It is being widely reported that Richard Goldstone has retracted the allegations in the report of the Commission he chaired into Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.
I have read Richard Goldstone's statement in the Washington Post. While the tone is certainly more indulgent towards Israel, I do not see it as a retraction of the primary allegations in the report.
The central element in Judge Goldstone's statement in the Washington Post last Friday is his conclusion, based upon information he says was not available when the Commission issued its Report, that " civilians were not intentionally targeted [by Israel] as a matter of policy'.
The discussion of intentional targeting of civilians was only one component of the Report and, in my view, it was never at the core of the Commission's conclusions. It is discussed in paragraphs 704-885 of the 1,979 paragraph report. It consists of one heading among thirteen dealing with violations of international law perpetrated by Israel. Israel is now calling upon the Human Rights Council to retract the Report. Even if it were to retract paragraphs 704-885 of the Report, this would change nothing about the fundamental conclusions of the Commission.
In the Report, the Commission examined eleven incidents of alleged intentional targeting of civilians. I have reread the Commission's Report in light of Judge Goldstone's statement. I do not believe that the Commission ever alleged that there was an Israeli policy of intentionally targeting civilians. The furthest it goes, I think, is to talk of a "low threshold for the use of lethal fire against the civilian population' (para. 44), which is not the same thing as intentionally targeting civilians. Judge Goldstone could not retract a conclusion that the Commission did not make.
We are talking here of targeting in terms of firing upon civilians in order to kill them. Elsewhere in the Report, the Commission speaks of various other measures that were aimed at civilians, but I do not read Judge Goldstone's statement last Friday as being a reference to this part of the Report.
There are a couple of ambiguous passages in the Report that might be taken as a charge that Israel intentionally targeted civilians for killing. Thus, at para. 1215, it says that "disproportionate destruction and violence against civilians were part of a deliberate policy'. Similarly, at para. 1887, it refers to " a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed not at the enemy but at the "supporting infrastructure." In practice, this appears to have meant the civilian population.'
But these statements have to be read in the context of the entire report. It is a condemnation of the attacks upon the civilian infrastructure and the objective of Cast Lead, which was to punish the civilian population. For example, para. 1884: " In this respect, the operations were in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas, and possibly with the intent of forcing a change in such support.' Judge Goldstone did not in any way retract this part of the Report.
At various points, the Report speaks of Israeli policy and its impact upon civilians. Thus, at para.1027, it notes the " overall policy of disproportionate destruction of a significant part of Gaza's infrastructure'. Also, at para. 1891: " 1891. the destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces. It was not carried out because those objects presented a military threat or opportunity, but to make the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population.'
None of these conclusions of the Report are at all affected by Judge Goldstone's statement in the Washington Post.
The analysis of the Goldstone Report referred to the so-called "Dahiya Doctrine' that was developed in Lebanon in 2006. It consists of brutal counter-attack that in effect punishes civilians. In this respect, the Report cited Israeli foreign minister Tsipi Livni, at para. 1206, who said: "Israel is not a country upon which you fire missiles and it does not respond. It is a country that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild -- and this is a good thing.' Also, Deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, who said (para. 1212):
This operation is different from previous ones. We have set a high goal which we are aiming for. We are hitting not only terrorists and launchers, but also the whole Hamas government and all its wings. ["] We are hitting government buildings, production factories, security wings and more. We are demanding governmental responsibility from Hamas and are not making distinctions between the various wings. After this operation there will not be one Hamas building left standing in Gaza, and we plan to change the rules of the game.
In his statement last Friday, Richard Goldstone also noted the final report of the follow-up commission chaired by Judge McGowan David, which found that Israel had devoted significant resources to investigate allegations of misconduct, whereas Hamas had done nothing. He said he shares the concerns of the McGowan Davis report that few of Israel's inquiries have been concluded.
Richard Goldstone's statement is being greeted with glee in Israel and dismay in Palestine. The extent of what he said should not be misunderstood. He did not repudiate the substance of the Report nor did he cast doubt on most of its conclusions, which are very damning.
It has always been my view that the reaction to Cast Lead was distorted by a focus on violations of international humanitarian law. Both Israel and Hamas write their own rules in this respect, and both sides are in the wrong. That obvious fact emerges from the Goldstone Report. But the real issue, and the real reason why there was such outrage about Cast Lead, is that after more than sixty years the Palestinian people are still being denied their right to self-determination. The conflict in Gaza brings with it terrible human suffering but it is a sideshow to the main act. The violations of humanitarian law are unacceptable, but they should not distract the focus from Palestinian self-determiantion.
My earnest hope is that the current turmoil in the Middle East will be a catalyst. The autocratic regimes in the Arab countries are an anachronistic blot on the world. Their days are clearly numbered. That will leave only one anachronistic blot on the region left to be resolved.
Israel uses one of the world's most advanced militaries to oppress a mainly peaceful and indigent population, solely in the name of denying them their rights and stealing their land and resources, all in defiance of the Security Council and violation of the law.
If the astronomical amount of innocent men, women, and children slaughtered by this military are all accidental, as it expects us to believe (which ignores the racism inherent to those prosecuting this deloberately-perpetuated military, political, and economic campaign against the Palestinians), then it must also be the most incompetent military on the planet.
Given precedence, coupled with the body count and targets destroyed, not to mention statements from Israeli officials about the intent of the attack, it is easy to believe that Israel deliberately targeted civilians and inftrastructure.
Collectively Punishing a population in order to undermine a democratically-elected party Israel doesn't like is a crime. That's exactly what the tightening of the illegal Blockade imposed in 2005 by Sharon, the CIA-coordinated coup attempt of 2007 (which the media has almost universally suppressed) and this attack, were all intended to do.
"Why then are Israel's leaders so determined to destroy Hamas? Because they believe that its leadership, unlike that of Fatah, cannot be intimidated into accepting a peace accord that establishes a Palestinian "state' made up of territorially disconnected entities over which Israel would be able to retain permanent control. Control of the West Bank has been the unwavering objective of Israel's military, intelligence and political elites since the end of the Six-Day War."
When the UN called Israel's targeting of civilian apartments in Southern Lebanon a War Crime, Israel responded by saying militants were firing rockets from inside one of the buildings, and even provided photographs to prove their case.
However, that same night on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's nightly report, "The National", a British weapons expert explained that it is impossible to fire those rockets from inside a building, and Russian satellite images proved that Israel had fabricated its evidence.
Mr. Goldstone should consider this, and other similar instances, before taking Israel's self-probes at face value.