Goldstone U Turn

Goldstone U Turn

The recent Washington Post editorial by Richard Goldstone is being trumpeted by the Israeli government as an exoneration for Israel’s 2008-2009 attack on Gaza in which 1434 Palestinians, 90 per cent of whom were civilians, including 434 children, were killed. It is odd that Goldstone has come forward now to retract from some of the conclusions of the original UN report, but this does not take away from the validity of the actual investigation. The 500 plus report was the work of a large team of investigators under the remit of the UN, and not the sole work of one person.

The UN report documents eleven incidents where the Israeli military directly targeted civilians. Several other fact-finding missions have supported these findings; see for example Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the National Lawyers Guild. Moreover, Israeli war veterans who participated in the war on Gaza confirm in their report that there were no clear rules of engagement in that operation.

In his oped Goldstone seems keen to amend the record by first stating that Israel’s attacks may not have been deliberate, and secondly, to emphasize Hamas’s culpability under the laws of war. He backs up his first aim by making reference to Israeli military investigations that have found the killing of civilians to be accidental instead of deliberate, but does not express alarm at the fact that no soldier or general has been held accountable for those “accidents” until this day. Furthermore, he takes at face value that auto-investigations by the perpetrators of the crimes would be fair and valid.

To support his second aim, that of emphasizing Hamas’s culpability, he claims that Hamas has not implemented any investigations of its own to investigate its role in the 2008-2009 attack on Gaza. Goldstone is a judge by profession, and therefore his emphasis on the rule of law is welcome. However, his assessment ignores the fact that Hamas is a beleaguered entity located in a strip of land that is under siege and engaged in active resistance to Israel’s ongoing air strikes. Since the beginning of 2011 alone, 32 Palestinians were killed and 118 injured in Gaza by Israeli strikes. The numbers speak for themselves: over 2200 Palestinians have been killed since 2008, while Israel has suffered 60 casualties in the same period.

It is worth remembering that after  the release of the Goldstone report two years ago Israel’s Prime Minister, Netanyahu, wanted to change the rules of war and called for "the facilitating of an international initiative to change the laws of war in keeping with the spread of terrorism throughout the world." Perhaps Goldstone had hoped that his oped would encourage Israel to participate in the international process for accountability, but predictably, the Israeli state has used his comments to reject any blame for its 22-day assault on Gaza in 2008-2009.