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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Half a cheer for Goldstone

Richard Goldstone backtracks somewhat concerning his already infamous report in a Washington Post op-ed:
We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09 than we did when I chaired the fact-finding mission appointed by the U.N. 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.

...Our report found evidence of potential war crimes and “possibly crimes against humanity” by both Israel and Hamas. That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying — its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.

The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion. While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.

For example, the most serious attack the Goldstone Report focused on was the killing of some 29 members of the al-Simouni family in their home. The shelling of the home was apparently the consequence of an Israeli commander’s erroneous interpretation of a drone image, and an Israeli officer is under investigation for having ordered the attack. While the length of this investigation is frustrating, it appears that an appropriate process is underway, and I am confident that if the officer is found to have been negligent, Israel will respond accordingly. The purpose of these investigations, as I have always said, is to ensure accountability for improper actions, not to second-guess, with the benefit of hindsight, commanders making difficult battlefield decisions.

Israel’s lack of cooperation with our investigation meant that we were not able to corroborate how many Gazans killed were civilians and how many were combatants. The Israeli military’s numbers have turned out to be similar to those recently furnished by Hamas (although Hamas may have reason to inflate the number of its combatants).
Goldstone's admission, welcome as it is, is disingenuous.

Certainly the worst part of the report was in the many parts that he is now retracting, that the IDF purposefully targeted civilians. He now says that the "fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion" when the report was written. But in reality, if he had looked at both the history of how the IDF acts in war in general, the specifics that were known about how the IDF acted in Gaza, and how wars in urban combat zones are generally waged (i.e., in Iraq), of he was fair he would have easily concluded that the IDF was not purposefully targeting civilians and that they went out of their way, indeed even above and beyond, to avoid targeting real civilians (while Hamas was dressing up its fighters in civilian clothing.)

It appears that now, two years later, he is impressed that Israel is conducting investigations into acts of individual soldiers. Yet this is how the IDF always acted.

His belated retraction also doesn't note that much of what his report said was known to be false at the time the Goldstone Report was released, as I and others have documented quite exhaustively. His report had a clear and consistent bias where Israeli claims were treated skeptically but Hamas claims were believed without reservation. To come back 18 months later and lamely admit that Israeli claims were indeed found to be accurate just shows how biased he was in accepting problematic testimony then.

For example, he writes now:
Israel’s lack of cooperation with our investigation meant that we were not able to corroborate how many Gazans killed were civilians and how many were combatants. The Israeli military’s numbers have turned out to be similar to those recently furnished by Hamas (although Hamas may have reason to inflate the number of its combatants).
But this blog as well as others had, already at that time, documented that hundreds of so-called "civilians" were in fact Hamas combatants, based purely on Hamas' own admissions in Arabic.

So while it is nice to see that Goldstone realizes his report was mistaken in its key accusation against Israel, his admission is way too little - and comes way too late.

His Washington Post op-ed is not going to get nearly the same publicity that the report did, and the damage cannot be undone.