Writing in the Washington Post on April 1, Richard Goldstone, who headed the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict in the wake of Israel’s 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead, which killed 1400 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, announced he was “reconsidering” some of the findings of the report that bears his name. In particular, Goldstone indicated that he now questioned whether Israel had intentionally targeted civilians as a matter of policy.
According to his Washington Post article, while Goldstone and his three colleagues “found evidence of potential war crimes and ‘possible crimes against humanity’ by both Israel and Hamas”, recent investigations published by the Israeli military “indicated that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy”. As a result, he “regret[s] 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”.
However, Goldstone cited only one example in his entire article to support his new assertion that Israel did not intentionally target civilians. Concerning the Israeli attack on the al-Samouni family, which resulted in 29 members of the family being killed, Goldstone wrote: “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.”
Speaking in a video made on April 4 by Gaza-based solidarity activist Ken O’Keefe, members of the al-Samouni family, in response to Goldstone’s “reconsideration”, recounted how the Israeli military had deliberately targeted their home and family members. Sifa Palal Samouni said: “How could this action be an accident, while they put women, kids and men in one house and they start to shoot and shell them and destroy the house when they are inside. It could not be an accident.” Shabaan Rashad Samouni told O’Keefe: “It is like 100% not an accident. They did that on purpose. I lost my mum, my dad and two brothers”. Another family member, Amal Atiah Samouni, said Israeli soldiers “entered our home and shot us, the kids. They shot my brother Ahmed twice in the chest and he died the next day. This could not be an accident.”
Not only do the family’s testimonies strongly contradict Goldstone’s new assertion that Israel did not target civilians intentionally, but his own argument in the Post makes it clear that his “reconsideration” is based on faith in Israel’s military investigations rather than on any concrete evidence produced by these investigations.
According to a number of commentators, including US Jewish academic Norman Finkelstein, “There isn’t a scratch, a jot, a scintilla of new evidence that could have rationally convinced Goldstone to issue his recantation”. Finkelstein noted in an interview on April 15 with US-based web journal Mondoweiss that Israel’s primary defence against the “Goldstone report” was issued in a 2010 report published by the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center entitled “Hamas and the Terrorist Threat from the Gaza Strip: The main findings of the Goldstone Report versus the factual findings”. According to Finkelstein, the report, which is full of drone photographs, does not contain the photograph cited by Goldstone. Finkelstein notes that no such photograph seems to have been produced in the 22 months since Operation Cast Lead. As a result, Finkelstein asserts that “there is no physical evidence of the drone evidence. It’s never been produced. There is no written record. There is no visible proof of this drone image.”
What’s behind it?
Similarly, the Los Angeles Times in its April 5 editorial, “What’s behind Goldstone’s flip flop?”, noted that Goldstone’s explanation was “utterly insufficient”. Noting that “the original report contained 575 pages of damning details – attacks on mosques, hospitals, apartment buildings, and refugee shelters. The fact-finding mission made three trips to the region over four months, conducted 188 interviews, reviewed 300 reports, solicited testimony and held public hearings”, the Times said, “At the very least, Goldstone needs to offer substantially more explanation than was available in his brief op-ed article” and that it was incumbent on him to “make the world aware of the facts that changed his mind”.
Writing for the Electronic Intifada on April 4, Israeli Professor Ilan Pappe said that Goldstone’s “shameful U-turn” was a year and a half in the making, coming after “a sustained campaign of intimidation and character assassination against the judge”. The campaign, which included attempts to bar Goldstone from his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah, included widespread efforts to smear Goldstone and discredit his South African human rights record.
The Israeli government and its supporters in the USA and elsewhere have now called for the UN to scrap the Goldstone Report. On April 15, in a deliberate misreading of Goldstone’s article, the US Senate passed a unanimous resolution calling for the UN to dump the report. The resolution urged the UN Human Rights Council “to reflect the author’s repudiation of the Goldstone Report’s central findings, rescind the report and reconsider further Council actions with respect to the report’s findings”. The resolution also called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to “do all in his power to redress the damage to Israel’s reputation” caused by the report.
The US Senate completely ignored the fact that Goldstone publicly stated in an April 6 interview with Reuters that he did not intend to seek nullification of the report. Instead, he believed “that one correction should be made with regard to intentionality on the part of Israel”, but that he had “no reason to believe any part of the report needs to be reconsidered at this time”.
The Senate resolution also ignored the fact that the report was co-authored by all four members of the UN fact-finding mission, not just Goldstone, and that the three other authors had issued a statement on April 14 publicly criticising Goldstone and his “reconsideration”. The statement by Hina Jilani, Christine Chinkin and Desmond Travers noted that they stood firmly by the conclusions of the report. Jilani, Chinkin and Travers went on to note that the investigations conducted by Israel were “operational, not legal, inquiries and are conducted by personnel from the same command structure as those under investigation”.
They also noted that only “52 criminal investigations into allegations of wrongdoings have been opened” by Israel. In addition, Jilani, Chinkin and Travers pointed out that the Committee of Independent Experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor the independence, effectiveness and genuineness of any domestic investigations carried out by Israel or Hamas had stated that there was “no indication that Israel has opened investigations into the actions of those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw Operation Cast Lead”, and as a result “one of the most serious allegations about the conduct of Israel’s military operations remains completely unaddressed”.
UN rapporteur Richard Falk, in an April 21 article that appeared on his personal website, Citizen Pilgrimage, noted that the US Senate resolution was not only “ill-informed and inflammatory” but also revealed “the blatant partisanship that is now unquestioned in official Washington”. Falk added: “This unsubtle disregard for international law and the authority of the UN should at the very least encourage the Palestine Authority to seek other auspices for any future negotiations with Israel than what is provided by the U.S. Government”.
Falk said that, far from Goldstone’s “reconsideration” killing the UN mission report, it had in fact given the report “a second life”, providing the opportunity to push, with renewed energy, for the growth of the Palestinian global solidarity movement.