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Goldstone's Sins of Omission

16 September, 2009

Richard Goldstone's report fails to shed light on the Gaza conflict, delivering easy criticism rather than solutions


By Dan Kosky*


Richard Goldstone's long-awaited report has confirmed suspicions that his investigation is guided by an agenda to isolate Israel. The farcical investigative process has produced a report which vilifies Israel but helps little in better understanding the Gaza conflict.

Much was rightly made of the investigation's one-sided mandate, which erased Hamas's culpability. Panel member Christine Chinkin, branded Israel's Gaza operation a "war crime" before the inquiry had even begun. As a result, the Israeli government rightly recognised the warning signs and stayed away from the Goldstone process.

Equally worrying for the sceptics was the lack of transparency throughout the inquiry. Hand-picked "witnesses" were invited without explanation to testify before the mission. A hearing in Geneva, billed ostensibly as an opportunity to hear Israeli voices, became a cover for representatives of radical NGOs to spout propaganda with little direct significance to the conflict in Gaza.

Most notable was the appearance via video of Shawan Jabarin, director general of al-Haq, a Ramallah-based NGO which spearheads lawsuits against Israeli officials in courts across the world. Jabarin's contribution over events in Gaza is overshadowed by evidence that he is "among the senior activists of the Popular Front terrorist organisation". Al-Haq's allegations are cited at least 30 times in the report, but the critical context of his background is hidden.

Grave doubts over the investigative process have been realised by the mission's conclusions. These strengthen the game plan designed to condemn Israel. The report is replete with dubious statistics and sources. Casualty figures are quoted from the Gaza based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), a politically motivated organisation, which consistently refers to terrorism as "resistance". PCHR's faulty statistics include senior Hamas military figures such as Nizar Rayan and Said Siam, as civilians.

Yet it is perhaps what is missing which is most telling. Reading the report, one would be unaware of Hamas's human-shield strategy, a significant contributory factor to the civilian deaths in Gaza. Goldstone prefers to ignore the obvious. Although he states: "Palestinian armed groups were present in urban areas during the military operations and launched rockets from urban areas", he avoids the logical conclusion of the massive use of human shields. Of course, admitting that Hamas endangered Gazan citizens would provide an alternative to Israeli guilt. Yet, rather than state the inconvenient truth, the report reinforces preconceived Israeli culpability.

Goldstone is similarly evasive over the unreliability of key "eyewitnesses". Like the flood of NGO publications in the immediate aftermath of the conflict (particularly those by Human Rights Watch, of which Goldstone was a board member) Goldstone's so-called investigation is largely reliant upon "eyewitness" Gaza testimony. The report applies entirely illogical reasoning, failing to elaborate on "a certain reluctance by the persons … interviewed in Gaza to discuss the activities of armed groups". This observation provides a glimpse of the dangers faced by those speaking out against the regime in Gaza, yet Goldstone omits to mention how Hamas intimidation undermines witnesses and with it the very foundation for his conclusions.

On the basis of such flimsy testimony, Goldstone's recommendations are particularly sinister. Although "the findings do not … pretend to reach the standard of proof applicable in criminal trials", they will undoubtedly fuel a judicial campaign against Israel. Both Israel and the euphemistic "Gaza authorities" have been given six months to prove their mettle in investigating potential war crimes or face the prospect of becoming international pariahs at the international criminal court (ICC).

Realistically, no one can expect to hold to account a non-state actor such as Hamas, supported by Iran. Fewer still can imagine that any Israeli investigation will be judged by the UN framework as satisfactory. The Israeli authorities have already investigated more than 100 allegations of wrongdoing, with 23 cases still pending. These efforts were deemed insufficient before they began and one wonders how many convictions would have to be secured in Israeli courts to ward off the wrath of Goldstone.

Once again it is his sins of omission which truly undermine Goldstone's recommendations. Having condemned Israel's military campaign, Goldstone does little to provide solutions. He pays lip service to the complexities of asymmetric warfare, preferring the easy route of criticism. Rather than advise how to better stop groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad who deliberately target civilians, Goldstone opts for straightforward denunciation of Israel.

Of course, these are the same battle dilemmas facing UK and US armies in foreign fields. Until the issues are seriously addressed or, alternatively, forces in Afghanistan and Iraq are subjected to similar scrutiny, Goldstone and the NGOs and UN frameworks which threw their weight behind his mission will justifiably be viewed with suspicion.

Take A Pen thanks Mr. Dan Kosky for approving the use of his article.


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