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Israeli spin on Goldstone op-ed doesn’t hold up

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It is dizzying to watch the Israeli government and its supporters spin the substance of Judge Richard Goldstone’s column in the Washington Post yesterday. A closer look at the column, and the Goldstone report itself, shows that the propaganda being churned out by the Netanyahu government is self-serving, misleading and patently false.

Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, thinks that Goldstone should retract the entire report. Likewise, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to launch an “international campaign to persuade the United Nations to retract the Goldstone Commission’s damning report,” according to Haaretz. Noah Pollak, the executive director of the neoconservative Emergency Committee for Israel, writes on Twitter that Goldstone has “retracted much of his report.” Jonathan Tobin at Commentary claims that “the former judge admitted that his report was wrong.”

These claims don’t come anywhere close to what Judge Goldstone actually wrote in his column. The main point of recantation occurs when Goldstone writes (my emphasis):

The allegations of intentionality by 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.

The Israeli military investigations have led Goldstone to say that “if I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”

So yes, Goldstone’s Op-Ed in the Post recants a central, and damning, claim that his report made: that “Israeli armed forces had carried out direct intentional strikes against civilians” in incidents examined in detail by his team. But nowhere in his column does he imply that his entire report should be refuted–exactly the claim Israel’s propagandists are now making.

The full scope of his report is no less damning then the “intentionality” allegation Goldstone is now backtracking on.  The parts of the report that deal with Israel’s alleged “intentional” policy of killing civilians is a portion of the report. Here are some of the most important findings in the comprehensive U.N. report that Goldstone did not recant:

-The aim of the destruction of the el-Bader flour mill was to “destroy the local capacity to produce flour…From the facts ascertained by it, the Mission finds that the destruction of the mill was carried out for the purpose of denying sustenance to the civilian population, which is a violation of customary international law as reflected in article 54 (2) of Additional Protocol I and may constitute a war crime” (page 199).

-The “Israeli armed forces launched direct attacks against residential houses, destroying them,” and “the conduct of the Israeli armed forces in these cases amounted to the grave breach of ‘extensive destruction… of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly’ under article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention” (pages 212, 214).

-”The systematic destruction of food production, water services and construction industries was related to the overall policy of disproportionate destruction of a significant part of Gaza’s infrastructure” (page 218).

-”The Mission finds that Messrs. Majdi Abd Rabbo, Abbas Ahmad Ibrahim Halawa, Mahmoud Abd Rabbo al-Ajrami and AD/03 were captured by the Israeli armed forces while they were in their homes, in some cases together with their families, and were then forced at gunpoint to search houses together with the Israeli armed forces. The Mission also finds on the basis of those facts that they were all subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment during their captivity…The Mission also finds that the intentional use as human shields of those whose accounts are presented above qualifies as inhuman treatment of and wilfully causing great suffering to protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention. As such, the Mission considers the conduct of the Israeli armed forces in relation to such persons to amount to grave breaches of the said Convention. The use of human shields is also a war crime under article 8 (2) (b) (xxiii) of the Rome Statute” (pages 229, 232).

-”The Mission considers that the severe beatings, constant humiliating and degrading treatment and detention in foul conditions allegedly suffered by individuals in the Gaza Strip under the control of the Israelis and in detention in Israel, would constitute torture, and a grave breach under article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a violation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Such violations also constitute war crimes” (page 249).

-”The restrictions imposed by Israel on the imports to and exports from the Gaza Strip through the border crossings as well as the naval and airspace blockade have had a severe impact on the availability and accessibility of a whole range of goods and services necessary for the people of Gaza to enjoy their human rights. Their already eroded ability to access and buy basic goods was compounded by the effects of the four-week Israeli military campaign, which further restricted access to those essential items and destroyed goods, land, facilities and infrastructure vital for the enjoyment of their fundamental rights. In conjunction, the blockade and the military hostilities have created a situation in which most people are destitute. Women and children have been particularly affected. The current situation has been described as a crisis of human dignity…

The facts ascertained by the Mission, the conditions resulting from the deliberate actions of the Israeli armed forces and the declared policies of the Israeli Government – as they were presented by its authorized representatives – with regard to the Gaza Strip before, during and after the military operation, cumulatively indicate the intention to inflict collective punishment on the people of the Gaza Strip. The Mission, therefore, finds a violation of the provisions of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention” (pages 259, 283).

Goldstone’s entire report matters deeply, and represents a thorough documentation of Israeli, and Palestinian, war crimes and the context in which they occurred. That is why there is a desperate attempt to use Goldstone’s article as an full exoneration of the Israeli military’s conduct during the war.

For those crowing about a “refutation” of the entire report and the need for the judge to retract it, a full reading of the document is in order.

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