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B’Tselem questions whether Gaza destruction was ‘systematic’ without military justification

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Jessica Montell of B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, sent the following note re the Goldstone Report:

In response to your recent post – "War on Goldstone now deploys human-rights orgs and, you guessed it, the Holocaust." I was also struck, indeed horrified by the government’s decision to link its reponse to the Goldstone report with Holocaust Day. But I write now to respond to your remarks about the quote of our Research Director in the New York Times.

We all know the extent of the destruction in Gaza: homes, mosques, schools, as well as infrastructure like chicken coops, flour mill, sewage  treatment. B’Tselem has documented this – as well as the now most urgent problem that the siege still prevents rebuilding all that was destroyed. The more complicated issue is whether this destruction was systematic – i.e. willful, premeditated destruction of civilian targets with no military justification. Building this case depends not only on the extent of the damage and suffering, but on the motivations and objectives of  the Israeli military. This is one of the issues that must be examined by an independent inquiry – and one with the power to cross-examine Israeli military officials and make them provide evidence to back up their claims, which Goldstone was obviously not able to do.

The quote of Ms. Stein was the result of a two-hour conversation with the journalist, most of it focused on the inadequacy of Israel’s investigations to date. While Ms. Stein was quoted accurately, this is a very small part of our views on  the Goldstone report and Cast Lead, and not what we would chose to emphasize at this point.

As I believe you know, B’Tselem has voiced extremely harsh criticism of Israel’s conduct – including grave suspicion of war crimes. It must not be the case that the only yardstick to measure Israeli behavior is whether or not there was a willful, targeted attack on Palestinian civilians and civilian infrastructure. This dramatically lowers the bar and basically plays into the government’s hand, whereas we demand respect for the full spectrum of IHL [international humanitarian law] and human rights obligations.

B’Tselem has invested tremendous resources over the past year to research and publicize the extent of the civilian harm caused during Israel’s military operation in Gaza last winter and to hold Israel accountable. B’Tselem also provided extensive assistance to the UN fact-finding mission headed by Justice Goldstone – escorting them to meet victims in Gaza, providing all of our documentation and correspondence, and meeting the mission in Jordan. Much can be said about the very lengthy, detailed report submitted by the mission, and about the UN process it set in motion. The most important message to promote now – and one on which B’Tselem agrees whole-heartedly with the Goldstone report – is that Israel must conduct a thorough, independent inquiry into all the allegations that have been made.


Jessica Montell

Executive Director

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