In an op-ed shocker, the author of the Goldstone Report withdraws his harshest conclusions against Israel for its conduct in the three-week Gaza War that ended in January 2009. Richard Goldstone uses an opinion piece in the Washington Post to credit the Jewish state for investigating many of the incidents that led his U.N. fact-finding panel to state the Israel Defense Forces committed war crimes by targeting civilians in the lopsided conflict, which left 1,400 Palestinians dead. The retired South African jurist also chides Israel for refusing to cooperate with his investigation, implying it could have avoided a lot of trouble if it had. But the tone of the piece, headlined “Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes,” is apologetic.
Landing on the Jewish sabbath, the mea culpa brought no immediate official response from Jerusalem. Indeed, Israeli news websites were dominated by the latest exchange of fire in and out of Gaza, and concerns that the conflict will once again spiral out of control. But Goldstone’s piece will surely be taken as vindication by an Israeli establishment and public united in the certainty that the world beyond its borders simply does not understand the security challenges it faces, and for the last eighteen months has invoked “Goldstone” as Exhibit One.
The investigation was commissioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council, “whose history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted,” Goldstone writes. In fact, the council’s original instruction was to investigate only the Israeli side. Goldstone insisted on holding Hamas accountable as well, in the hope this “would begin a new era of evenhandedness” at the council. That effort largely failed, he suggests, quoting the findings of the the “committee of independent experts” directed to monitor how each side conducted itself after the war. The committee headed by New York judge Mary McGowan Davis, found that “Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza” while Hamas has failed to investigate any of the missile launches into Israeli territory targeting civilians.
“In the end, asking Hamas to investigate may have been a mistaken enterprise,” Goldstone writes, and adds: “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.” The reference to the March 11 killings on five members of the Fogel family, in a West Bank settlement far from Gaza, appears to be Goldstone’s clearest effort to show solidarity with Israel. No Palestinian group has taken responsibility for the unsolved crime, which ordinary Palestinians widely condemn and resist regarding as the work of militants.
On Gaza, Goldstone essentially says that if he’d known then what he knows now, the report would not have been nearly so hard on Israel. Because its government stonewalled the investigation, he says, the panel did not know until the Israeli military conducted its own inquiry that 29 members of a family were shelled to death in their home because of a commander’s error interpreting an image from an overhead drone. In another case, an Israeli soldier was charged with manslaughter for shooting a Palestinian woman approaching with a white flag. Goldstone writes that while Israel’s own investigations “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.”
The Goldstone report incensed Israelis in no small part for because it impugned the IDF, by far the most highly regarded institution among Jewish Israelis who regard it as “the most moral army in the world.” The IDF commitment to ethics in combat, or “purity of arms,” was tested severely in Gaza, one of the most densely populated districts on the globe. B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights advocacy and monitoring group, reported that more than half of the nearly 1,400 fatalities were civilians, including 252 children. Israeli deaths totaled 12, including four soldiers killed by friendly fire and three civilians killed by rocket attacks.