By MATT GELLER
In 2009, a group of legal experts headed by Richard Goldstone, a judge from South Africa, released a report concerning possible war crimes committed by Israel and Hamas during the 2008 war in the Gaza strip that was dubbed by Israel “Operation Cast Lead.”
The report, which was published at the behest of the U.N. Human Rights Council, shocked the world by alleging that Israel had intentionally targeted civilians during the offensive.
Although the report condemned both Hamas and Israel for committing possible war crimes, the international backlash was directed almost exclusively against Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces.
However, on Friday, April 1, Goldstone wrote a letter of retraction for the Washington Post. He revealed that he no longer believes that Israel’s killing of civilians was intentional, saying, “We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-2009 than we did when I chaired the fact-finding mission appointed by the Human Rights Council that produced what has come to be known as the Goldstone Report. If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”
He cited a report by a U.N. committee of independent experts that was chaired by former New York judge Mary McGowan Davis, which has helped to shed light on the events that transpired during the war.
The report cited over 400 investigations by the Israeli government into operational misconduct by Israelis during the war, while “the de facto authorities (i.e., Hamas) have not conducted any investigations into the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel.”
In the original report, Goldstone pleaded with both sides to investigate any illegal activities that their side may have committed during the conflict, but it is his opinion that “Israel has done this to a significant degree; Hamas has done nothing.”
Goldstone continued his retraction by citing inconsistent behavior by the Human Rights Council, which he claims has a historic bias against Israel. It was his hope that the McGowan-Davis report would help lead to more evenhanded rulings by the Human Rights Council, which he feels has yet to adequately condemn Hamas for war crimes that they have committed.
He dismissed the idea that Hamas should not be held to the same standard as Israel because they do not represent a nation.
To be sure, Hamas is an Islamic fundamentalist group that has declared the destruction of Israel to be its ultimate goal. Religiously they cannot accept a Jewish state, and they have repeatedly expressed their desires to destroy not just the government of Israel, but to ensure that a Jewish community will not exist in the land. They refuse to recognize the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank because they view them as too permissive of a Jewish existence in the land of Israel. Hamas doe not make their contempt for Jews living in Israel a secret, as they celebrated in the streets when a Jewish couple and three of their very young children were murdered in cold blood in their homes.
Hamas’ response to the report was to salute the perpetrators of the crimes, while the Human Rights Council did nothing to condemn the act or Hamas for their reaction.
Goldstone concluded his letter by citing positive changes that the original report did help to bring about. Including new procedures utilized by the Israelis in conducting urban warfare, as well as investigations conducted by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank into possible crimes that they too might have committed. He also expressed his belief that all combatants, whether they be state or non-state actors, be held to the same standards of international law.
While it is admirable that Goldstone was willing to write this letter in the face of the new evidence provided by the McGowan-Davis report, it is my belief that unfortunately, this will do little to affect the international attitude toward Israel.
As I write this, the Human Rights Council is preparing six formal condemnations against Israel, the largest number of condemnations ever published in a single session. It is unfortunate not only because this is potentially a brazen miscarriage of justice, but also because it further politicizes an organization that should be acting on behalf of all of the world’s citizens, and has an amazing potential to improve the quality of life for all humanity.
Goldstone’s words may reverberate around the world, and in turn the response to Israel by the international community might become less Pavlovian, but it is unlikely that Hamas will be pressured to change it’s mission and cease and desist attacks against civilians.