Not surprisingly, the radical extremists at NGO Monitor and many others are jumping on the op-ed by Richard Goldstone to “prove” that human rights groups, and others, who have been calling for investigations into Israel’s conduct in Operation Cast Lead should retract their claims.
Goldstone essentially said two things of substance in his op-ed: that Israel has done a lot more than Hamas, which has done nothing, to investigate Cast Lead, and this is certainly true, though it might be damning with faint praise; and that Israel did not target civilians as a matter of policy.
More overreaching can be seen in Goldstone’s flat statement that Israel, as a matter of policy, targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure. Indeed, it is true that the pattern of destruction he cites in his report raises this very disturbing question. But that’s all it does—raise it. Goldstone makes a flat judgment without proving his case, or even substantially supporting it. He’s a prosecutor by trade; he has to know better than that.
B’Tselem, referring to that same accusation, said, on October 19, 2009:
…the mission’s conclusions regarding Israel’s overall objectives in carrying out the operation were not sufficiently supported by facts arising from the mission’s research.
Human Rights Watch also reiterated that the original Report did not support a conclusion of Israel intentionally targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.
Not surprisingly, the fanatics at NGO Monitor chose not to name a single instance of an NGO leveling the accusation of intentionality that was alluded to in the Goldstone Report.
Goldstone, in his op-ed, stated that “civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.” But that was never the question. The question always was whether Israel took sufficient precautions to minimize civilian casualties and whether civilian infrastructure, which at least some Israeli leaders said they saw as legitimate targets, was illegally targeted. These matters have not been adequately investigated, and Goldstone, despite his overstated praise for Israeli investigations that are not transparent or timely (and are therefore of questionable quality) does not say that they were.
Cast Lead raised important questions about asymmetrical warfare that have hardly even been touched since the event. Hamas made it clear that they willfully targeted civilians, a war crime and a crime against humanity. Israel, on the other hand, has at its disposal enormously firepower. It doesn’t have to intentionally target civilians in order to inflict horrifying damage to civilian lives and infrastructure, as happened in Gaza.
That’s why international humanitarian law requires stringent efforts to minimize that damage as much as possible.
Richard Goldstone’s sloppiness with language, first in the report and later in public statements of which his op-ed was not the first, has clouded these issues. And that is unfortunate, not only for the many innocent victims in Gaza as well as southern Israel.
Cast Lead was a powerful opportunity to further develop the standards and mechanisms of accountability in international law. It raised not only the issue of asymmetrical war, but also questions of law regarding territories held by an unrecognized government that controls civilian infrastructure. Law requires specificity in these matters, but the politicization of the Goldstone Report has hopelessly distracted the international community from these important issues.
Israel, which was forced, despite its bungling refusal to cooperate with Goldstone, to initiate far more investigations than it would otherwise have done, is working to restore the impunity it believes it had before Cast Lead. Fanatics like NGO Monitor who work tirelessly to ensure Israel’s demise by demonizing critics of its settlements project and routine human rights violations now have more fodder for their hateful work.
And that is going to reverberate well beyond Gaza.