An Israeli reporter wrote to me today saying that Israel is “aflame” with the news that Judge Goldstone has finally given the nation the vindication it so richly deserved by renouncing his human rights report on Operation Cast Lead, which found that Israel may’ve committed numerous war crimes.
First, let’s do what Yaniv Reich and Jerry Haber have done so well in pieces they’ve just written today on Goldstone’s Washington Post op-ed. Since most pro-Israel advocates made false claims about the report when it originally came out and are making false claims about his op-ed now, let’s say what Goldstone really said and what he didn’t say. Later, we’ll explore the reporting that Ethan Bronner has published for the N.Y. Times, which shows he has such a need to vindicate Israel that he deliberately overstated what Goldstone actually wrote.
First, the justice writes that if he knew then what he knows now, the report would’ve been different. Note, he didn’t say the report would’ve vindicated Israel’s conduct. That’s the message the Hasbara apparatus is crowing from every treetop and it’s simply untrue. Goldstone does note that, in his belief, Israel has vindicated itself in two areas. First, he quotes a separate UN report which claims:
“Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct…”
Unfortunately, this statement is so patently self-serving and artificial it is embarrassing to find as eminent a jurist as he is relying on it. Just because a nation ‘expends resources’ investigating possible crimes doesn’t mean it will prosecute them or finally do justice. And Israel certainly hasn’t to date. It has announced that two senior officers MIGHT be prosecuted and reprimanded, though months later it hasn’t even pursued this. No senior officer has received any meaningful punishment for any incident Goldstone reported. THAT is the standard by which Goldstone must judge Israel’s responsiveness to his original demands. The fact that he has let Israel off the hook as lightly as he has is a betrayal of the rigor and thoroughness of his original report.
The Goldstone report focussed most of its energy around three especially egregious acts of war during Cast Lead which led to the deaths of scores of civilians. One was the bombing of the al-Samouni home, another was the shelling of a mosque filled with worshippers, and the last was the shelling of the UN school in Gaza. Goldstone’s columns mentions only one of these three incidents: the al-Samouni incident. Goldstone claims that Israel has now redeemed itself by pointing out that the destruction of the house resulted from a faulty assessment by a drone operator and that this individual could possibly face disciplinary action. He does not mention the other two incidents and presumably the harsh judgement the original report made about the IDF’s disregard for human life in these cases stands unaltered.
In this one passage, poorly worded as it is, Goldstone appears to entirely undo all the work of his UN panel:
The allegations of intentionality by [ed. against] 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.
Ethan Bronner reads this as Goldstone conceding that Israel did not intentionally target civilians as a matter of policy. And this is a legitimate possible reading. Though I should add that this passage in his article may also concede the meaning I read into the op-ed (which follows below):
Now, he said, Israeli investigators had presented evidence “that civilians were not intentionally harmed as a matter of policy.”
Of course they’ve presented evidence. But presenting evidence doesn’t mean vindication or final proof that Israel’s position is redeemed. You could also read Goldstone to be saying that the Israeli investigations claim that civilians were not intentionally targeted. In other words, he may merely be conceding the obvious, that Israel believes it was not deliberately targeting civilians and that it’s investigations have confirmed this to Israel’s satisfaction (but not necessarily to his own). But given the context and that Goldstone continues in the next paragraph by accepting Israel’s explanation that the al-Samouni massacre was not deliberate, Bronner’s apparent interpretation may be right.
In this passage, Bronner appears to be conjuring from Neverland:
The Goldstone report upset not only the government in Israel but also many on the left who said the harsh critique made it impossible for them to raise other concerns.
Of course, Bronner doesn’t indicate which leftists believe this. I for one have never heard a real progressive or leftist say this. Of course it’s possible there are liberal Zionists who detested Goldstone’s report and believed it harmed their political work. But what “other concerns” were these leftist do-gooders attempting to raise which were stymied by the report? We’ll never know. Likely, Bronner is referring to all of the liberal Zionists in his Israeli social milieu. Alas, he doesn’t appear to know any real leftists and confuses his friends for the real thing.
Returning to the Washington Post article, Goldstone has made a leap of faith regarding the accountability of the single officer he says may be responsible for negligence in the al-Samouni case:
…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.
As I wrote above, there is absolutely no reason for Goldstone to feel confident that the investigation is “appropriate” or that the officer will be held accountable. In fact, the very nature of the way Goldstone wrote this piece and the way it’s being misinterpreted inside Israel guarantees now that NO ONE will be held accountable. As we all know and as Yaniv Reich points out in his post, the ONLY reason any Israeli officer has even been investigated, let alone disciplined or held accountable is that there was a Goldstone report holding Israel’s feet to the fire. Now, he has let Israel off the hook and this is the green light that Israel has been praying for for ages and is now greeting with copious hosannas. This is what is so sad about the Post article. It can’t be that Judge Goldstone wished to undo all the good work of his inquiry and end all serious investigation of Cast Lead misdeeds. But that is what he has done.
There is only one portion of Goldstone’s piece with which I agree. Hamas has not investigated any actions by its fighters either before or during the war, let alone prosecuted anyone. This is inexcusable not just morally but tactically as well. If Hamas knows the Goldstone report is holding both sides accountable and it wishes Israel’s feet to be held to the fire, one sure way to undo this effort is not to hold one’s own followers accountable for their actions. And Hamas has not done so.
However, the jurist almost undoes the validity of this point with this egregious misstatement of Hamas’ view of the State of Israel:
Hamas [is] an organization that has a policy to destroy the state of Israel…
This statement is completely false. Hamas’ 1988 charter makes such a claim. But the charter in no way is a statement of Hamas’ views or policy regarding Israel today. In fact, statements by its senior leaders indicate that it has de facto accepted Israel’s existence.
This too is a serious misstatement of fact:
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.
The firing of rockets has largely been the work of other factions than Hamas, which has been blamed because it allegedly controls all the territory in Gaza and allegedly could stop the firing of any rocket if it really wished to do so (which of course is false). The fact that Goldstone makes such serious errors further tarnishes this column and his previous record of impartiality.
This passage too sets up a mistaken corollary which appears to blame Hamas for another terror act for which no one, not even the most right-wing Israeli leaders, has blamed it:
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.
This statement too indicates that someone in the Israeli government or the IDF has fed Goldstone Kool-Aid which he’s willingly imbibed:
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…
If the judge thinks that Israel has learned any lessons that will reduce civilian deaths in future wars against its Arab neighbors he’s deeply mistaken. While there may be new procedures developed, the proof of the pudding is not in what is written in a manual. Manuals aren’t even honored in training let alone during a war. And any procedure that apperars to limit the IDF’s ability to penetrate civilian areas and act to pursue its aims will be ignored.
In short, Goldstone, though he hasn’t entirely retreated from the findings of his original inquiry, has so qualified them that he’s essentially neutered himself and his original sterling work. All that being said, it’s important to remember that Goldstone hasn’t exonerated Israel, hasn’t clearly said he accepts Israel contention that it didn’t deliberately attack civilians, and didn’t say he’s completely happy with the quality or progress of Israeli investigations to date.
Ethan Bronner in his own report repeats the locution that Goldstone accepts that Israeli investigations conclude that it did not target civilians, as if this means that Goldstone himself now believes this. Then he makes this misstatement about the original report:
Their report said that the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Gaza — a flour mill, sewage plant, chicken coops, water wells, a cement plant and some 4,000 homes — and the deaths of hundreds of noncombatants could only be understood as intentional.
That is NOT what it said. It said that there was sufficient likelihood that these deaths MIGHT be intentional that it demanded a full investigation by Israel. That is entirely different from Bronner’s sloppy account.
I wonder whether the shallowness of Goldstone’s op-ed may be due to a certain level of despair this good Jewish Zionist jurist may feel about the ways in which his report has been smeared by Israel and her supporters and the enormous personal toll this has taken on him and his family. This article appears to be the work of someone seeking to work himself back into the good graces of a community he feels to have ostracized him for his previous well-meaning efforts. As such, it likely will not work. Once you are a pariah in the pro-Israel community you aren’t likely to be trusted again by your fair-weather friends.
The final word goes to Yaniv:
I am afraid this is a sad, integrity-damaging turn for a man who had singlehandedly done so much to protect people from war crimes in Israel, Palestine, and elsewhere.
And he should have known better, that is, he should have known that this craven gesture to Israel would not allow his enemies to forgive him and welcome him back to the broader Jewish community.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.