Anticipating Israeli response, Dershowitz blames atrocities in Goldstone Report on ‘rogue soldiers’

on 106 Comments

French members of the Gaza Freedom March, in Cairo last month, expressing their analysis of Gaza war

The Israeli response to the Goldstone report is due soon, and Adam predicted lately that it will blame some atrocities on "bad apples." I think he’s got it. For the defense is borne out by Alan Dershowitz’s draft response to the Goldstone report that he has circulated to colleagues, and that has now been widely shared on the internet. 

Below I quote the section in which Dershowitz concedes that there were some bad apples in the Israeli army– "rogue soldiers." Before I grant him a platform, three problems with Dershowitz’s analysis:

1) Dershowitz says that Goldstone accused Israel of deliberately targeting and killing "hundreds" of civilians. But Goldstone only makes this allegation in a few instances. And Dershowitz distorts Goldstone’s main statement about targeting civilians. Goldstone found that Israel had violated two humanitarian laws in war: it had not distinguished sufficiently between civilians and combatants, and it was disproportionate in its attacks on alleged combatants in a civilian setting. Thus, it destroyed several police stations, killing scores of innocent people, because it believed some cops were combatants. The underlying aim of the war, Goldstone concluded, was "a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population…" –evidently to make Gazans suffer for their support for Hamas, and get them to push for the release of Gilad Shalit, among other political purposes. Thus the attacks on flour mills and chicken farms, and horrific destruction of neighborhoods in which Israel believed combatants were operating. Elsewhere in his response, Dershowitz seems to concede Goldstone’s point when he admits that Israel targeted the "civilian power" that supports rocket strikes on Israel–which in Dersh’s interpretation seems to mean anyone who voted for Hamas.

2) Dershowitz mentions "disturbing narratives" from Gaza, with lawyerly vagueness–and never speaks about the atrocities detailed by the Breaking the Silence testimonies on which Goldstone depended. In those testimonies, Israeli soldiers say that they or their mates fired on civilians, even civilians holding white flags, because their commanders had drummed into them that combatants mingled with the civilian population, and if they had any doubt at all about whether someone was a civilian, they should shoot. This indiscriminate policy was policy, and it led to numerous atrocities. You can’t go blaming rogue soldiers now.

3) Dershowitz says that Israel suffers in global p.r. when it attacks civilians, so why would it do so? This is an ex-post-facto, post-Gaza line of reasoning. Israel got away with grossly disproportionate attacks on civilian infrastructure previously, in the Lebanon war, and obviously believed it could do so again. Israel miscalculated: Gaza was so horrific that it has destroyed Israel’s p.r. campaign around the world and forced it to highlight its relief efforts in Haiti to try and save its image. So the reasoning that Dershowitz ascribes to Israeli leaders may now be the case–we can hope–but it was not the case pre-Gaza.

Now take it away, Professor Dershowitz. An excerpt:

Goldstone does not even consider the most basic question of all: What would Israel gain by targeting civilians for death? It simply is not rational for Israel to target civilians. The Goldstone Report has brought worldwide condemnation upon Israel. Surely Israel would not want to bring such condemnation upon herself.
Every Israeli official understands that ever time a Palestinian civilian—especially a child or woman—is killed, Israel loses. As a western diplomat put it several years ago: Palestinian terrorists have “mastered” the “harsh arithmetic of pain.” “Palestinian [civilian] casualties play in their favor, and Israeli [civilian] casualties play in their favor.” Every time a Palestinian terrorist kills an Israeli civilian, Hamas wins. And every time an Israeli soldier kills a Palestinian civilian, Hamas wins. That is their strategy, and it is a win-win for terrorism and a lose-lose for democracy. Civilian deaths are inevitable in a conflict of this kind, but the accusation that they are part of a deliberate Israeli plan or policy defies reality and is wrong as a matter of fact. Reasonable people may disagree as to whether the deaths that resulted from Israel’s military objects were proportional or disproportional to risks its civilians feared from Hamas rockets. Reasonable people could also disagree about whether Israel’s policy of destroying Hamas buildings, tunnels and industry should be permissible under international law. But that is not the essence of what the report accuses Israel of deliberately planning—namely the deliberate targeting and killing of hundreds of innocent Palestinian women and children. On this most serious of charges, not only is there absolutely no evidence that points to this conclusion, what evidence there is points exactly the other way. Yet the report distorts the evidence, misquotes its sources, and turns the truth on its head, in order to arrive at a conclusion that at least some of its members had reached before even beginning to gather evidence for the report.
It is important to note that the report contains disturbing narratives accusing IDF soldiers of murdering Palestinian civilians. The Goldstone Report does not contain enough evidence to prove war crimes were committed, but parts of it do suggest investigations should be opened into the conduct of certain soldiers. If any soldiers committed war crimes, they should be prosecuted and punished in accordance with Israeli law. It bears no repeating that the commission of war crimes must be subjected to the strongest possible condemnation. If any soldier intentionally targeted Palestinian civilians, he must condemn him in the same manner that Hamas is condemned for targeting Israeli civilians.
Rogue soldiers are a fact of war. No matter how exacting military discipline, there will always be a soldier who sees war as an opportunity to release his own brutality. Recently, an American Private was convicted of murdering four innocent civilians while on duty in Iraq. This does not mean, however, that it is the policy of the American forces to murder civilians. Yet the Goldstone report takes the alleged instances of Israeli soldiers intentionally targeting civilians and claims it was the policy of Israel to intentionally target civilians. There is simply no evidence to support this illogical conclusion.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

Other posts by .

Posted In:

    Leave a Reply