In September 2009, the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, chaired by Justice Richard Goldstone, submitted its report (the Goldstone Report) to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The report suggested that war crimes had been committed by all parties in the Gaza conflict (December 2008-January 2009). However, the report has been used only against Israel and has served as the basis for an extensive anti-Israeli political and legal campaign in the international arena.
On April 1, 2011, Justice Goldstone published an article of great consequence in The Washington Post ("Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes") which describes how events since the report was issued have led him to change his analysis of crucial portions of the original report.
The most important sentence in Goldstone's article is the statement that, in hindsight, his report to the UN should not have reached the conclusions it did as far as Israel is concerned. Goldstone wrote, "If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document."
Key among these conclusions, based on reliable Israeli investigations, is that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy, thereby refuting one of the most heinous allegations contained in the original report. Goldstone continues, stating that, had they had this evidence then, "it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes" on the part of Israel.
Another crucial finding regards the number of Gazan civilians killed during the operation versus the number of combatants. The Goldstone Report, relying on inflated and biased numbers from Palestinian and hostile NGO sources, had reported that most of those killed were civilians. However, Goldstone has now concluded that "Israeli military's numbers have turned out to be similar to those recently furnished by Hamas," i.e. the majority of casualties were indeed combatants.
Furthermore, the article reinforces Israel's casus belli for the operation, the implementation of its right of self-defense, noting that "Israel, like any sovereign nation, has the right and obligation to defend itself and its citizens against attacks from abroad and within."
Justice Goldstone goes on to praise Israel's conduct since the operation, noting that Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza and that Israel has implemented numerous policy changes to limit civilian casualties, including the adoption of new Israel Defense Forces procedures for protecting civilians in cases of urban warfare.
The article strongly contrasts the conduct of Israel with that of Hamas. Most significantly, Justice Goldstone finds that Hamas committed, and continues to commit "serious war crimes" against Israel in its rocket and mortar attacks on civilian targets in southern Israel. "That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying - its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets."
Even a terrorist organization such as Hamas must be held accountable for its war crimes. As Goldstone wrote, "the laws of armed conflict apply no less to non-state actors such as Hamas than they do to national armies." The article castigates Hamas, which, unlike Israel, has not conducted any investigations into its own actions, specifically the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel. It notes that asking Hamas to investigate itself may have been "a mistaken enterprise".
While Goldstone laments a lack of Israeli cooperation in preparing the report, he does lend support to one of Israel's reasons for its actions, the UN's Human Rights Council's lack of evenhandedness, noting that the HRC's "history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted."
Goldstone admitted to the limited scope of the fact-finding mission, noting that it was not a judicial proceeding. He stated that "our mission was in no way a judicial or even quasi-judicial proceeding."
Unfortunately, the Goldstone Report has been treated as a judicial document and it has been exploited as a legal weapon with which to attack Israel. The time has come for this vicious report to be cancelled by the UN and thrown into the dustbin of history.
As Prime Minister Netanyahu stated, "Everything we said has proven to be true: Israel did not intentionally harm civilians, its institutions and investigative bodies are worthy, while Hamas intentionally fired upon innocent civilians and did not examine anything. The fact that Goldstone backtracked must lead to the shelving of this report once and for all."