By Stuart Littlewood
‘If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document,’ says Judge Goldstone in a bombshell article in the Washington Post that set Zionist champagne corks a-poppin’.
But what exactly is it Goldstone now knows that suddenly weakens his devastating findings and recommendations?
Not that his report tells us more than we already knew from the multitude of accounts by eye-witnesses and other reliable sources. It’s devastating because the evidence is so damning. Its real value, though, is in the legalistic tone and immaculate packaging, which impressed the United Nations and prodded follow-up action.
The Mission’s mandate from the United Nations was “to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.”
The chief violator was, and still is, the lawless Israeli regime. Goldstone, a Jew and described as an ardent Zionist, was hardly the man to head the inquiry team. You ignore at your peril the First Law of tribal membership: don’t crap on your tribe’s doorstep. There are bound to be unpleasant consequences.
Goldstone blotted his copybook before he even got started. The Mission convened for the first time on 4 May 2009, but weeks beforehand three of the inquiry team – Goldstone himself, Col. Desmond Travers and Hina Jilani – signed an open letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the United Nations Security Council, calling for those who perpetrated "gross violations of the laws of war," "gross violations of international humanitarian law" and "targeting of civilians" to be brought to account. The letter said: "The events in Gaza have shocked us to the core.”
South Africa’s chief rabbi Warren Goldstein and UK columnist Melanie Phillips immediately pounced, claiming that such a statement, made before the Mission had begun its work, undermined the supposed impartiality of the inquiry.
It pains me to agree with anything Melanie Phillips says, but on this occasion I have to.
Goldstein complained that Professor Christine Chinkin, the fourth member of the inquiry team, signed a letter in the Sunday Times on 11 January 2009 – at the height of Israel’s blitzkrieg on Gaza and before the inquiry team was appointed – which stated that "Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defense, not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary… the manner and scale of its operations in Gaza amount to an act of aggression and is contrary to international law, notwithstanding the rocket attacks by Hamas." The letter appeared under the heading "Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is not self-defense – it’s a war crime."
What she put her name to was undoubtedly true, but it should have disqualified her from membership of the Mission.
It’s almost as if the team was deliberately picked so that their indiscretions and prejudices could be shot down in flames later, at Netanyahu’s convenience.
When he introduced the results of his fact-finding Mission to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2009, Goldstone spoke of a barrage of criticism as well as public attacks against members of the team. He rejected the accusation that they were politically motivated. After the report was released they received a number of comments and, where relevant, inaccuracies in the final version were corrected. "We regret that the response to date of the Government of Israel avoids dealing with the substance of the report," he said.
So Israel had its chance to participate and put the record straight. It cannot now snipe from the sidelines and expect to be taken seriously.
Goldstone’s True Colours
It seemed to me that Goldstone’s impartiality crumbled as soon as he accused Hamas of war crimes in the same tone as Israel. For Hamas the context is totally different. At the time of Israel’s onslaught they and their 1.5 million Gazans had been in the vice-like grip of an illegal blockade by land, sea and air for 18 months. The Zionists’ military occupied their airspace, territorial waters and airwaves and controlled their land crossings. They were bottled up in their tiny enclave with no room for manoeuvre and nowhere to hide. Hamas were entitled to resist with whatever limited weapons were to hand. It’s called the right of self-defence. But all they had were AK47s, RPGs and rockets made in the garden shed, and they rode into battle on pick-up trucks, not battle tanks.
The report finds that the Palestinian armed groups “fail to distinguish between military targets and the civilian population and civilian objects in southern Israel. The launching of rockets and mortars which cannot be aimed with sufficient precisions at military targets breaches the fundamental principle of distinction. Where there is no intended military target and the rockets and mortars are launched into civilian areas, they constitute a deliberate attack against the civilian population. These actions would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity."
Funny how the report is so very precise about the number of projectiles fired into Israel from Gaza… 3,455 rockets and 3,742 mortar shells in the period 16 April 2001 to 18 June 2008. Yet I don’t recall seeing any mention in its 452 pages of the number of Israeli shells, bombs, rockets, etc fired into the packed Gaza Strip over the same period, and how many Palestinian civilians they killed and maimed.
Hamas’s crude rockets, alas, have no guidance system so are erratic, some being lucky to clear the border fence. Perhaps if Israel and the Western powers were to lift the blockade Gazans could import – or maybe the US would like to supply (in the interests of precision targeting) – state of the art rocketry with sufficient range and some hope of hitting only the Israeli military, so that Goldstone wouldn’t complain so much.
His whinge about one Israeli prisoner, Shalit, when Israel holds 11,000 Palestinian prisoners, shows the man’s true colours. Shalit’s father was allowed to appear before the Mission. Did Goldstone invite any family members of the Palestinian prisoners?
However, the report does say this: "The Mission analysed information it received on the detention of Palestinians in Israeli prisons during or in the context of the military operations of December 2008–January 2009 and found those practices generally inconsistent with human rights and international humanitarian law. The military court system to which Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territory are subjected deprives them of due process guarantees in keeping with international law… The detention of members of the Palestinian Legislative Council by Israel violates the right not to be arbitrarily detained, as protected by article 9 of ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). Insofar as it is based on political affiliation and prevents those members from participating in the conduct of public affairs, it is also in violation of its articles 25 recognizing the right to take part in public affairs and 26, which provides for the right to equal protection under the law. Insofar as their detention is unrelated to their individual behaviour, it constitutes collective punishment, prohibited by article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
Also the detention of large numbers of children and their treatment by Israel points to violations of their rights under ICCPR and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Cast Lead Re-play?
A central finding of the Goldstone Report is that Israel’s military directly targeted Gazan civilians. Now, it seems, the Israeli regime’s own belated internal inquiries find that Gaza’s civilians and infrastructure were not targeted as a matter of Israel policy after all.
In their long history of crimes against Palestinians (and even against foreign nationals like Rachel Corrie) Israelis have never carried out a credible investigation into their own conduct. Are we to believe that their self-investigation this time meets proper objective standards?
Besides, the UN Committee of Independent Experts following up on Goldstone’s work says, “There is no indication that Israel has opened investigations into the actions of those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw Operation Cast Lead.”
The word is that Goldstone’s in deep trouble with his tribal leaders who demand loyalty to them rather than to justice and principle. They have been able to put him under intense pressure. That’s why he was the wrong man for the job. But having taken it and been “shocked to the core”, as he put it, by what Israel did to Gaza, why hasn’t he renounced the Zionist cause as any decent man would, and put himself beyond its influence? He must by now have the measure of its evil.
Meanwhile his Washington Post remarks are hailed as a “retraction” by the joyful pro-Israel lobby. At the time of making his report Goldstone said it reflected the unanimous views of all four members of the team. Is his so-called retraction also the view of them all? In any event it is a wonderful gift to the Zionist warmongers and especially Israel’s prime minister Netanyahu, who last year was moaning: "We face three major strategic challenges – the Iranian nuclear program, rockets aimed at our civilians and Goldstone."
Now he’s crowing with delight. "Everything we said has proven to be true: Israel did not intentionally harm civilians, its institutions and investigative bodies are worthy, while Hamas intentionally fired upon innocent civilians and did not examine anything. The fact that Goldstone backtracked must lead to the shelving of this report once and for all." Netanyahu has called on the UN to immediately revoke the report, giving new impetus to Tel Aviv’s old propaganda game.
The fix Goldstone has got himself into and the dangerous signal this send to the world’s delinquents, illustrates perfectly why no Zionist however upstanding should be allowed a key post in government or international affairs.
A friend of mine is sure the Goldstone wobble is an orchestrated prelude, a public relations warm-up, to something big and nasty. "There will be another assault on Gaza," she tells me, "this one more deadly than the last; and the people of Gaza will be blamed for it once again. The inept UN will call for ‘restraint’, the US will provide the weaponry, and this will go on until there is no Gaza left. It is the plan, has been the plan, and will continue until the objective is met… because no one cares, no one has the courage to stand up and say, stop or else."
The wobble certainly coincides with several Israeli ministers beating the war drums and threatening to do it all over again – launch a Cast Lead Mk 2 against the still-dazed and half-starved Gazans.
I called the Foreign Office in London to ask if the British Government supports Netanyahu’s call for the Goldstone Report to be retracted. A spokesperson said: “No. Justice Goldstone makes clear in his recent comments that the Goldstone report would have looked differently if it had been produced now, on the basis of fresh evidence released by a committee of independent experts, tasked to follow-up on the Goldstone report. This latest insight into the events surrounding the Gaza conflict have come about because of the process that was set in train by his Fact Finding Mission.
“Allegations of breaches of International Humanitarian Law made against all parties to the Gaza conflict are not limited to the Goldstone report and have arisen from certain other credible organizations…”
– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.