April 24, 2011
There Was No Goldstone Investigation
It's too early to tell how Richard Goldstone's decision to reverse the key claim of the controversial 2009 Goldstone Report on the 2009 Gaza War will play out. But so far, observers have missed a vital point. Goldstone's reversal and subsequent comments demonstrate there was no real Goldstone investigation.
The Goldstone Report presented itself as facts and legal conclusions based on an investigation that included interviews, documents, videos, photographs, and "field visits." The Report claimed that Israel's campaign against Hamas "was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize [Gaza's] civilian population." It added that "while the Israeli Government has sought to portray its operations as essentially a response to rocket attacks in the exercise of its right to self-defense, the Mission considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole."
On April 1, Richard Goldstone recanted the allegation that Israel had deliberately targeted civilians, writing in an op-ed in the Washington Post, "if I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document." Only days later, Goldstone flip-flopped again, claiming that while he stood by his op-ed and "further information as a result of domestic investigations could lead to further reconsideration, [...] as presently advised I have no reason to believe any part of the report needs to be reconsidered at this time."
Obviously something is wrong when the truth of an investigation's findings depend on the key author's next change of mind.
Inadvertently, Goldstone highlighted what a casual reader might overlook: the Goldstone Report's anti-Israel charges were just unproven partisan allegations masquerading as investigative conclusions.
A careful reading of the Report shows that the Goldstone Mission "investigated" by collecting accusations against Israel. The Report dismissed contrary physical, photographic, documentary, and testimonial evidence as unreliable, then rewrote the accusations in narrative form and "concluded" that they were true. Where necessary, the Report made up additional facts in place of missing evidence.
Consider the Report's "finding" that Israel criminally destroyed Gaza's al-Bader flour mill with air-launched missiles "for the purpose of denying sustenance to the civilian population." The Report cited as evidence only a Mission walk-around and the accusations of several Gazans who were not present at the time of the alleged attack. Two Israeli investigations concluded that the flour mill was never struck or targeted by Israeli missiles; in fact, Israel released aerial photos showing the roof of the mill intact several days after the alleged air strikes. Yet the Report not only concluded that the event happened, it even concluded that Israel's motivation for the imaginary attack "could only have been to destroy the local capacity to produce flour"? The evidence? The Report simply made it up.
Or consider the Report's verdict that Israel unlawfully turned Abbas Mahmoud Abd Rabbo al-Ajrami into a "human shield." Citing only al-Ajrami's testimony, the Report devoted nearly two pages to a narration of Israeli soldiers breaking al-Ajrami's ribs and forcing him to walk into and out of houses at gunpoint. Israel's investigation revealed that al-Ajrami had been properly arrested and detained, but never used as a shield and never beaten. Medical records from Gaza's al Shifa Hospital supported the Israeli account. Strikingly, even if al-Ajrami's story were accurate, Israeli soldiers would still be innocent of human shielding. As the Report pointed out while exonerating Hamas from accusations of human shielding, the laws of war permit moving civilians in war zones and taking up position near them; they forbid doing so only where soldiers have "specific intent of shielding the combatants from counter-attack." Yet, the Report found Israel guilty. What evidence did the Report offer that Israeli soldiers had the forbidden intent? None. The Report just made it up.
Even while inventing "evidence" against Israel, the Goldstone Mission had to make evidence in Israel's favor disappear. Desmond Travers, the second of four members of the Goldstone Mission, explained his refusal to accept evidence that Hamas unlawfully fought in civilian areas in civilian dress because "if somebody tells me there is a Hamas operative doing something on some street corner," the operative might actually be "Israeli combat troops ... in civilian attire ... in a position to cause confusion among the population." Likewise, he could not accept Israeli photographs of Hamas storing weapons in mosques because observing that Hamas abused the protected status of mosques is "implied negative stereotyping" and "unless they can give me absolute forensic proof, I do not believe the photographs." Nor could he accept British Colonel Richard Kemp's observation that there has never "been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than [Israel did in Gaza]" because, according to Travers, "Britain's foreign policy interests in the Middle East seem to be influenced strongly by Jewish lobbyists."
Sadly, Goldstone's Mission is not alone. Major non-governmental organizations -- from the UN to Human Rights Watch -- routinely make things up in similar reports critical of Israel while ignoring or denying evidence supporting Israel.
Together with my Bar Ilan University colleague Professor Gerald Steinberg, I've studied NGO reports from the 2006 Lebanon War. These reports too cite interviews and "field visits" and offer narrative "findings" that cite little if any evidence before "concluding" that Israel committed monstrous crimes.
Take, for instance, Human Rights Watch's report that "Israeli warplanes" struck "two clearly marked Red Cross ambulances in the village of Qana" during the Lebanon War. When photographs of the ambulances showed that the claimed air strike was a hoax, HRW responded with a new "field investigation." Embarrassingly, HRW investigators couldn't find any evidence of a missile. So HRW published a long report reproducing the accusations as a narrative finding, and "concluded" that Israel must have attacked with drones firing a new super-duper-secret unknown type of missile that can strike without leaving any trace. That is, HRW made it up.
Shocking as it may be, many "human rights" activists view accusations as definitive proof of Israel's guilt, irrespective of the evidence. Hina Jilani, a member of the Goldstone Mission, justified this approach on the grounds that anti-Israel accusers are "victims" and "it would be very cruel not to give credence to their voices."
Goldstone's three colleagues on the Goldstone Mission (Jilani, Travers and Christine Chinkin) issued a statement April 14 rejecting "aspersions cast on the findings of the report" and denying the legitimacy of any "demand ... for reconsideration." In other words, they continue to maintain that their anti-Israel accusations must be accepted as the unassailable truth though the initial accusations were never proved and contrary to the available evidence.
Hopefully Goldstone's admission will serve to discredit not only his own report and mission, but the cottage industry of anti-Israel political warfare masquerading as investigative human rights work. No one should be held to a standard of guilt by accusation. Not even the Jewish state.
Avi Bell is a professor at Bar Ilan University's Faculty of Law and the University of San Diego School of Law.