was proved true," and demanded that the United Nations retract the Goldstone Report in whole.
There is no ground for that. The report is an officially approved United Nations document, and Goldstone is but one among four authors.
He now maintains that, had he seen data later revealed by Israeli military investigations, the "report would have been a different document." Of the al-Samouni family compound bombing that killed more than 20, Goldstone wrote last week: "The shelling of the home was apparently the consequence of an Israeli commander's erroneous interpretation of a drone image, and an Israeli officer is under investigation for having ordered the attack." He then expressed confidence that the Israeli military's self-investigations would lead to fair results, opining that "they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy." He thus adopts the Israeli position that any misdeeds during the Gaza assault were caused by individual deviants, not by policies or rules of engagement ordered by military leaders.
Yet the original report never accused Israel of widespread deliberate attacks on civilians, and thus Goldstone retracted a claim that had never been made. Most of its essential findings remain unchallenged.
Goldstone's newfound confidence in the Israeli military's self-investigations is inexplicable. The Goldstone Report itself concluded that they "do not comply with international standards of independence and impartiality." Another body of U.N. experts led by retired New York Supreme Court Justice Mary McGowan Davis found, "there is no indication that Israel has opened investigations into the actions of those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw Operation Cast Lead."
Hence nothing should impede the progress of the Goldstone Report through the United Nations system, including, ultimately, to the International Criminal Court. Israel's impunity from international law must end not only to provide justice to its victims - but also to promote durable peace in the Middle East.