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Goldstone "apology" won't make us stop talking of occupation

Some initial thoughts regarding Judge Richard Goldstone’s op-ed, in which he retracted some of the allegations against Israel made in his report

Israel wouldn't have investigated all those killings of civilians if it had not been for Goldstone (photo: United Nations Information Service - Geneva)

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.

It is somewhat difficult to retract a blood libel,” wrote Jeffrey Goldberg in response. Comments on Israeli news sites were even harsher, promising never to “forgive or forget” Goldstone’s crime. “The traitor got tired of being a pariah,” wrote one of my Facebook friends on his wall – and this was a mild comment, compared to others I saw and heard.

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.

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    1. Nick

      Pathetic, yet expected, response

      Reply to Comment
    2. Danny

      It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Judge Goldstone wrote his op-ed as a direct result of the pressure put upon him by Israel – pressure that made him a pariah within his own community and which affected also his family. And it also wouldn’t surprise me if the Mossad was involved in this pressure in order to break Goldstone and make him retract his findings. Poor Goldstone now wants to make amends with his vile tormentors and is even willing to serve as a propaganda mouthpiece for this criminal regime (what in the name of God does the Fogel killings have to do with what happened in Gaza???) Bottom line, I feel sorry for Goldstone, but I don’t buy his cop-out for a single minute. The facts speak louder than any op-ed: 3 weeks, nearly 1400 dead, of these more than 300 women and children. Case closed.

      Reply to Comment
    3. @Noam – I commend you for picking out the most important quote from Goldstone’s op-ed. His retraction of the report’s claim that Israel intentionally targeted civilians indeed was the most significant part of his piece.
      As for Israel’s lack of cooperation at the time, it really cannot be blamed given the UNHRC’s track record. Goldstone even (unwittingly) explains why Israel couldn’t have trusted the U.N. in his op-ed when he wrote: “Something that has not been recognized often enough is the fact that our report marked the first time illegal acts of terrorism from Hamas were being investigated and condemned by the United Nations.”
      Despite disagreeing with some of your premises, I appreciate your thoughts (and agree with more of what you wrote than disagree).

      Reply to Comment
    4. Louis

      The comparison is not one between Hamas and Israel. Rather it is according to standards of the international community and its respect of IHL and IHRL. Israel has a 44 year history of failure on this matter.

      Lieberman has applauded the new conclusions reached by Goldstone. Yet he continues to push the same old Israeli line of bias etc. In other words Israeli “Hasbara” has not changed so much, rather it now feels itself vindicated when nothing like that has happened. The Goldstone process, I think was less about Israeli direct targeting of civilians as individual civilians but more about an attack on civilian infrastructure thus creating an impossible living situation for civilians for whom Israel still owes the obligation of protection. This too is the story of the OCCUPATION, total disregard for the duty to protect. Rather Israel priveleges the settlers, encouraging, helping and cooperating in law violation daily, and penalizes Palestinian for seeking their rights
      6. The Judge is correct there must be a full scale and collective condemnation of any and all attacks on Civilians. As far as settlers are concerned… his statement is salient. NO child should be targeted. At the same time maybe it is time for us to make a statement and CALL FOR THE ISRAELI AUTHORITIES TO ACT RESPONSIBLY AND STOP USING ITS OWN CHILDREN AS SECURITY INSTRUMENTS AND TO REMOVE ALL CHILDREN FROM HARMS WAY IN THE SETTLEMENTS… The institution of being a settler is a criminal institution. It should not carry the death penalty but time has come to call Israel on its long term lie and state clearly: There is no human right to be a settler. http://zeek.forward.com/articles/116178/

      Reply to Comment
    5. Sylvia

      “and also contributed a chapter to the book on report”

      No, it would take an uncommon level of integrity for one to repudiate one’s printed word. Few have it, most don’t.

      Reply to Comment
    6. pointing all the accusations against Israel all the time it is not the solution , if you are really seeking human rights check the other side

      Reply to Comment
    7. directrob

      Those who think the report is now irrelevant should read it (and better too the pre and post Goldstone reports from the IDF.)

      Reply to Comment
    8. Larry Derfner

      I haven’t given up on Goldstone – I’m all but 100% sure he didn’t mean to “retract” his report, but to rebalance it w/the Israeli investigations, which he didn’t have before. I think he still considers Op Cast Lead to have been appalling, just less appalling than he did before. And I expect him to clarify this very soon, because his op-ed just invites distortion. It’s done a huge amount of damage that can’t be undone, but I think it’s important for history for Goldstone to set things straight. And if I’m wrong – if he is retracting – it won’t change my view or anybody’s else’s about the war, just like his report didn’t – everybody made up his or her mind about while it was being fought.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Mehmet

      A good response to the supposed retraction by Goldstone…Israel routinely kills civilians as we have seen in Lebanon and the Occupied territories; as long as they do not officially say that that is their intent then it does not matter. Thus the lives of the Palestinians or Lebanese do not matter.

      Reply to Comment
    10. 1. Judge Goldstone has not retracted anything. Nor has he disavowed the report. All that is Israeli spin and sloppy reading.

      2. What he wrote is that the IDF investigation of certain events provide better explanations than the one initially reported in the Goldstone Report, which called for the investigation. That is not a disavowal of the report; that is its fulfilment. It is, to be sure, a positive view of the Israeli explanation on this point.

      3. Goldstone endorses the UHC UN report that does not exonerate Israel and calls for a public investigation of the Goldstone Report. That is strongly implied in the op-ed

      4. Goldstone still calls for a public investigation not conducted by the Israeli military on *all* the claims of the report. That is strongly implied in the op-ed.

      The above has been confirmed by sources close to Judge Goldstone. For further clarification of Judge Goldstone’s position, read


      Reply to Comment
    11. AMin NUsseibeh

      I havent said anything more harsh than your colleage Yossi Gurwitz said today. Is the policy of your column that only non-Palestinians can criticize ziostan? If so, that seems pretty racist to me. You might want to learn something from your colleage Mr Gurwitz

      Reply to Comment
    12. @AMIN: you are trolling – leaving the same message on every post. stay on topic, or you will be banned.

      this policy goes for all nationalities.

      Reply to Comment
    13. max

      Noam, I guess we have radically different views on some matters (for you, it seems, all of Israel’s actions are a crime, regardless of cause and effect or alternatives), which make it close to impossible to argue on nuances.

      Nevertheless, a few items that stopped my reading for a second:
      1. “what a great opportunity to make the public forget the latest travel scandal” –
      what a great equivalence you show here, I was almost waiting for you to claims that Netanyahu asked Judge Goldstone for help…
      2. Israel’s cooperation
      Besides the point made earlier (which I’m sure you’re aware of) of the assumed counter productivity of cooperating with this ridiculous body, you probably know that Israel did provide, unofficially, much information that has been discarded by the fact-finding team
      3. Neither you nor I know how Israel would’ve investigated itself had the Report not been published. But both you and I know that Israel started its investigations, as it does after every major military action, before the Report was published.

      In short, I find your view quite disingenuous: you didn’t need the Report to hold your views and prefer to ignore its author’s new understandings: crimes may have happened on the Israeli side, but they were not a matter of policy; crimes happened on the Palestinian side, and they were a matter of policy.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Piotr Berman

      Poor Max. Someone has to explained him basic things like:

      1. You cannot provide testimony “unofficially”.

      2. We know from Mavi Marmara incidents how difficult it is for IDF to distinguish civilians from terrorists. Did Israel investigate Gen. Ashkenazi for testifying that an Israeli soldier was shot when it was never found to be true (the most celebrated “unknown soldier”, I presume). Did Israel investigate forensic reports that some Mavi Marmara passengers were executed after being wounded and prone? Is THAT within official IDF policy?

      3. Actually, Goldstone report does describe a number of explanation received from Israel. It just so happen than none was consistent with the evidence.

      4. As a source of information, and even investigation, it is hard to find an equally “ridiculous body” as IDF.

      Reply to Comment
    15. […] המאמר של השופט גולדסטון, מישהו פנה בטוויטר למגזין 972 (בו התפרסם הפוסט הזה לראשונה, בשינויים מסוימים), ודרש שנחזור בנו מההאשמות של ישראל […]

      Reply to Comment
    16. max

      Dear Piotr,

      I’m not sure on what base your state your claims of Testimony and negate Israel’s ability to investigate itslef. I wonder if you could provide some comparative, legally relevant cases.

      I found some related material on Jpost, which I copy below (you may reach the original via http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/0/dd0e9e449454c4d18525785a0063e110?OpenDocument). It refers to UNHRC’s follow up investigations. I don’t know what’s your opinion of this body, but for me anything coming from them in favor of Israel must have caused them much stomach ache. they seem to agree that Israel is well positioned to investigate itself.

      Of course, if your basis is that Israel and the IDF are criminal organizations, the following won’t be relevant.



      Reply to Comment
    17. Michael Dorfman (Lamerkhav)

      Goldstone reconsiders his report? This remains to be seen. His op-ed was published April 1st on the International day of fools.
      The real question is why the heck the Israelis went into Gaza and killed one and the half thousand men, women and children?

      Reply to Comment

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