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Friday, October 30, 2009

Goldstone Report inaccuracies, part 23

The Goldstone Report has a section about the booby-trapping of Palestinian Arab houses by Hamas.

If Hamas booby-trapped houses in civilian neighborhoods, that would violate the principle of distinction, which is a major claim that Goldstone accuses Israel of routinely violating during the operation. It would mean that Hamas disregarded the lives of its own people to at least the same extent that the report claims the IDF forces did.

Goldstone looks at the evidence, and starts off with an absurd paragraph:
461. In chapter XIV the Mission will report on different incidents in which witnesses have described the circumstances in which they had been used by the Israeli armed forces during house searches and forced at gunpoint to enter houses ahead of the Israeli soldiers. These witnesses testified that they had been used in this way to enter several houses. None of them encountered a booby trap or other improvised explosive devices during the house searches. The Mission is also mindful of other incidents it has investigated that involved entry into civilian
houses by Israeli soldiers in different areas in Gaza. None of these incidents showed the use of booby traps.
Goldstone begins his analysis of whether Hamas booby-trapped houses and civilian areas by saying that none of its eyewitnesses, who were handpicked by the Commission to prove the worst allegations of Israeli abuses, verified that they saw any Hamas booby-traps - while they were detailing highly suspect testimony that Israel used these witnesses as human shields.

Besides the fact that these people were not chosen to investigate booby-trap claims, Goldstone is implying that since they didn't see the booby traps, there is no direct evidence that such traps existed. One does not have to be a military expert to realize that if Hamas did booby trap homes, they would not have wired up every house in every neighborhood; rather they would only choose a sample of homes that they would try to lure IDF soldiers into. Saying that supposed witnesses did not see any booby traps is, literally, meaningless as proof one way or the other.

In addition, it also proves that Goldstone did not set out to investigate Hamas war crimes, and only would report on things that the commission found out about while they were investigating alleged Israeli crimes.

Goldstone then allows that there were reports of booby-traps:
462. The Mission, however, recalls the allegations levelled in the reports that it has reviewed. The Government of Israel alleges that Hamas planted booby traps in “homes, roads, schools and even entire neighbourhoods”. It adds, “in essence, the Hamas strategy was to transform the urban areas of the Gaza Strip into a massive death trap for IDF forces, in gross disregard for the safety of the civilian population.”317 The Mission notes that the existence of booby-trapped houses is mentioned in testimonies of Israeli soldiers collected by Breaking the Silence. One soldier recounts witnessing the detonation of a powerful explosion inside a house as a bulldozer approached it. A second soldier stated “many explosive charges were found, they also blew up, no one was hurt. Tank Corps or Corps of Engineers units blew them up. Usually they did not explode because most of the ones we found were wired and had to be detonated, but whoever was supposed to detonate them had run off. It was live, however, ready…”.318 Also the reports published by Palestinian armed groups, on which the submission to the Mission on the tactics of Palestinian combatants by the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs is based, suggest that booby-trapped civilian houses were a frequently used tactic.319 According to the Israeli Government, “because roads and buildings were often mined, IDF forces had to target them to protect themselves”.320
So after writing an initial paragraph whose only purpose is to cast doubt on any claims of Hamas booby traps, Goldstone briefly lists some damning evidence that such devices did exist. The Breaking the Silence testimonies, which Goldstone accepts uncritically when it slams the IDF, is quoted as having "mentioned" seeing booby traps, and terrorist websites themselves bragged about using such tactics. By any reasonable standard, this would appear to be real proof, not simply "allegations." Yet Goldstone places it after a paragraph that starts off the discussion by casting doubt that such devices existed and clearly downplays all of this evidence by lumping it all together into a single paragraph.

His final paragraph on the topic shows the unbelievable bias that the Commission had:
463. While, in the light of the above reports, the Mission does not discount the use of booby traps by the Palestinian armed groups, it has no basis to conclude that civilian lives were put at risk, as none of the reports record the presence of civilians in or near the houses in which booby traps are alleged to have been set.
Again, if Hamas placed live bombs in civilian areas, they are violating international law. Yet this report soft-pedals this war crime by saying that there is no evidence that any civilians were nearby - in civilian neighborhoods! Goldstone seems to be adding a new caveat to the Geneva Conventions - saying that civilian objects can be used by terrorists if there is no evidence that any civilians are there at the time they are planted. Perhaps Goldstone did not envision the civilians ever returning to their houses and opening their own front doors. This is mind-boggling.

While Israel is castigated by Goldstone for not being specific enough in dropping hundreds of thousands of flyers warning civilians to leave areas before they bombed. Hamas booby traps buildings in these same areas, and does not warn residents to leave at all - yet their actions are not condemned at all!

If using civilian areas as a base of attack in order to protect the attackers is illegal under international law, shouldn't the purposeful use of civilian objects themselves as weapons (something that Geneva didn't seem to imagine) be considered even worse?

This pseudo-legal stretching to absolve Hamas of responsibility for booby traps is not even the most egregious problem. These three paragraphs constitute the entirety of Goldstone's investigation into this topic. Yet Goldstone ignored the most obvious evidence of Hamas' use of booby traps.

One is the well-known video of the booby-trapped zoo and school in Gaza that the IDF discovered:


Another is this map, captured by the IDF, that showed the placement of booby traps in the Al-Atatra neighborhood:


The map shows placement of bombs in houses and near gas stations.

In addition, here is a photograph (from a JCPA PowerPoint) of a booby trap in a house:


Both the video and the map were well publicized during Cast Lead, and it is not possible that the Commission would have been unaware of this evidence.

In short, this short section on booby-traps shows Goldstone's bias against Israel, his bias towards Hamas, his playing fast and loose with the law, and his purposeful ignoring of evidence that goes against his apparently pre-formed conclusions.