Soon after Israel’s 2008-2009 invasion of the Gaza Strip, Judge Richard Goldstone chaired a fact-finding mission that published the Goldstone Report which accused both Hamas and Israel of committing war crimes. Two and a half years later, Judge Goldstone published an op-ed through the Washington Post in which he retracts a the Goldstone Report’s initial claim that the Israeli army intentionally targeted Palestinian civilians.
To preface any subsequent discussion, it is important to note that Judge Goldstone did not retract the report in its entirety. Even though Israel’s current administration is calling on the United Nations to “bury” the report, Goldstone’s editorial does not detract from the validity of the evidence used to compile the report. However, this should not prevent us from understanding the implications set forth by this recent op-ed.
Adam Horowitz and Lizzy Ratner, co-editors of the book The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict, appeared on Democracy Now! to discuss the implications of Goldstone’s op-ed. Horowitz notes that although Judge Goldstone “only comments on one small part of the report”, the judge still agrees with the essence of the published report. This is a very objective and undoubtedly optimistic approach that I happen to agree with myself, but only to an extent. Goldstone’s op-ed serves to renege one of the most substantial claims of his team’s entire findings, that there is no Israeli military policy to intentionally target civilians. While this might be considered a small point, it carries heavy consequences.
Operation Cast Lead left over 1400 Palestinians dead with no fewer than 353 individuals under the age of 18. Goldstone himself cites in his editorial a tragic incident that left 29 members of the al-Simouni family dead after their home was hit in an Israeli air strike. On average, 64 Palestinians were killed per day. Whether or not this was a direct result of collateral damage is irrelevant. Any military with the technological capacity that the Israeli military possesses is perfectly capable of avoiding civilian death.
But let us assume that weapon precision is not an issue. Let us assume that the Israeli air strikes hit their intended targets at the expense of the surrounding civilian and unarmed population. This must not exonerate the Israeli army from any responsibility. International war law demands warring parties to consider the safety of civilians first and foremost. Goldstone makes the point that Israel’s armed forces did not employ a specific policy to target civilians. It is a common fact that the primary objective of Operation Cast Lead was to destroy the Gaza Strip’s civilian infrastructure but Goldstone op-ed takes this a step further and defends pro-occupationist claims that any civilian attacks happened through the personal will of the individual Israeli combatant.
However, this “few bad apples” approach provides Israel with the excuse it needs to: a. consider itself a moral army (Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman calls it the most moral army in the world), b. maintain the precedent that civilian deaths are always an accident, and c. any subsequent action in any Palestinian territory is therefore always justified.
If the Israeli government considers its army to be the most moral in the world — or even in the region — then the definition of morality is up for debate. There are just not enough words to discuss how immoral and disgusting the Israeli army is.
As for the precedent Goldstone’s editorial helps set, the Israeli army is essentially let off the hook. The soldiers bear the blame in its entirety but this should not discount Israel’s armed forces from also shouldering responsibility. After all, this is the mentality instilled in them: all Gazans, irrespective of combatant/non-combatant or civilian/militant status, are hostile threats; all Palestinians pose a risk to the peace processes; Arabs are naturally inclined to oppose the creation of Jewish homeland. The lawless actions perpetrated by Israeli soldiers towards Palestinian civilians is an immediate product of this utterly useless occupation. Targeting the civilian infrastructure of the Gaza Strip, which is what the Israeli government claims to have ordered, inevitably means targeting the civilian population through the soldiers’ individual scopes. So in essence, both the army and its constituent soldiers must face international condemnation. This is the only moral aspect of the situation.
It is clear that Goldstone’s op-ed retracts one of the most substantial claims made in the initial Goldstone Report and consequently strikes a blow to the movement for justice in Palestine. Goldstone’s “revision” has already been misread by Israelists as a public rejection of the Goldstone Report by the author himself. This is wrong, of course. Judge Goldstone chaired a committee that released the publication. He was not the only writer. Furthermore, his editorial does cannot in any way hide the evidence that lead to the Goldstone Report’s final conclusions.
Nevertheless, it is unfortunate (albeit expected) to see the Israeli government use Goldstone’s op-ed to justify past, current, and future military invasions of the occupied Palestinian territories. Military operations in the Gaza Strip have already increased drastically over the course of the last few weeks and this editorial appears to have been published at a very dangerous time. Operation Cast Lead Part II might actually be around the corner, and now it’s been seemingly endorsed by Judge Goldstone’s editorial.