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The real winner of Hamas-Israel ceasefire: Justice Richard Goldstone

By Jeremiah Haber

Judge Richard Goldstone at mission of Council of Human Rights of UN investigation into Israeli offensive in Gaza, December 2008 (UN-Geneva CC BY NC ND 2.0)

There is now a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, thank God. The senseless military operation initiated by a blundering Israeli overreaction, and resulting in death, destruction, and fear in civilian populations, was only the latest in a series of such operations. And an examination of the ceasefire “understandings,” virtually identical with those after Cast Lead, shows that Israel’s over-arching strategy in assassinating Chief of Staff  Jabari was of the “We’ve-got-to-DO-something” variety. It is unlikely that the ceasefire will hold, but it is sufficient to worry later about future troubles, as the saying goes.

Who won? Ask the Israelis, most of whom opposed the ceasefire, and they will tell you that the other side won. Ask the Gazans, and they will tell you that their side won.  My view is that the real winner was Justice Richard Goldstone, whose report changed the way Israel waged war against the Gazans.

How did Pillar of Defense differ from Cast Lead? Less indiscriminate shelling; no press blackout; the leaflets to the Gazans telling them to leave their homes about to be destroyed gave routes to the nearest shelter. Of course, this was cold comfort, seeing as the nearest shelter was already overcrowded. In fact, CNN allowed us to see one family moving from school shelter to school shelter until they get could find a classroom for their clan. No white phosphorous, either.Without the Goldstone Report, the civilian casualties and the destruction of property “for the sake of deterrence” would have been higher.

This is not to say that war crimes were not committed by both sides, and I hope that the human rights agencies will investigate these  and issue their reports.

Judge Richard Goldstone was vilified, first by the Israelis and their supporters, and then by the supporters of the Palestinians, who misread his so-called “retraction.” No person is above criticism, of course, and reasonable people often disagree. But Judge Goldstone, and those who worked with him, and above all, the Israeli human rights organizations that provided him with data, both directly or indirectly, and who were also vilified by the Israeli government, should take satisfaction in the numbers of lives they saved.

Originally posted on Jeremiah Haber’s blog Magnes Zionist and reposted here with his permission. 

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    1. You said ” hope that the human rights agencies will investigate these and issue their reports.”, well the hope is the last chance.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Richard Witty

      I believe that Jerry Haber’s conclusion that “changed the way Israel waged war against the Gazans.”

      I think this is incidentally true, not fundamentally. I don’t believe that Israel changed the way it conducts war very much at all.

      And, I don’t believe that the Goldstone report was all that effective a deliberative process in the light of the actual events of Cast Lead.


      On the Israeli behavioral side, the difference between Cast Lead and Pillar, definitely included more care in precision of targets and in informing civilians of impending actions, giving them time and opportunity to remove themselves (if they were able).

      But, a very big but, is that the reason that Cast Lead had so many civilian casualties was because of the decision early to undertake a ground assault.

      In Cast Lead, there were three phases (or categories of operations, not all sequential). One was parallel to the operations in Pillar, of identifying known or highly probable targets of actual rocket launchers, construction sites, storage sites, etc.

      The second phase/category of operations in Cast Lead was of the preparation for a ground assault. That included missions to reduce the risks to subsequent actual ground troups. That included attacks on what would otherwise be civilian infrastructure like electric generation and distribution infrastructure, communications infrastructure (water purification I don’t have a clue how that could be a valid target in any setting). Also, police weapons facilities, even training sites (normally a civilian function). And, then most pronounced, the clearing of logistical arteries for troups and tanks and supplies for the ground invasion. (The oft-sited chicken farm was of that nature. It might have even been rejected as an artery, but I expect that that was the military logic of the target selection.)

      Perhaps 70% of the Palestinian civilian casualties occurred during that phase.

      As the Hamas and other factions operatives went underground rather than confront Israeli ground troups directly, there were far less and far less than expected IDF and civilian casualties at that phase.

      The largest shift in deemed admissability of targets and in civilian harms was because of the single decision to not undertake a ground assault.

      The big question, the question that the Goldstone report FAILED to answer, and that all of the dissenting commentary that I read subsequently failed to even address, was whether a ground operation was morally and legally admissable.

      I personally don’t know. I regard the banal orchestrated repeated firing of rockets randomly at solely civilian targets, to be a grave war crime (EVERY single instance as a grave war crime).

      Significant. That the IDF had a responsibility to protect Israeli civilian lives (not a “right” as in the “right of resistance”), as Jerry Haber acknowledged in another post on his blog.

      As in business, to shift from a strategy of good seen location (say for a local restaurant), to the decision to conduct a thorough saturation advertising campaign is a large jump in threshold costs, it is the decision that controls whether one incurs the costs or not. If you don’t, $500 in promotion costs. If you do, $50,000. And nothing in between.

      It is the nothing in between that is the key point of the metaphor.

      So, was a ground offensive admissable in Cast Lead, or not?

      That is the significant variable that private Richard Goldstone potentially acknowledged in his op-ed.

      Still ignored. “He didn’t change his opinion” is repeated. He changed the authority of his opinion, from a near certain basis of prosecution, to one of fundamental doubt. (All based on the question of the admissability of ground operation.)

      Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      It’s interesting to look at the reaction of the typical Israeli, who seems to be disappointed that the entire population of Gaza wasn’t exterminated and the Strip sown with salt.

      Do these Israelis ever stop to think why all those people are penned up in Gaza in the first place?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Jack

      Not sure that the connection is that strong (that Goldstone report had an impact), rather it could be that Israel itsefl understood that killing civilians wont really benefit their image. As for leaflets, those were dropped in Cast lead war too.
      Israel won the war no doubt.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Marianne

      Just to say that there are no shelters in Gaza Strip. Schools were bombed…

      Reply to Comment
    6. Jeremiah, Goldstone, purely out of pressure from his fellow Jews, latter changed his view; clearly demonstrating he is a man without character. He can’t be the authentic winner of anything. However, I agree the Goldstone report made it much more difficult for Israeli governments to act as they wish. But the Goldstone report, like the BDS movement, are manifestations of a progressively increasing consciousness in the world; not the cause of the beneficial change that is occurring.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Susan

      The real winner was Barak Obama who made clear to Netanyahu that a ground attack was not acceptable.

      Reply to Comment
      • RichardL

        Not sure. Depends on whether the report from Debkafile is true: that the deal involves the immediate (within 48 hours – so we will know soon enough) deployment of US troops in the Sinai to prevent arms smuggling. If that means they enact a hermetic seal of the tunnels then the winner is most likely Netanyahu.

        Reply to Comment
    8. rsgengland

      This was not a blundering Israeli overreaction as the author called it.
      It was a deliberate response to a provocation to many .
      The rockets and mortars fired into Israel may be ‘primitive and inaccurate’ , but they are fired indiscriminately , targeting Israeli civilians (WHICH IS A WAR CRIME).
      Israels objectives were limited to
      1)Stopping rockets into Israel
      2)Reducing Hamas’ arsenal
      3)Complicating Hamas’ rearmament
      4)Creating an element of deterance.
      Although thousands were called up ,
      the threat of a ground war was not great .
      The threat of a ground war was effective .
      There is an election coming up , and a war with its costs and casualties and uncertainties , is to much of a risk for any politician .
      Israel did quite well though with Iron Dome , good public information in real time etc .
      This was not awar , but a skirmish .
      Israel may not have won , but she certainly did not lose . A good result , if that is possible in war.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Leo

      Who cares who won ??

      I do not think the bereaved families do. I do not think that honest people do.

      And of course the real issues remain.

      That being said, Goldstone issued an honest report about three years ago. I read it completely. Sometimes I feel I am the only Israeli who read it.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Derper

      Interesting way of looking at it. +972 mag would never admit that maybe, just maybe, Israel learned from its mistakes during Cast Lead and pivoted its military tactics. Now what can be said about Hamas?

      Reply to Comment
    11. Abigail

      How civilized when a high-tech army bombs me and first announces that! WOW! Yes, really improved situation. Maybe next time they will first drop some food for later. Or a first aid kit which is better than the lack of medicine in the hospital here! Oh, shelters? We ain’t got any, Haber!

      Do your homework and take some mussar lessons before you write something.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Richard Deats

      The rockets are deplorable but the root causes of the rockets must be addressed. 972 provides that.

      Reply to Comment

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