April 2, 2011

Much Ado About Nothing: Richard Goldstone's Supposed Retraction

Writing in the Washington Post, Richard Goldstone claims that, had the Goldstone Commission known in 2009 what it knows now, its report would have “probably” been different.  Specifically, he writes, the Commission most likely wouldn’t have concluded that Israel had a policy of intentionally targeting civilians (Washington Post). 

Not surprisingly, Benjamin Netanyahu has jumped all over this, claiming that this op-ed exonerates Israel of all wrongdoing in Operation Cast Lead. He added: “The fact that Goldstone changed his mind must lead to the shelving of the [Goldstone] Report once and for all” (Haaretz).

There’s just one problem with all this: the Goldstone Report never claimed that Israel had a policy of intentionally targeting civilians.  As Yaniv Reich writes, “This is a red-herring; nobody seriously believes there is a high-level policy to murder civilians.  The actual issue is that ‘these incidents indicate that the instructions given to the Israeli forces moving into Gaza provided for a low threshold for the use of lethal fire against the civilian population’ (Goldstone report, pp. 16).  This low threshold was an intentional policy, as has been confirmed by dozens of soldiers’ and officers’ statements” (Mondoweiss).

So, despite what Netanyahu has claimed, Goldstone has not actually retracted any of the allegations of war crimes made by the Goldstone Commission, officially called the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.  It should also be pointed out that the other members of the Commission—Christine Chinkin, Hina Jilani, and Colonel Desmond Travers—continue to stand by the Report’s findings (Mondoweiss). 

All of which means that Israel still stands accused of committing several war crimes—among them, using civilians as human shields, deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure, and conducting indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks.

Goldstone proceeds to praise Israel for conducting investigations into “over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza.”  But the UN Committee of Independent Experts, which was charged with following up on the Goldstone Report, has reported that Israel has not adequately investigated many of the allegations made by the Goldstone Commission. Most significantly, “there is no indication that Israel has opened investigations into the actions of those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw Operation Cast Lead” (Committee of Independent Experts [.pdf]).

In his op-ed, Goldstone mentions one, just one, specific allegation made by the Goldstone Commission which he believes should be retracted: “[T]he most serious attack the Goldstone Report focused on was the killing of some 29 members of the al-Samouni family in their home. 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.” 

As proof that the IDF didn’t target civilians in this instance, Goldstone simply states that an IDF investigation concluded that it didn’t target civilians.  Needless to say, this argument is highly flawed.  Both the Goldstone Commission and the Committee of Experts concluded that, for obvious reasons, Israel cannot be expected to conduct an unbiased investigation into its own affairs (Goldstone Report [.pdf]). 

It’s also worth mentioning that the Committee of Experts doesn’t share Goldstone’s conclusion here.  First, the Committee states that, as far as it knows, Israel has not completed its investigation of the massacre.  Second, the Committee notes that, according to an October 2010 Haaretz report, although the commander who authorized the missile attack claimed that he had not been informed that civilians were present, several air force officers had in fact warned him that “there could be civilians in the area” (Haaretz).

Richard Goldstone’s motives in writing this op-ed are completely irrelevant.  What matters is the evidence.  And the evidence—documented not just by the Goldstone Commission, but also by the Arab League [.pdf], Breaking the Silence [.pdf], Amnesty International [.pdf], and Human Rights Watch—indicates that Israel committed numerous war crimes in Operation Cast Lead. 

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