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Memo to NYT: Goldstone didn’t call white phosphorus a war crime; HRW did

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One of my goals today is to undermine the recent NYT piece, written by a reporter whose son is in the Israeli military, that characterizes Judge Goldstone as thoroughly-unreliable in his criticisms of the Israeli military, just now when Goldstone’s report is going to go to the UN secretary-general. As I pointed out earlier today, reporter Ethan Bronner quotes an Israeli general saying that Goldstone’s report is completely out of line with several other reports on the Gaza war– when in fact the Arab League report the general cites goes much further than Goldstone.

Another report that general cites as being somehow sane and reasonable as opposed to deluded Goldstone is the Human Rights Watch report. Norman Finkelstein writes, "Here’s an illuminating comparison, HRW explicitly states Israel’s use of white phosphorus was a ‘war crime,’ whereas Goldstone never explicitly states that Israel’s use of white phosphorus was a war crime."

Finkelstein passed along the following paragraph from his forthcoming book, "This Time We Went Too Far: Truth & Consequences of the Gaza Invasion," which comes out in a month or so from OR Books.

An HRW study homed in on Israel’s “unlawful” use of white phosphorus in Gaza. Although it is used primarily to obscure military operations on the ground—white phosphorus ignites and burns on contact with oxygen generating a dense white smoke—it can also be used as an incendiary weapon: when making contact with skin white phosphorus causes “horrific burns,” sometimes to the bone, as it reaches temperatures of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit (816 degrees Celsius). HRW concluded that Israel “repeatedly exploded white phosphorus munitions in the air over populated areas, killing and injuring civilians, and damaging civilian structures, including a school, a market, a humanitarian aid warehouse and a hospital,” and that such use of white phosphorus “indicates the commission of war crimes.” It further found that insofar as Israel wanted an obscurant for its forces, it could have used smoke shells (manufactured by an Israeli company); that Israel’s persistent use of white phosphorus where no Israeli forces were present on the ground indicated it was being used as an incendiary weapon; that in its targeting of the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City, which warehoused vast quantities of humanitarian food and medical supplies, the IDF “kept firing white phosphorus despite repeated warnings from U.N. personnel about the danger to civilians”; that Israel targeted the U.N.’s Beit Lahiya school despite the fact that “the U.N. had provided the IDF with the GPS coordinates of the school prior to military operations”; and that Al-Quds hospital, also a target, was “clearly marked and there does not appear to have been fighting in that immediate area.” It deserves special emphasis that the U.S. manufactured “all of the white phosphorus shells” recovered by HRW in Gaza.

HRW quotations are trom Human Rights Watch, Rain of Fire: Israel’s unlawful use of white phosphorus in Gaza (New York: March 2009), pp. 1-6, 39, 60. See also Al-Mezan, Bearing the Brunt, pp. 42-45.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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