A United Nations fact-finding mission, headed by Judge Richard Goldstone and whose report was released on September 16, 2009, investigated the Israeli attack on Gaza that was launched on December 27, 2008. It found that Israel, "punished and terrorized" civilians in its three-week assault on Gaza . . . and cited strong evidence that Israeli forces committed "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions. The casualties included more than 1,400 Palestinians, about a third of them women and children, only thirteen Israelis died in the hostilities. The Goldstone Report made a number of findings that were critical of both Israel and Hamas.
As reported in the New York Times, when, "Asked about accusations that he was anti-Israel, Judge Goldstone acknowledged he was Jewish and said, "It is grossly wrong to label a mission or to label a report critical of Israel as being anti-Israel."
Here is The New York Times summary of the Goldstone Commission findings:
A United Nations fact-finding mission investigating the three-week war in Gaza last winter issued a highly critical report on Tuesday detailing what it called extensive evidence that both Israel and Palestinian militant groups took actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.
While the long-anticipated, 575-page report condemned rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups against Israeli civilians, it reserved its harshest language for Israel’s treatment of the civilian Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip, both during the war and through the longer-term blockade of the territory.
The report called Israel’s military assault on Gaza "a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability."
The mission –” led by Richard Goldstone, a respected South African judge and once the lead war crimes prosecutor for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda –” did not attempt an exhaustive look at the war, instead focusing on 36 cases that it said constituted a representative sample. In 11 of these episodes, it said the Israeli military carried out direct attacks against civilians, including some in which civilians were shot "while they were trying to leave their homes to walk to a safer place, waving white flags."
In all but one of these civilian attacks, the report said, "the facts indicate no justifiable military objective" for them.
The report cited other possible crimes by the Israelis, including "wantonly" destroying food production, water and sewerage facilities; striking areas, in an effort to kill a small number of combatants, where significant numbers of civilians were gathered; using Palestinians as human shields; and detaining men, women and children in sand pits. It also called Israel’s use of weapons like white phosphorus "systematically reckless," and called for banning it in urban areas.
On the Palestinian side, the report said that firing rockets that either deliberately were aimed at Israeli civilians or were so inaccurate as to risk hitting civilians caused widespread trauma and constituted a war crime. It also singled out Palestinian actions within Gaza, including killings and other abuse of members of the rival Fatah political movement as a "serious violation of human rights."
Here is an excerpt taken from the Report and published as part of the BBC summary of the Goldstone Report:
The Mission found that, in the lead up to the Israeli military assault on Gaza, Israel imposed a blockade amounting to collective punishment and carried out a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip. During the Israeli military operation, code-named "Operation Cast Lead," houses, factories, wells, schools, hospitals, police stations and other public buildings were destroyed… More than 1,400 people were killed during the military operation…
The report concludes that the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population. The destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy which has made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population…
The report underlines that in most of the incidents investigated by it, and described in the report, loss of life and destruction caused by Israeli forces during the military operation was a result of disrespect for the fundamental principle of "distinction" in international humanitarian law that requires military forces to distinguish between military targets and civilians and civilian objects at all times…[The ]report describes a number of specific incidents in which Israeli forces launched "direct attacks against civilians with lethal outcome." These are, it says, cases in which the facts indicate no justifiable military objective pursued by the attack and concludes they amount to war crimes…
According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Judge Richard Goldstone, believes bringing war criminals to justice stems from the lessons of the Holocaust. He delivered a lecture in 2000 at Jerusalem’s Yakar: Center for Tradition and Creativity. The lecture was attended by former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak. The Israeli jurist introduced Goldstone as "a dear friend" with "very deep ties to Israel." Goldstone, in turn, said Barak was his hero and inspiration.
In the Jerusalem lecture, concerning international efforts to bring war criminals to justice, Goldstone said the Holocaust was "the worst war crime in the world." The Judge said "the perception of war crimes against humanity should resonate differently to Jewish ears, in light of how the Holocaust shaped conventions relevant to the subject." Goldstone added that as a jurist, he "viewed the Holocaust as a unique occurrence because of how it affected judicial protocol on war, as well as international and humanitarian judicial approaches." He also said that, "The laws that had been in place before the Holocaust were not equipped to deal with crimes of the Holocaust’s scale and therefore sought to define a new crime, which they labeled a crime against humanity."
In many respects the criticism that Judge Goldstone’s report leveled at Israel was unexpected. When Goldstone was appointed in April, 2009 to lead a United Nations inquiry into Israel’s war in Gaza, some initial reports noted with approval his Jewish background and his strong ties to Israel. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency pointed out that he was a governor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Others reported that the judge’s daughter speaks fluent Hebrew and had lived in Israel for a number of years.
With the publication, however, of Judge Goldstone’s report, which was highly critical of Israel and Hamas, the tone changed. The internet filled up with lurid denunciations of him as a "self-hating Jew"8 who "should go back to South Africa." Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government had refused to co-operate with the UN Inquiry, dismissed the report as a "kangaroo court."9 These were harsh words for the judicial findings of one of the world’s most celebrated jurists.
In the early 1990s Judge Goldstone led the investigation into the misdeeds of the South African security forces that many expected to be a whitewash of the crimes committed under the Apartheid regime. However, the thoroughness and even handedness of his investigation helped smooth the transition from an apartheid state to democracy.
On "Operation Cast Lead," the Israel code name for the attack on Gaza, Goldstone concluded that Israeli officers should face "individual criminal responsibility" for breaches of the laws of war. The Inquiry also found that there was a "systematic" Israeli policy of destroying food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and homes in order to "make the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population." Goldstone wrote that Israel’s virtual blockade of the Gaza Strip, allowing in only the minimum necessary to sustain life, was "collective punishment intentionally inflicted."
Here is an example of an attack published in The Jerusalem Post:
The exploitation of Judge Goldstone’s Jewish background by our enemies intensifies our obligation to confront the enemy within – renegade Jews – including Israelis who stand at the vanguard of global efforts to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state. Such odious Jews can be traced back to apostates during the Middle Ages who fabricated blood libels and vile distortions of Jewish religious practice for Christian anti-Semites to incite hatred which culminated in massacres. It was in response to these renegades that the herem (excommunication) was introduced . . .
Israel prides itself on being the only country in the region in which genuine freedom of expression reigns supreme. But it is also a country under siege, surrounded by neighbors seeking its destruction and confronted by an ever-hostile global community. To tolerate such abominations in the name of freedom of expression is taking an ideal to a lunatic extreme. Besides, it is hard to visualize the authorities adopting such a laissez faire approach had the offenders been racists, fascists or even radical right-wing extremists.
In fact, when senior academics like Ben-Gurion University’s Neve Gordon, call Israel an "apartheid state" and encourage the world to boycott Israeli institutions, they are the ones abusing academic freedom.
It is, thus, high time for the Knesset to set up a non-partisan commission to recommend legislation to deny tenure at state-sponsored institutions to those indulging in such activities.
The rot has extended to the Diaspora, especially Europe and has also affected the United States. Highly vocal Jewish groups like the recently created J Street describe themselves as ‘Zionist’ but their prime objective is to pressure the US government to use "tough love" against Israel – a euphemism for demanding that the Jewish state make further unilateral concessions to neighbors pledged to its annihilation.
In the past two weeks alone, a host of new anti-Israeli initiatives were reported. In Toronto, Jews were at the forefront of a campaign to boycott Israeli films at a film festival because the anniversary of Tel Aviv – ‘built on the destroyed villages of Palestinians’ – was being celebrated; two Israeli women who evaded national service are conducting a North American campus tour under the auspices of ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ to persuade students to intensify their role in the "resistance movement"; in San Francisco the local Jewish Federation is providing funds for a film festival which promotes the vilest anti-Israel films; radical Rabbi Michael Lerner invited a woman who justifies suicide bombings to address his synagogue on Yom Kippur; and so on.
IM EIN ani li mi li? If we are not for ourselves, who will be? We are engaged in a battle against fiendish enemies committed to our destruction. The Israeli government must now take steps to neutralize the impact of renegade Jews who present themselves as legitimate alternative Jewish viewpoints. Such an initiative by a country which provides genuine democratic rights to all its citizens, including Arabs, could hardly be categorized as eradicating freedom of expression. It would rather represent a highly overdue effort to exorcise such odious groups from the mainstream and expose them as unrepresentative fringe groups with no standing.
While the UN Commission of Inquiry was widely attacked in Israel more than a few Israeli intellectuals and writers supported Judge Goldstone’s Commission’s finding.13 Here is an op-ed written by columnist Larry Derfner that was published in The Jerusalem Post in support of Judge Richard Goldstone’s UN Commission of Inquiry findings:
In the three years and three months between our disengagement from Gaza and the start of Operation Cast Lead, 28 Israelis were killed by rockets, bombs and bullets from Gaza.
In that same period, more than 1,250 Gazans were killed by missiles, tank shells and all sorts of other ammunition fired by the IDF.
The context of the war – the full context – was that we had blockaded Gaza by air, sea and to a great extent by land, we were racking up a kill ratio of nearly 50 to 1 – then we invaded the country, destroyed thousands upon thousands of homes and public buildings and bumped up the ratio to more than 100-to-1.
And we don’t see that we did anything wrong. Somebody’s got to tell us. Lots of people have tried, including Amnesty International, the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch and, last but definitely not least, dozens of our own soldiers.
We’ve tried to smear them all, to silence them, to drown out the message that keeps repeating itself from one source to another. Now we have the message, the same message again, from one of the world’s most respected, accomplished men of justice. South Africa’s Judge Richard Goldstone has a record that no one in this country would dare try to tarnish. What’s more, he’s not only a Jew (and a former president of World ORT), he’s also a friend of Israel. He was on the board of directors at the Hebrew University, got an honorary doctorate there, he’s visited this country any number of times, his daughter’s lived here for awhile.
"Israel," he said Tuesday, "committed actions amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity." He said Hamas’s rockets amounted to the same thing – but there’s no comparison in magnitude, not in his report and not on the ground. Before, during and since the war with Gaza, Israel has been overwhelmingly the victimizer, not the victim.
WE MIGHT ask ourselves: What motive does Goldstone have to lie, to do a hatchet job on this nation and its army? (We might have asked ourselves the same question about the combat soldiers from the Rabin academy and Breaking the Silence.) The answer is that he has no such motive. He’s telling the truth. More precisely, he’s reinforcing the truth about the war that’s been told by so many others.
Since we can’t stain his record as a scourge of apartheid and of war crimes in Kosovo and Rwanda – and since we don’t want to even mention his record – I’m sure we’ll try to smear Goldstone as a dupe for Israel-bashers. There are one or two other names he’ll no doubt be called – off the record, naturally. Israel is going to war, an information war this time, and the Goldstone report is the enemy.
But it’s no use. We can’t win the information war – and the reason is that we’re blindfolded. We tied the blindfold on ourselves. We did it because we don’t want to see what we’re doing in Gaza and the West Bank.
But everyone else sees.
Our friend the Obama administration has been trying to tell us and we won’t listen. Now our friend Judge Goldstone is telling us, only much less gently.
Will this do it? Will this scare us awake? Will this be the turning point?
I don’t know. But I do know that this man has done a mitzva, a big, brave one. In the name of at least some Israelis, I want to say: Thank you, judge. Shana tova to you, too.
In a follow up column in the Jerusalem Post Derfner made the following critical comment on the reaction of the Israelis to the Goldstone Report. "This is the Israeli notion of a fair deal: We’re entitled to do whatever the hell we want to the Palestinians because, by definition, whatever we do to them is self-defense. They, however, are not entitled to lift a finger against us because, by definition, whatever they do to us is terrorism."
Daniel Levy, formerly a senior Israeli peace negotiator, also commented on the Goldstone UN report on Israel’s conduct of the Gaza War. He prescribes for Israel a probing self-examination and a repudiation of the policies that led to the conflict that has had such a disastrous impact, possibly leading to Israel being viewed as a pariah state.
Indeed there exist two extreme poles of response to a report such as this: one, of the reflexive Israel-haters for whom this is a gotcha moment extraordinaire, and they gleefully wave the latest proof that Israel is a world pariah without parallel. Their mirror image is the pavlovian and delusional Israel-can-do-no-wrong crowd, for whom behind any serious critique of Israel lays the nefarious machinations of age-old antisemitism, singling out the Jewish state and to hell with the facts.
But for the vast majority of non- or only mildly partisan individuals with a capacity for cognitive reflection, the Goldstone report should be treated seriously and even perhaps as a wake-up call.
Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist well known for her outspoken criticism of the Israel’s government’s policies toward the Palestinians,17 also came out in support of the Goldstone Inquiry’s findings. She wrote the following commentary:
B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Haaretz and the international media – to Israelis, these have all fallen into the trash bin of the mendacious Palestinians. In the best case, they have become trapped in their own pure-hearted naivete, and in the worst, into collaborating with efforts to besmirch Israel and bolster prejudices against it. Like the Serbs of yore, we Israelis continue thinking it’s the world that is wrong, and only we who are right.
Israel struck a civilian population that remains under its control, it didn’t fulfill its obligation to distinguish between civilians and militants and used military force disproportionate with the tangible threat to its own civilians. Air Force drones and helicopters fired deadly missiles at civilians, many of them children; the Tank Corps and Navy shelled civilian neighborhoods with weapons not designed for precision strikes; soldiers received orders to fire on rescue crews; others fired on civilians carrying white flags; and others killed people in or near their homes. Troops used Gazans as human shields, soldiers detained civilians in abusive conditions, the army used white phosphorus shells in dense civilian areas and, on the eve of withdrawing, destroyed wide residential, industrial and agricultural areas.
Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy also wrote in support of the Goldstone Inquiry’s findings:
For almost a year, Israel has been trying to argue that the blood spilled in Gaza was merely water. One report followed the other, with horrifyingly identical results: siege, white phosphorous, harm of innocent civilians, infrastructure destroyed – war crimes in each and every report. Now, after the publication of the most important and damning report of all, compiled by the commission led by Judge Richard Goldstone, Israel’s attempts to discredit them look ludicrous, and the empty bluster of its spokespersons sound pathetic.
So far [supporters of Israel] have focused on the messengers, not their messages: the researcher for Human Rights Watch collects Nazi memorabilia, Breaking the Silence is a business and Amnesty International is anti-Semitic. All cheap propaganda. This time, though, the messenger is propaganda-proof. No one can seriously claim that Goldstone, an active and ardent Zionist, with deep links to Israel, is an anti-Semite. … On the eve of the Jewish New Year, Israel, deservedly, is becoming an outcast and detested country. We must not forget it for a minute.
Here are the comments from another Israeli journalist Aluf Benn:
The United Nations fact-finding mission into the Gaza offensive describes Israel as perpetrating war crimes – a police state which persecutes minorities – and tars the Palestinian leadership in the Gaza Strip and West Bank with similar accusations.
If its findings and recommendations are accepted, the International Criminal Court in The Hague could call a summit meeting between the leaders of Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority on the defendants’ stand . . .
…..Israel decided to question the investigators’ legitimacy and not cooperate with commission chair Richard Goldstone and his team. None of the defenses heard in Israeli media after the Gaza operation – that the IDF is "the most moral army in the world," that striking civilian-populated areas was necessary and proportional – were reported to the commission. To a university student in Britain or Spain, Israel’s silence is perceived as an admission of guilt.
Veteran Israeli Peace activist, and former Knesset member, Uri Avnery had the following to say on the Goldstone Commission findings:
IS THERE no limit to the wiles of those dastardly anti-Semites?
Now they have decided to slander the Jews with another blood libel. Not the old accusation of slaughtering Christian children to use their blood for baking Passover matzoth, as in the past, but of the mass slaughter of women and children in Gaza.
And who did they put at the head of the commission which was charged with this task? Neither a British Holocaust-denier nor a German neo-Nazi, nor even an Iranian fanatic, but of all people a Jewish judge who bears the very Jewish name of Goldstone (originally Goldstein, of course). And not just a Jew with a Jewish name, but a Zionist, whose daughter, Nicole, is an enthusiastic Zionist who once "made Aliyah" and speaks fluent Hebrew. And not just a Jewish Zionist, but a South African who opposed apartheid and was appointed to the country’s Constitutional Court when that system was abolished.
All this in order to defame the most moral army in the world, fresh from waging the most just war in history!
Richard Goldstone is not the only Jew manipulated by the world-wide anti-Semitic conspiracy. Throughout the three weeks of the Gaza War, more than 10 thousand Israelis demonstrated against it again and again. They were photographed carrying signs saying "End the massacre in Gaza", "Stop the war crimes"’ "Israel commits war crimes", "Bombing civilians is a war crime". They chanted in unison: "Olmert, Olmert, it is true –” They’re waiting in The Hague for you!"
Who would have believed that there are so many anti-Semites in Israel?!
Avnery also commented on the reaction of Israelis to the accusations of Israel committing war crimes:
The instinctive reaction in such a situation is denial. It’s just not true. It never happened. It’s all a pack of lies.
By itself, that is a natural reaction. When a human being is faced with a situation which he cannot handle, denial is the first refuge. If things did not happen, there is no need to cope. Basically, there is no difference between the deniers of the Armenian genocide, the deniers of the annihilation of the Native Americans and the deniers of the atrocities of all wars.
From this point of view, it can be said that denial is almost "normal". But with us it has been developed into an art form.
Zeev Sternhell, emeritus professor at the Hebrew University and winner of the 2008 Israel Prize for Political Science, published the following comment on the UN Inquiry.
The Goldstone report was inevitable. Even if it is not balanced, even if it does not take Hamas into account properly – it has sounded a harsh warning signal by expressing the international public’s attitude toward Israel after Gaza. The bottom line is that Operation Cast Lead has contributed another brick to the wall of delegitimization that is gradually closing in on the Jewish state. Even if no Israeli is brought to court in The Hague in the near future, the moral stain will not be erased and the repercussions are yet to be seen.
Here is a more cynical assessment of the Goldstone Report written by an Israeli journalist:
….the Goldstone Report will go to the shelf, the Occupation will continue, and so will Palestinian suffering. To cope with the present reality is more complex than putting people on the stand for war crimes. The reality is that Israel is ruled by the Right, which is nowadays attracting part of the Left. On the Palestinian side, the reality is a war between two rival factions that care more for power than for their people. The hope in Obama diminishes as he runs into troubles at home: to pass health reform, regulate Wall Street, and allow more freedom for unions. That is why he was weak when facing Netanyahu, and that is why the Goldstone Report will remain a toothless indictment. The end of the Occupation will have to wait until real change occurs in the United States. Only then can change come to Israel and the PA. Until that time, the facts in this damning report will amount to no more than a reprimand.
Here is another comment on the Goldstone Report, however, this time from Sever Plocker, a right-wing Israeli commentator, who praises Ariel Sharon for his restraint.
In diplomatic terms, Operation Cast Lead’s implications are destructive: Our diplomatic standing had not been so lowly for years, and at the end of the day we may very well end up at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
In praise of Sharon’s way
We can continue raising a hue and cry about the "injustice! Hypocrisy! Anti-Semitism" for however long we wish, yet the screaming won’t help us. The snowball is already rolling, and it is doubtful whether anyone can stop it. I hope I’m wrong, but an international arrest warrant for some of Israel’s leaders during the Gaza operation is no longer a bad dream. This may happen, as Prime Minister Netanyahu made clear in his Knesset speech.
Even if no Israeli ends up facing justice at The Hague, the Goldstone Report will remain etched in the consciousness of the intellectual elites in the West and the incited masses in the Muslim world. This indictment against Israel –” among the gravest ever drafted –” will hurt us for years to come. There is no erasure that can erase the mark of Cain this report left on our forehead. It is an outrageous report that constitutes a crude blood libel –” but it’s a fact.
I have no doubt that had Ariel Sharon served as prime minister, Operation Cast Lead would never have been launched. Sharon led the State of Israel during a particularly brutal Palestinian terror war, and was able to win it. To that end he utilized a comprehensive strategy –” ranging from targeted eliminations (which in my view are the most moral and effective means in the fight against terror leaders and ideologists) to isolating the leadership in Ramallah and Operation Defensive Shield, which was cautious, purposeful, resulted in few casualties, and secured its objectives.
Not once during his war against the Intifada did Sharon consider or order the utilization of massive firepower vis-Ã -vis the Palestinians as was the case in Operation Cast Lead. When many around him urged and encouraged him to "respond recklessly" after every murderous terror attack, he continued to object to massive bombings and continued to approve the targeted eliminations of senior Hamas figures. Restraint is power, said Sharon before he fell ill; restraint, rather than a "reckless response."
After much delay, and in response to the Goldstone Report, the Israeli Military Police have "launched a new criminal investigation into allegations that soldiers committed war crimes during Operation Cast Lead,…amid efforts by the IDF to complete a report to counter the accusations leveled at it by the Goldstone Commission." In early November 2009 Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi appointed Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yuval Halamish, a former chief intelligence officer, as the "project manager" for the IDF’s efforts to complete a new report in the coming weeks to answer the accusations raised in Goldstone’s report.
According to The Jerusalem Post, "Defense officials said that one of Halamish’s first tasks will be to ensure that the investigations advance swiftly. He will also coordinate with other government ministries regarding the information required to write a "counter-Goldstone report."
It is, however, clear that Judge Goldstone’s UN Report and its findings critical of Israel’s attack on Gaza found a significant measure of support from leading Israeli intellectuals and journalists. Hopefully, this criticism of Israel’s military tactics and treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza will cause many Israelis to reflect on their policies toward the Palestinians and to reconsider how Israel relies on the use of military force to achieve its political ends.