Some initial thoughts regarding Judge Richard Goldstone’s op-ed, in which he retracted some of the allegations against Israel made in his report
A strange combination of thrill and anger seems to be the immediate response to Judge Goldstone’s surprising op-ed on the Washington post today. Goldstone wrote that while Israel was investigating the allegations of crimes perpetrated during the 2008 Gaza invasion, Hamas had failed to do so; he expressed disappointment in the UN’s Human Rights Council and its treatment of Israel, and demanded condemnation of the Fogel family murder. The key sentence in the article was this:
While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. 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.
Since the popular way to discredit anyone criticizing Israeli policy over the past two year was to link them to Goldstone, the government’s PR people jumped on the opportunity to take punches at progressive voices (check, for example, Noah Pollak’s Twitter feed – he is clearly having the day of his life). Prime Minister Netanyahu, a PR expert himself, gave a national speech, in which he demanded that the UN throw the Goldstone report “into history’s garbage can” (what a great opportunity to make the public forget the latest travel scandal).
In a sense, this op-ed and the responses it received made me appreciate Judge Goldstone more. He probably knew that everyone would hate him for it - those who adopted the report and are clearly embarrassed, and those who rejected it and now received their validation. Now he really is alone.
What is also clear is that many people missed Goldstone’s point: if Israel had provided his committee with the information it requested, the report would have been different. The fact that Goldstone is ready to retract some of the allegations could serve as an indication that he would have taken evidence coming from Israel seriously, if it had been presented to him at the time of the investigation (Israel refused to have anything to do with the investigation). In that sense, Jeffrey Goldberg is right: you can’t go back in time – Israel’s decision not to investigate its army’s behavior during the attack on Gaza turned out to be a strategic mistake.
Another point that needs to be made is that Israel wouldn’t have investigated all those killings of civilians if it had not been for Goldstone. Even now, the army is doing everything it can to prevent prosecution of some of its officers and soldiers. Only international pressure forced the IDF to being searching for those soldiers who shot innocent civilians – some of them carrying white flags – or looted Palestinian homes.
And that’s another thing people are missing now: nobody is denying that such crimes occurred. And there are additional incidents – like the execution of defenseless policemen by an Israeli gunship on the first day of the war – which Israel views as “legal” and other (myself included) see as a war crime, planned at the highest levels.
On the other hand, and at the risk of making many friends angry at me, I would also say that Goldstone should not have spoken of a “policy” of targeting civilians only because he saw numerous cases in which civilians were killed. These are not accusations to be made or take lightly. Saying now that “civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy” is a big deal – and the explanation given in the Washington Post op-ed to this sentence is hardly satisfying.
Since I mentioned the Goldstone report on this blog more than once, and also contributed a chapter to the book on report (which discusses the way the report was received in Israel – and I stand behind every word I wrote there), I would like to add something personal regarding the way I feel today.
Many people claimed that “the IDF couldn’t have done the things Goldstone said it did.” Most of them never even read the report, but that’s beside the point. But I felt, and I still do, that targeting civilians could have been an Israeli policy. That’s why I supported an external investigation of Operation Cast Lead. That’s why I still want a public report on the military operation that would include Israeli evidence.
The reason I think the IDF could, in certain cases, target civilians (just like any army would, at times), is that I saw it with my own eyes when I served as an infantry officer in South Lebanon. I described this incident in detail here.
More than anything I read in Haaretz, my own experiences as a soldier and an officer led me to reflect on the crimes of Israel’s 44 year-old occupation of the West Bank. I have seen beating of civilians, settlers’ violence and mistreatment of Palestinians with my own eyes (I am happy to report I haven’t been part of killing – but that’s pure luck, I guess). Some of those things I continue to see in the occupied territories these days, only now I don’t go there in uniform.
Right after the Goldstone op-ed was posted on the Washington post’s site, +972 Magazine received a tweet calling us to “retract” on charges of Israeli war crimes. To that I answer: the entire occupation is a crime. The blockade on Gaza is a crime. The settlements are a crime. The killing of civilians is a crime – even if it wasn’t part of a policy, it was part of the occupation. And I don’t need Judge Goldstone to tell me that.