Goldstone’s careful documentation & argument

I’ve had the chance to be reading more of the report of the Goldstone Commission Report (PDF). It’s 425 pages long, so not an easy or light read!
But I’ve been very impressed with the thoroughness of both the documentation and the argumentation in the report. Goldstone and his team are very professional and careful investigators of atrocities. He, of course, got his first experience of doing such work when he was investigating allegations of serious wrongdoing by the security forces in his native South Africa in 1989-90. There, too, his investigation was hampered by serious non-cooperation from the state authorities and he was subjected to some fairly vile slurs mobilized by the state’s propaganda apparatus… But he persisted; and his report opened a chink of understanding among many White South Africans who until then had preferred to turn a blind eye, into the actions the Apartheid-era security forces took against their non-White compatriots, allegedly on their behalf…
His latest report shows the same thoroughness he brought to his work there, and later to the indictments he drew up against leading perpetrators of atrocities in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
For example, the Report has pulled together an excellent chronology of all the military incidents that occurred during the six-month ceasefire that started June 19, 2008. This account makes clear– as many official Israeli sources already have– how few in number were the incidents of firing any kind of ordnance from Gaza into Israel during the whole period until November 4– the day on which Israel itself undertook a major and deliberate violation of the ceasefire. But it goes beyond the official Israeli sources in noting that those rockets and missiles that were fired from Gaza prior to November 4 were not attributable to Hamas. many were attributed to– or even claimed by– the Fateh-affiliated Al-Aqsa Brigades. Others, to Islamic Jihad.
So this picture of an “unstoppably violent” Hamas that Israelis like to portray to the world is quite simply untrue. Yes, Hamas uses violence for political ends. (Like Israel.) But it does not do so irrationally or uncontrollably; and indeed, it turns out that Hamas– like Israel– is deterrable.
The report has a lengthy consideration of the Israeli forces’ firing, on January 6, of four mortars against Al-Fakhoura Street, near to an UNRWA school being used as a shelter for civilians who had fled other zones of fire. The mortars apparently killed more than 31 people. In the course of many, heavily-footnoted pages the report considers all the evidence available to it concerning what actually happened. It noted that the Israelis’ official version of what had happened changed over time.
It finds, para. 690, that:

    the attack may have been in response to a mortar attack from an armed Palestinian group but considers the credibility of Israel’s [argument to this effect] damaged by the series
    of inconsistencies and factual inaccuracies.

It then does some very thoughtful legal analysis of the Israelis’ decision to use mortars in this quite evidently heavily populated area, and concludes thus:

    696. [T]he Mission finds the following:

      (a) The military advantage to be gained was to stop the alleged firing of mortars that posed a risk to the lives of Israeli armed forces;
      (b) Even if there were people firing mortars near al-Fakhura Street, the calculation of the military advantage had to be assessed bearing in mind the chances of success in killing the targets as against the risk of firing into a street full of civilians and very near a shelter with 1,368 civilians and of which the Israeli authorities had been informed.

    697. The Mission recognizes that for all armies proportionality decisions will present very genuine dilemmas in certain cases. The Mission does not consider this to be such a case.

I note that one of the other three members of Goldstone’s fact-finding team was Colonel Desmond Travers, a former officer in the Irish Armed Forces and member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations (IICI).
One of the real strengths of the report is that it provides, for the world public, real details about the terrible way in which named people were hurt during the fighting. It also provides a record of evident and systematic disinformation about the nature of the Israeli actions.
In discussions here and elsewhere in the week since the report came out, supporters of the government of Israel have ranted and raved against the report, against Judge Goldstone himself, and against the UN. They have not, however, presented any factual evidence that refutes any of the report’s findings.
And most of them have given no indication whatsoever that they have even read the report. They should. So should everyone concerned about the prospects for peace in the Middle East. And so should all US citizens who are concerned about how Israel uses all the financial and military aid our government gives to it.

7 thoughts on “Goldstone’s careful documentation & argument

  1. Howard (hi)

    Helena, Hamas declared war on Dec 24 (they called it “Operation Oil Stain”) and Hamas itself claimed that it launched 87 rockets and mortars at Israel on that day alone. Ehud Olmert, responded, in an unusual interview with al-Arabiya, “I am telling them now, it may be the last minute, I’m telling them stop it. We are stronger.” Rather than stopping, Hamas fired 14 rockets/mortars on the 25th and 28 mortars/rockets on the 26th (accidentally killing 2 Gazan girls by accident when one of the rockets fells short). Israel launched its offensive.
    As for al-Fakhoura, it would have been possible for the “fact-finding mission” to break new investigative ground regarding the actual events and to specifically identify the information that was lacking in order to determine the validity of decisions by Israelis and Hamas fighters in the area. However, Goldstone refused to do that. Instead, he chose to
    1. suppress evidence: specifically, the IDF report noted that on the day before the incident, 30 IDF soldiers had been wounded by the 120mm mortars that Hamas was firing at the IDF soldiers near al-Fakhoura. Goldstone avoids all mention of this fact. The apparently deliberate refusal to include evidence indicating the serious danger under which the Israeli forces were operating is striking given Goldstone’s subsequent statement in 697. If this were a one-off, it would be safe to ignore it; but this pattern repeats numerous times in the report (so much for thoroughness).
    2. avoid investigating the actual victims list, and to ask the obvious question: Who were the victims, and which of them were in fact fighters?
    As it happens, at least 3 of the dead (Abu Askar, Obeid, and Aman) were Hamas fighters. At least 2 of the dead (the two al-Madhouns) were DFLP fighters. At least one of the dead (Qudas) was a Fatah Military Intelligence man. [JCPA]. Goldstone himself admits that Abu Askar’s father was a member of Hamas (652).
    Goldstone did not even bother to verify the casualty list. He simply accepted the PHCR report, without fact-checking it.
    3. ignore testimony that contradicts that of his witnesses. Goldstone relies on witness claims that there was no Hamas firing in the area and says that he cannot prove that there was Hamas fire. He explicitly excludes evidence from news reports during the war that there was firing coming out of that area. At the very least, this casts doubt on the verity of the witnesses on whom Goldstone relies.
    4. and make extremely prejudicial statements in the absence of critical information.
    To determine whether a combat decision is reasonable, proportionate, disproportionate, etc. (42), it is necessary to know the actual circumstances in which the decision was made and the knowledge that the person making the decision had AT THE TIME. Knowledge that the person did not have at the time is useless when determining whether a reasonable commander from any army might have made the same decision.
    As I said above, and as I said the other day, Goldstone ignores this basic requirement. After systematically minimizing and even suppressing evidence that indicates the level of danger under which the IDF soldiers were operating, and after systematically minimizing and casting doubt on the presence of Hamas and DFLP fighters and their deliberate use of the vicinity of the school as a firing base, Goldstone uses the remaining heavily cherry-picked and possibly unreliable information as the basis for the extremely prejudicial guess at the end of 697.
    Thanks.

  2. honi the circle drawer

    So do you think Israel should have cooperated with Goldstone’s investigation in order that he might consider all this “evidence”? (such as “news reports”, and doubtless stuff you have seen posted on youtube).

  3. world peace

    I wish the world have more of Goldstone’s steadfastness and honesty in the face of atrocities that are committed by humanity as Helena, pointed out on more than one occasion. South Africa, Rwanda Yugoslavia and his latest Gaza .
    A man who loves Israel and still is helping his own, out of love and respect to the memory of his Jewish relatives and others who perished during World war two, and true to the mantra “never again”, his professionalism investigative report is respective through out decent beings .
    Unlike Abbas, who is self serving and short sighted , in fact a culprit, whether his involvement was directly or indirectly in the atrocities committed at his own people in Gaza, and whom he represents . No doubt he is the one responssible for postponing the report till next year .
    Hamas represents the majority of Palestinians, their action since winning the democratic election, and being ousted by the undemocratic West, they proved to be a viable party to negotiate with, they do not lie, unlike the Israelis and Fateh that are self serving .

  4. world peace

    Howard,
    Actually Goldstone was like the rest of us who so Israel atrocities on his TV was disgusted by the force used on an imprisoned population . But when he went to Gaza he was shocked at what the country he likes and supports have committed in the name of all the Jewish people.
    It is his likes that face the truth and do not defend the usurpers who reenacting the Nazis atrocities in Warsaw .
    You are pathetic when you state that Goldstone “After systematically minimizing and even suppressing evidence that indicates the level of danger under which the IDF soldiers were operating ”
    Your systematic victima mentality as a people is destroying your humanity . Enough !!

  5. Helena

    Howard, you give no sources for the claims you make, which renders them just about meaningless.
    Readers who want to see the extent of the twisting and turning of the IOF’s official spokespeople on the issue of the casualties in the Fakhoura Street incident can go to paras 678-686 of the report.
    Also, for someone to be “a member of Hamas” does not make him or her into a legitimate military target under IHL. Hamas has a legitimate political presence in Gaza and the West Bank and, as we all surely recall, participated in a quite legal and as it turned out extremely successful way in the January 2006 elections.
    (Actually, reading the sections of the report that follows the Fakhoura St. portion the story becomes even more tragic. At least in Fakhoura St., Goldstone, with the help of Col. Travers, was looking at an incident in which there was some possible military justification for the killings, which they then weighed. In the succeeding sections he is dealing with large numbers of killings that had no possible military justification.)

  6. Howard (me again!)

    Helena, honi and world peace: thank you for your responses. I’m going to respond to Helena’s comments, then those of honi and world peace, in that order.
    Helena’s Comments:
    “Members of Hamas”: The men whom I labeled as “Hamas fighters” (I didn’t label them “members”) were *specifically* members of the al-Qassam Brigades, with the exception of Abu Askar, whom I have no evidence for one way or another – though his son was a member of al-Qassam Brigades.
    Sources for my 1st paragraph, as requested by Helena:
    Dec 24 Operation Oil Stain; Hamas claims it fired 87 shells at Israel in 24 hours:
    Maan news, Dec 25
    http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=207221&MARK=oil%20stain
    I had forgotten that this included 2 Grad missiles.
    Israeli media reports said that “more than 60” shells/rockets hit Israel on that day.
    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3644038,00.html
    In any case, Helena, I’m sure that you REMEMBER this. It wasn’t that long ago, and you obviously pay attention to news from Gaza. Of course, you didn’t blog about the surge of rockets falling on Israeli cities – until the 27th, when Israel responded with Cast Lead. Then you called Hamas fire at Israeli cities “retaliation.” So maybe you DIDN’T realize…?
    Additional info:
    http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/hamas-qassam.htm
    (Hamas’ surge of rockets started immediately on Dec 19, after Hamas declared that it would not renew the ceasefire)
    Dec 25 Olmert warning on al-Arabiya:
    Actually the Olmert quotation that I pulled was apparently a misquote; here is the full Olmert plea, from al Arabiya:
    http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2008/12/25/62799.html
    Dec 25 Hamas mortars & rockets:
    http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull&cid=1230111707390
    Al Arabiya documents the fact that Hamas mortar fire on Israel before Cast Lead killed two Gazan girls by accident, and that the Arab world knew that Hamas was inviting a strong Israeli military response against it:
    http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2008/12/26/62850.html
    Sources for my #1.
    IDF report reference (30 wounded) comes from footnote 263 of the following document:
    http://www.mfa.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/E89E699D-A435-491B-B2D0-017675DAFEF7/0/GazaOperationwLinks.pdf
    Sources for my #2.
    http://ptwatch.pt.funpic.de/indexcas.php
    JCPA:
    http://jcpa.org/JCPA/Templates/ShowPage.asp?DRIT=1&DBID=1&LNGID=1&TMID=111&FID=442&PID=0&IID=3086&TTL=Blocking_the_Truth_of_the_Gaza_War
    (Also note the questions that Goldstone declined to ask)
    Goldstone:
    See 652
    Sources for my #3.
    First part of my comment is directly from the Goldstone report.
    News reports:
    Goldstone mentions the news reports. But he does not draw the obvious conclusion that the witnesses are unreliable. See also my comment about how Goldstone’s procedures themselves seriously compromised witness reliability, below.
    Note that Goldstone relies on Mr. Abu Askar as a witness, though Abu Askar is a member of Hamas whose son was an al Qassam Brigades fighter (see above).
    My #4.
    Source is the Goldstone report.
    On Goldstone’s incredibly poor judgment regarding procedures:
    When Goldstone decided to hold public, televised hearings (Goldstone, 22), he made a travesty of the entire “fact finding” mission. Witnesses who had information hurtful to Hamas, and who might have felt inclined to be honest if interviewed a secure and confidential setting, were forced to choose between publicly:
    a. telling the truth and risking their own lives/health and those of their families, or
    b. lying or omitting information hurtful to Hamas or helpful to Israel.
    The purpose of a fact-finding mission is *not* to broadcast raw testimony without verification; rather, it is to determine the facts based on all sources available, including *confidential* sources, and then to report on the facts as uncovered. Its procedures must be designed to encourage truthful testimony, not to facilitate intimidation of witnesses.
    Gaza is a totalitarian statelet ruled by Hamas, an organization that seized absolute power in a violent coup in 2007. Within Gaza, Hamas armed fighters and security teams operate with an iron fist, and their tactics are consistent and violent. Many Ordinary Gazans are intimidated.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qgpg3ZexGJo
    (via Elder of Ziyon)
    A lot of them are quite unhappy with Hamas, but if anyone attempts to challenge Hamas for its disastrous policies, they are quickly cowed or violently suppressed (we can discuss the evidence for this if anyone is really so delusional as to have filtered it out; it’s quite possible for you to attack Israel while recognizing Hamas behavior for what it is). Hamas punishments for people who refuse to allow it to use their property, or for political opponents, include summary execution without trial; beatings; shooting the victim in the leg; and/or doing these things to sons or other relatives.
    The procedures, in this case, discouraged witnesses from telling the truth about Hamas actions. Fortunately for any witnesses who really did wish to be honest, Goldstone often avoided asking questions that would have forced them to make such a choice in the first place (See JCPA, above).
    To honi:
    I saw the Gaza conflict as well. It did not make me happy. War will never make me happy. War is never “glorious.” War is always horrible.
    Unfortunately, while the explosive equivalent of 350,000 military hand grenades was falling on southern Israel over the last few years, this was war too, and when Hamas vastly stepped up its attacks starting on Dec 19th, this was war.
    I also saw how different sources “spun” events during the conflict Gaza. I did pay mourn the tragic civilian deaths that did occur on the Gazan side. However, Israel was not deliberately slaughtering civilians. There wasn’t the sort of willful slaughter of 7000+ civilians that occurred a few months ago in Sri Lanka, which Helena labeled “Asia’s Darfur” and for which the UNHRC had the appalling nerve to congratulate the Sri Lankan government.
    What we mourned in Gaza was simply urban warfare, which is always nasty, which is always very dangerous for everyone around it, and which, inevitably, results in unintended deaths, both friendly fire and civilian. But for that, you can thank Hamas for firing from civilian areas, dressing in civilian clothes while fighting, boobytrapping houses and public buildings, shooting mortars from the vicinity of schools and generally turning Gazan urban dwellers into human shields. It’s VERY difficult to fight an enemy that does so without endangering some of the actual civilians.
    Regarding Goldstone, Israel has reiterated that given:
    1. the utterly one-sided mandate of the mission, which was never corrected, and
    2. Goldstone’s insistence, before starting the investigation, upon the participation of a person who had already declared Israel guilty of war crimes, and
    3. the UNHRC’s record of ignoring far more horrific slaughter in the rest of the world and spending its time attacking Israel
    it knew that it would never get a fair hearing, and that it would not legitimize what was simply a political attack on Israel. The report that has emerged has borne out this concern.
    I do think that had Goldstone been scrupulously careful and professional in writing the report, and explicitly documented the specific points of information required from Israel, and also specifically identified the participation of Hamas fighters in these incidents, that the ongoing Israeli investigations would have specifically pursued the missing info and that the end result would have been a complete and public picture. Sadly, that didn’t happen.
    On the other hand, I also see Hamas’ so-called “cooperation” – by providing minders whose presence in Gaza intimidates witnesses, and by providing supposedly “reliable” witnesses like Mr. Shawhan, who is on record spreading insane conspiracy theories – in fact falls under the category of obstruction of fact-finding rather than “cooperation.”
    Does anyone think that Hamas does not intimidate Gazans? Remember, these guys pushed Fatah people off buildings, shot up a mosque full of their Islamist opponents, suppress political dissent (does anyone in Gaza feel safe demonstrating against Hamas for its disastrous policies?). And of course, there are examples like this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qgpg3ZexGJo&feature=player_embedded
    So… . Goldstone made witnesses testify *in public*. He placed honest witnesses in potentially mortal danger, and he made it easy for dishonest witnesses to succumb to their dishonesty.
    To world peace:
    Regarding your claim that Hamas represents the majority of Palestinians, I would remind you that while Hamas won an election in ’06, it subsequently carried out a violent coup that expelled its coalition partner from Gaza. In doing so, Hamas sacrificed all democratic legitimacy, all right to be labeled a democratic movement and all right to claim that it has “majority support.” Indeed, in more recent polls ( e.g. http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0707/p06s18-wome.html ), Hamas popularity has fallen to an abysmal 18.8%. A September poll by the International Peace Institute gives Hamas 24%. Regardless, Hamas’ fighters are not even answerable to previously-elected Hamas political authorities in Gaza, but rather to unelected Hamas leaders in Damascus, a fact that has led to tensions in the past between Hamas leaders in Gaza and Damascus in the past (which you know very well, if you have paid attention to Gaza news during the last few years).
    As for Hamas supposedly “never lying,” you’re dreaming. Hamas lies over and over again. You clearly have an extremely idealized viewpoint of this very violent, very power-obsessed, very truth-challenged organization. One recent example of their snapped tether on the truth is the ridiculous claim about the supposed “aphrodesiac gum,” which I mention because the claim is so very stupid and so very obviously a fabrication.
    Hamas lies and frauds are simply too numerous to catalog, and anyone with a degree of intellectual honesty on this blog, and who has been watching Hamas’ antics over the last decade, can remember instances in which Hamas lied outright. I don’t have an idealized view of any party or group in Israel. It’s very difficult for me to understand how any sane person could possibly have an idealized view of Hamas, an organization whose absolute and unwavering objective is to commit genocide; about that, at least, they freely tell the truth, if you are willing to listen.
    Regarding the idea that Israel reenacted the Nazi atrocities in Warsaw, I have this to say. Relatives of mine were killed in the Warsaw Ghetto by the Nazis, when the Germans systematically flattened the place and butchered those who would not go to the death camps. During the final liquidation of the ghetto, tens of thousands of Jewish civilians – every last man, woman or child that the Nazis caught – were either immediately murdered or deported to Treblinka for extermination, for the horrible crime of being Jews. Your incredibly ignorant and distorted claim makes it clear that you have no clue at all what happened in the Shoah, nor do you have any clue about why it happened. I would earnestly suggest that you spend some time learning about the Shoah from people who actually know something instead of spouting such glaringly ignorant comparisons.
    Your personal attacks on me as an individual (you call me “pathetic” and accuse me of a “systematic victim mentality”) say much more about you than they do about me, and since they add nothing useful to the discussion, I am simply going to forgive you for them and wish you a good night.
    Thanks. Sorry for the length of this comment. I felt as though I should provide the requested details.

  7. Awamori

    “But it goes beyond the official Israeli sources in noting that those rockets and missiles that were fired from Gaza prior to November 4 were not attributable to Hamas. many were attributed to– or even claimed by– the Fateh-affiliated Al-Aqsa Brigades. Others, to Islamic Jihad.”
    So what? What difference does it make?
    Let me remind you, that it was Al-Kaida, who was responcible for 9/11. But US has attacked Taliban and Saddam instead. BTW, much more innocent civilians have died in Iraq an in Afghanistan.
    Where is judge Goldstone?

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