Author: Heilman, Uriel
Date published: April 7, 2011
Richard Goldstone's original U.N. report on the Gaza war of 200809 landed like a bombshell in the P-R- war over Israel, damaging Israel's reputation around the world with its finding that the country potentially committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during its three-week war against Hamas.
Now that Goldstone has issued a retraction of sorts - in the form of an opinion piece in The Washington Post exculpating Israel from the report's harshest allegations, including the claim that Israel intentionally targeted Palestinian civilians in Gaza - the question is whether the destruction wreaked by that bombshell can be undone.
"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," Goldstone wrote in an opinion piece published on April 1. "If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document."
What can be done a year-anda-half after the publication of a report that Israeli President Shimon Peres described at the time as a blood libel against the Jewish people? That's just one of a host of questions raised by Goldstone's piece, titled "Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes."
And here's another: If Goldstone really wanted to retract or amend his original report, why didn't he do so in the same forum in which he submitted the report - the United Nations?
"U.N. reports are not canceled on the basis of an oped in a newspaper," a spokesman for the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Cedric Sapey, told the Associated Press on Monday.
The council last month voted to send the report to the UN. General Assembly with the recommendation that the UN. Security Council be asked to turn it over to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in the Hague to examine possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Sapey said that Goldstone would have to submit a formal request to the council signed by all his committee members to void the report; he has not.
The reason probably lies in a talmudic reading of Goldstone's piece.
Goldstone doesn't admit culpability. Rather, he regrets that his "fact-finding mission did not have evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes."
For that, Goldstone blames "Israel's lack of cooperation."
He ascribes his change of position to subsequent Israeli investigations that have presented new, credible evidence that was not available to him when he conducted his original probe.
"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," wrote Goldstone. "While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the UN 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."
He also wrote that it "goes without saying" that Hamas intentionally targeted civilians, and noted that unlike Israel, the group did not investigate its own actions.
Had Israel shared its information while he was conducting his investigation, Goldstone suggests, the report would have been much different.
IMPOSSIBLE TO CET A FAIR SHAKE?
At the time, Israeli officials decided to boycott and discredit Goldstone's investigation. Israel argued that the probe's mandate from the U.N. Human Rights Council, a body hopelessly biased against Israel, made it impossible to get a fair shake.
Indeed, the council's original mandate for the investigation prejudged Israel as guilty, calling for a probe into Israel's "massive violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people," but not including a similar call to investigate Hamas.
But that was before the council turned the investigation over to Goldstone, who had bona fide credentials as a friend of Israel and the Jewish people. Goldstone, who is Jewish, was a member of the board of governors of Jerusalem's Hebrew University (he was subsequently ejected), a former president of the Jewish educational organization World ORT and a board member of a Brandeis University ethics institute.
Goldstone agreed to undertake the investigation only if the mandate was changed to include a probe of Palestinian actions in the Israel-Hamas conflict. The council obliged.
But Israel's stance remained unchanged, and it opted to ignore Goldstone - at a heavy price.
This week, Israeli officials welcomed what they described as Goldstone's retraction, saying it vindicated not only actions in the Gaza war, but the humanitarian nature of the Israel Defense Force's approach to combat.
They did not address the question of whether or not it had been a mistake to boycott Goldstone's probe in the first place, and whether cooperating would have changed the crux of a report that caused irreparable harm to Israel's reputation.
"There are very few instances in which those who disseminate libels retract their libel," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting.
"Goldstone himself said that all of the things that we have been saying all along are correct: that Israel never intentionally fired at civilians, and that our inquiries operated according to the highest international standards," said the Israeli leader.
"Of course," he continued, "this is in complete contrast to Hamas, which intentionally attacked and murdered civilians and, naturally never carried out any sort of inquiry.
"This leads us to call for the immediate cancellation of the Goldstone Report," he said, adding that he had asked his security adviser, Ya'akov Amidror, to establish a committee focused on "minimizing the damage caused" by the report.
For his part, Goldstone declined to talk to reporters this week about his reconsideration, why he published it as an op-ed, rather than straightening the record in the United Nations, and why he decided to write it now.