The Regret Of Richard Goldstone

It has taken him over a year and a half after its release, but Richard Goldstone has reconsidered the conclusions of his report on Operation Cast Lead.

Granted, his does it in a way to make himself look like a boy scout, and “blames” the incorrect conclusions of the report on Israel’s lack of cooperation, but this reversal nonetheless vindicates Israel.

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 U.N. Human Rights Council that produced what has come to be known as the Goldstone Report. If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.

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 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.”

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.

For example, the most serious attack the Goldstone Report focused on was the killing of some 29 members of the al-Simouni 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. 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.

Israel’s lack of cooperation with our investigation meant that we were not able to corroborate how many Gazans killed were civilians and how many were combatants. The Israeli military’s numbers have turned out to be similar to those recently furnished by Hamas (although Hamas may have reason to inflate the number of its combatants).

As I indicated from the very beginning, I would have welcomed Israel’s cooperation. The purpose of the Goldstone Report was never to prove a foregone conclusion against Israel. I insisted on changing the original mandate adopted by the Human Rights Council, which was skewed against Israel. I have always been clear that Israel, like any other sovereign nation, has the right and obligation to defend itself and its citizens against attacks from abroad and within. Something that has not been recognized often enough is the fact that our report marked the first time illegal acts of terrorism from Hamas were being investigated and condemned by the United Nations. I had hoped that our inquiry into all aspects of the Gaza conflict would begin a new era of evenhandedness at the U.N. Human Rights Council, whose history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted.

Some have charged that the process we followed did not live up to judicial standards. To be clear: Our mission was in no way a judicial or even quasi-judicial proceeding. We did not investigate criminal conduct on the part of any individual in Israel, Gaza or the West Bank. We made our recommendations based on the record before us, which unfortunately did not include any evidence provided by the Israeli government. Indeed, our main recommendation was for each party to investigate, transparently and in good faith, the incidents referred to in our report. McGowan Davis has found that Israel has done this to a significant degree; Hamas has done nothing.

Some have suggested that it was absurd to expect Hamas, an organization that has a policy to destroy the state of Israel, to investigate what we said were serious war crimes. It was my hope, even if unrealistic, that Hamas would do so, especially if Israel conducted its own investigations. At minimum I hoped that in the face of a clear finding that its members were committing serious war crimes, Hamas would curtail its attacks. Sadly, that has not been the case. Hundreds more rockets and mortar rounds have been directed at civilian targets in southern Israel. That comparatively few Israelis have been killed by the unlawful rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza in no way minimizes the criminality. The U.N. Human Rights Council should condemn these heinous acts in the strongest terms.

In the end, asking Hamas to investigate may have been a mistaken enterprise. So, too, the Human Rights Council should condemn the inexcusable and cold-blooded recent slaughter of a young Israeli couple and three of their small children in their beds.

I continue to believe in the cause of establishing and applying international law to protracted and deadly conflicts. Our report has led to numerous “lessons learned” and policy changes, including the adoption of new Israel Defense Forces procedures for protecting civilians in cases of urban warfare and limiting the use of white phosphorus in civilian areas. The Palestinian Authority established an independent inquiry into our allegations of human rights abuses — assassinations, torture and illegal detentions — perpetrated by Fatah in the West Bank, especially against members of Hamas. Most of those allegations were confirmed by this inquiry. Regrettably, there has been no effort by Hamas in Gaza to investigate the allegations of its war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

Simply put, the laws of armed conflict apply no less to non-state actors such as Hamas than they do to national armies. Ensuring that non-state actors respect these principles, and are investigated when they fail to do so, is one of the most significant challenges facing the law of armed conflict. Only if all parties to armed conflicts are held to these standards will we be able to protect civilians who, through no choice of their own, are caught up in war.

Israel is understandably pleased with Goldstone’s mea culpa.

Israeli officials expressed satisfaction Saturday with Judge Richard Goldstone’s regret for his report on Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the UN to retract the Goldstone report. “Everything we said was proven to be true. Israel did not willfully harm civilians,” Netanyahu explained, adding, “Israel’s investigating authorities are worthy, while Hamas investigated nothing. The fact that Goldstone withdrew his conclusions must lead to the retraction of the report once and for all.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Ynet that “the truth is clear, and cannot be questioned”.

“The price of dealing (with the report) over the past few years was worth it,” Lieberman said, adding that Goldstone’s backtracking renders all decisions by UN Human Rights Council about Israel null and void.

No word yet from Hamas, but Fatah terrorist Marwan Barghouti had this to say:

Released terrorist Marwan Barghouti claimed Judge Richard Goldstone’s retraction regarding his report on Israel and war crimes during the 2008 conflict in the Gaza Strip “serves the Israeli occupation.”

Barghouti said he is certain Goldstone stands behind his report: “He’s sure of what he wrote in the report. I believe he doesn’t regret it.”

Looks like Barghouti is finding it hard to face reality, as is Ynet, who referred to him as “released” (he is thankfully still languishing behind bars. Ok, not exactly languishing).

Others on Goldstone’s reversal:

Ron Radosh calls this a “stunning re-evaluation of his own report”, but recognizes the underhanded way he tries to make it look like he is not reversing himself

Jeffrey Goldberg calls the reversal “shocking” and “unexpected”, but notes “it is somewhat difficult to retract a blood libel, once it has been broadcast across the world.”

David Horovitz of the Jerusalem Post is not impressed, saying “the sanctimonious judge put all of our lives at greater risk.”

About Aussie Dave

An Aussie immigrant to Israel, Aussie Dave is founder and managing editor of Israellycool, one of the world's most popular pro-Israel blogs (and the one you are currently reading) He is a happy family man, and a lover of steak, Australian sports and girlie drinks

Facebook Comments

  • Shy Guy

    Dear Mr. Goldstone,

    Drop dead.

    Yours affectionately,
    Shy Guy
    Jerusalem, Israel – the eternal capital city of the Jewish Nation, from which you are cut off forever

  • Steven

    I feel like Shy, this man really angers me… but I think that is a feeling we should fight.

    Lets hope that from now on he will make such an effort to counter attacks on Israel that the name “Goldstone” will no longer be a reminder of his past actions.

    • Shy Guy

      Aw. Isn't that sweet?! <3

  • jpl

    Poor Richard, It was Israel's fault he didn't look at the evidence on You Tube, made all kinds of one-sided presumptions of veracity, and relished the spotlight of the "useful Jew." Better late than never, but still too little, too late.

  • waltkovacs

    capo dickie wants to face yerushalmi in court

    let the sparks fly

    btw…i have my issues with yerushalmi…but i hope he takes dickie to the cleaners

  • nanaloshen

    This retraction of sorts is due to the hard work of pro-Israeli bloggers, who put up a fight, and refused to back down in the face of world-wide condemnation. Congratulations for all of you for your hard work.

  • amir

    At first I thought the article was an April Fool's joke. Apparently, Goldstone is a fool year round except for April 1.

  • waltkovacs

    it is not a retraction…he blames israel for his report being a joke

    he is an evil little man whose blood libel shouldve gotten him placed in cherem, has the blood of the fogel family on his hands…and is the cause of the rockets flying right now from gaza

  • Jed

    I think they meant Mustafa, not Marwan.

  • Dan

    Borrowing from Leo Rosten's oft-quoted definition of 'Chutzpah'-the likes of Goldstein can be described as one who would sell his mother for money and turn around and blame the lack of his morals on bad upbringing.

    Goldstein's non-apology of an apology would hardly find half the publicity amongst the world media that his demagogues did.However, I would call it a start which should mark the beginning of the end of the UN Human Rights Council which has single handedly prostituted the term "human rights" than all of the world's dictatorships combined.

  • Ian

    He’s such a despicable liar. Look back to his exchange with John Boehner over the issues (aka lies) in his report before the House Resolution was tabled condemning it. He was spot on.
    Look at the IDF and Blogger research into Hama deaths during cast lead, again spot on. But the lie spreads across the world first and the truth dies.

  • GabysPoppy

    Richard Cohen has a good editorial on the Goldstone report today but here is the MONEY SHOT in his piece:

    Those who gleefully embraced the Goldstone report have to ask themselves why. They may hate the answer.

  • Elden Panganiban

    Thanks for one more implausible blog. Where else may anybody get that sort of info written in such an ideal way? I’ve a presentation that I am simply now engaged on, and I’ve been on the look out for such information.

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