Saturday, April 2, 2011

Goldstone "Reconsiders" Goldstone

In a column in today's Washington Post, Richard Goldstone writes that he has "reconsidered" some of the findings and recommendations of his report on the Gaza War. That report, which was written under the aegis of the U.N. Human Rights Council, played a tremendous role in molding public opinion with respect to Israel in general and the Gaza War in particular. The report also caused great controversy among critics who charged that its findings tended to treat acts of rogue individual IDF soldiers as intrinsically reflecting accepted Israeli practices, that it treated accidental injury of civilians by Israeli attacks as intentional, and equated them with clearly intentional injury of civilians by Hamas, that it credulously repeated false charges against Israel made by unreliable sources, and that it inflated the count of civilian casualties.

Among those charges, the most shocking, and most damaging to Israel, was the Goldstone Report's charge that Israel deliberately targeted civilians in Gaza, a charge that was belied by the great lengths to which Israel went to avoid injuring civilians in combat situations, even where this significantly complicated matters. Israel went so far as to notify in advance residents of buildings or neighborhoods in Gaza targeted for attack. This notice took the form of airdropped leaflets, cell phone calls (!), and a practice Israel referred to as "knocking on the door". After the other form of notice had given civilians time to leave an area, Israeli forces signaled that bombing or shelling was imminent by dropping an inert shell or other device designed to make noise but do no damage. Goldstone, in his report, failed to address why Israel would go to such extraordinary lengths to avoid harming civilians and, at the same time, arbitrarily target other civilians for deliberate harm.   The report also failed to adequately contrast Israel's policies and practices with respect to avoiding civilian casualties with the fact that Hamas deliberately targeted non-military targets in Israel such as schools, hospitals, shopping malls, and other civilian areas with no warning whatsoever and at times when these sites would be expected to be their busiest.  The report also failed to adequately account for Hamas deliberate placement of Palestinian civilians in harms way as "human shields", a matter of Hamas policy that was both clearly evident (Hamas fired artillery from civilian neighborhoods and located their command headquarters in a hospital) and underreported by the news media and by human rights groups who purportedly want to reveal crimes against Palestinian civilians.  Hamas tried to kill civilians, whereas Israel did not.  That is the fundamental reason that the Goldstone Report was false and that is the fundamental reason that it was so destructive to Israel.

Now Goldstone says of this charge that:

The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion. 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.

The Goldstone Report also inflated Palestinian civilian casualties by relying on sources which claimed whenever plausible (and sometimes not) that combatant casualties were in fact civilians. This deception was demonstrated by comparing of a list of alleged civilian Palestinian casualties with a list of membership in Hamas' police forces and militias which revealed that a large number of the allegedly civilian casualties were not civilians at all. The same sources who gave such demonstrably false information to Goldstone's investigators were then credulously relied upon for other unverifiable information. Since the time of the report, Goldstone and those who support his findings have been put in the odd position of defending his inflated count of Palestinian casualties against criticism from Hamas. It seems that Hamas wants to give its combatant casualties credit more than they want to discredit Israel. In effect, Israel and Hamas pretty much agree on the combatant/civilian casualty ratio. Goldstone still defends his findings with respect to the civilian casualty count, but there is an internal contradiction in his reasoning. He first writes that

Israel’s lack of cooperation with our investigation meant that we were not able to corroborate how many Gazans killed were civilians and how many were combatants.
By that, Goldstone admits that the civilian count may be inflated, and defends that by blaming Israel's refusal to cooperate with his investigators. But, in the next sentence, Goldstone goes on to write that

The Israeli military’s numbers have turned out to be similar to those recently furnished by Hamas (although Hamas may have reason to inflate the number of its combatants).
Goldstone still claims his civilian casualty numbers to be correct, in spite of both sides in the conflict giving a much lower number. If Goldstone knows his casualty numbers are correct, and that both Israel's and Hamas' are false, how can he also say that, if his numbers are wrong, it's Israel's fault? Either he knows his numbers to be true or he doesn't. To make an internally contradictory defense of his figures calls the report's methodology and findings with respect to civilian casualties further into question.

By definition, both supporters and opponents of Israel's actions in Gaza have an interest in spinning the facts in their favor.  That those facts should be accurate and their source reliable are also givens.  Now that Goldstone has essentially renounced the worst of his original findings, and has called into question the reliability of others, those who rely on his original findings to make their case against Israel will have a number of options.  On the good faith side of the spectrum of possibilities, they can revise their conclusions and/or call for further investigation based on these new facts.  On the bad faith side of things, they can deride those who cite Goldstone's new findings as supporters of war crimes (such as here), claim without any evidence that Goldstone has somehow succumbed to pressure by "The Lobby" whose power evidently knows no limitation (such as here), and/or continue to accuse Israel of war crimes that Goldstone's revised findings no longer support (such as here).

The most important conclusions that everyone can take away from Goldstone revised findings are that a) Hamas has failed to investigate their alleged war crimes, b) those war crimes have been confirmed to be matters of policy, c) Israel has largely investigated their alleged war crimes, and d) those have largely found to be either false or matters of individual misconduct.  Hamas' bad faith and Israel's good faith with respect to investigating these allegations speak for themselves.  Unfortunately, not everyone will be able to hear what they are saying.

Read Goldstone's column here: Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes - The Washington Post

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