Forget Goldstone — remember Gaza

Here’s a circle that should never have been closed.

The Goldstone Report, once credited with having provided a hefty shove as Israel veered towards pariah status, is now being held up by Israelis as having unintentionally demonstrated why, when the need arises, Israel will be able to launch Cast Lead Two and once again chant: “we have no choice” — no choice but to slaughter hundreds more Palestinians.

The New York Times reports:

Israel grappled on Sunday with whether a retraction by a United Nations investigator regarding its actions in the Gaza war two years ago could be used to rehabilitate its tarnished international image or as pre-emptive defense in future military actions against armed groups.

The disavowal, by Richard Goldstone, a South African judge who led a panel of experts for the United Nations, appeared in an opinion article in The Washington Post. He said that he no longer believed that Israel had intentionally killed Palestinian civilians during its invasion of Gaza.

Many here considered the article truly significant. Commentary came in a flood, ranging from gracious praise to vindictive indignation. Some cited the message of Proverbs 28:13 that whoever confesses and renounces his sins “finds mercy.”

Still, the question remained whether the harm the Goldstone report caused — the ammunition it gave to those who view Israel as a pariah state and question its right to exist; the campaigns that have stopped some Israeli officials from traveling abroad for fear of arrest for war crimes — could be undone.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday that Israel would work “to formulate practical and public diplomacy measures in order to reverse and minimize the great damage that has been done by this campaign of denigration against the State of Israel.”

A number of officials said that while the blow to Israel’s name had been great, the renunciation of the harshest conclusion would help in the future.

“The one point of light regards future actions,” Gabriela Shalev, a law professor and most recently Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, said on Israel Radio. “If we have to defend ourselves against terror organizations again, we will be able to say there is no way to deal with this terror other than the same way we did in Cast Lead.”

“If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document,” Judge Goldstone wrote in the Washington Post. But it matters little what kinds of revisions Goldstone would now make; the most significant thing is that he is perceived as having disavowed some of his own conclusions.

The political impact of the report always had more to do with the identity of its author than the report’s contents. Thus the Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict quickly became known simply as the Goldstone Report. It’s supposed authority derived not from the fact that it had been produced by independent international fact-finding mission under the auspices of the United Nations Human Rights Council — what mattered more than anything else was that Goldstone was Jewish and a Zionist.

Israel — the theory went — would be forced to sit up and pay attention if a humanitarian rebuke came from such an impeccable source. But on the contrary, Goldstone ended up being elevated to the status of presenting an existential threat to the Jewish state, on a par with Iran.

He has now effectively disarmed himself.

Israel, long enamored with the notion that its soldiers have higher moral standards than any other military force, has been quick to declare that it has been vindicated. The Goldstone Report itself has ended up better serving those who want to sustain Israel’s sense of victimhood than in being the cause of any change in Israel’s behavior.

There’s a lesson here: don’t attach too much attention to a 500-page report that few people have read, or to the ethnicity or ideology of the messenger. The reason Gaza changed the world’s view of Israel was largely thanks to on-the-ground reporting — not a report — and it came from the voices and faces and presence of young journalists who were describing what they saw, as it happened.

Al Jazeera shone the brightest spotlight on Gaza — in his report, Goldstone did little more than reiterate what we already knew.

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8 thoughts on “Forget Goldstone — remember Gaza

  1. delia ruhe

    As I said somewhere else today, the Goldstone Report didn’t tell us anything the watching world didn’t know before. But it did fill in the details–which were needed in order to effect a proper official response. That PROPER official response was not forthcoming.

    I don’t think this recant will have too much of an effect on world opinion: we saw the pictures, we saw the Al Jazeera footage, some of us even read Finkelstein, and they all matched up well with the data in the report. Even if no “proof” can be found of crushing pressure exerted on Goldstone by the South African lobby, and even if no “proof” can be found of accelerating threats from the Israeli propaganda and smear machine, I cannot imagine many people doubting that those are Goldstone’s reasons for recanting. He’s not a young man by any reckoning, and I’ll bet his health has suffered as a result of this whole over-politicised circus.

  2. Colm O' Toole

    All good points. The media did have a vital role to play in shaping opinions on the War in Gaza as it was happening. Can’t speak for US media but European media at the time rightly tore into Israel in a way that even surprised me. Everyone really saw it for what it was (ie convientantly timed a week before Obama was sworn in, and months before Israels own presidential elections in which Kadima wanted to look as tough as Likud).

    Also when talking about War Crimes in the Gaza war its always good to look at not one report but the general International consensus of reports which paint a damning picture. Everyone should remember:

    1) Human Rights Watch

    First, the repeated use of air-burst white phosphorus in populated areas until the last days of the operation reveals a pattern or policy of conduct rather than incidental or accidental usage. Second, the IDF was well aware of the effects of white phosphorus and the dangers it poses to civilians. Third, the IDF failed to use safer available alternatives for smokescreens.”

    2) Breaking the Silence (Testimony from IDF soldiers)

    Fire power was insane. We went in and the booms were just mad. The minute we got to our starting line, we simply began to fire at suspect places. You see a house, a window, shoot at the window. You don’t see a terrorist there? Fire at the window. In urban warfare, anyone is your enemy. No innocents.”

    3) Palestinian Center for Human Rights Report

    PCHR investigations have found the overwhelming majority, 83 per cent, were civilians. One of the cases in the report is that of 18 month old Farah al-Helu, who was killed on 4 January. The al-Helu family had been told to evacuate their house in Zaytoun, eastern Gaza, but while they were attempting to flee, Israeli soldiers opened fire on them. Farah was shot in the stomach and bled to death two hours later.

  3. delia ruhe

    Has anybody else noted a recent increase in the number of Jewish-authored articles that compare Israeli policy and practice (obliquely or directly) with that of Nazi Germany? I just read another one at Ha’aretz:

    In Canada, where we’ve got an antisemitism witch hunt going on (albeit intermittently). Among the claims of the witch hunters is that such comparisons constitute antisemitism, and there will be a report to Parliament, with recommendations that apparently seek to make such antisemitism a criminal act.

  4. rosemerry

    It is hard to believe that even Netanyahu thinks he can “solve” the problems of delegitimization (a ridiculous pompous word for what he is doing) by keeping on attacking an enclosed population of mostly young people, without hope or prospects, denied jobs, freedom, normal necessities of life, branded as terrorists for any response to the constant aggression. Has he ever met Ismael Haniyeh? Labelling “terrorist” forever an organisation started by Israel to oppose Fatah, then refusing to recognise it once it enters the political process, is irrational. Irgun and the Stern gang were Israeli terrorists who turned out some wonderful leaders like Menachem Begin! If the USA keeps supporting Israel, with the help of UK and France, there will be nothing but conflict forever.

  5. DE Teodoru

    I always regarded Israel as a wondrous idea, the embodiment of the principles of my Jewish mentors. But the more I study it the more it seems like a bunch of shysters trying to blur the line between criminal, larcenous amoral and Jewish, sacrilegiously exploiting the Holocaust. That Judaism, the faith basic to ALL Monotheism and its morality should be held hostage by expansionist Zionism is a very shattering blow to my idealistic perspective on Zionism. As a result, “frankly my dear I [no longer] don’t give a damn” and there’s a lot more important issues for mankind things to worry about. A little itty-bitty state trying to have its cake and eat it too by making money trading in weapon systems and diamonds while fully on American welfare makes it rather fragile. Resorting to raw power in extermination to expand, always hoping that its benefactors see all Muslims as terrorists is a thin reed for Israel to rely on. It may have bullied Goldstone into recanting, but that’s not going to keep the money and guns coming. At some point Americans will ask why send all that loot? Holocaust invoking will not then alter American self-priorities. Israel may, therefore, doom its future with hubris by assuming it can always pull one over on US “dumb goyim.” We’ll see. But what will it do if it’s wrong? I only think it is criminal that a bunch of shysters should be able to hold World Jewry hostage until then.

  6. BillVZ

    Shimon Peres said operation Cast Lead was to “to provide a strong blow to the people of Gaza so that they would lose their appetite for shooting at Israel”. As a result it has been reported:
    “Israel destroyed or damaged 58,000 homes (6,300 were completely destroyed or sustained severe damage), 280 schools and kindergartens (18 schools were completely destroyed and six university buildings were razed to the ground), 1,500 factories and workshops, several buildings housing Palestinian and foreign media (two journalists were killed while working, four others were also killed), water and sewage installations, 80 percent of agricultural crops, and nearly one-fifth of cultivated land.” Israel also destroyed 30 mosques, 74 police buildings, and Gaza’s only operational flour mill, and it damaged 16 hospitals and 43 health facilities.
    Syria, Lybanon,Iraq did you get the message?Don’t mess with God’s chosen!
    “What happened in Gaza was meant to happen—by everyone from the soldiers in the field who executed the orders to the officers who gave the orders to the politicians who approved the orders”

    A companion Piece to Barak David’s Haaretz one I would appreciate that perhaps Paul might consider posting:
    (one of two other fine articles from yesterday on this issue at

  7. BillVZ

    Correction -Lebanon -my fingers and mind get easily mixed up these days. also Thanks Paul for the excellent video coverage in this posting.

  8. eddy mason

    I’m sure the Paletinians will take comfort in learning that it wasn’t Israel’s ‘policy’ that killed their families and friends, and be relieved to learn that it was Israel’s ‘above reproach’ IDF rabble with guns and bombs and their other pacifying tools.

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