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Friday, October 02, 2009

My interview with The Forward

On Wednesday, a Forward reporter did an email interview with me for a story that he planned on writing about the substance of the Goldstone report. He indicated that he was working on the story for the rest of the week. I don't see it published yet, and it was driving me crazy not to blog about it, and since the holiday starts tonight I couldn't hold off any longer. Here is the interview:

--Do you think there is any merit to Goldstone’s findings? If so, where do you think he got things right?

The entire process was flawed, from the time of the formation of the Commission up through the release of the report. Although I do believe that Goldstone consciously tried to extend the mandate in order to look at both sides of the story, and I do not ascribe any maliciousness to him, the framework of the Commission was faulty from the start. This is the central problem. The very framing of the report adheres to the Palestinian narrative - just looking at the table of contents, we see that he chooses to start the "military operations" section with the "blockade," not with the rocket fire that preceded it by years. Similarly, he chooses December 27th - the day Israel attacked - as the start of "military operations" and ignores Hamas' declaration of war three days beforehand altogether. It could have been framed that Israel was counterattacking, but that does not fit the narrative that Goldstone adheres to.

These are just two examples of how the framework one chooses will inevitably color the results. In these two cases, Israel is assumed to be the aggressor and the initiator. The framework does not allow any other viewpoints to be seriously considered, as they are basic assumptions from which the rest of the report flows. There are other dimensions to the flawed framework he uses, for example he chose to highlight specific heart-wrenching stories to illustrate alleged Israeli war crimes rather than look at the full context of the operation (or to mention equally heart-wrenching stories from Sderot.)

--Having looked at the report thoroughly, if you had to boil down the main methodological errors that led to his findings being lopsided what would they be?

Besides the reliance on suspect "eyewitnesses," I would say that it is his inability to imagine or believe alternate Israeli explanations for various events. The report consistently shows more skepticism for Israel's viewpoint than for the viewpoints of the Palestinian side. It is difficult to accept "even-handedness" between a democracy that has every interest in (and history of) investigating and correcting its mistakes and an organization that has every interest in twisting facts for its own gain. It is even more problematic to see how Hamas statements are treated as more reliable than Israel's. (See here.)

--Other people I’ve spoken to point to the report’s reliance on Palestinian eyewitness testimony as its central problem? Do you agree? If so, why? Is there something inherently untrustworthy about Palestinian witnesses?

At the risk of breaking rules of political correctness, the answer has to be (in general) "yes." There is a script that Palestinian Arabs are conditioned to use, and when they speak to the press for the record they almost always adhere to it. I have a number of examples here, and in context of the Gaza operation the most telling are this story from an embedded YNet reporter and this story where an anonymous farmer tells another reporter that, yes, there were actually rockets from the area that every "eyewitness" claimed had none.

--Is there any way Goldstone could have carried out his reporting differently? What steps could he have avoided to keep him from ending up with the conclusions he reached?

One can argue as to whether Israel should have cooperated with Goldstone (I think they were correct in not doing so) but Goldstone penalized Israel for its non-cooperation. If he was after the truth, he should not weight the testimony of Palestinian civilians higher than Israeli claims; on the contrary, he should have worked extra to see Israel's perspective despite its official non-cooperation. He simply did not give Israel the benefit of the doubt, while he was rarely skeptical about Palestinian Arab claims.