The Goldstone Commission Report, or more properly the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Human Rights in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories Report on the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, has been released. Now, I havent read all 572 pages, however, from the bit I’ve skimmed and the New York Times article on it doesn’t look good. Essentially, it would appear that while claiming to be fair by calling out both Israel and Hamas forces for war crimes, there is a disproportionate emphasis on Israeli actions, almost to the point of ignoring those taken by Hamas. While I wish to reserve judgement on the report until I have the time to read the whole report, I will say that things do not bode well for justice when it is put aside in the name of fairness.

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  • From the NY Times article:

    Responding to Israeli allegations that Palestinian fighters used civilians as human shields, the panel found that Palestinian armed groups did launch rockets from urban areas in Gaza, and that Palestinian armed groups “were not always dressed in a way that distinguished them from civilians.”

    However, the mission found no evidence that Palestinian combatants “mingled with the civilian population with the intention of shielding themselves from attack,” the report said, nor did it find evidence to suggest that Palestinian armed groups “either directed civilians to areas where attacks were being launched or forced civilians to remain within the vicinity of the attacks.”

    The mission was tasked by United Nations Human Rights Council in April to investigate all violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law that might have been committed during the conflict. As part of Israel’s refusal to cooperate, it banned the panel members from entering the country. The panel made two visits to Gaza, entering from Egypt, but conducted the bulk of their research from Geneva.

    The panel conducted 188 interviews, reviewed 10,000 pages of documents, and viewed more than 1,000 photographs and videos before drawing its conclusions. The panel said that Israel did not respond to a comprehensive list of questions, but that Palestinian authorities in both Gaza and the West Bank cooperated.

  • The report is indeed very long and I have only just skimmed some parts of it, but there are some pretty troubling parts to it. One in particular alludes to the mortars that went off near the UN school killing civilians. The report says that Israel should not have fired at the rocket team operating near the school because the danger to civilians was disproportionate to killing a small number of enemy.

    How convenient. Since a mortar crew probably only requires 2 or 3 guys, from now on, Hamas needs to operate in small groups, near schools and it will always be a violation of international law to target them! Thanks UN for contributing to the Hamas tactical handbook!

    Wow. That was a harsh tone, even from me.

  • Israel should be accountable for any crimes that it commits and one hopes that their investigations (they have 23 going on right now into the Gaza war) will be serious and punish any real crimes.

    The problem is that accepting a biased commission’s report is very hard to do when the mandate of the report was essentially to find Israel guilty of accusations and when it appears that many, and perhaps all, of the witnesses in Gaza, were interviewed while a Hamas man was accompanying the commission, or nearby when they were doing teleconference interviews.

  • Okay, here is paragraph 34:

    To examine whether the attacks against the police were compatible with the principle of distinction between civilian and military objects and persons, the Mission analysed the institutional development of the Gaza police since Hamas took complete control of Gaza in July 2007 and merged the Gaza police with the “Executive Force” it had created after its election victory. The Mission finds that, while a great number of the Gaza policemen were recruited among Hamas supporters or members of Palestinian armed groups, the Gaza police were a civilian law-enforcement agency. The Mission also concludes that the policemen killed on 27 December 2008 cannot be said to have been taking a direct part in hostilities and thus did not lose their civilian immunity from direct attack as civilians on this ground. The Mission accepts that there may be individual members of the Gaza police that were at the same time members of Palestinian armed groups and thus combatants. It concludes, however, that the attacks against the police facilities on the first day of the armed operations failed to strike an acceptable balance between the direct military advantage anticipated (i.e. the killing of those policemen who may have been members of Palestinian armed groups) and the loss of civilian life (i.e. the other policemen killed and members of the public who would inevitably have been present or in the vicinity), and therefore violated international humanitarian law.

    They acknowledge that the police force was built from a “great number” of Hamas fighters, but then determine that they are a civilian force anyway. Hence a supposed humanitarian crime. I’m not a lawyer, but that strikes me as very confusing. Hamas is not just a government in Gaza, it is a movement dedicated to the eradication of Israel. That means that any member of Hamas is party to its war with Israel. That such a party would spread its influence over the civilian population by placing a large number of its fighters into the police force does not make those individuals civilians.

    But what do I know.

  • Or this, where they acknowledge the testimonies they received may have been tainted:

    The Mission was faced with a certain reluctance by the persons it interviewed in Gaza to discuss the activities of the armed groups. On the basis of the information gathered, the Mission found that Palestinian armed groups were present in urban areas during the military operations and launched rockets from urban areas. It may be that the Palestinian combatants did not at all times adequately distinguish themselves from the civilian population.

    If there is a reluctance, obviously out of fear or loyalty to Hamas and the other armed groups, then how could they trust any information they received? How are they going to receive a straight answer about how the combatants fought from among the civilians?

  • “However, the mission found no evidence that Palestinian combatants “mingled with the civilian population with the intention of shielding themselves from attack,””

    How about that, they couldn’t find evidence of something that could a seven year old could find on Youtube in five seconds.

  • All I can say is that Israel will not be able to brush this aside. They will need to respond and the response had better address the many allegations with seriousness and specificity.

  • It looks like the official Israeli response has quickly morphed and (to date, anyway) stops just short of comparing Goldstone to Goebbels. Yet, despite the long history of anti-Israel bias as the UN, Goldstone’s report proves surprisingly resistant to the this approach. In refusing to talk to Goldstone or even admit him into the country, Israel in effect gambled that he’d come up with something as one-sided and dismissible as Durban. That didn’t happen. Israel may be left with attacking Goldstone’s findings, and while no doubt many are questionable (like the one Middle cites), Israel’s refusal to cooperate with Goldstone undermines the credibility of such attacks.

  • That’s sort of like saying that if Iran arranges a Holocaust denial conference, and Israel refuses to cooperate and/or attend the meeting, then she has undermined her credibility to attack the conference’s “findings”.

    Why would Israel want to cooperate with a commission whose mandate was not to determine *if* Israel guilty of war crimes, but to what degree it was guilty of such crimes? Not to mention that none of this is taking place in a vacuum, we’ve been through this song and dance many times before and we know what passes for an “unbiased UN investigation” into alleged Israeli crimes. Why would Israel want to be a party to that?

  • I still think they are right to have boycotted the investigation. An investigation that is partial from the starting gate should not be given any consideration.

    However, now that it’s out and there are specific charges enclosed, there is little reason why the Israelis cannot reply. If the Report says that a hospital was not used by Hamas, Israel should be able to prove otherwise. If he says that they improperly targeted a house or a building, they should be able to respond.

    It’s not as if they went into Gaza without expecting scrutiny. They must have information they can disseminate to explain the accusations.

    I assume there will be instances where the accusations are justified, it is impossible to fight a perfect war, and people who were involved should be punished for any crimes they committed. However, Israel has to explain itself.

    I find the report very troubling on many levels. One is that I don’t have any responses by the Israelis to counter the accusations made in the report. As a result, I am not sure whether the accusations are true or not. Second, I am dumbfounded that the report acknowledges that their Palestinian witnesses (essentially the great majority of the witnesses) may have been afraid to testify openly. It calls everything else into question.

    The winners in all of this are Hamas and the PA. Hamas basically got away with murder and war crimes, while the PA gets to attack everybody else and come clean…even though there were many rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza while they still governed there.

  • Barry, that’s great if your analogy works, but it looks like it doesn’t. After all, the report takes up Shalit’s predicament and accuses Hamas of war crimes. Israel essentially created a self-fulfilling prophecy; it’s hard to fault Goldstone for relying on dubious Palestinian testimony if that’s all the data he had to work with. He gets a lot of credit for acknowledging repeatedly the evidentiary and other difficulties he confronted.

    His alternative may have been to throw up his hands and give up absent Israeli cooperation. But no one would support giving up if, say, he were investigating abuse of Tamil civilians or civil rights violations in Zimbabwe.

  • Tom, I’m experiencing Donald Rumsfeld flashbacks while reading your comment … no, you can’t conduct war crimes investigations with the dubious Palestinian testimony you have, as opposed to the credible testimony you want to have or might have in the future. If the data isn’t there, and you can’t make a credible case, then there is no case. And of course nobody would attempt a similar investigation of, say, civil rights violations in Zimbabwe, because nobody would be naive enough to believe that Mugabe would allow an investigative team to wander freely about his country and collect the necessary information for putting together an exhaustive, authoritative, unbiased report. The same applies to Gaza, but the UN seems committed to playing the fool.

    The report cites plenty of Israeli sources as it stands. The types of sources they chose to include (B’Tselem, “Breaking the Silence”) doesn’t exactly suggest that the narrative would have turned out any differently if they’d received “official” government cooperation. In fact, the text implies that the only thing they really wished to gain from such cooperation was 1) permission to enter the West Bank (to gather more “evidence” against Israel), and 2) comments from higher ranking Israeli government officials, in order to directly pin the blame at the highest levels of the Israeli government.

    There’s no reason why Israel should feel the need to respond to a bogus report. Actually, they already have responded — the IDF claimed it doesn’t need the UN’s report because it’s conducting its own internal investigations. The report contains many references to crimes committed by Hamas but states little more than “the Gaza authorities are investigating”, whereas every Israeli action is dissected into the tiniest of fragments. Only the UN could find a way to take the “internal investigations” (the results of which will never be published, of course) of a closed terrorist organization at face value, while demanding greater accountability from an open investigation undertaken by a free, democratic country.

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