Moral Low Ground

War & Peace

U.N.’s Goldstone Retracts Finding that Israel Intentionally Targeted Civilians During ’08-’09 Gaza War

Goldstone: Backtracking.

Richard Goldstone, head of the United Nations panel that investigated Israeli conduct during the 2008-2009 invasion of Gaza, has retracted his highly controversial allegation that Israeli troops deliberately targeted Palestinian civilians during the war, the New York Times reports.

Goldstone, a South African jurist who is also Jewish, spent months dissecting the actions of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during the Gaza war. He wrote in the Washington Post that Israeli probes of the conflict “indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.” “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”

Why the change of heart? “The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of an injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion,” Goldstone wrote. But since then, he says, Israeli investigators have come forth with exculpatory evidence “that civilians were not intentionally harmed as a matter of policy.”

But harmed they were; Israeli forces killed more than 1,400 civilians— 926 of them innocent civilians, including 429 women and children. The IDF destroyed 4,000 Palestinian homes, a flour mill, sewage plant, chicken coops, water wells, a cement plant and other civilian infrastructure, leading Goldstone’s team to believe that Israel had waged “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever-increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”

The devastation visited upon the Palestinians (who Goldstone also found to have committed atrocities against Israel, chiefly the firing of thousands of rockets at civilian targets) was so severe as to lead Goldstone to believe that Israel was deliberately targeting civilians.

Israel jumped all over Goldstone’s stunning retraction. “Everything we said has proven to be true,” gloated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “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.”

Not so fast– Goldstone stands by much of the report, including multiple instances of Israeli war crimes against innocent Palestinians. To Israel’s credit, military prosecutors have taken legal action in no less than four cases, including the deliberate shooting of Palestinian civilians and a botched air strike that wiped out 29 members of one family.

Goldstone himself¬† incurred the wrath of many Jews following the publication of his report. According to the New York Times, he was ostracized by the South African Jewish community, some of whom even tried to stop him from attending his own grandson’s bar mitzvah last year.


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  1. JonApril 3, 2011 at 12:30 pmReply

    The 1400 deaths with 926 civilians is taken out a hamas playbook which even hamas itself has recanted.

    But the lies continue and you continue them. At least you believe you have a moral high ground. What a joke!

    • Brett WilkinsApril 3, 2011 at 12:41 pmReplyAuthor

      B’Tselem, an Israeli group, lists 1,385 total deaths including 762 non-combatants. The Israeli Defense Force lists 1,166 deaths, including 295 non-combatants. While Hamas does say 700 fighters died, it does not put forward civilian casualty figures at all. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which we used for our figures, lists 1,417 dead including 926 non-combatants. The bottom line is, we may never know exactly how many innocent civilians died, but the number is certainly at least as many as Israel says and more likely as high as the international NGOs say. We know that Israel is prone to lie about such things (like they lied about using chemical weapons against civilians in Gaza), we also know that some groups may have an agenda and inflate numbers.

  2. JonApril 3, 2011 at 12:57 pmReply

    First of all a simple lesson in math would help you.
    If hamas, let me repeat that HAMAS, puts its own casualty figures at 700 and the PCHR says 1417 total were killed, Then the PCHR are inflating the number of civilians killed by 226. Thats not a small number. But according to you it is israel that is known to lie, while Hamas and the PCHR have always been honest.

    Second, BTselem is an Israeli rights group but they are in no way pro Israel which your comment eludes to. In democracies their are groups that are outright critics of the state and are openly allowed to voice their opinions.

    Third, If you take a look at any other urban warfare battles, especially ones the U.S. has been involved in, the civilian casualty is remarkably higher. Just take on example, the battle of Mogadishu:

    I just find it humorous that the title of this blog says moral in it. What’s popular is not always moral.

  3. Brett WilkinsApril 3, 2011 at 4:17 pmReplyAuthor

    What kind of math is that? Just because Hamas says 700 fighters were killed, that doesn’t mean that Hamas agrees with the 1,417 total death toll as claimed by PCHR. Hamas does not say how many civilians it believes were killed; the number could be 2 or it could be 2000 as far as they are concerned.

    I never said Israel lies any more than Hamas. Both the terrorist Israeli government and the terrorist organization Hamas are equally guilty of distortions and exaggerations. But only Hamas has moral ground to stand on, being that they fight for the liberation of a people from an internationally condemned, racist, colonialist occupation. Lacking the world’s most advanced military and the support of the most powerful nation on earth, and constantly oppressed, the Palestinian people bravely resist their repression with the pitiful means at their disposal. And they do so despite the insane odds against them.

    I am well aware of B’Tselem’s political views. It’s funny how apologists for Israel like yourself automatically equate criticism of Israeli government policies, no matter how immoral they are, with being anything but pro-Israel. It is a tactic also used by the American far right. Let me ask you, if you go to the doctor and she tells you that you’re ill and prescribes medication for you to take, do you curse her and accuse her of being “anti-you?” Of course not. For she is trying to help you. Those in Israeli society, like the young conscientious objectors among the IDF, or the many Holocaust survivors who have come out against Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people, slam Israeli policies and actions not because they are “self-hating Jews” like the Zionist propagandists purport, but because they believe their beloved country has strayed from the path of righteousness and want to do what they can to see it return to that path. Dissent is the highest form of patriotism, my friend. Israelis in B’Tselem love Israel. They just do not love Israeli government policies.

    You are 100% correct about the nature of close-combat urban warfare. And yes, the US does kill many innocent civilians in these types of battles. Just ask the residents of Fallujah. I no more defend America’s militant imperialism than I do Israel’s slow-motion genocide of the Palestinian people.

    And since when is it popular to be against Israel? Are you aware that we are based in the US, where Israel is considered the 51st state and any politician who dares utter even the slightest criticism of anything Israel does might as well kiss their political career goodbye? This slavish devotion to Israel crosses all political parties and socio-economic classes in America.

  4. JonApril 3, 2011 at 4:34 pmReply

    Your argument that makes no sense. There can only be a certain number of dead, unless you want to make people up. If a certain number are claimed as combatants then that number can only be taken from the total number. I’m not sure why it is so complicated for you to understand.

    What I find funny, if you are in the U.S. is that you, a descendant of colonialism (unless you are american indian) are ridiculing the right jews, who have always lived in arabia their right to a country. How did Islam spread exactly? I’m sure it was by peaceful means and non colonialist conquests.
    Also, Is your country a terrorist entity, when it kills way more people in its urban warfare? Why are you not trying to free Hawaii? All you prove is that if the group you target is small enough and without support from other like people (in the case of palestinians other muslims) no one cares.
    In your doctor example, if the doctor was more interested in giving me medicine that a specific drug company had provided her then I would not be supporting the doctor. Nonetheless, the example is irrelevant since the people “against” Israel are such a mixed array you can’t really paint them one color.

    You support the terrorist united states, and live in occupied Indian land. Get the hell out of the U.S. and then we’ll talk.

  5. JonApril 3, 2011 at 5:11 pmReply

    By the way, you claim that Hamas is moral is indeed a morallowground befitting this blog.

  6. James R MacLeanApril 3, 2011 at 11:45 pmReply

    Thanks for your excellent work, Brett. I appreciate your courage and have decided to link to your website.


    • Brett WilkinsApril 4, 2011 at 10:10 amReplyAuthor

      Thank you, and thanks for including me in your expansive and informative blogroll! Your site is now on ours as well.

  7. John SmithApril 4, 2011 at 11:27 amReply

    The more Hamas dead the better. Israel should have never given any land back after the 6 day war. Get attacked, kick ass, and give back the land to the slime that attacked you. WTF.

  8. John SmithApril 4, 2011 at 11:56 amReply

    Countries have been conquered the same for 10 thousand years. The Jews took it from the Sinites, Hamathites, Hivites, etc. then lost it to the Babel, Rome, Persia, Greece, Byzantines, Ottomans etc. Recently they take it back again. You ready to give the old USA back to the Indians. Conquest is how nations are formed. This will never change. Boohoo for the Palestinians.

  9. JonApril 5, 2011 at 6:50 amReply

    It is you that has no knowledge of history. Do you take into account Jordan when you show that map, which was part of the original British mandate?

    Under your logic the whole middle east, a huge portion of the worlds land belongs to muslims arabs and jews (including jewish arabs) have no rights, including the right to self determination.

    • Brett WilkinsApril 5, 2011 at 9:52 amReplyAuthor

      Please excuse my momentary slip and accusations of you not knowing history. For all I know, you’re a professor of it. Your Jordan argument is the one most often used by Zionist apologists– “the Palestinians already have a homeland, it’s called Jordan.” However, as you probably know, Jordanians (and the whole Arab world, let’s be honest) want nothing to do with Palestinians. They even massacred a whole camp full of them in 1970.
      Under my logic, the Jewish state is at best committing ethnic cleansing to secure itself in a land once inhabited by others but given to it by UN mandate (how convenient that Israel points to this UN mandate when it suits them but continues to ignore more than 200 UN resolutions against it at other times), and at worst a completely illegitimate entity that has no business being there. But might makes right, and there they are, and for reasons that have nothing to do with democracy they’ve got the backing of the world’s most powerful nation. Ironic, that a people who experienced the horrors of the Holocaust are now visiting many of those very same horrors upon the innocent people of Palestine.

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