The Goldstone Report, Reconciliation, and Peace - updated 1/10/10

Sheila Musaji

Posted Jan 10, 2010      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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The Goldstone Report, Reconciliation, and Peace

by Sheila Musaji

September 2009

On September 5, 2009 the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, more commonly known as the Goldstone Report was released.  Almost immediately, not only the report itself, and Richard Goldstone himself were attacked by the Zionist lobby as anti-Semitic, biased against Israel, one-sided, distorted, a mockery of human rights, etc.  Most of this propoganda against the Goldstone report came from the U.S. and Alan Dershowitz’ take on the report is pretty typical and predictable.  The Israeli press was much more open to discussing the possibility that the report needed to be taken seriously.  For example, Larry Derfner published an article in the Jerusalem Post that could never have been publoished in the U.S.  The article said in part“We’ve tried to smear them all, to silence them, to drown out the message that keeps repeating itself from one source to another. Now we have the message, the same message again, from one of the world’s most respected, accomplished men of justice. South Africa’s Judge Richard Goldstone has a record that no one in this country would dare try to tarnish. What’s more, he’s not only a Jew (and a former president of World ORT), he’s also a friend of Israel. He was on the board of directors at the Hebrew University, got an honorary doctorate there, he’s visited this country any number of times, his daughter’s lived here for awhile.    “Israel,” he said Tuesday, “committed actions amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity.” He said Hamas’s rockets amounted to the same thing - but there’s no comparison in magnitude, not in his report and not on the ground. Before, during and since the war with Gaza, Israel has been overwhelmingly the victimizer, not the victim.    WE MIGHT ask ourselves: What motive does Goldstone have to lie, to do a hatchet job on this nation and its army? (We might have asked ourselves the same question about the combat soldiers from the Rabin academy and Breaking the Silence.) The answer is that he has no such motive. He’s telling the truth. More precisely, he’s reinforcing the truth about the war that’s been told by so many others.”

It seems that Goldstone was exactly the right man to understand what is needed for there to be reconciliation and peace in Israel and Palestine.  As a South African who was very much involved in that countries process of reconciliation after the overthrow of the apartheid regime, he has first hand experience in what it is possible to accomplish after real injustices have been faced up to on both sides.  (His fellow South African, Desmond Tutu has used the word apartheid in reference to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.) Those in both the Israeli and the Palestinian camps who object to this report will only sideline any real chance for peace.

Navi Pulley, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in an article on the Huffington Post “I lend my full support to Justice Goldstone’s report and its recommendations. I fully agree with him that the prevailing impunity for human rights violations in the Middle East conflict must end.    Such impunity encourages and helps perpetuate human rights abuses. Bringing perpetrators to account is not only necessary to ensure justice and protection to the affected populations, but also to enhance prospects of peace in the region. All parties to the conflict, as well as the international community, should extend full support and cooperation to accountability efforts.    It is essential that the international community anchors its efforts to broker a durable political solution in international law, including the important 9 July 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the wall being built by Israel.    It should be clear by now that there can be no lasting peace without accountability for human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law.”

Richard Goldstone wrote an article in the New York Times in which he said:  “Pursuing justice in this case is essential because no state or armed group should be above the law. Western governments in particular face a challenge because they have pushed for accountability in places like Darfur, but now must do the same with Israel, an ally and a democratic state.    Failing to pursue justice for serious violations during the fighting will have a deeply corrosive effect on international justice, and reveal an unacceptable hypocrisy. As a service to the hundreds of civilians who needlessly died and for the equal application of international justice, the perpetrators of serious violations must be held to account.”

In the article   Yom Kippur & the Middle East: Our Misdeeds & Theirs , Rabbi Arthur Waskow said:

“I want to say a bit more about the Goldstone report.  Before Goldstone, it had smelly origins – commissioned by an anti-Israel corner of the UN.  But through the workings of international politics in the direction of justice, the job was handed to an affirmative Jew with strong Zionist connections, a giant of international law, who insisted on studying the possibility of war crimes by both Hamas and the government of Israel.

The report finds high probability that on both sides there were war crimes, cites the evidence in great detail,  and asserts the need for formal judicial investigation by both governments. It proposes giving both six months to do this, and if they fail, asking the Security Council to refer the evidence to the International Criminal Court.

Eminently sensible.

As the ancient rabbis said, the glory of human wisdom begins in a smelly drop (of semen). So what? The content of the report is the point.  Its 600+ pages of evidence are the point. Its truth or falsity, not its smelly origins, are the point.

The US government’s critique of the Goldstone Report, as voiced by Ambassador Susan Rice,  is rooted in this fallacy of origins. It almost signals the silliness of this approach by then urging that all action on the report be confined to precisely this smelly corner of the UN, rather than to other places that are far more just. More likely, beneath this fallacious rhetoric was a policy evasion of the duty of all governments to make sure that if war crimes were committed, they are punished.

Goldstone himself is a distinguished South African Jew with very strong Zionist connections. He took an important role in the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa, and who served as chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda from 1994 to 1996.  He was a member of the Commission of Enquiry into the Activities of Nazism in Argentina (CEANA) which was established in 1997 to identify Nazi war criminals who had emigrated to Argentina, and transferred victim assets (Nazi gold) there. 

Goldstone defined his task as looking into possible war crimes by both sides in the Gaza War. He attempted to interview Israelis who had been attacked in Sderot, but his team was denied entry to Israel. So the commission paid to have Israeli witnesses travel to where their evidence could be heard.
The Israeli government’s hostility from the git-go seems to me the behavior of a guilty party that did not want even-handed judgment, even if that meant its enemies as well as itself were judged.

The Goldstone Report indeed said there was serious evidence of specific war crimes by both sides, and called for judicial trials.  President Shimon Peres of Israel attacked the report in the following terms:

“War itself is a crime. The aggressor is the criminal. The side exercising self-defense has no other alternative. ...  “The report legitimizes terrorist activity, the pursuit of murder and death. The report disregards the duty and right of self defense, held by every sovereign state as enshrined in the UN Charter.”

There are two falsehoods in this statement. First,  far from “legitimizing” terrorist activity, the report describes it as a war crime. Secondly, Mr. Peres ignored the truth of international law that even a war of “self-defense” has limits in how it can be fought. For example, white phosphorus cannot be used against civilians. The Palestinians, of course, claim that their war was one of self-defense. But even if it were, it was forbidden to fight it by attacking civilian neighborhoods.

The Israeli government could have responded by saying it welcomed full judicial process and would live by its result. Its actual response therefore compounds its original misdeeds.”

In an important September 16, 2009 interview with Amy Goodman, Norman Finkelstein said: “So the report basically is consistent with the findings of the other human rights organizations, that Israel targeted civilians, Israel targeted civilians who were carrying white flags, Israel systematically targeted the Palestinian infrastructure. The findings were consistent with those of the other human rights organizations: Israel is guilty of a very significant number of war crimes. And also, the findings which were—other reports, the same conclusions, that the Palestinians were not using hospitals to hide Hamas officials. There’s no evidence that the ambulances Israel targeted were carrying Hamas militants or ammunition. And most significantly, in terms of the coverage during the Gaza massacre, the report found, as did Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, there’s no evidence whatsoever—and I would want to underline that—there’s no evidence whatsoever that Hamas was guilty of human shielding. But on the other hand, there is significant evidence, actually copious evidence, that Israel was guilty of human shielding.  ...  The report found that the Palestinians were guilty of war crimes because of its indiscriminate and intentional firing on civilians in Israel. I’m not trying to make any apologies, but I want to get the facts right. The Goldstone report, like the Amnesty report and the others, you have to look carefully at the proportions. About nine-tenths—literally, about nine-tenths of the Goldstone report, like the Dugard report, like the Amnesty report, about nine-tenths was devoted to Israeli war crimes; about one-tenth was devoted to Palestinian war crimes. And you have to understand why, because you have to look at the comparable damage. The ratio of killings was about a hundred to one: about—exactly thirteen on the Israeli side, about fourteen hundred on the Palestinian side. If you look at the damage, the damage is actually quite astonishing. Israel just systematically blasted everything in sight and reduced it to rubble, whereas on the Israeli side they say that several houses were damaged and one was almost completely destroyed. So if you look at the facts, the facts on the ground, the proportions in the reports, including the Goldstone report, are correct. It’s about ten to one.”

In his article in defense of the Goldstone report, Robert Fisk made an important point:  “Israel – as unwilling to accept criticism as Hamas – which, typically and cynically, washed its own dirty hands of the report, even though it murdered at least 40 suspected Palestinian collaborators while killing only six of its military enemies – wouldn’t face up to Goldstone’s conclusions, wouldn’t accept that the casualties of this monstrous war were disproportionate. Israel’s response wasn’t disproportionate. It never was.”

October 2009

Richard Silverstein reports that “Human Rights Watch Criticizes U.S. for Torpedoing Goldstone Report”

Neil MacFarquhar reports that The United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed the Goldstone report.  And, Richard Silverstein notes about this development that ” It is hard to imagine a hard-right Israeli government (or for Hamas for that matter) undertaking a competent investigation even under such pressure.  But if the Obama administration and EU join in pressuring for this, who knows what could happen.  What seems clear is that if Israel refuses to investigate, that some international body will do so.  That is an outcome over which Israel will have little control.  This further elevates the jeopardy for IDF senior officers who could be nabbed during international travel in any number of countries which might take up the case.  This makes it lately that at some point, Israel may have its own Pinochet incident to deal with.    And once the ice is broken by one case, it will be that much easier to mount others and then the floodgates are likely to open.  Israel has desperately tried to staunch the flow by placing fingers in the dam, with foreign ministry lawyers preparing briefs for this eventuality.  But my judgment is that it is only a matter of time, unless a peace agreement comes first, before Israelis (and presumably Palestinians as well) will be sitting before the bar of justice.  There should be no impunity, as there has been till now, for either side in this matter.”  Richard Silverstein also points out that “Anti-Goldstone Campaign Creates Fake NGOs, Human Rights Website”

Andrew Sullivan said about Goldstone’s defense of the report:  “The laws of war are the laws of war. It is not a defense of Israel to say that others have committed similar crimes. Under the Bush administration, the Geneva Conventions were held in contempt by the highest officials of the US government. Either we abide by these laws in the defense of civilization, or we become unwitting partners in the destruction of that civilization. The notion of collective punishment, of deterrence by civilian attrition and suffering, is as repugnant as assuming that every prisoner seized in the chaos of war is “the worst of the worst” and torturing them.    This is not easy against a ruthless, asymmetric enemy, whose war crimes are a first rather than a last resort. But it is necessary. It is necessary.”

An article in Haaretz notes that an Israeli Arab party urges Abbas to quit over Goldstone report”  “For the first time in history, an Israeli Arab political party challenged the Palestinian leadership on Tuesday, calling for the immediate dismissal of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.  ...  Abbas has faced harsh criticism over recent days following his decision not to ask the United Nations Human Right Council to vote on the findings of the Goldstone report, which concludes that both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes during Israel’s offensive in Gaza last winter.    The UNHRC has delayed its vote on the report, as per Abbas’ request.    Palestinian sources told Haaretz that Abbas made the decision to delay the vote immediately after meeting with the U.S. Consul General last Thursday, without the knowledge of the PLO leadership or the government of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and without any consultation.    Many believe that it was American pressure that led to Abbas’ decision not to pursue a discussion of the report in the UN as well as at the International Criminal Court in Hague, as was previously planned.”

November 2009

On November 3, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed House Resolution 867 by a vote of 344 to36, which condemned the report as “biased” against Israel.  MPAC called on American Muslims and Arabs to thank the 36 who voted nay.

Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) said in a “Dear Colleague” letter last week, “What will it say about this Congress and our country if we so readily seek to block ‘any further consideration’ of a human rights investigation produced by one of the most respected jurists in the world today, a man who has led the investigations of abuses in [Apartheid] South Africa, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Kosovo, and worked to identify and prosecute Nazi war criminals as a member of the Panel of the Commission of Enquiry into the Activities of Nazism in Argentina?”

Gideon Levy in an article in Haaretz says:  “Now is the time to say to the United States: Enough flattery. If you don’t change the tone, nothing will change. As long as Israel feels the United States is in its pocket, and that America’s automatic veto will save it from condemnations and sanctions, that it will receive massive aid unconditionally, and that it can continue waging punitive, lethal campaigns without a word from Washington, killing, destroying and imprisoning without the world’s policeman making a sound, it will continue in its ways.    Illegal acts like the occupation and settlement expansion, and offensives that may have involved war crimes, as in Gaza, deserve a different approach. If America and the world had issued condemnations after Operation Summer Rains in 2006 - which left 400 Palestinians dead and severe infrastructure damage in the first major operation in Gaza since the disengagement - then Operation Cast Lead never would have been launched.”

Bill Moyers interviews Richard Goldstone and closes the interview with this Q and A “BILL MOYERS: So you have Israel saying that your report is an impediment to peace, and you say that it is essential to peace. Why do you think a report like this is essential to the peace process?    RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Well, because certainly, it’s been my experience in the countries in which I’ve been involved and many in which I haven’t been involved, that in the aftermath of serious human rights violations, you cannot get enduring peace if you leave rancor and calls for revenge in the victim population. What victims need is acknowledgement. They need official acknowledgement of their victimization. And whether that’s done by Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, as we did in South Africa, or through domestic prosecutions or international prosecutions, that official truth-telling is an essential building brick to lasting peace.”

December 2009

Britain Eakin reports that ”... a British court issued an arrest warrant for Israeli Kadima opposition leader Tzipi Livni for her role in orchestrating the assault. Livni, who was Israel’s foreign minister at the time, was scheduled to visit the UK but ended up calling off her trip; the arrest warrant was cancelled as a result. However the issuing of the warrant in and of itself is an incredible feat. It is also a direct result of recommendations made in the Goldstone Report concerning how to bring justice to the Palestinian victims of OCL.”

James Reinl reported that the Goldston Report ”... has passed through the Geneva-based Human Rights Council and, ...  the UN General Assembly voted 114-18 to adopt a resolution endorsing the report’s recommendation that both Israel and Hamas should be brought before the ICC unless they launch credible war crimes probes by February.”  After that time, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, will be obliged to send the report to the Security Council for debate and a vote.

Didi Remez reported that   “In the aftermath of the wave of lawsuits that were filed by pro-Palestinian organizations in the past number of years in Europe to have top Israeli officials arrested, yesterday a legal counter-assault was staged. Following six months of preparatory work, yesterday the pro-Israel lobby lodged an itemized legal complaint to the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office with the demand that the top Hamas leadership in Gaza and Damascus be prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The suit, incidentally, is based on the Goldstone Report, as well as on reports by B’Tselem and Amnesty International.    Not only does the suit explicitly accept the principle of international jurisdiction over criminal offenses committed in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is based on reporting by NGOs whose integrity is frequently attacked by the Government of Israel. The most surprising component of this development is, however, the endorsement of the validity of the Goldstone Report.”

YNet reports that “South African judge Richard Goldstone, author of a UN report alleging war crimes during the conflict in Gaza last year, won the Stockholm Human Rights Award.”

January 2010

Gregg Carlstrom reported that “Israel has agreed to pay the United Nations $10 million for damage to U.N. facilities caused during the war.

Sunera Thobani reports that“British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs David Milliband acted swiftly to withdraw the warrant for the arrest of former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, one of the architects of last winter’s Israeli attack on Gaza. A British magistrate issued the warrant under universal jurisdiction laws in response to allegations of war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza. This prompted Brown to phone Livni and assure her she was “welcome” in Britain, and Milliband stated his government’s intention to remove the power of UK magistrates to issue any such future warrants against Israeli politicians.  ...  The US, UK and Canadian governments are all embroiled in attempts to immunize themselves from accountability under international law for their own actions in the War on Terror. Protecting Israel from international law has therefore acquired an added urgency, not only in the interests of the Zionist regime, but also in the interests of the US and its two staunchest allies in the War on Terror, Britain and Canada, to remain beyond the reach of international law. In other words, if Israeli politicians can successfully be taken to court under international law for committing war crimes, the precedent would greatly embolden attempts to do likewise with American, British and Canadian politicians in relation to their actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.”


Abbas and the Goldstone Report: Our Shame is Complete, Ramzy Baroud
America, stop sucking up to Israel, Gideon Levy
European Israel-advocacy group files suit against Goldstone report in Belgium, Didi Remez
Gaza and the path to accountability, Sunera Thobani
Gaza, inaction is a choice, Sheila Musaji (with an extensive collection of links to articles about Gaza “war”) 
Goldstone, Alone, Andrew Sullivan
Goldstone Defends Report Before Rabbis Group, Richard Silverstein
Richard Goldstone interview with Bill Moyers
Richard Goldstone and Norman Finkelstein interview with Amy Goodman
Goldstone, Israel’s Frankenstein’s monster, Bradley Burston
The Goldstone Report, Ian Williams
The Goldstone Report and the Debate in Israel, Edward C. Corrigan
The Goldstone Report and Israeli Impunity, Ramzy Baroud
Goldstone Report Presents Major PR Challenge For Israel, Uriel Heilman
Moshe Halbertal and the Goldstone Report: Part 1, Jerome Slater
Israel Should Pay Attention to a Man of Justice, Robert Fisk
Justice in Gaza, Richard Goldstone
MPAC calls on members to thank 36 Members of Congress for Opposing HR 867, Dismissing Goldstone Report 
Muslim Women’s NGO Submits Goldstone Report to International Criminal Court
Ongoing U.S. efforts to protect and coddle Israel, Glenn Greenwald
Rattling the Cage: A wake-up call from Judge Goldstone, Larry Derfner 
The Twelve Days Before Christmas and an Open Letter to The House, Eileen Fleming
UN Report on Cast Lead, Jewish Self-Hatred and Spin
Vital importance of ending impunity in Israel and Palestine, Navi Pulley
Yom Kippur & the Middle East: Our Misdeeds & Theirs, Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Full text of Goldstone report
Full list of representatives and how they voted
Full text of House Resolution 867


First published 9/24/09