Goldstone’s Backtrack: Some points to remember

Israel/Palestine
on 11 Comments

Justice Goldstone, author of the famous report on the 2009 attack on Gaza, published an op-ed today in which he seemed to be retracting some of his claims. He wrote that ”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”

This claim was immediately picked up by Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who sees it as making it ”clear that IDF is a moral army.”

It is important to respond to these claims for several reasons: because they are false and misleading, and because they serve to buttress many Israelis’ self-image of being morally superior to Palestinians, since all Israeli violence towards civilians is supposedly accidental. Portraying such attacks as accidental is also linked to seeing them as inevitable, and therefore justified – which means they can happen again.

Mondoweiss’ Adam Horowitz has already responded to this, but here are some more points to keep in mind in regard to the 2009 Israeli war crimes in Gaza.

1. They were very well documented by a variety of sources. Human Rights Watch wrote that “First, the repeated use of air-burst white phosphorus in populated areas until the last days of the operation reveals a pattern or policy of conduct rather than incidental or accidental usage. Second, the IDF was well aware of the effects of white phosphorus and the dangers it poses to civilians. Third, the IDF failed to use safer available alternatives for smokescreens.”

Breaking the Silence testimonies show that “Fire power was insane. We went in and the booms were just mad. The minute we got to our starting line, we simply began to fire at suspect places. You see a house, a window, shoot at the window. You don’t see a terrorist there? Fire at the window. In urban warfare, anyone is your enemy. No innocents.”

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights, and others, collected many testimonies of attacks on civilians. For example:

The al-Helu family had been told to evacuate their house in Zaytoun, eastern Gaza, but while they were attempting to flee, Israeli soldiers opened fire on them. Farah was shot in the stomach and bled to death two hours later

2. As Adam wrote:

The U.N. committee of independent experts (led by former New York judge Mary McGowan Davis) which was charged with following the Israeli and Palestinian investigations following the Goldstone report [...] point to Israel’s unwillingness, and in fact inability, to investigate the policies of the Israeli military as the greatest fault of the Israeli investigation to this point… The experts’ report also addresses the structural reason the Israeli investigation has failed to look into military policy. Evidently the Israeli office responsible for investigating the question of crimes committed in Gaza is the same office that would be responsible for providing legal counsel to the Israeli military’s Chief of Staff and other military authorities. So basically, office that would accusing the military of committing crimes is the same one that would be defending them from the same charges. 

As a result, few officers have been charged in relation to crimes committed.  An internal IDF investigation found two officers responsible for dropping phosphorus bombs on civilians, and all they got was a little reprimand in their personal files.

On the other hand, an anti-war activist was given three months in jail for riding his bicycle too slowly at a protest.

3. The claim that there was no policy behind this stems from a poor understanding of civilian-military relations in Israel. The details of policy are often not set by the government, but they give army officers leeway to set these policies, and then don’t take any significant steps to punish them for causing human rights violations. For example, the 1982 invasion of Lebanon was supposed to end, according to the government’s decision, 40 kilometers north of the border. The army initiated a full invasion, and no one was ever reprimanded for this discrepancy. In 2000, some government ministers wanted to limit the use of force against Palestinian protestors at the beginning of the second Intifada, while the army shot an estimated million bullets (as can be seen in the excellent Israeli documentary “a Million Bullets in October,” available on Youtube). In 2006 the Chief of Staff asked the government for permission to attack Lebanese infrastructure and was refused (see Shelah’s and Limor’s book on that war)- but infrastructure was attacked nonetheless. And so it was in Gaza: as I mentioned an internal IDF investigation found two officers responsible for dropping phosphorus bombs on civilians, and all they got was a little reprimand in their personal files.  

The background for such actions was ongoing incitement to attack civilians -  Deputy Defense secretary Vilnai’s threat to bring a “Shoah” on Gaza or the hate leaflets distributed to soldiers entering the Strip – and many more examples.

4. It is true that the army is taking criticism of its actions more seriously than after the attack on Lebanon in 2006. This can only be explained as a direct result of international pressure, which hopefully could prevent some loss of civilian life in the future. In other words, instead of praising the army’s liberality, Goldstone should be praising the international community of activists for successfully putting pressure on the army to investigate its own actions.. 

5. Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t believe the hype. Don’t believe the hype.

Tom Pessah is a graduate sociology student at UC Berkeley.

11 Responses

  1. Richard Witty
    April 2, 2011, 4:31 pm

    Agreed.

    Don’t believe the hype. Both of them. (“The Goldstone Report PROVES that Israel committed war crimes – hype. and “The qualification PROVES that no war crimes were committed – hype.)

    Rohrschach.

    • Donald
      April 2, 2011, 4:42 pm

      What Richard is saying is that one should remain forever uncertain about whether Israel committed war crimes. However, it is legitimate to conclude without further (endless) debate that Hamas did. It’s a pattern that is consistent with Richard and it doesn’t matter what the physical evidence is. It is a question of faith with him.

      Incidentally, Richard, you could, you know, actually respond to the evidence that Tom lays out. You don’t really agree with him, you know. For instance, Tom wrote this in the very post that you “agree with” —

      “but here are some more points to keep in mind in regard to the 2009 Israeli war crimes in Gaza.

      1. They were very well documented by a variety of sources. Human Rights Watch wrote that “First, the repeated use of air-burst white phosphorus in populated areas until the last days of the operation reveals a pattern or policy of conduct rather than incidental or accidental usage. Second, the IDF was well aware of the effects of white phosphorus and the dangers it poses to civilians. Third, the IDF failed to use safer available alternatives for smokescreens.” “

      • Richard Witty
        April 2, 2011, 11:40 pm

        So, there then is the question of whether preliminary investigations at the same time from the same sources, were complete.

        Goldstone puts that assertion into some doubt, at least some qualification.

        The stated purpose of the Goldstone report was TO compel Israeli investigation and reforms of its procedures and policy making. In this article, he is declaring that that has succeeded to at least some of his satisfaction.

        That use of the report is a different use than that you and other radical dissenters intend. My sense is that you don’t urge that the IDF processes be reformed, but that they be castigated hook, line and sinker.

        And, that underlies a very big difference between you and Goldstone. That is that Goldstore regarded that some military response to Hamas shelling of civilians was called for, rational, maybe even required.

        Most here don’t express that. They (you) don’t express that the IDF had any responsibility to protect Israeli civilians from assault, however originated.

        Again and again, if Hamas had simply fired a dozen rockets into the desert as a demonstration of what it could do, then the issue would have passed. Hamas would have retained its credibility of keeping the truce for the 4 1/2 months that it did, and likely Kadima would be controlling the current Israeli government.

        But, Hamas didn’t do that. It fired at towns and cities, at longer and longer distances with missiles of greater accuracy, and did so UNTIL the IDF responded militarily.

      • Tom Pessah
        April 3, 2011, 1:49 am

        >>The stated purpose of the Goldstone report was TO compel Israeli investigation and reforms of its procedures and policy making. In this article, he is declaring that that has succeeded

        given the fact that several hundred civilians died, including over 200 children, and that this happened more than two years ago, you would think that successful investigations would have produced a few actual punishments for the people involved. The army is very quick to arrest and jail non-violent activists against the wall like Bassem Tamimi link to haaretz.com
        , but nothing of this kind has happened to any of the soldiers involved, apart from one who stole a credit card.
        so it’s great Goldstone is satisfied, but what about the families of all those who were killed and wounded by these attacks? what about all the children who were maimed or wounded by the phosphorus bombs? was no one responsible for that?

        >>IDF had any responsibility to protect Israeli civilians from assault,
        war crimes aren’t self-defence. I mentioned several examples of these in the post, and you just need to click on the links to find the original reports, which are much more detailed. If you think murdering civilians as a form of retaliation is ok, you have no case against Hamas. Goldstone’s op-ed won’t make all the evidence suddenly go away.

      • Chaos4700
        April 3, 2011, 1:54 am

        Whatever, Witty. You’re a racist and your transparently biased. Israel killed people IN INTERNATIONAL WATERS and you didn’t oppose that.

        The fact is, you hate Palestinians and you will condemn them — to death! — no matter what they do. And anyone else who wants to help alleviate their suffering — even if it means fellow Americans need to DIE.

        But that’s all part and parcel of the fifth column, I suppose.

      • Richard Witty
        April 3, 2011, 9:42 am

        When you say “responsible for that”, you use the language of punishment.

        The stated purpose of the Goldstone report was reform of procedures and policy-making.

        Goldstone is saying in effect that he does think that Israel investigated allegations sincerely, at least to a material extent, if not completely or perfectly.

        Neither I nor you know with any certainty to what extent Israeli soldiers were disciplined, or how.

        War sucks big time. I’m certain that there were Palestinian deaths that were unnecesssary (interpreting that as criticism of choice of policy pursued).

        It is a question of what is your goal. If the result of the Goldstone report were that Israel internally revised its war making rules to sincerely attempt to conform to international law in the future, that would be a success of the report and of dissent, even if it did not result in public civilian prosecutions.

        Goldstone is saying that that happened to the best of his knowledge.

        His remaining criticism was being denied access to timely evidence by Israel.

        And, that is a judgment call as to the extent of the legal right of international law, through the UN Human Rights Council, to subpoena evidence. Israel declared that the investigation was biased originally and would not participate.

        There are then two paths, one is to insist that UN Human Rights Council has the right to subpoena evidence anyway and violation of that subpoena is a violation of international law. (So long as bias remains, that will be difficult.)

        The second is to work to reform the international law apparatus of the UN to the extent that they do function as international law institutions and not as international political ones.

  2. pabelmont
    April 2, 2011, 5:05 pm

    One wonders why Goldstone is expressing second thoughts, especially if the Israeli investigations are unsatisfactory. (They are supposed to be “independent”, I believe. Well, if the investigations were conducted by people in the office that would defend the army, seems a tad non-independent.)

  3. pabelmont
    April 2, 2011, 5:25 pm

    This comment copied by me from elsewhere, on same topic:

    The [Gaza] attack lasted long enough that even if there was no policy “on the way in” and “at the top level” to target civilians, the IOF should have seen what was happening; and stopped it. They did not.

    The same argument , “there was no policy”, was used as to expelling Palestinians in 1948. But the expulsions occurred and the Israeli army and pre-Israeli army did nothing to stop it; and the return of exiles was not permitted; and that was Israeli policy. Consistent with expulsion of innocents and non-combatants.

    The same very heavy destruction of civilian structures and people occurred in the Lebanon wars of 1982 and 2006. The leopard does not change his spots, or the tiger his stripes.

  4. Donald
    April 2, 2011, 5:44 pm

    Only slightly off-topic–

    link

    People here might remember Richard Bernstein, one of the founders of Human Rights Watch who wrote a NYT op ed piece a year or two ago denouncing HRW for investigating Israel. It was a dishonest piece and needless to say, defended by RW. Anyway, it now appears that Bernstein is going to start a new human rights organization and he’s pretty explicit about why–he doesn’t like the way the current ones treat Israel.

    I wonder if maybe some rich Saudi might want to launch a new human rights organization dedicated to excusing the crimes of Al Qaeda. I see a lot of room for expansion in the field, once this silly notion that one should hold everyone to the same standard is tossed aside.

    • Chaos4700
      April 3, 2011, 1:55 am

      Not to be crass but is anyone else sensing a pattern between Zionists and their turning around and betraying the ideals of the organizations they involve themselves with.

  5. mig
    April 3, 2011, 2:55 am

    To put it simple, Goldstone hasnt dumped report. Or findings in that report.

    Lots of ballistic responses have seen, just calm down.

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