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Actually reading the Goldstone report

This is a note about the Goldstone report.

For those who have different facebook friends to me, and so haven’t seen a flurry of articles, youtube links and the like, almost all of them slamming the report, I’ll explain what it is. Then I’ll explain why I think we need to take it seriously.
Richard Goldstone is a prominent South African judge with vast experience of investigating human rights abuses worldwide: including South Africa, Yugoslavia, and Rwanda. He is Jewish; according to his daughter he is a Zionist; he is a trustee of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and by his own admission, has ‘supported Israel and the Jewish people all [his] life’.

He also authored a work that Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the US, claims 'goes further than Ahmedinejad'. The work in question was the 575 page report of a UN commissioned investigation into violations of international law perpetrated during the Gaza conflict earlier this year. Goldstone led the investigation.

I’ve started reading his report. Are there problems with it? Probably. And sure – these should be discussed and acknowledged. For example, the mission’s remit was initially one-sided - it was only to examine Israeli violations of international law (not Hamas violations). According to NGO Moniter, the report therefore ‘erased Hamas culpability’. Reading the report myself, however, I don’t see evidence for that. In fact the report actually recognises the initial one-sidedness of their remit, and in para 11 states:

“the Mission determined that it was required to consider any actions by all parties that might have constituted violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law.”

In other words, they expanded the scope of their investigation specifically to address violations committed by Hamas. And they did exactly that. In para 35 they note evidence of Hamas military attacks from civilian areas; in para 36 they write:

“Palestinian armed groups, where they launched attacks close to civilian or protected buildings, unnecessarily exposed the civilian population to damage.”

They go on in section XXIV to address the issue of Hamas rocket attacks, noting the 8,000 rockets that have been launched since 2001. Para 1680 notes that two thirds of Sderot residents have had an acquaintance injured by the rocket fire, while half have had shrapnel fall on their homes. The report is unequivocal in its denunciation of the rocket attacks as violations of international law.

What is more, the report acknowledges Israel’s ‘significant efforts… to issue warnings’ to Gazan civilian before attacks. (Para 37) And it explains that Israel’s use of white phosphorous was not (contrary to popular imagination) proscribed by international law (‘reckless’ though it may have been).

So to suggest that the report is some kind of entirely one-sided, poisonous anti-semitic diatribe – as Oren and others would have you believe – is simply absurd.

 Some pro-Israel commentators are frustrated with the reports failure to acknowledge Hamas’s alleged strategy of using human shields. There is an obvious reason that could explain such a failure: Israel completely refused to cooperate with the report, submitting no evidence to the mission. They even refused permission for Goldstone and his team to visit Sderot to see the damage there. It’s like the little child in school who refuses to explain to the teacher why he got into a fight (or fought in a way that violates international law or whatever) and then complains that the teacher overlooked his side of the story.

Another criticism has been that the report relied on reports from anti-Israel organizations. There’s a fallacy committed by such a criticism; just because an organization is anti-Israel, it doesn’t follow that their submissions are dishonest. But more importantly, reading the report, I’m struck by paragraph 24, where Goldstone explains that in any case, the Mission relied primarily and whenever possible on information gathered first hand. “information produced by others… was used primarily as corroboration.”

In any case, while there may be some shortcomings, the report needs to be taken seriously. Goldstone’s team examined over 10,000 pages of documentation and testimony, conducted 188 interviews; saw 1,200 photographs, and 30 videos. Okay, some of the evidence may have been suspect. But let’s remember the law of big numbers – there’s a large enough pool of evidence for any reasonable person to accept that it can’t all just be rejected. And the evidence is pretty disturbing. Just one example - it cites four examples of Israelis using Palestinian human shields. (para 55) Incidentally, this evidence was supported by testimonies from Israeli soldiers. The use of human shields is a war crime. And we can’t just sweep it under the floor under talk of ‘these things happen in war’. These things only happen when someone decides they should happen.

The report cites numerous examples of Israeli violations of international law. It identified a few instances in which civilians were targeted without an identifiable military objective. Now it may just be the case that Israel knew of something that the report’s creators did not. But if so, the Israeli government only has itself to blame for failing to cooperate with the Mission, and failing to identify for them the military objectives in those attacks.

More disturbingly, some violations of international law were explicitly advocated by senior Israeli politicians. For example, Eli Yishai, currently one of the four deputy Prime Ministers, Minister for internal affairs, and chairman of the Shas party, said:

“Even if they fire at an open area or into the sea, we must damage their infrastructures and destroy 100 houses. That's when it will end,”

This note is getting too long, so I’ll end here with a recommendation for people to actually read (at least) the executive summary of the report before they reject it out of hand. The one thing I will reject, though, is Ambassador Oren's grotesque suggestion that Goldstone 'goes further than Ahmedinejad'; as though a report exposing Israeli and Hamas violations of international law is somehow (a) of the same nature as Ahmedinejad's holocaust denial, and (b) is in fact worse than it. Oren writes that: "Recognizing the murder of six million Jews more than six decades ago is, in fact, vital for understanding the supreme dangers posed to six million Jews in Israel today by a nuclear Iran and by the Goldstone Report." And with this he does something even worse: he exploits the memory of the holocaust so as to discredit the findings of the Report.


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