Monday, April 4, 2011

Judge Goldstone's weak knees

Richard Goldstone, the South-African judge who in 2009 headed the mission to Gaza which resulted in the so-called 'Goldstone Report', stirred some emotions last week with an Op-Ed in the Washington Post, in which he seemed to take back some of the more damning conclusions.    
 ''We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09 than we did when I chaired the fact-finding mission appointed by the UN Human Rights Council that produced what has come to be known as the Goldstone Report," Goldstone wrote, adding, "If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document." 
In his article Goldstone gives some examples of what might have been different. First he quotes 'the final report by the U.N. committee of independent experts — chaired by former New York judge Mary McGowan Davis — that followed up on the recommendations of the Goldstone Report'. According to Goldstone  it ''has found that 'Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 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.'
Secondly he argues that ''our report found evidence of potential war crimes and “possibly crimes against humanity” by both Israel and Hamas. That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying — its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets. The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion. While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s 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 then give sthe example of the killing of  29 members of the Al-Samouni family, which was attacked after the Israeli army had ordered them to assemble in the house of one of them. About this case, which became also famous because the Israeli's refused ambulances or aid workers entry into the area so that the surviving family members (several of them young kids) had to stay several days without help with their dead family members, he writes that '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. While the length of this investigation is frustrating, it appears that an appropriate process is underway, and I am confident that if the officer is found to have been negligent, Israel will respond accordingly. The purpose of these investigations, as I have always said, is to ensure accountability for improper actions, not to second-guess, with the benefit of hindsight, commanders making difficult battlefield decisions.
While I welcome Israel’s investigations into allegations, I share the concerns reflected in the McGowan Davis report that few of Israel’s inquiries have been concluded and believe that the proceedings should have been held in a public forum. Although the Israeli evidence that has emerged since publication of our report doesn’t negate the tragic loss of civilian life, I regret that our fact-finding mission did not have such evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes.''

In other words: the difference is that Goldstone now gives the impression that he is no longer convinced that Israel committed war crimes during its 'Cast Lead' Operation of December 2008-January 2009. New facts seem to indicate that there was no intention to kill civilians and if he had known eralier, it would have influenced the conclusions of the Goldstone-report. Goldstone bases his new assumptions on the report filed by judge Mary McGowan Davis and her commission of experts that had to follow up on the actions undertaken by the parties concerned (Israel and Hamas) on the basis of the Goldstone report. It is, however, highly questionable whether such assumptions are warranted. This bis what  the'Indipendent Commission of Experts' reported in March:  
Ms. McGowan Davis said that the Government of Israel refused to cooperate with any aspect of what it called the “Goldstone process” and exp["ressed gratitude to the Palestinian Authority for the extensive cooperation provided throughout the term. Ms. McGowan Davis went on to say that Israel had dedicated significant resources to investigating over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza, but given the scale of this undertaking, much remained to be accomplished. There was no indication that Israel had opened investigations into the actions of those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw Operation Cast Lead as called for by the by the Fact Finding Mission Report. (Report of the Commission of Independent Experts).
What is said here is in fact that Israel did not cooperate at all with the Independent Commsision, so that it had to make do with what was already known from the Israeli press, i.e. that - behind closed doors - Israel started some 400 investigations of which we - some two years later - know very little. Also that it refused adamantly to look into the part that was played by politicians, planners and commanders. And what were thebrsults of these 400 investigations? So far we know of no more than one conviction of a soldier who stole a credit card, a reprimande for two offciers who ordered a strike with white fosfor on an U.N compound and an idictment of a corporal who shot and killed a woman who was carrying a white flag.
These are hardly convincing results, if you ask me. And then we don't even talk about the use of white fosfor in populated areas which in itself constitutes a war crime, or questions like whether a war like this with heavy weapons in one of the most populous areas of the world was justified a all, or to what extend the killing of civilians on a large scale can be called a war crime, even if it may not always have been intenional in individual cases. It is worthwhile to remember that Israel, back in 2006 coined twhat is called the Dahiyeh doctrine, after the Dahiyeh quarter of Beirut (a Hizbollah stronghold) that was completely flattened from the air during Israels campaign in Lebanon of that year. In the words of general Gadi Eisenkot, commander of Israel's northern sector at the time: 'What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. [...] We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases. [...] This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.
It is sad that judge Goldstone, who had a splendid reputation as a member of South Africa's High Court and as a criminal investigator for the international tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Ruanda among other things, now is backtracking from his much praised Golkstone Report  on such flimsy grounds. We must however take in consideration the enormous pressure he was exposed to after the Goldstone Report was published. In Israel he was accused of having been biased and even called a traitor. South African Jewry made it all but impossible for hi to attend his grandsons's Bar Mitzva in Cape Town. The Hebrew University in Jerusalem quietly removed him from the Board of Trustees. Haaretz writes that he complained that close friends kept away from him and even some family members had reservations. For a man like Goldstone, a zionist  who had a daughter living in Israel, it must have been something of nightmare. Stll it is somewhat pathetic to see how all this pressure caused even a person of his stature to get weak knees.
But for Israel - this goes without saying - the Op-Ed in the Washington Post was a cause for great joy. Prime minister Netanyahu said that Israel is planning to launch an international campaign to persuade the United Nations to retract the Goldstone Report altogether. According to defense minister Ehud Barak Israel now must force Goldstone to appear before international forums to explain the revision of his account. Minister of Foreign Affairs Lieberman said Israel would have set a dangerous precedent had it cooperated with the Goldstone commission's investigation and in the saem breath he accused some groups – primarily the New Israel Fund – to have provided information that led to the formulation of Goldstone's report. And president Shimon Peres, always good for the hypocritical statement of the day,  said that Goldstone should apologize, as his fact-finding mission had ignored the central reason Israel had gone to war against Gaza. 

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