The Goldstone Report: Excerpts and Responses

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VOL. 39

2009/10

No. 2
P. 60
Special Document File
The Goldstone Report: Excerpts and Responses
ABSTRACT

Special Document File: The Goldstone Report

A.

UN Human Rights Council, Resolution calling for fact-finding mission to Gaza, Geneva, 12 January 2009. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

B.

UN Human Rights Council, Press release concerning appointment of Fact-Finding Mission on Gaza Conflict, including revised mandate, Geneva, 3 April 2009. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

C.

 Report of the Fact-Finding Mission (the Goldstone Report) . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

D.

Government of Israel, Initial Response to the Goldstone Report (Summary), Tel Aviv, 24 September 2009. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

E. 

UN Human Rights Council, Resolution endorsing the Goldstone Report, Geneva, 14 October 2009 (excerpts) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

F. 

U.S. House of Representatives, Resolution Calling on the President and the Secretary of State to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the Goldstone Report, Washington D.C., 23 October 2009 (excerpts) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

G.

Judge Goldstone's letter to the sponsors of the US Congressional resolution condemning his report, 29 October 2009 (excerpts) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

H.

Statement from Palestinian NGOs on Proposed UN General Assembly Resolution on the Goldstone Report, 4 November 2009 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

I. 

UN General Assembly, Resolution on the Follow-up to the report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, New York, 5 November 2009 (excerpts) . . . . .

 

J. 

Richard Falk, “The Goldstone Report and the Battle for Legitimacy,” Electronic Intifada, 22 September 2009 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

Whatever the ultimate fate of the Goldstone report’s recommendations, the report itself, in the fierce emotions and controversy it has unleashed, will stand as a fitting coda to the event it investigates. Operation Cast Lead (OCL), Israel’s military assault on the Gaza Strip launched 27 December 2008 with the avowed intention of stopping Hamas rocket fire on southern Israel, left some 1,400 Palestinians (mostly civilians) and 13 Israelis (including 3 civilians) dead. In the weeks and months that followed the operation’s end on 18 January 2009, numerous human rights organizations published investigations of violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed during the conflict, principally on the Israeli side, but none was awaited with such anticipation or attracted such attention as the report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, otherwise known as the Goldstone report.

The Goldstone mission and mandate originated in the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) at a special session to discuss the violence convened in January 2009, even before OCL had ended. In implementation of the HRC resolution (Doc. A) passed at that meeting, the Council in April 2009 announced the appointment of a four-person fact-finding mission (Doc. B) under the chairmanship of Justice Richard J. Goldstone of South Africa, an eminent jurist and former chief prosecutor of the war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Despite Israel’s refusal to cooperate, announced almost immediately, the mission was able to carry out its investigation, and on 15 September 2009, it released the 575-page advance version of its report; the final version was presented to the HRC on 29 September (see Doc. C). On the basis of its findings, the mission concluded that in a number of instances  Israel had “committed actions amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity” by using disproportionate force, deliberately targeting civilians, and destroying nonmilitary infrastructure essential to the health and wellbeing of Gaza’s civilians. The report also concluded that Palestinian armed groups had committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity in their indiscriminate rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli towns and settlements across the Green Line. One of the most striking aspects of the report was its insistence on accountability mechanisms and timetables, including endorsement of the principle of universal jurisdiction and possible resort to the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court if Israel and Hamas did not produce fair and impartial investigations of their actions during the war within the six months stipulated.

Although Israel habitually reacts dismissively to human rights reports and resolutions condemning its policies and conduct (including the International Court of Justice’s 2004 ruling on the illegality of the separation wall), from the start, it displayed uncharacteristic concern about the Goldstone mission. In July 2009, the government preemptively issued a 164-page “defense brief” on OCL prepared by the Foreign Ministry’s legal department (see Doc. C4 in JPS 153) in anticipation of the report’s publication. Immediately following the release of the first draft of the report, the Israeli government organized a global public relations offensive aimed at delegitimizing the report in the eyes of the international community—particularly the United States. Within ten days, the Israeli government issued a 24-page official statement outlining its objections to the Goldstone report (see Doc. D for the official summary). The main themes of Israel’s critique were (1) that it ignored Israel’s right to self-defense and downplayed the magnitude of the terrorist threat; (2) that it was biased and politically motivated, its conclusions predetermined; and (3) that it had a one-sided mandate and agenda, making it selective in the incidents investigated. These general criticisms were echoed (albeit more quietly) by the U.S. administration (see Quarterly Update in this issue), which stood firmly with Israel in rejecting the report. (The U.S. House of Representatives passed a nonbinding resolution, which adopted the tone and wording of the Israeli government’s official response, condemning the report on 23 October; see Doc. F.) The European Union’s (EU) extremely cautious response was to declare (10/14) its commitment to “assess the report and its recommendations seriously” and to remind all parties to the conflict of their obligations under international law. Most EU members either abstained or voted against the UN resolutions endorsing the report (see Docs. A, E, I).

Indicative of the passions raised by the report were a number of personal attacks on Goldstone himself, despite his credentials as a lifelong friend of Israel and a committed Zionist. Israeli president Shimon Peres accused (11/11/09) him of being “on a one-sided mission to hurt Israel” and called him a “small man, devoid of any sense of  justice, a technocrat with no real understanding of jurisprudence” who himself should be investigated. Finance minister Yuval Steinitz commented (9/16/09) with regard to the report that Jews, too, could be “anti-Semitic and discriminate against our people and despise and hate our people.” Israel’s supporters also weighed in. Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, a close friend of Goldstone’s before his participation in the Gaza fact-finding mission, called (02/08/2010) the report “a defamation written by an evil, evil man,” while Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel called (2/9/2010) the report “a crime against the Jewish people.” Although the Israeli public consensus seemed to endorse such views, a number of Israelis, especially intellectuals and human rights activists, warned of the consequences of ignoring mounting world criticism of Israel’s actions even while not necessarily endorsing the report. The day the advance copy was released, for example, nine Israeli human rights organizations, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, B’Tselem, Gisha, HaMoked, and Physicians for Human Rights–Israel, called on the Israeli government to take the report seriously and to follow its recommendation that Israel conduct an internationally monitored independent and impartial investigation.

Palestinian reaction ranged from positive to critical. The Palestinian Authority greeted the report enthusiastically, with Palestinian representative to the UN Ibrahim Khraishi praising the report’s objectivity and stating (9/29/30) in response to Israeli critiques that “what bothered some parties was that the report simply monitored international law, international humanitarian law and all relevant international instruments. This was not a political instrument that supported Palestine or Israel.” (For PA president Mahmud Abbas’s temporary withdrawal of support under pressure—and its fallout—see the Quarterly Update in this issue and Doc. E below.) As for Hamas, its response was one of qualified support: “Although we do not agree with certain aspects of his [Goldstone] report, we intend to act on his recommendation and to carry out our own investigation into any alleged crimes committed by members of the resistance movements in Gaza” (10/16/09). Palestinians in general massively supported the Goldstone report (see for example Doc. H), though many besides Hamas objected to the report’s failure to challenge Israel’s claim that OCL was a defensive war.

Despite the suspicion that continues to dog the HRC in the United States and to a lesser extent in Europe for its “anti-Israel” record, the report and its recommendations were endorsed by the leading human rights organizations and such bodies as the World Council of Churches. The lingering caution was well reflected in the endorsement by Human Rights Watch’s Middle East director, who stated (9/16/09), “The Human Rights Council has focused disproportionately on Israel in the past, but the Goldstone report rises above politics to examine abuses by both sides accurately and professionally.”

This special document file concludes with a thoughtful critique and perspective on the report by Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, which also offers insights into potential future developments. His analysis, though critical, demonstrates that whatever happens, the report has set an important precedent for international handling of conflict investigations, and will serve as a rallying point for all sides in the continuing Israeli-Arab conflict.