On December 27, 2008, after an eight-year-long barrage of 12,000 rockets directed at its towns and cities, Israel launched a military operation against Hamas’ terror infrastructure in Gaza. Operation ‘Cast Lead’ had two objectives: to stop the bombardment of Israeli civilians by destroying Hamas’ mortar and rocket launching apparatus and to reduce the ability of Hamas and other terrorist organisations in Gaza to perpetrate future attacks against the civilian population in Israel.
The fact-finding mission established by the UN Human Rights Council under a flawed and narrow mandate, chaired by Justice Richard Goldstone, submitted a report that has served as the basis for a tirade against Israel. Now, 18 months later, Goldstone has in effect retracted the entire basis of his report (Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes by Richard Goldstone, April 1, Washington Post), thus pulling the rug from under those who exploited it for political and legal ends. Goldstone completely backtracks on the key components of his commission’s findings.
First, while reaffirming that Hamas purposefully and indiscriminately aimed its rockets at civilian targets, he clarifies that Israel never acted in such manner. Goldstone also acknowledges that the majority of casualties in Gaza were indeed combatants and not civilians.
He emphasises that since the 2009 war, Israel has engaged in serious investigations of allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza and has implemented numerous policy changes for protecting civilians in urban warfare. At the same time, he stipulates that Hamas has not conducted any investigations whatsoever into the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel. (In fact, he now recognises that asking a terror organisation to investigate itself may have been a mistaken enterprise.)
Goldstone further criticises Hamas, saying that not only have they not investigated their own war crimes, but they continue to commit them till today. Since the report, Hamas has directed hundreds of rockets and mortar rounds at civilian targets in Israel. Goldstone now calls on the UN Human Rights Council to condemn these heinous acts in the strongest terms.
In his admission of self-introspection, Goldstone now criticises the body that mandated his fact-finding Mission in the first place, and says that the UN Human Rights Council’s history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted. This statement comes after years of obsessive and unbalanced condemnation of Israel by a UN body controlled by some of the world’s leading human rights violators such as Libya and Syria.
The Goldstone report not only caused damage to Israel and its reputation but was also a drawback in the struggle of all free societies against terror organisations. Goldstone’s public retraction is perhaps too little too late. Yet, it serves a lesson to those who automatically accuse Israel for all wrongs in the region while conveniently ignoring the reality it is facing.
Israel has made clear its commitment to the two-State solution of Israel living in peace with a Palestinian State. If the international community wishes to advance this settlement, it must strongly denounce all terror attacks and support defensive actions designed to protect civilians.
Among those who insist on seeing Israel as the epitome of all evil, Goldstone will now be transformed from hero to villain. Yet, for those who seek objectivity and justice, the undermining of the report by its very author must cause serious grounds for thought on the rights and wrongs in West Asia.
David Goldfarb is spokesperson, Embassy of Israel, New Delhi
The views expressed by the author are personal