Richard Goldstone now says Israel was not guilty of targetting civilians in Gaza

This piece, by Richard Goldstone, is from the Washington Post.

We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09 than we did when I chaired the fact-finding mission appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council that produced what has come to be known as the Goldstone Report. If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.

The final report by the U.N. committee of independent experts — chaired by former New York judge Mary McGowan Davis — that followed up on the recommendations of the Goldstone Report has found that “Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza” while “the de facto authorities (i.e., Hamas) have not conducted any investigations into the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel.”

Our report found evidence of potential war crimes and “possibly crimes against humanity” by both Israel and Hamas. That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying — its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.

The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion. While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.

For example, the most serious attack the Goldstone Report focused on was the killing of some 29 members of the al-Simouni family in their home. The shelling of the home was apparently the consequence of an Israeli commander’s erroneous interpretation of a drone image, and an Israeli officer is under investigation for having ordered the attack. While the length of this investigation is frustrating, it appears that an appropriate process is underway, and I am confident that if the officer is found to have been negligent, Israel will respond accordingly. The purpose of these investigations, as I have always said, is to ensure accountability for improper actions, not to second-guess, with the benefit of hindsight, commanders making difficult battlefield decisions.

While I welcome Israel’s investigations into allegations, I share the concerns reflected in the McGowan Davis report that few of Israel’s inquiries have been concluded and believe that the proceedings should have been held in a public forum. Although the Israeli evidence that has emerged since publication of our report doesn’t negate the tragic loss of civilian life, I regret that our fact-finding mission did not have such evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes.

Israel’s lack of cooperation with our investigation meant that we were not able to corroborate how many Gazans killed were civilians and how many were combatants. The Israeli military’s numbers have turned out to be similar to those recently furnished by Hamas (although Hamas may have reason to inflate the number of its combatants).

As I indicated from the very beginning, I would have welcomed Israel’s cooperation. The purpose of the Goldstone Report was never to prove a foregone conclusion against Israel. I insisted on changing the original mandate adopted by the Human Rights Council, which was skewed against Israel. I have always been clear that Israel, like any other sovereign nation, has the right and obligation to defend itself and its citizens against attacks from abroad and within. Something that has not been recognized often enough is the fact that our report marked the first time illegal acts of terrorism from Hamas were being investigated and condemned by the United Nations. I had hoped that our inquiry into all aspects of the Gaza conflict would begin a new era of evenhandedness at the U.N. Human Rights Council, whose history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted.

Some have charged that the process we followed did not live up to judicial standards. To be clear: Our mission was in no way a judicial or even quasi-judicial proceeding. We did not investigate criminal conduct on the part of any individual in Israel, Gaza or the West Bank. We made our recommendations based on the record before us, which unfortunately did not include any evidence provided by the Israeli government. Indeed, our main recommendation was for each party to investigate, transparently and in good faith, the incidents referred to in our report. McGowan Davis has found that Israel has done this to a significant degree; Hamas has done nothing.

Some have suggested that it was absurd to expect Hamas, an organization that has a policy to destroy the state of Israel, to investigate what we said were serious war crimes. It was my hope, even if unrealistic, that Hamas would do so, especially if Israel conducted its own investigations. At minimum I hoped that in the face of a clear finding that its members were committing serious war crimes, Hamas would curtail its attacks. Sadly, that has not been the case. Hundreds more rockets and mortar rounds have been directed at civilian targets in southern Israel. That comparatively few Israelis have been killed by the unlawful rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza in no way minimizes the criminality. The U.N. Human Rights Council should condemn these heinous acts in the strongest terms.

In the end, asking Hamas to investigate may have been a mistaken enterprise. So, too, the Human Rights Council should condemn the inexcusable and cold-blooded recent slaughter of a young Israeli couple and three of their small children in their beds.

I continue to believe in the cause of establishing and applying international law to protracted and deadly conflicts. Our report has led to numerous “lessons learned” and policy changes, including the adoption of new Israel Defense Forces procedures for protecting civilians in cases of urban warfare and limiting the use of white phosphorus in civilian areas. The Palestinian Authority established an independent inquiry into our allegations of human rights abuses — assassinations, torture and illegal detentions — perpetrated by Fatah in the West Bank, especially against members of Hamas. Most of those allegations were confirmed by this inquiry. Regrettably, there has been no effort by Hamas in Gaza to investigate the allegations of its war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

Simply put, the laws of armed conflict apply no less to non-state actors such as Hamas than they do to national armies. Ensuring that non-state actors respect these principles, and are investigated when they fail to do so, is one of the most significant challenges facing the law of armed conflict. Only if all parties to armed conflicts are held to these standards will we be able to protect civilians who, through no choice of their own, are caught up in war.

The writer, a retired justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and former chief prosecutor of the U.N. International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, chaired the U.N. fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict.

This piece, by Richard Goldstone, is from the Washington Post.

15 Responses to “Richard Goldstone now says Israel was not guilty of targetting civilians in Gaza”

  1. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Am I allowed to say “weasel words”?

    And as for “Some have suggested that it was absurd to expect Hamas, an organization that has a policy to destroy the state of Israel, to investigate what we said were serious war crimes.”
    “In the end, asking Hamas to investigate may have been a mistaken enterprise.”

    Did Richard Goldstone _really_ believe this? Is he really that naive? This is a judge from the apartheid era of South Africa who proved himself capable of judicially opposing the the all-white government there. How can he possibly have the nerve to have make this statement and to have believed otherwise before.

    And as for:
    “The U.N. Human Rights Council should condemn these heinous acts in the strongest terms” does demonstrate his innocence and even naivety. Did he really not know which states were and are members of the UN HRC and their own records on (a) human rights in their own countries and (b) the stated policy of many of them towards Israel.

    All of this undermines his credibility. Can we take anything he says seriously?

  2. Noam Yatsiv Says:

    Why is this tagged under anti-Zionism??
    I can’t think of anything he says, past or present, related to that.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Noam, did you read the original report? It was published (via a link here) and there were also some robust critiques of his methodology, not least by fellow lawyers, including other South African lawyers, who were coming from where he was coming from with regards to resisting apartheid in SA. To say the least, his original report was less than even-handed, even allowing for the failure of the Israeli government to co-operate with him (and why should they, given the composition of the Human Rights Council?).

      Even at the time, there were those, with no apparent axe to grind who were stating, very loudly, that he was failing to take into account the IDF’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties during Cast Lead. One interesting case is the following: one Col. Richard Kemp (presumably retired, and thus ex-British Army) has the following to say:

      A complete transcript of his address to the conference can be found at:

      Given what is public information concerning at least some (maybe most) member nations of the UN Human Rights Council, this makes Goldstone, a respected and, hopefully, very intelligent retired judge of the highest rank, at least suspect as to his neutrality on the subject of Israel. This is why I use the phrase “weasel words” in my comment above, in respect of his current attempt to row back from his original conclusions to his Report. If he wasn’t aware of the political stances of the members of the HRC with regard to Israel, why wasn’t he? If he wasn’t aware of the records with regards to human rights of these selfsame states, why wasn’t he?

      If he _was_ aware of these matters, why did he agree to carry out this task?

      I would suggest that the labelling of the original Report under anti-Zionism is appropriate, given all this. Thus, his attempted retreat from his original conclusions should come under the same heading.

      I’m sure that you know the aphorisms “by their actions shall you know them” (although sounds as though it should be biblical!) and “past behaviour is a good guide to future performance”. I believe that they apply very well to Judge Goldstone, at least in this context.

  3. Absolute Observer Says:

    Hi Noam (again).
    Good question.
    For myself, nothing he has said falls into that “tag”.

    However, the context of its reception in Europe was such that what was said in itself was immediately incorporated within an anti-zionist discourse; reduced to yet further ammunition in the campaign to delegitimise Israel as a Jewish state per se.

    Unfortunately, this is often the fate of specific reports critical of Israel. Ample evidence of such a phenomenon is legion with the reception of reports from well-respected Israeli human rights organisations and their equally critical findings.

    As I said earlier, this reception should never be used as an excuse to disable such groups or their findings (as I believe the argument and legislation being made by the current Israeli government is attempting to do). Just as I assume you are resisting such moves in Israel, some of us in the UK and Europe are likewise trying to resist its incorporation into its wider anti-zionist/delegitimisation and, in some further cases, antisemitic narrative that is prevalent here (whilst at the same time holding on to the actual content of such findings).

    And, as an aside, it will be interesting to see the fate of Goldstone’s recent comments.

    I will bet you a pound to a penny or a cent to a euro that before long the idea of Goldstone craving into “Zionist pressure” or “influence” will become the orthodoxy of some anti-zionists. As far as I am concerned, and in light of your essay on “Defamation”, should this prove to be the case, the tag, “anti-zionist” will need to be accompanied by the tag, anti-semitism.


  4. NIMN Says:

    I remember being in Canada the year Ben Johnston won the gold medal and then stripped of it.
    Following the media coverage, the joke going around was that he was Canadian when he won and Jamaican when he lost it.

    The relevance of this story?

    Goldstone was South African when the initial report came out and a Zionist Jew when he offered these reflections.

    Ah, the joys of being a “rootless cosmopolitan”!

  5. Brian Robinson Says:


    ADAM HOROWITZ: Right, well, I was very surprised to read the piece in the Washington Post, but I also think that the initial reaction, especially from Israel supporters, is misread. It’s being characterized as a retraction. And if you read the op-ed, Judge Goldstone actually only comments on one small part of the report, which I take as an implication that the rest of the report stays intact and that he is still in support of that. … He talked about one small point. He said that there was not a policy, an intentional policy, to target civilians. This was something that was mentioned in the report, but it was just one small issue. Much larger was the issue of intentionally attacking the civilian infrastructure of Gaza, which he doesn’t mention, and the idea of just disproportionate and indiscriminate violence, which he doesn’t address and which affects civilians disproportionately.

    [I]n the op-ed, Judge Goldstone says, you know, “If I knew what I knew now, or if I had had access to Israel, the report would have looked different.” And Israel supporters are using that statement to try to discredit the entire report. Judge Goldstone has said that all along. He said all along that if he had had access to talk to Israeli political and military leaders, Israeli civilians in Sderot and other affected areas, of course the report would have looked different. I mean, that is a—that’s a commonsense point that he’s been making all along.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: And it seems to be, here in the United States, his retraction of a portion of the report has gotten far more coverage than the original conclusions of his report when it first came out. [ … ]

    LIZZY RATNER: And it’s important to point out that there were four commissioners who oversaw the creation of the Goldstone Report. Richard Goldstone was the lead commissioner, but there are three others who have in no way retreated an inch from the report. And, of course, as Adam has said at the beginning, Goldstone’s retreat is a fairly—it’s a modest retreat. Most of the report still stands. And one can even question the claim he makes, that there wasn’t intentional targeting of civilians.

    Full transcript and video:

    • conchovor Says:

      Well, the kind of would say that, wouldn’t they? Proponents of the Goldstone report would engage in damage limitation.

      But it’s sufficiently disturbing for Lizzy Ratner to question the authority of the opinion of Goldstone himself as lead investigator.

      ‘Most of the report’ consists in accounts of Israeli munitions killing civilians or alleged civilians. Since this occurs in all wars everywhere, very few investigated in this depth by the UN, especially when as small and limited as in Gaza, the accusation of Israeli intention was central. That was the only way the killing of civilians could be represented as both cruel and unusual.

      • Ben Says:

        I’m a little bit confused by the characterization of the civilian targeting as a “small point”. Having read an enormous amount of AZ posts and op-eds and speeches that revolved around the central (not tangential) concept that Israel deliberately targeted civilians in Gaza, I have to say that the attention and credibility assigned to a holy fact that was just burnt down and blown away doesn’t seem like a “small point”. It also seems strange that a report that was named after, led by and delightedly cheerled-for under one man’s name suddenly is a collaborative project when that name isn’t rubber-stamping what brought great joy in the first place.
        I would like to personally welcome Adam Horowitz and Lizzy Ratner to the pro-Israel comment community; whether they wanted to get there or are too angry/obtuse/dishonest to admit they accidentally arrived on our side, you’ve done a great job for us, and sincerely, thank you.

        • Fajah Says:

          True enough, Ben, but it’s par for the course and has been for a long time. When the IDF went into Jenin, however long ago that’s been, Palestinian spokesmen and everyone who loathed Israel was running from one media outlet to the next, shouting about the size of the massacre. At one point it was up to 5000 innocent souls, and it was absolutely all about the numbers. Then it turned out to be 53, half of them combatants, and all of a sudden the numbers weren’t the point at all. If hypocrisy was a terminal disease, Israel’s enemies would have been lost to an epidemic 40 years ago.

  6. NIMN Says:

    “Israel supporters”?? A new collective noun for anyone who
    who thinks that the retraction of an allegation of a war crime/crime against humanity is important for a vast array of reasons.

    No doubt, anyone who thinks the bombing of Libya is wrong is a “Gaddafi supporter”.

    No doubt anyone who thinks that burning the Koran is a disgusting act is an Islamicist.

    No doubt anyone who thinks that killing UN personnel in Afghanistan is an imperialist.

    If only the world was as simplistic as the words used to describe it.

  7. Comment is not free Says:

    “And one can even question the claim he makes, that there wasn’t intentional targeting of civilians.”

    A typical illustration of what I call the “Jenin syndrome”.

    The first stories out of Jenin were of a horrendous massacre. Israel denied it. The investigation showed Israel was correct. Still people talk about the Jenin massacre as if it really happened.

    Now, Goldstone retracts some aspects of his report and, guess what, some carry on as if he hasn’t and that it can simply be ignored so that, “one can even question the claim he makes, that there wasn’t intentional targeting of civilians.”

    Even a kangaroo has a better sense of due process that Lizzy Ratner.

    “That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying — its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.”

    Indeed, it goes without saying. That is who no one is saying it.

    • Thomas Venner Says:

      It wasn’t just Israel who said there had been no massacre in Jenin – Fatah and the PLO also denied there had been anything of the sort as soon as their investigators managed to get into the area. The whole incident was essentially fabricated by western media organisations, many of whom never retracted their claims (the BBC, for example, still has the articles claiming a massacre had taken place on its website, unaltered).

      It really shows the true colours of many of the westerners who claim to be “pro-Palestinian”, doesn’t it, when it’s proven for all to see that they only care what the Palestinians have to say when they’re agreeing with the “London narrative”*…

      * – that’s actually what a lot of Palestinians apparently call the so-called “Palestinian narrative” promoted by western anti-Zionists.

  8. If only Says:

    “Tell them, no don’t tell them, about Goldstone’s reservations,
    Tell them, no, don’t tell them, that Hamas shell civilians.
    Tell them, no don’t tell them, that Israel is guilty anyway.
    Tell them, no don’t tell them, not to worry,
    Tell them, no don’t tell them, that I won’t retract a single word.”

  9. Unrealistic Goldstone « ModernityBlog Says:

    […] » Getting away is lovely but it means you have to do a lot of reading on your return and one piece that I saw was Engage’s Richard Goldstone now says Israel was not guilty of targetting civilians in […]

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    […] Richard Goldstone now says Israel was not guilty of targetting civilians in Gaza – Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism […]

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