Much to comment on. I have been sadly observing, reading, contemplating recent events in Gaza, Palestine, the larger Middle East…here are my thoughts on the Goldstone about-face. A version of this op-ed was published in the Baltimore Sun on Monday April 2011.
On April 3, Judge Richard Goldstone, chairman of the fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict of 2009, published an op-ed in The Washington Post reconsidering one of the allegations in the report: that Israel intentionally targeted Palestinian civilians during the assault.
Judge Goldstone’s co-authors, Hina Jilani, Christine Chinkin and Desmond Travers, sharply disagreed with him in a statement issued in the Guardian on April 14. In it, they stood by the report in its entirety, saying “there is no justification for any demand or expectation for reconsideration of the report as nothing of substance has appeared that would in any way change the context, findings or conclusions…”
The report was the final product of an independent, international fact-finding mission established during the assault to investigate violations in connection with the conflict. It found that Israel had a policy of deliberately targeting civilians, willfully causing great suffering to protected peoples, using civilians as human shields, and using disproportionate force against civilians, willfully and wantonly killing and maiming people, and destroying property (the Dahiya Doctrine policy that was also applied in Lebanon in 2006). The Mission also concluded that the assault was collective punishment directed at “the people of Gaza as a whole” and was not solely a “response to rocket attacks in the exercise of its right to self-defence” as the Israeli government claimed, due in part to statements by Israeli leaders themselves (‘destroy 100 homes for every rocket fired’ said Eli Yishai).
To recap: Two years ago, Israeli forces unleashed a torrent of U.S.-supplied war planes, tanks and naval ships, unloading tons of bombs and flesh-searing white phosphorus shells against the men, women and children of the besieged Gaza Strip. Its residents, of whom 800,000 are children and more than 80 percent U.N.-registered refugees, had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.
“They destroyed everything living and beautiful and ordinary,” recalled my father, a retired physician who survived the onslaught, along with my mother, in the imposed darkness of their Gaza City home.
By the time the three-week assault known as Cast Lead had ended on Jan. 18, 2009, more than 1,400 Palestinians were dead. Around 5,300 remain permanently wounded. The attacks, planned more than six months in advance by the admission of Israeli politicians, targeted and destroyed critical infrastructure such as water treatment and electrical plants, farms and factories, schools, mosques and municipal buildings. More than 50,000 people were displaced.
Yet no one has been held accountable — unless you count one soldier who got 71/2 months for credit card theft and two soldiers who got suspended sentences for using a 9-year-old child as a human shield.
The Goldstone Report meant to accomplish accountability, reporting not only on the destruction and massacres committed during the Gaza attack but calling for an examination of the intent of senior leaders and for action against perpetrators of war crimes.
But Judge Goldstone’s op-ed is an affront to the rights of victims, both Palestinian and Israeli, and our desire — our right — to truth and justice.
Palestinians feel abandoned by Judge Goldstone. Here is a leading advocate for human rights giving every impression of deserting a civilian and refugee population — particularly the Samouni family, which lost 29 members over several terrifying days, but also Palestinians like Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish, who was present when three daughters and a niece were killed by Israeli shelling.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army continues to operate with complete impunity, killing 19 Palestinians in Gaza earlier this month. On Jan. 10, they shot dead a 65-year-old farmer tending to his land along Gaza’s border — a repeat of an incident I reported in September, when Israeli forces killed a 92-year-old shepherd, his 14-year-old grandson and his 17-year-old friend with a series of artillery shells, even though they were clearly visible (by the army’s own admission days later).
It merits reminding that the Goldstone Report had many other damning conclusions, including finding that the ongoing blockade of Gaza constitutes a violation of Israel’s obligations as an occupying power. The blockade deprives Palestinians of their most basic freedoms: freedom to build, to move in and out of one’s home to the rest of the occupied Palestinian Territories or to the world, to fish more than three miles out to sea, to marry who you want and live where you want, to study, to read, to farm, to build, to live, to prosper. It dysfunctionalizes life and cripples livelihoods.
There has been plenty written in the past two weeks about Judge Goldstone. Some say he buckled under pressure after being ostracized from the Jewish community. Some say he had a change of mind and others that he actually did not retract much.
One thing is certain: Though Judge Goldstone’s opinion may have changed on the deliberateness of Israel’s killings, the facts on the ground and the eyewitness testimonies one hears on every corner of the Gaza Strip have not. They are the greatest evidence.
The need to hold Israel accountable for its crimes and to implement the recommendations of the Goldstone Report have never been more salient. To quote Judge Goldstone himself, “the debate should continue, not attempt to be silenced.”